with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Tell your friends to sign up here. My front walk looks like Cicada Community Theater staged a performance of The Charge of the Light Brigade.

If enough House Republicans join Democrats in voting to create a special Capitol riot commission, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) may get flashbacks to the last special probe that led him to screw up in a highly public way: Benghazi.

This year, McCarthy’s headaches stem from the potential for significant GOP defections how many won’t be clear until the House votes today on whether to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The riot left five dead, 140 Capitol Police injured and suspended the electoral college count confirming President Biden’s victory a shocking blow to the republic’s bedrock principle of peaceful transfer of power.

Support for the proposal seemed to grow yesterday, in defiance of former president Donald Trump someone “My Kevin” very much wants to please and McCarthy’s own efforts to unite the GOP in opposition to the plan.

But let’s go back to a fateful evening in September 2015. Fox News host Sean Hannity was beating McCarthy up pretty well on TV, pushing him on his conservative bona fides, rebuking House Republicans for not defunding Obamacare, when the lawmaker jumped in.

"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought,” McCarthy said

"I give you credit for that," said Hannity, who had not asked about the committee. "I'll give you credit where credit is due."

Here's why Kevin McCarthy's Benghazi comment ended up getting in trouble and being a win for Hillary Clinton. (Alice Li/The Washington Post)

Democrats pounced, seeing vindication of their months-long warnings Republicans planned to use the House Select Committee on Benghazi ultimately one of six probes by Republican-controlled House committees about the deadly 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya as merely a blunt partisan object to try to crush Clinton’s presidential aspirations.

More ominously for McCarthy, Republicans repudiated his remarks. Some demanded he apologize.

Notwithstanding the fact he had made broadly similar comments in a CNN interview earlier that day, the California lawmaker declared “it was never my intention to ever imply that this committee was political, because we all know it is not” and apologized to its chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

The controversy fueled concerns on the GOP side of the aisle about McCarthy's ability to manage the No. 3 elected position in the U.S. government, and pretty soon McCarthy would be able to say he was once the next speaker of the House.

It’s six years later, and the California lawmaker is in trouble again, after declaring his opposition to bipartisan legislation, negotiated by a trusted deputy, to create a commission to look into the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

As of last night, rather than basking in universal GOP acclaim, McCarthy was working to prevent significant defections, Politico reporters Melanie Zanona, Nicholas Wu, and Olivia Beavers reported.

“Dozens of Republicans are privately considering voting for the Jan. 6 commission — which McCarthy himself said he opposed earlier Tuesday, even after he deputized one of his allies, Rep. John Katko of New York, to strike a bipartisan agreement on the proposal,” they wrote. “In a sign of momentum, the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, of which Katko is a member, formally voted to endorse the legislation Tuesday evening..”

My colleague Mike DeBonis later reported the bipartisan group’s approval albeit not unanimous pointed to the possibility of double-digit Republican defections.

After telling their caucus to vote their conscience on the bill, Republican leaders changed tack and encouraged their members to oppose the legislation a sign of nervousness about the coming floor action.

McCarthy seems to be getting help from the Senate side, where Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) came out Wednesday against the commission, calling the bipartisan compromise “the House Democrats' slanted and unbalanced proposal,” Mike reported.

On Tuesday, the Kentucky lawmaker had signalled ambivalence and “cited two possible objections — that the commission could impinge on existing federal prosecutions of rioters and that the commission as constructed would appear to give the Democratic-selected chairman the power to hire and fire its staff.”

His opposition now makes passage the longest of long shots. McConnell's remarks came after the dominant force in the Republican party, Trump, said late Tuesday that Republicans should vote against the commission, staying out of what he called a “Democrat trap” laced with “partisan unfairness.”

The 50-50 split in the Senate means united Democrats would need 10 GOP votes.

If it happens, though, McCarthy could be in for more trouble in the form of being called to testify about a phone call he had with Trump as the rioters breached the Capitol and hunted for lawmakers.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) says McCarthy told her about the conversation, saying that when he told Trump his supporters were to blame for the violence, the president replied: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.

What’s happening now

Biden, during a conversation this morning with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” according to the White House. “Fighting between Israel and Hamas dragged into a 10th day Wednesday even as international demands for a cease-fire mounted, with France pushing a United Nations Security Council resolution and Democrats piling pressure on President Biden to do more to stop the conflict,” Loveday Morris, Michael Miller and Shira Rubin report. “‘The shooting must stop,’ French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement after speaking with the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, who he said were in agreement. ‘The time has come for a cease-fire.’ Even as calls for a truce have widened, Israel has said it will not stop until it achieves its military objectives."

The casualties continue growing. “The Palestinian death toll in Gaza stood at 219, including at least 63 children, local health officials said Wednesday. In the West Bank, at least 19 Palestinians have been killed since Friday, officials there said. The death toll in Israel stood at 12, including two children, after police said two Thai workers were killed Tuesday by rockets fired from Gaza. ... House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that ‘after more than a week of hostilities, it has become even more apparent that a cease-fire is necessary.’”

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Investigation of Trump Organization now exploring possible criminal conduct, N.Y. attorney general’s office says,” by Shayna Jacobs and David Fahrenthold: “ ‘We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the company is no longer purely civil in nature,’ said Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the attorney general's office. ‘We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA. We have no additional comment at this time.’ The attorney general's notification to the Trump Organization suggested a cooperative relationship has developed between investigators working for James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.”
  • FBI probing possible illegal donations to Susan Collins PAC and congressional campaign, search warrant indicates,” by Emily Davies: “Nothing in the warrant, reported first by Axios, indicates that Collins or her staff were aware of the allegedly illegal donations. The FBI’s search warrant application, which requested access to a hard drive, outlined reasons investigators believe the former CEO of a Hawaii defense contractor — Navatek, now known as Martin Defense Group — funneled donations funded by the company to a PAC supporting Collins through a shell company and donations to the Collins for Senator campaign through his family members.”

… and beyond

  • How corporations buy — and sell — food made with prison labor,” by the Counter’s H. Claire Brown: “The Counter identified over $40 million in transactions between private food companies, prisons, and prison industries since 2017, including sales to major food industry players like Cargill and the Dairy Farmers of America. Across the country, at least 650 correctional institutions have some sort of food processing, landscaping, or farming operation. ... In some states, food produced in prisons makes its way into restaurants and grocery stores through companies like Leprino, though in most places, food produced on prison grounds feeds the prison system and the public sector. Elsewhere, private food companies contract with state correctional industries to hire incarcerated workers, often for meager pay.”
  • Facial recognition, fake identities and digital surveillance tools: Inside the post office’s covert internet operations program,” by Yahoo News’s Jana Winter: “The post office’s law enforcement arm has faced intense congressional scrutiny in recent weeks over its Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), which tracks social media posts of Americans and shares that information with other law enforcement agencies. Yet the program is much broader in scope than previously known and includes analysts who assume fake identities online, use sophisticated intelligence tools and employ facial recognition software, according to interviews and documents reviewed by Yahoo News.”

At the table

Today, with President Biden weeks away from his first major in-person summits, we’re having lunch with an expert on presidential travel, former George W. Bush aide Steve Atkiss, to talk about the logistics involved. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Knox: President Biden is going overseas next month to attend summits of the G-7 and NATO. At this point in the process, what has already happened from a logistical standpoint?

Atkiss: For the G-7, the U.K. government has been working for years to plan, starting probably three years ago with selecting the site. And then, as the host, working through all the details of how they intend to host the summit.

The U.S.’s involvement, from a presidential trip standpoint, would have begun at some point in the last month, where a team of staff and military personnel, security personnel, would have traveled over, been hosted by their U.K. counterparts, and been briefed on what arrangement they as the host have made for the summit as a whole and specifically for the American president and his delegation.

That group would have then returned to Washington and have started putting pencil to paper on all the details of exactly what the president is going to do when, what the events are going to look like, what his participation and therefore what content needs to be generated to support his participation in those events. And they’re starting to get their act together for the next step, which would be the departure of the advance party leaving from here, going over to the U.K., to remain there through the duration of the visit.

Knox: What happens in the next few weeks?

Atkiss: Over the next few weeks, increasingly large numbers of Americans will be arriving at the summit location. And that will include White House staff, who are there specifically to support the president and making all arrangements for him to have a successful visit. It’ll include security personnel the Secret Service, primarily. And it will include a significant number of military folks who are there to support him in his role as commander in chief, and also to support all the logistical needs he has in terms of transportation, communication, etc., and also to augment the security support.

The State Department will also be ramping up. So in addition to the support they’d provide out of U.S. embassy London, they’ll be flying in foreign service officers, other State Department personnel around the world, many of whom have experience working on these big summits or working on big presidential visits. So that number will go to zero now on the ground to, by the time the president actually arrives in country, [having] as many as 1,000 people that are there from all these different organizations to support his visit.

Knox: The president is also supposed to meet Vladimir Putin on this trip. Does a summit with the Russian president require any special logistics?

Atkiss: It’s a lot of the same considerations that come in with any bilateral summit. 

Obviously, just given the nature of U.S.-Russia relations over the last 20 years, any time an American president has been meeting with President Putin, there’s been special attention paid to the details and lot of back and forth with Russian counterparts about exactly where it’s going to be, when, what the format is going to look like, a lot of attention paid to parity, making sure that one side or the other does not appear to be in some way in a superior position.

I was involved in President [George W.] Bush’s first visit with President Putin in Slovenia and that was a long time ago and things have changed quite a bit but we had a lot of back and forth with the Russians starting with just the basics of the location but then down to every little detail of how it was going to work.

Knox: I’m a bit of an obsessive about presidential hotel stays. What can you tell us about the presidential experience?

Atkiss: Keep in mind that we’re not just talking about the president, when he moves, you’re talking about thousands of hotel rooms that the U.S. delegation requires. Starting with him but all the way down to every staffer, every security person, the entire press corps. That’s something that the White House is managing and working for months or even years on securing those hotel rooms and then making sure that the right people are in the right place.

As far as the president’s hotel, different presidents have different styles, and that sometimes drives where they stay. But on overseas trips, it’s largely driven by security concerns, location, proximity to the airport, proximity to places they’re going to need to go, the desire that most presidents have to not disrupt a city any more than they have to. Those are the major things that come into play normally.

Sometimes the host government feels strongly about where a president stays, and so we try to be accommodating.

When it comes to a summit, where you have so many heads of state in the same town at the same time, when you have all the accompanying entourages and people that are interested in covering that event, obviously that creates a huge premium on hotel rooms and so there’s frequently a lot of limitations on where the president can stay, what’s available to him.

We’ll do things like have the president stay someplace, but you’ve only got 10 hotel rooms available for the rest of the delegation at that same location. Everybody else, the other 987 people are hours away.

After Genoa [the 2001 G-8 summit, marked by violent protests] there was a lot of focus on picking locations that were intentionally remote and limited in terms of access, which usually means limited in terms of hotel rooms.

A lot of the times, at these big international conferences, you’re going to have the actual core of the meeting in one location and the vast majority of people will never set foot there. They’re going to be dozens or hundreds of miles away, where there is the infrastructure to be able to support all those numbers.

Knox: Stipulating that your best stories about presidential travel are in a vault somewhere, tell us a second-best story.

Atkiss: [NATO summit, Ankara, Turkey, 2004.] I was actually on the night shift. We got into Ankara late the night before the summit started. We were staying at the hotel that is literally right next to the summit site. It was like on a hilltop at some government conference center. The hotel was this 12-story building right next to the event site.

I was asleep. Number one, we were eight hours off of our home time zone, and number two, I had to work at night, so I wasn’t getting up early in the morning and running around.

I’m sound asleep. And of course everybody’s on edge, because it’s still the immediate post-9/11 era. We’re all wondering what the next vector of attack is going to be.

And I hear, from my bed, my eyes still closed, a jet, floored, coming right at the hotel. I jump out of my bed, grab my radio, and run over to the window. And there are F-16s flying straight at our hotel right at the hotel, pointing directly into my window. And I’m going “well, this is how it all ends.”

And, well … they had decided to put on an air show to mark the beginning of the summit. So these jets circled overhead, using our hotel as an aim point for the center of their air show for about 30 minutes.

The Biden agenda

Biden will deliver his first commencement address as president today as he speaks to graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. 
  • “White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that Biden was still reviewing a speech that will focus on ‘the important role the Coast Guard has played both for our economic security and our national security.’ Biden, she said, will also ‘talk about his own commitment to rebuilding our Coast Guard around the world,’ ” John Wagner reports. Biden addressed the graduating Coast Guard Academy class in 2013 while vice president.
  • Vice President Harris is scheduled to deliver the keynote address later this month at the U.S. Naval Academy’s commissioning ceremony in Annapolis.
The White House is bringing back a climate scientist forced out by the Trump administration. 
  • Michael Kuperberg, the climate scientist who for six years ran the federal climate program that produces the U.S. government’s definitive reports on climate change during both Democratic and Republican administrations, was reinstated Monday, the White House confirmed, Jason Samenow reports.
Liberals want Biden to ditch infrastructure talks with Republicans. 
  • “These Democrats say they're worried that by cutting a deal with the GOP on roads and bridges, they risk losing out on a generational opportunity to expand paid family leave and child tax credits and invest in green energy,” Politico’s Burgess Everett and Sarah Ferris report.
  • “Asked if the Biden administration should keep talking to Republicans about a bipartisan infrastructure deal, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) replied: ‘Absolutely not. Because we might lose our coalition for human infrastructure.’ Instead she's ‘100 percent’ in favor of pushing through a multitrillion-dollar package using the blunt partisan mechanism of budget reconciliation.”
  • “House progressives sent their own warning shot Tuesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, arguing in a letter that Democrats should pursue a multitrillion-dollar megabill sweeping Biden’s priorities together, ‘a single, ambitious package combining physical and social investments hand in hand.’ It’s the strongest sign yet that a growing number of liberals are done with trying to cut an infrastructure deal with Republicans.”

Quote of the day

“This sucker’s quick!” Biden exclaimed to a group of reporters after he tried out Ford’s new F-150 Lightning electric truck. 

The pandemic

McCarthy and the GOP Doctors Caucus are introducing a resolution to update the House mask policy. 
  • “Specifically, the resolution directs the House attending physician to update the ‘mask wearing guidance’ currently in effect over the House of Representatives and committee rooms ‘for Members and staff who are vaccinated against Covid-19’ so that they are in line with the CDC’s new guidance," Fox News reports.
  • “When asked by a reporter last week if she would update the House rules given the new CDC guidance, Pelosi gave a resounding ‘no’ and questioned whether every member had been vaccinated.” Remember, only 95 out of 212 Republicans reported being vaccinated, while 112 did not respond to a survey carried out by CNN.
  • Lawmakers who don’t wear masks on the House floor face hefty fines — $500 for the first offense, $2,500 for the second. Three GOP lawmakers — Brian Mast (Fla.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa), a physician, and Beth Van Duyne (Tex.) — have already been fined $500 for defying the mask rules. “Worth it,” Van Duyne tweeted, along with a fire emoji.
The E.U. will reopen borders to the vaccinated.
  • “The decision will throw open Europe’s doors to tourist, business and other travel after a long stretch in which most people from outside the bloc’s 27 nations have not been allowed in. It will hearten those who have missed wandering the continent’s ancient streets — as well as Europeans whose livelihoods depend on tourist cash,” Michael Birnbaum reports.
  • “One final round of approvals will be necessary in the coming days, but the sign-off is not in doubt after the plan was agreed by ambassadors on Wednesday. The precise timing of when the borders will actually open is not yet clear, European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said, but officials said it could happen within days of the final signature.”
The coronavirus variant from India could quickly become dominant.
  • “British scientists have raised alarm about the coronavirus variant first found in India, advising the government in technical papers that it could be as much as 50 percent more contagious than the highly transmissible strain first found in the U.K. that became dominant in many places around the world this spring,” William Booth reports
Mexico’s coronavirus deaths are plummeting. The ‘Biden wall’ — a.k.a., the U.S. vaccination campaign — could be a factor.
  • “Scientists and government officials say the pandemic seems to be abating — at least temporarily — because of increasing levels of immunity on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. As much as half the Mexican population has developed antibodies because the coronavirus circulated so widely over the past year. In addition, U.S. vaccinations appear to be blocking the southward spread of the virus,” Mary Beth Sheridan reports

Hot on the left

Mark McCloskey, the lawyer facing felony charges for pointing a gun at Black Lives Matter protesters, announced a Senate run to replace retiring Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R). “On Tuesday, McCloskey told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he would seek to replace Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is retiring and will not run for reelection in 2022,” Katie Shepherd reports. “ ‘God came knocking on my door disguised as an angry mob,’ McCloskey said on ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’ ‘If we don’t stand up now and take this country back, it’s going away.’ ... In a dramatic political ad that McCloskey posted on Twitter late Tuesday, he cast himself as a ‘defender.’ ‘An angry mob marched to destroy my home and kill my family, I took a stand to defend them,’ he said in the ad. ‘I am a proven fighter against the mob.’ Despite McCloskey’s repeated claims that he feared for his life and believed the protesters intended to harm his home during the march on June 28, video suggested that the crowd merely passed through an open gate on their way to the mayor’s home to stage a peaceful demonstration.” 

McCloskey and his wife, Patricia, were charged in July with felony weapons charges and in October for evidence tampering. Their criminal trial is set to start on Nov. 1. 

Hot on the right

“Roe might go,” writes the Bulwark’s Kimberly Wehle. “The Court on Monday granted certiorari in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which involves a 2018 Mississippi law called the Gestational Age Act that bans abortions after the fifteenth week of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. The plaintiff — the sole licensed abortion provider in the state of Mississippi — successfully argued in the lower courts that the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade precludes states from banning abortions before a fetus is ‘viable.’ ... The Court’s willingness to review the decision suggests that it might be willing to do some serious damage to Roe. ... Although the Court could similarly strike down the Mississippi law without disturbing Roe on stare decisis grounds — i.e., deference to precedent, reasoning that Roe has been on the books too long to tamper with now — it seems more likely that the Court took the case for a reason and will make major changes to the constitutional law governing abortion rights, perhaps including overturning Roe itself. Which is why some abortion critics are feeling celebratory while abortion-rights defenders hit the panic button.” 

The case for free transportation, visualized

The pandemic put buses and trains through a different prism. They were essential, transit advocates say, like many of the people riding them. Some transit and government leaders now ask if public transportation should not be partially subsidized, but fully government-funded, much like roads. Here’s how D.C., New York, San Francisco and other cities are weighing the concept of reducing fares for riders as the pandemic begins to recede.

Today in Washington

Biden is in Connecticut for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s 140th Commencement Exercises. He will deliver the keynote address. 

Harris will meet virtually with Guatemalan justice sector leaders today at 4:15 p.m. to talk about the importance of impartial legal systems. At 6 p.m., the vice president will deliver remarks at the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Unity Summit. 

In closing

Trevor Noah explained why many are not rushing back to their restaurant jobs:

Obama talked about aliens on the “Late Late Show,” saying “We don't know exactly what they are":