The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Political leaders prepare for gridlock and inquiries in next Congress

Democrats call McCarthy a weak leader as Trump declares candidacy and gets his Twitter back

Lawmakers on Nov. 20 were split on the White House's position that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is immune from liability for Jamal Khashoggi's murder. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Would-be leaders of both major parties are already gearing up for messy fights in the next session of Congress, with critical funding issues and investigations looming.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who is so far running unopposed to be the senior House Democrat, said on Sunday that he favors raising the debt ceiling before the GOP takes over the House on Jan. 3 to prevent giving the current Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) the opportunity to use the debt ceiling as leverage on a range of other issues.

“Kevin McCarthy has said that he is willing to detonate the American economy, default on our nation’s debt in order to try to strip away Social Security and Medicare for tens of millions of Americans,” Jeffries said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That’s incredibly reckless.”

Jeffries said he has not spoken to McCarthy since the election, but added that he has “a much warmer relationship” with Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 2 ranking Republican in the House.

Who is Hakeem Jeffries?

On Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” however, McCarthy, who is seeking the gavel as House speaker, seemed determined to avoid any cooperation with Democrats.

“We set a goal,” he said. “To stop the Biden agenda, to win the majority and to fire Nancy Pelosi. We have just achieved all three of those.”

Even before the new Congress is sworn in, the race for the 2024 presidential campaign was underway with former president Donald Trump’s announcement last Tuesday that he would run for office again.

Former vice president Mike Pence appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and stood up for the track record of the Trump tenure.

“I won’t join those that want to dismiss the four years of our administration and all that we accomplished for the American people,” he said. Pence, a likely candidate for the 2024 GOP nomination, was noncommittal about his intentions.

“I’ll keep you posted on whether I’m going to run or not. But I do think we’ll have better choices,” Pence told host Chuck Todd.

Former House speaker Paul D. Ryan, however, was unequivocal about his opinion on Trump’s run.

“I think what we now know, it’s pretty clear is, with Trump we lose.” Ryan said. “We get past Trump, we start winning elections,” he said, calling himself “a never-again-Trumper.”

Even if House Republicans will face a stalemate with Democrats in the Senate when it comes to passage of any legislation, many have said that they will hold extensive oversight hearings and slow down initiatives by Democrats.

Asked whether Democrats would defend President Biden in face of investigations the Republicans are expected to pursue next year, Jeffries said that Democrats would seek to cooperate with Republicans “legislatively” but push back against “MAGA extremism.”

“We will absolutely defend the Biden administration and its track record of success if it comes under assault by people attempting to politicize our governmental responsibilities, without question,” he said.

Democrats also defended Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision on Friday to appoint a special counsel to investigate Trump in an effort to isolate those cases from politics.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” praised the move as “the right thing to do.” But he added that he was concerned that the Justice Department had been “very slow,” and he hoped the special prosecutor would speed up the investigations.

Schiff also said that it would not surprise him if McCarthy fulfilled his vow to strip Schiff of his position on the House Intelligence Committee. He said it was a sign of weakness.

“I suspect he will do whatever [Rep.] Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) wants him to do,” Schiff said. “He is a very weak leader of his conference, meaning that he will adhere to the wishes of the lowest common denominator. And if that lowest common denominator wants to remove people from committees, that’s what they’ll do.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump and a member of the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, also said that McCarthy would give in to the most right-wing elements of the GOP, especially Greene.

“First off, she will be newly empowered,” he said. “And the fact that she’s supporting Kevin McCarthy means that he’s made a lot of promises to her. Just, trust me, that’s how this business works.”

Who is Kevin McCarthy?

Some lawmakers also defended the Biden administration’s decision to repeat past precedent and grant immunity to Mohammed bin Salman, now Saudi Arabia’s prime minister — despite his alleged involvement with the gruesome 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist living in the United States.

“It would have been a major break of those customs to not grant that kind of immunity,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“What I would say is that Saudi Arabia is far from the world’s worst abuser of human rights,” Cotton said. He pointed at Iran for suppressing protesters in the streets and to China over what he called “genocide” against religious and ethnic minorities.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) also backed the decision.

“Do I think the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was awful? Absolutely, absolutely,” Warner said. “But we need to be enough of a realist to realize that Saudi Arabia has been a bulwark against Iran. It is a leader in a very messy part of the world.”

But Schiff said that he opposed the granting of immunity in light of the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi.

“We ought to put our value on life not oil, and I think this is a tragic decision,” he said.