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Thunderdome: Middle East War, Speaker Chaos, and Migrants Take Manhattan
Still no speaker at this hour, or the next, or the next
Welcome to Thunderdome, where a week and a half after the chilling attacks on Israel, the American people have had time to digest the images from across the world — from the Middle East and fiery scenes at embassies, to protests on campuses and now on Capitol Hill, fueled by lies from progressive Democrats — and their concern is enormous.
The polls show 85 percent of Americans are concerned the Israel-Gaza conflict will erupt into a wider war in the Middle East. And while supermajorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents still believe it’s important to support Israel, Republicans approve of sending Israel weapons by a roughly twenty points more than other factions. (The Quinnipiac numbers are here.) And notably, a majority of younger Americans, ages 18-34, are outright opposed to sending weapons.
The trust for Joe Biden on foreign policy, as in so many other areas, is under water. But it’s still higher than everything else he does, hanging around in the low forties versus dire marks on the economy, the border and crime.
The question remains: will Republicans be able to seize this moment to offer an alternate path for voters, to critique the Biden policy approach on Iran that played a key role in fomenting this war, while still supporting what the administration does that they like when it comes to backing Israel? (The president is scheduled to give a rare Oval Office address tonight.) And does this provide an opportunity for the more “serious” candidates to break away from the pack? (DeSantis, Haley and Scott have all criticized the administration for not doing more, faster.)
We discuss all that and more on this week’s podcast edition of Thunderdome — listen and subscribe here today.
Absent a speaker, McConnell takes the lead
The House of Representatives’ continued struggle to choose a speaker has led to open discussions of temporary alternatives, including empowering the current speaker pro tempore, Patrick McHenry, until early next year. It’s still an open debate if they even need to vote on that — McHenry could simply advance resolutions, respond to any objections from the floor and then vote on them. That’s what’s being discussed after Jim Jordan’s failure to launch — as of this hour, Jordan has changed his mind, and will go for a third vote for the Speakership despite increased opposition. But it seems clear, the House which led the way for most of the year for the GOP is now taking a back seat — just as I predicted:
With the House effectively shut down, the Senate has the upper hand on Washington’s two biggest issues this fall — aiding Ukraine and Israel and keeping the government open.
Even if the House GOP selects a speaker or a caretaker leader to claw out of the current chaos, its Republicans will already be in a weakened state as the White House prepares a massive, potentially $100 billion request for national security aid. Instead, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate GOP looks to have the Republican sway over both that foreign money debate and the fight to avoid a shutdown.
As his last act before getting ousted, Representative Kevin McCarthy made the Senate swallow a spending bill without Ukraine aid that his conservative members opposed. But with a November 17 shutdown deadline less than a month away and Ohio GOP representative Jim Jordan’s speaker bid sputtering, the next confrontation over federal funding is looking very different.
That’s in large part because McConnell, after enduring public scrutiny of his health all summer, is embracing a generous aid package for Ukraine and Israel and is in harmony with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the framework of that legislation. The Senate minority leader faces real internal opposition of his own, but at the moment his anti-shutdown, pro-Ukraine position at least gives Democratic leaders a Republican they can talk to.
It’s a harsh unintended consequence for the House conservatives who ejected McCarthy: the Senate minority leader who many of them abhor is, for the moment, the most influential leader in the congressional GOP.
Who said anything about unintended? For Matt Gaetz, McConnell as the lead just gives him more things to attack.
Who can gag the Orange Man?
Will the Trump gag orders actually be enforced? What happens if they aren’t? And are they based in the law anyway? Jonathan Turley weighs in:
For years, many of us have been criticized Trump for his personal attacks on judges and opponents alike. Undeterred, Trump has continued such inflammatory attacks on “deranged” Special Counsel Jack Smith and the “biased, Trump-hating Judge” Chutkan. Smith has pushed aggressively for a gag order, even though one of the major issues in Trump’s campaign is whether the Biden Administration has weaponized the criminal justice system against him and other Republicans.
This week, Chutkan issued a partial gag order and stressed that she will not allow Trump to conduct a “smear campaign” in which he seeks to “vilify and implicitly encourage violence against public servants who are simply doing their jobs.” She stressed that “no other criminal defendant would be allowed to do so, and I’m not going to allow it in this case.” Chutkan reflects this trend in stating categorically that these are the limits that must be imposed regardless of the defendant.
These orders come at a great cost — limiting both parties and counsels in raising objections to alleged abuses of the government. The First Amendment was written in the aftermath of such abuses, including the infamous prosecution of publisher John Peter Zenger 290 years ago in 1733.
Some polls show that a majority now believe the Trump prosecutions are “politically motivated.” Tens of millions oppose the prosecutions, and this will be the single most-discussed issue of the campaign. Yet, one candidate would be both the subject of this national debate and a gagged order barring participation in it.
Chutkan steadfastly refused to recognize that either this case or this defendant are far from typical. Her order bars Trump from making statements against Smith, his staff, court personnel, and potential witnesses. That last category could include one of Trump’s opponents in the presidential election, former Vice President Mike Pence.
If Chutkan had simply barred statements targeting court staff or jurors, there would be no controversy. But she has imposed a vaguely worded court order that could turn campaign speeches into criminal contempt...
It is not surprising that Smith dismisses such concerns. Smith has long adopted extreme legal positions that ignore constitutional values. This includes his prosecution of the former governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, which was reversed in a unanimous 8-0 decision by the Supreme Court in 2016.
Will Pence exit next?
Four months after launching his campaign with an embrace of traditional conservatism and a rejection of his former running mate Donald Trump, Pence, who once sat a heartbeat away from the presidency, now stands at a difficult crossroads. Plagued by financial problems, low polling numbers and a message that hasn’t resonated with the party base, he has been forced to confront tough realities this fall about the future of his campaign.
At the New Hampshire State House, Pence signed a declaration and handed over a $1,000 check, officially seeking to add himself to the first-in-the-nation GOP primary ballot. Pence told reporters he is a “small-town guy from Indiana” seeking the nation’s highest office and the best to lead his party. He took questions about his former running mate’s recent statements, his campaign’s troubled financial state and the chance he might not qualify for the third debate next month.
Pence warned that “it may be obvious in the days ahead that other campaigns have more money than ours.” It was. Days later, his latest campaign finance filings showed he’d raised $3.3 million and spent almost the same amount in the third quarter of the year. His campaign also ran up a debt of $620,000, and Pence gave $150,000 of his money to the effort.
The Pence campaign has also made some cuts to staff, according to a person familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about a move that has not been announced publicly. Those changes come as Pence has consistently struggled to gain traction in recent months in both polling and fundraising.
The extent of the cuts was not immediately clear. Pence campaign spokesman Devin O’Malley declined to comment. It’s not clear whether Pence will reach the threshold of 70,000 unique donors to qualify for the third debate, which will be in Miami on November 8.
“It’s not about money, it’s about votes,” Pence told reporters in Concord. Polling shows that votes for Pence are also in short supply.
Pence runs behind Trump, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, according to most polls, trailing with a single-digit percentage support. All of the candidates have struggled to make up for Trump’s dominating lead. In New Hampshire, Pence polls at 2 percent, according to a recent CBS News/YouGov poll. His campaign is betting heavily on a strong performance in Iowa, where Pence is seeking to connect with evangelical voters who form a crucial voting bloc.
One more thing
One of the most important issues of this cycle, regardless of the uptick in interest in foreign policy around the world, is the migrant crisis stretching from our southern border into cities across the country. The migrants taking Manhattan are the focus of my latest piece in the print edition of The Spectator, which went up online today — with a focus on Texas governor Greg Abbott:
In Abbott’s telling, Mayor Adams sent a group of staffers down to the border in the El Paso sector, visiting a room full of migrants during the trip. Asking who in the room wanted to go to New York City, almost every hand went up. As political props go, the pawns seemed mighty willing. And why wouldn’t you ask for a trip to Gotham? It’s a helluva lot better than eking out an existence looking for day labor in Uvalde. In all, Abbott only claims credit for fewer than 16,000 migrants sent to New York in the past fiscal year — a little more than 10 percent of the total the city has taken in. The rest, Abbott says, are on Joe Biden.
Those migrants are housed all over the city, 61,000 of them in the shelter system spread across more than 200 sites. Abbott’s speech came the same week that 13,000 of those migrants were tagged as overstaying their welcome, under an arbitrary limit by Adams of sixty days in the shelter system. The decision is likely headed to the courts, as New York City is the only major city in America with a guaranteed “right to shelter” — the result of a forty-two-year-old class action case brought by enterprising young trial lawyers from NYU and Columbia. The plaintiff, a famed Bowery alcoholic, died on the street before his case was won. In May, Mayor Adams formally asked the state courts to suspend the rule.
Around the corner from Abbott’s speech is the Roosevelt Hotel, a ninety-nine-year-old Midtown landmark, now being used as a shelter. Migrants from Venezuela slump in chairs and sleep on the floor of the bar area. The smell is a rancid funk of body odor and stale food — the old tomato chicken stink of cheap Italian food. Since the percentage of Muslim families housed in the hotel/shelter is so high, all food must be halal. Every eye is bloodshot or bleary. The security guards at the front seem absolutely exhausted, processing one entrant after another waving papers and clutching oversized multicolor backpacks that contain everything they have. To keep prying reporters out, the hotel has blacked out windows with trash bags, unaware that bribery for entrance is the most straightforward path into any door. Everyone seems ashamed.
“When thy enemy stretches out his hand to thee, cut it off if thou art able, otherwise kiss it.”
— Al Mansur