“Democracy is messy!” Rep. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-Wis.) declared this afternoon as he put up KEVIN McCARTHY to be speaker for a fourth time. “By design. … I’m proud to be part of a party that welcomes debate, that invites different views.”
If democracy is messy, there has been a whole lot of democracy on the Hill today. In the morning, McCarthy and his allies were scrambling to stave off an embarrassing fourth loss by crafting a plan to adjourn the House immediately after gaveling in at noon. That would have given McCarthy another day to try to win over some of the holdouts.
But Democrats didn’t want to give McCarthy an out — and they announced they’d officially whip against the motion to adjourn. With several House Republicans also likely to vote no, the motion was not offered, and the House went straight to the fourth vote instead.
The anti-McCarthy camp’s surprise pick: Rep. BYRON DONALDS (R-Fla.), the one member to have changed his mind so far during the series of votes. (Donalds told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins earlier in the day that he could still reverse course again if a viable path for McCarthy presented itself.) Rep. CHIP ROY (R-Texas) rose to nominate Donalds on the floor — and got a bipartisan standing ovation, after an awkward delay, when he noted that this was the first time two Black people have been nominated for speaker.
The roll call is now underway, and predictions from McCarthy’s foes that the Californian’s support is continuing to erode are being put to the test. “Let me just say that we’re adding people,” Rep. RALPH NORMAN (R-S.C.) advised Olivia Beavers this morning. One member early in the roll call who signaled he might be wavering, Rep. TIM BURCHETT (R-Tenn.), stuck with McCarthy. So far — into the Hs, as of publication — nobody has changed sides from Tuesday.
TRUMP SPEAKS — After mostly staying out of it Tuesday, DONALD TRUMP weighed in this morning to give McCarthy a boost — in his own way. “VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY,” he posted on Truth Social. “Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB.”
Maybe a great job! McCarthy allies are urging Trump to get more vocal to save his speakership bid, and the former president gave an interview to Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman this morning to give McCarthy added backup. But boosting “My Kevin” isn’t the same as threatening the likes of Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.). Trump might need to get tougher and more specific — calling out the members he’s supported by name — if he really wants to move them. (This also amounts to another test of whether Trump’s grip on the GOP is waning after the midterms.)
DREAMING THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS — Could a unity candidate emerge? Recently departed moderate Rep. FRED UPTON (R-Mich.) essentially floated himself for the position to The Detroit News’ Nolan Finley, saying for the first time that he’d be willing to become speaker “to put an end to the dysfunction that is doing so much damage to the country.”
Or could Democrats help give McCarthy the gavel? Rep. DON BACON (R-Neb.), who’s also close with Upton, told reporters that the GOP is having “preliminary talks” with some Democrats about joining forces to elevate McCarthy as a backup plan. (ICYMI, at least one Dem sounded open to it Tuesday: Ohio Rep. MARCY KAPTUR told Spectrum News’ Taylor Popielarz that “America needs healing. … I wish I could be part of some kind of a unity caucus that would yield [McCarthy] the votes … and maybe put us in a special category.”)
But most Dems would drive a hard bargain: House Democratic Caucus Chair PETE AGUILAR (D-Calif.) downplayed the prospect, saying, “We would look at that, but I haven’t seen any proof that Republicans are willing to engage.” Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) told The Daily Beast’s Ursula Perano that she could be open to working with Republicans, but not for McCarthy. And AOC said Dems would need massive concessions — like getting some committee chairs.
Here’s the reality: Republicans’ talk of a unity candidate is more scare tactic than genuine plan, at least as of now. It’s still primarily a threat wielded by McCarthy allies in order to force the hardliners to fold. Concessions to the holdouts haven’t swayed them yet — would the prospect of a moderate speaker change the calculus?
THE VIEW FROM 1600 PENN — On his way to Kentucky this morning, President JOE BIDEN told reporters that he wasn’t relishing Republicans’ chaos. “I just think it’s a little embarrassing it’s taking so long,” Biden said. “The rest of the world’s looking.”
Good Wednesday afternoon, and thanks for reading Playbook PM. Who’s your surprise speaker candidate? Drop me a line at [email protected].
CAN’T MAKE IT UP — “New Congresswoman Fights Rival Over Witchcraft Accusation,” by The Daily Beast’s Zachary Petrizzo: “Florida Republican [Rep.-elect ANNA PAULINA LUNA] retained the high-powered law firm Holland & Knight to go after a would-be rival who leveled a series of outlandish allegations against Luna on the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show in the fall. The letter demands that MATT TITO, a pal of ROGER STONE who mulled challenging Luna in a primary, apologize on video for his accusations, which include claims that Luna was fired from a job—and that she had a sexual liaison with Rep. Matt Gaetz.”
GREAT SCOTT — Sen. RICK SCOTT (R-Fla.) is up for another term next year — but his reelection campaign is launching a national ad blitz declaring that the GOP needs to change and get bolder in its opposition to Democrats, Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser scooped. The seven-figure campaign on cable TV going up Friday explains why he challenged Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL: “I knew it was going to be hard. But we’ve got to start somewhere.”
NOT FIRST IN THE NATION — After the DNC told New Hampshire Democrats to change state laws or face a presidential primary penalty, state party leaders are begging the DNC to go easy on them, USA Today’s Francesca Chambers reports. Facing a Republican-led statehouse and GOP governor, Granite State Dems say they probably won’t have the ability to change the laws, especially on expanding access to absentee ballots. And they warn that punishment from the national party “could have dire consequences for Democrats up and down the ticket in 2024.”
FACEBOOK’S BIG DECISION — Meta’s decision on whether to allow Trump back on Facebook is coming soon — and the outcome could have major implications for the former president’s fundraising abilities in his current campaign, Axios’ Sara Fischer and Ashley Gold report. Saturday marks two years since the two-year ban went into place, and Meta tells Axios that their decision on reinstatement will be announced “in the coming weeks.” Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts’ “reinstatement could allow him to run ads … In previous campaigns, Twitter was Trump’s amplifier, but Facebook was his bank.”
JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH
INSURRECTION? WHAT INSURRECTION? — Guided tours of the Capitol make no mention of Jan. 6 unless visitors ask about it, as guides have been instructed to do, WaPo’s Joe Heim reports. “It is a policy that in many ways reflects a country at odds with itself, unable to agree on fact and truth and reluctant to engage on the history of a day that threatened democracy.” Guides are also advised to steer clear of pending legislation and current events in general. But “[t]o some, the silence is unacceptable.”
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
INFRASTRUCTURE DECADE — As Biden hits the road today to start touting the effects of the bipartisan infrastructure law, WaPo’s Ian Duncan, Michael Laris and Luz Lazo examine how federal funding will transform infrastructure projects across the country. “In announcing the latest round of grants, officials are betting on projects that are likely to be a core of the infrastructure law’s legacy” — especially because such massive undertakings, sometimes spanning state lines, wouldn’t have been feasible for states to fund on their own.
AN APPLE FOR THE TEACHER — Red and blue states alike are planning significant increases in pay for teachers this year, Pluribus’ Reid Wilson reports. Many state coffers are overflowing with funds, and legislators view higher wages as a necessary investment in schools after pandemic-era learning loss, labor shortages and other struggles. Still, statehouses can only go so far in some states, as ultimate decisions will be up to local authorities.
CLIP AND SAVE — “State legislatures are coming back. These are the lawmakers to follow,” by Liz Crampton
BOOGIE WOOGIE WOOGIE — Electric markets in states that deregulated starting in the 1990s have consistently seen higher energy prices than states that didn’t, NYT’s Ivan Penn reports in a big new analysis. Residents in California, Texas and the 33 other states that split apart the businesses now see bills an average of $40 higher per month than those in Florida and other states that didn’t make the change. “One big reason deregulated areas have higher rates is that utilities there are spending more on power lines to carry electricity over hundreds of miles.”
AMERICA AND THE WORLD
WHAT THEY’RE READING IN MIAMI — For the first time in several years, the U.S. Embassy in Cuba today is starting to process visas and open consular services again, AP’s Megan Janetsky reports from Havana. There will be “a priority placed on permits to reunite Cubans with family in the U.S., and others like the diversity visa lottery,” amid a major surge of Cubans trying to migrate to the U.S. It’s the latest sign of some tensions thawing between the two countries, building on months of talks between officials — but still far less than what the Obama administration did.
KNOWING HADY AMR — The U.S.’ inaugural special representative for Palestinian affairs “is essentially an envoy to a state that doesn’t yet exist, and his message to Palestinians adds up to two words: Trust me,” Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch writes in a new profile. With a background in development economics and inspiration from MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., Amr is idealistic about a two-state solution. But he’s also pragmatic about seeking incremental improvements for Palestinians, like 4G coverage in the West Bank. First, he just wants to help “lower the temperature in the region.”
WAR IN UKRAINE
DRONING ON — In just one Iranian drone found in Ukraine last fall, Ukrainian intelligence analysts found parts from 13 different American companies, plus several from Canada, Switzerland and more, CNN’s Natasha Bertrand scooped. It’s an illustration of how tough a challenge the Biden administration faces in trying to prevent these technologies from falling into Iranian hands: “There is no evidence suggesting that any of those companies are running afoul of US sanctions laws and knowingly exporting their technology to be used in the drones. Even with many companies promising increased monitoring, controlling where these highly ubiquitous parts end up in the global market is often very difficult for manufacturers.”
IN MEMORIAM — “Walter Cunningham, Who Helped Pave the Way to the Moon, Dies at 90,” by NYT’s Richard Goldstein
MEDIA MOVE — Stephen Groves will be a Congress reporter for the AP. He was previously based in South Dakota, where he covered politics and state government.
TRANSITIONS — Brian Morgenstern is starting as head of public policy for bitcoin mining and digital infrastructure company Riot Platforms Inc. He most recently was principal at Win the Future Strategies, and is a Trump White House and Treasury alum. … Danniyal Ahmed is now legislative director for Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.). He previously was Judiciary Committee counsel for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). … Thomas Boylan is now regulatory director at Zero Emission Transportation Association. He previously was a congressional liaison at the EPA. …
… Steve Dwyer is now senior director of innovation for the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer. He previously was senior adviser for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. … Bob Holste is now chief of staff for Rep.-elect Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.). He previously was senior director of government relations at the Pew Charitable Trusts, and is a Phil English alum. … Liz Bourgeois is now chief comms officer for the startup Handshake. She previously was senior adviser for public affairs at the Treasury Department.