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Inside the chess match between McCarthy, Jeffries and Gaetz

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Oct 01, 2023 View in browser

By Ryan Lizza, Rachael Bade and Eugene Daniels

Presented by

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has repeatedly threatened that the passage of a continuing resolution would trigger the introduction of the motion to vacate. | Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Images


SPOTTED leaving the Capitol after the House CR vote: House Democratic leaders HAKEEM JEFFRIES, KATHERINE CLARK and PETE AGUILAR all laughing and smiling as they walked back to their offices. “Complete and total surrender,” Jeffries said.

WHAT WILL HAKEEM DO? — Jeffries has a big decision to make.

In the run-up to preventing a government shutdown, any questions about what the Democrats would do in the event of a vote to oust KEVIN McCARTHY as speaker were easily batted aside as too theoretical to entertain.

“We haven’t given any thought to how to handle a hypothetical motion to vacate, because we are entirely focused on making sure that we avoid this extreme MAGA Republican shutdown,” Jeffries said last week.

But avoiding the shutdown has now led directly to a vote on a motion to vacate.

Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) repeatedly threatened that the passage of a continuing resolution would trigger the introduction of the MTV that he’s had in his back pocket for weeks. After the CR passed yesterday, Gaetz promised that it will happen this week.

“If somebody wants to make a motion against me, bring it,” Mccarthy told reporters defiantly yesterday.

“Kevin McCarthy’s gonna get his wish,” Gaetz responded this morning on ABC’s “This Week.”

We talked to a lot of Democrats this morning about how they will respond. So let’s unpack the politics of this.

Let’s assume Gaetz starts with only a handful of Republicans — perhaps just five, maybe as many as 10 — and that McCarthy has no chance of turning this group around. It’s not much, and that means Gaetz needs Democrats — perhaps as many as 200 — to oust McCarthy. (Ironic considering that his line today was that McCarthy is the Dems’ speaker.)

The biggest pocket of votes for Gaetz right off the bat will be the Democrats in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. They hate Gaetz, but more important, it could be suicide for any of the CPC’s 100-plus members to vote to save McCarthy. (And a motion to table Gaetz’s resolution, while not technically a vote for McCarthy, will easily be spun that way.)

Not surprisingly, as POLITICO first reported, CPC Chair PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-Wash.) is one of the first Democrats to whom Gaetz reached out. Right on cue, Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, who represents a D+28 district in New York, was on CNN this morning saying she would “absolutely” vote to oust McCarthy.

Both Gaetz and some Democrats we’ve talked to today believe it is naive to assume that some discussion of the motion to vacate didn’t come up in the conversations between McCarthy and Dem leaders that birthed the bipartisan CR vote. Since McCarthy knew that the MTV would follow a CR, it would be unusual if he didn’t have some indication from Dems about their views on the vote that will determine his future. One likely response to nudge McCarthy in the right direction surely would have been that there would be nothing to discuss if he shut down the government. Makes sense, but for now the existence of any kind of backchannel discussions is just speculation.

One senior Democratic lawmaker told us this morning that the instructions from leadership to “all Dems” right now is “keeping powder dry.”

While Gaetz might be right that he can get lots of votes from progressives, his only chance after that is if Jeffries himself locks down the caucus in favor of the MTV. But that could take some persuading. For a bloc of moderates — a mix of perhaps 25 to 40 Blue Dogs, Problem Solvers and Dems in Trump districts — a vote to prove their bipartisan credentials by keeping McCarthy as speaker could be very tempting.

All of this is to say that if Gaetz only has 5-10 Republican votes, McCarthy may have an achievable path to victory.

But that’s also not Gaetz’s only potential move.

If McCarthy survives with the help of Democratic votes, Gaetz will no doubt relentlessly attack him, as he has already, as “the Democrats’ speaker.” The overall effort will have done a lot of damage. What if Gaetz offers a second MTV, as anyone who knows him realizes he surely would, and McCarthy again has to survive with Democratic help? What happens on the second or third vote? Does Gaetz garner more Republican support? Does McCarthy need to find more Democratic support? There’s no limit to how many times Gaetz could do this. Eventually, this would become untenable for McCarthy.

So Democrats who take a position on the first MTV will need to consider that they may be locking themselves into a position on a vote that might be repeated.

What might a deal with McCarthy look like from Jeffries’ perspective? It is highly unlikely that Jeffries would ever demand all Democrats vote to save McCarthy; several Dem members told us this morning that was impossible to imagine. But what he could do is decline to lock down the caucus and let Dems vote their conscience (or their district). That could leave moderates with room to help McCarthy. But surely those individual moderates would also want something from McCarthy. Maybe a promise not to spend NRCC money in their races? There are a lot of ideas floating around out there.

McCarthy has a card to play if he survives the first (or more) attack from Gaetz. He could try to pass a rule that raises the threshold for a motion to vacate from one member, where it is now, to, say, 10 members. How would he get the votes? Perhaps some of the Democrats who cut a deal to save McCarthy agree to vote for this rule as well. That would finally decapitate Gaetz.

STEPPING BACK FROM THE CHESS GAME: The big question all Democrats have to answer — and quick — is whether it’s better to have McCarthy as speaker or not.

On the pro-keeping-McCarthy side of the ledger is that he’s the devil they know, and there is nobody better waiting in the wings. By avoiding the government shutdown, he also just showed he can be more responsible than some Democrats had believed. It could also take two weeks for another speaker to emerge from the ashes of the chaos, all while the White House and Democrats are trying to push through aid for Ukraine and fund the government over the next 45 or so days. And if you are at the White House and care about all of this, in addition to the fate of the impeachment inquiry, which Democrats have already raised as an issue in any discussion of helping McCarthy, then McCarthy may be the better bet. This is the institutionalists’ argument.

The other side of the argument is that McCarthy is the GOP’s greatest fundraiser, and getting rid of him would help Democrats take back the House. No replacement for McCarthy would have the same set of relationships and the donor network and political operation. In addition, the argument goes, the GOP chaos in the House would pay political dividends.

One thing is clear: For the 53-year-old Jeffries, this is an unprecedented situation, one that no minority leader has ever faced. He suddenly has enormous leverage, but will have to weigh carefully how aggressively to use it.

Good Sunday afternoon. It’s Oct. 1. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line and tell us what you think Jeffries should do: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.


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POLITICO: “When he walked into the Capitol on Saturday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy knew exactly what he’d do to stave off a shutdown: Call up a bill that abandoned the border policy and spending cuts he’d preached for weeks. …

“The bill was finished just before midnight on Friday. But McCarthy didn’t unveil his plans to take up the bill until almost 11 hours later, after a choreographed parade of Republicans took the mic during a private 90-minute meeting to argue for exactly his proposal. … McCarthy wanted the groundswell of support for it to look like an organic move by his members, rather an order down from leadership.”

NYT: “Gone … was the promise Mr. McCarthy had made in January to allow lawmakers 72 hours to review any legislation before it came to a vote. Instead, members were given about an hour to read and vote on a 71-page bill they had never seen before. And it would be considered under special rules that required a two-thirds majority for passage, meaning that it could not be approved without substantial Democratic support. … When the vote was called, 209 Democrats voted for it, far more than the 126 Republicans who did.”

THE STEP BACK: “To Many Americans, Government Dysfunction Is the New Normal,” by NYT’s Peter Baker

THE BIG QUESTION REMAINING: Whither Ukraine aid? Most supporters of Kyiv expressed optimism that a separate package will come up for a vote soon, Jennifer Haberkorn, Jonathan Lemire and Sam Stein report. “How much of that was spin, wishcasting, or solid intel was hard to tell. No one in the White House would say they received an actual assurance from McCarthy that he’d bring a measure up for a vote.”

This morning on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” McCarthy offered mixed signals, repeatedly saying that he supported sending more weapons to Ukraine but that the U.S. needs to prioritize the southern border first. “I’m going to make sure that the weapons are provided for Ukraine, but they’re not going to get some big package if the border is not secure,” McCarthy said.

WaPo: “Ukraine’s supporters in the House, Senate and White House say they will not give up despite the defeat, emphasizing that most members of Congress still support the additional funding. … But the failure to push the aid through Saturday could still have consequences for the war effort, emboldening Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN, giving America’s European allies an excuse to pare back their own financial commitments and widening Ukraine’s dangerously large budget deficit.”

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE: “Rep. Jamaal Bowman triggered a fire alarm in a House office building amid voting on a funding bill,” by AP’s Farnoush Amiri: “The New York lawmaker told reporters hours later that it was a mistake and that he was rushing to get to votes … Capitol Police said in a statement Saturday that an ‘investigation into what happened and why continues.’ After the vote, Republicans, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, criticized [Rep. JAMAAL] BOWMAN over the fire alarm. Some lawmakers even floated the idea of drafting a motion to expel or censure him from the House.” Worth reading: former Rep. PETER MEIJER (R-Mich.) with a short, fair-minded thread on X about the fire alarm fiasco.


— OMB Director SHALANDA YOUNG on whether McCarthy deserves credit for avoiding a shutdown, on ABC’s “This Week”: “Why the brinksmanship? Why the theater? Why to the last minute? I will tell you, if I’m sick of it, I can only imagine what the American people are feeling. Why go down this road, take us so close? And let me tell you, there were 200 Democrats who saved us from shutdown. Go look at the votes. Democrats stepped up, made sure the government continued running. And we appreciate the speaker finally upholding the budget deal we all agreed to this summer. Finally.”

— Ocasio-Cortez on House Republicans, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “There are not moderates in the Republican Party. There are just different degrees of fealty to DONALD TRUMP. … And so we saw them go through every single iteration, walk into every single wall, kind of run around the House like a Roomba, until they found a door that House Democrats opened.”

— Rep. MIKE LAWLER (R-N.Y.) on Gaetz, on “This Week”: “He’s putting a motion to vacate on the floor in defiance of conference rules, which requires a majority of the majority. So this is a guy who says one thing out of one side of his mouth and speaks another thing out of the other side. He’s mealy-mouthed and, frankly, duplicitous.”

— Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) on Sen. BOB MENENDEZ’s (D-N.J.) criminal indictment, on “Fox News Sunday”: “He’s very effective. He’s [a] very strong person. And he spoke to the caucus the other day. And that was just unbelievable, the strength it took to go up there in front of your colleagues and say, ‘Let me tell you something: I’ve seen every one of you — every one of you — speak eloquently about the rule of law, and how we’re so different than any other place in the world. All I’m asking for is to be treated the same. Nothing more, nothing less. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Let me defend myself.’ And that’s all he asked for. And I can’t disagree with that.”

TOP-EDS: A roundup of the week’s must-read opinion pieces.

  • “The Real Donald Trump Live on Truth Social,” by WSJ’s editorial board
  • “America Pulled Children Out of Poverty. Now It’s Set to Reverse Course With a Vengeance,” by Nikhil Goyal for NYT
  • “Vivek Ramaswamy Is Confused,” by NYT’s Carlos Lozada
  • “He, She, They: The Pronoun Debate Will Likely Land at the Supreme Court,” by Kimberly Wehle for POLITICO Mag
  • “The U.S. should never have another baby formula shortage,” by WaPo’s Alyssa Rosenberg
  • “The Origins of the ‘Socialist’ Slur,” by Heather Cox Richardson for The Atlantic
  • “Biden’s Trend Line Points Downward,” by WSJ’s Peggy Noonan
  • “How Democrats could fix the Founding Fathers’ Supreme Court mistake,” by WaPo’s Ramesh Ponnuru
  • “What Is J.D. Vance’s Angle?” by NYT’s Michelle Cottle
  • “The Climate Fight Will Be Won in the Appliance Aisle,” by Robinson Meyer for NYT

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At the White House

President JOE BIDEN just delivered remarks on the continuing resolution. Otherwise, he and VP KAMALA HARRIS have nothing on their public schedules.



Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pledging to deport every undocumented immigrant who arrived during the Biden administration if elected president. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

1. FROM THE FRINGE TO THE MAINSTREAM: Trump and Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS continue to try one-upping each other with increasingly extreme proposals for their presidencies, whether it’s Trump’s recent suggestion that shoplifters should be shot or both men’s hard-right immigration platforms, as NYT’s Nicholas Nehamas and Eileen Sullivan detail. DeSantis’ most recent move was to declare that every undocumented immigrant arrival during the Biden administration should be deported — a massive operation that he said would target several million people (an inflated number) during his term. Trump pledged mass deportations too. Either man’s immigration ideas would require a massive infusion of federal resources.

2. TAKING THE LEAD: “‘My Body Was Poisoned’: Biden’s Lead Pipe Removal Plan Faces Hurdles,” by NYT’s Zolan Kanno-Youngs in Chicago: “The reasons are a mixture of financial, logistical and even semantic concerns … And while advocates commend Mr. Biden for confronting the crisis head-on, securing nearly $27 billion in federal funding for clean water and lead pipe removal, they fear that a string of unexpected impediments could hold up progress for years to come.”

3. SCOTUS WATCH: The new Supreme Court term kicks off tomorrow, and a flood of preview stories out today highlight the stakes and the big-ticket cases on the way. Major challenges to the power of regulatory agencies will feature prominently, including cases that could transform the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and upend “Chevron deference.” Congressional lines in South Carolina, limits on speech on social media, gun rights for domestic abusers, and a trademark dispute over the phrase “Trump too small” are also slated for big hearings.

Though CFPB Director ROHIT CHOPRA now faces an “existential threat” to his agency’s consumer protection work, he tells NYT’s Stacy Cowley that he’s staying calm: “I think this is what one should expect when you’re doing your job.” If the high court determines that the bureau’s funding structure is unconstitutional, it could force the CFPB to undo every action it’s taken in the past dozen years.

Not on the docket *yet*: Significant showdowns over abortion pills, 14th Amendment concerns about Trump on the ballot, and gender-affirming medical care for children might be taken up by the court later in the term. More from Reuters

Ethical concerns about the court itself will remain a big storyline hanging over the justices, WaPo’s Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow report. A self-imposed code of conduct may be in the works.

4. ALSO KICKING OFF TOMORROW: “Trump goes to trial in New York before a judge who just ruled he’s a fraud,” by Erica Orden in New York: “In some ways, the trial is the culmination of months of antagonism between the former president and Justice ARTHUR ENGORON … The outcome of the nonjury trial will be entirely up to Engoron … And in a surprise, Trump may attend the trial in person … Last week, Engoron delivered a ruling that may obliterate Trump’s family business.” More from AP’s Michael Sisak on Engoron, an “Ivy League-educated ex-cabbie”


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5. CALIFORNIA DREAMING: The California Republican Party voted by a wide margin yesterday to keep opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage in their platform at the state party convention, Lara Korte reports from Anaheim. It was a victory for the blue-state conservatives.

But the refusal to moderate could hamstring the depleted California GOP in next year’s four — yes, four — Senate elections, which Jeremy White previews: Voters will take to the polls twice for a special election to fill the late Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN’s seat and twice for the regular election to replace her. The votes will likely happen in two simultaneous pairs, eight months apart. It’s not yet clear whether the regular candidates will run in the special.

6. KNOWING LEO WISE: “A lead prosecutor in the Hunter Biden case cut a contentious path during his time in Baltimore,” by AP’s Eric Tucker and Juliet Linderman: “Wise’s backers call him talented and savvy, with a knack for navigating complex, headline-generating cases. To detractors, he’s stubborn and uncompromising as well as self-promotional … His approach — aggressive in a way that has won him accolades but riled other lawyers — sets the stage for a contentious fight in the high-stakes prosecution of HUNTER BIDEN.”

7. HALEY RISING: In the wake of two strong debate performances, NIKKI HALEY is drawing renewed attention on the trail in Iowa, the Des Moines Register’s Amanda Tugade reports. But some voters still feel torn between Haley and Trump or DeSantis, the two men she still needs to overtake in the caucuses. From Clive, Iowa, NYT’s Michael Gold reports on Haley’s handling of two hecklers interrupting to ask about TAYLOR SWIFT: “Ms. Haley’s mastery of moments like these, in front of crowds and in the first two Republican debates — during which she successfully fended off interruptions and delivered pithy, memorable one-liners — has delivered buzz, attention and money.”

8. POTUS SITDOWN: “The Biden Interview: The President Talks About the Supreme Court, Threats to Democracy and Trump’s Vow to Exact Retribution,” by John Harwood for ProPublica: “Biden seemed relaxed and confident, batting back a question about why he thinks he’s the only Democrat who can protect democracy next year … He warned against the desire of ‘MAGA Republicans’ — which he called a minority of the GOP, much less the nation as a whole — to weaken institutions such as the federal civil service to shift power over the U.S. government toward the president alone.”

9. HOW THEY REALLY FEEL: After Biden’s and Trump’s visits to Michigan this week, autoworkers on the picket line feel pretty cynical and pessimistic about both men and politicians more generally, WaPo’s Isaac Arnsdorf reports from Belleville. The workers were prepared with facts about both presidents’ labor records they disliked. And “they had little patience for stunts that seemed driven more by the candidates’ interests than theirs — a fitting start to a campaign pitting two deeply unpopular presidents against each other.”


Jimmy Carter is celebrating 99 with chocolate marble cake, doll-making, a naturalization ceremony for 99 new Americans and ongoing avidity for the news and the Braves.

Dianne Feinstein returned to San Francisco, accompanied by Nancy Pelosi.

Arnold Schwarzenegger “can see why someone like [Robert F. Kennedy Jr.] is the way he is.”

OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at a party last night hosted by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser for Adam Nagourney’s “The Times: How the Newspaper of Record Survived Scandal, Scorn, and the Transformation of Journalism” ($35): Elisabeth Bumiller, Maureen Dowd, Andrea Mitchell, David Sanger, Mike Allen, Jeff Zeleny, Juleanna Glover, Tammy Haddad, Mark Leibovich, Dick Stevenson, Eric Lipton and Elham Dehbozorgi, Chris and Kathleen Matthews, Doug Rediker and Heidi Crebo-Rediker, Sally Quinn, Annie Karni, Jose Del Real, Michael Bender, Robert Draper, Julian Barnes, Dan Balz, Michael Schaffer, EJ Dionne and Mary Boyle, Jane Mayer, Margaret Carlson and Reid Epstein.

WEEKEND WEDDING — Jaclyn Rothenberg, FEMA comms director and senior adviser for comms in the office of climate policy at the White House, and Daniel Moskowitz, comms coordinator for the Teamsters, got married last night at the City Tavern Club. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell officiated. The couple met as kids in Atlanta but reconnected 20-plus years later when she moved to D.C. to join the Biden administration. Pic … Another pic … SPOTTED: Gerald Rafshoon, Joseph Rafshoon, Michael Rafshoon, Emma Consoli and Justin Knighten.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Tim Morrison, a senior director for government

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Inside the chess match between McCarthy, Jeffries and Gaetz


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