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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

McCarthy tries to strike deal for speakership but at what cost?

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Good morning, Early Birds. Today is the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today’s edition … Social Security numbers of Trump officials, allies posted in Jan. 6 committee files … Biden to award Presidential Citizens Medal to 12 people for Jan. 6 … What we’re watching: Jobs numbers … Missy Ryan writes that as the Taliban erases women’s rights, Biden encounters limits of U.S. sway … but first …

On the Hill

Democrats see ‘sword of Damocles’ over McCarthy’s head

Rep.-elect Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) may be inching closer to securing the votes to become speaker after three days of House Republican infighting — but at what cost?

Republicans are discussing a deal that could win over some — but not all — of the 20 Republicans who refused to vote for McCarthy during five more fruitless rounds of voting on Thursday, our colleagues Marianna Sotomayor, Jackie Alemany and Amy B Wang report.

  • “According to three sources familiar with the deal, several holdouts are on the verge of agreeing to it and will vote in favor of McCarthy, though when that might happen remained unclear. The expectation is that though McCarthy will not get all the votes necessary to become speaker, it will show considerable momentum for him.”
  • “After ‘phase one’ is completed, ‘phase two’ will begin, as both conservative Republicans and moderates aggressively apply pressure to the holdouts that remain until they can find a pathway for only four to vote against McCarthy — the threshold he needs to get to 218.”

But Democrats and some Republicans are increasingly concerned that McCarthy is making concessions that will make it all but impossible for him to lead the House.

Democrats are particularly worried about what will happen when Congress must lift the debt limit later this year to keep the federal government from defaulting. 

“As the Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, I am deeply concerned about any prospective deal that would jeopardize our ability to raise the debt ceiling,” Rep.-elect Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) tweeted Thursday night. “The full faith and credit of the United States must never be put at mortal risk.”

When Congress came perilously close to barreling through the debt limit in 2013, House Speaker John A. Boehner had to rely on Democratic votes to raise it. Just 87 House Republicans voted to raise it.

The fear is that McCarthy would be loath to rely on Democratic votes to raise the debt limit because the same lawmakers who’ve blocked him from becoming speaker — who have made a spending discipline a core element of their case against him — would trigger a vote to depose him. McCarthy’s offer to the holdouts includes restoring the “motion to vacate,” which allows a single lawmaker to set in motion a vote of no confidence in the speaker.

“There’s this sword of Damocles over him or any other Republican speaker such that if they do something unpopular with any one of the rebels, he’s at risk losing his job,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.).

When it comes to raising the debt limit, Connolly added, “I worry more today than I did yesterday.”

'An untenable situation'

It’s not clear when exactly Congress will need to lift the debt limit, but President Biden’s decision to continue the pandemic-related pause in student loan repayments and rising interest rates mean it’s likely to come sooner than analysts had predicted — likely sometime in the middle of the year, according to Shai Akabas, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s director of economic policy.

Akabas is concerned about how the next speaker — whether it’s McCarthy or someone else — will navigate the demands of Democrats who refuse to negotiate over raising the debt limit and a faction of Republicans dead-set against doing so without major concessions.

  • “That’s an untenable situation, because you don’t have enough votes in your conference to pass something by yourself, and you also don’t have the willingness of the other party to support some type of deal,” Akabas said.

Democrats might need to band together with “a dozen or so — maybe more — responsible Republicans who are willing to cross party lines and do the right thing to make sure that we don’t default,” Connolly said.

Connolly suggested that Democrats and a bloc of moderate Republicans could use a discharge petition to bring a debt ceiling increase to the floor. But such an approach has never been tried, and any Republicans who attempted such an approach might be risking political suicide by aligning with Democrats.

The Republican view

McCarthy’s allies reject the idea that he’s giving up too much and won’t be able to lead his fractious conference.

“I get it, in some instances, getting a deal is just a bridge too far, but that’s not really where we’re at,” Rep.-elect Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) told our colleague Paul Kane. “We want a more open, transparent and accountable House, and we’re going to get there.”

Another McCarthy ally, Rep.-elect Tom Cole (R-Okla.), said he wasn’t concerned about a debt-limit crisis.

  • “I’m not worried about what we're doing in our rules package, what's happening here,” Cole said. “I'm more worried that Democrats are saying we can raise this thing indefinitely without changing anything else.”

But other Republicans have expressed concern about McCarthy’s proposed concessions, which include placing more hard-right Republicans on the powerful House Rules Committee, giving them another method of exercising influence.

“I don’t want one person or five people holding us all hostage on tough votes,” said Rep.-elect Don Bacon (R-Neb.). “That’s my view.”

Thanks to our colleagues Marianna, Jackie, Camila DeChalus, Paul Kane, Dylan Wells and Liz Goodwin for their reporting help.

The investigations

Social Security numbers of Trump officials, allies posted in Jan. 6 files

Yikes: “When the House Jan. 6 committee wrapped up its work in recent weeks, it posted hundreds of records online, including interview transcripts, audio recordings and text messages,” our colleagues Aaron Schaffer and Patrick Marley report. “Also buried in the massive cache was a spreadsheet with nearly 2,000 Social Security numbers associated with visitors to the White House in December 2020, including at least three members of Trump’s Cabinet, a few Republican governors and numerous Trump allies.”

  • “Exposed individuals don’t appear to have been notified about the leak … [And] it’s not clear how many people had downloaded the spreadsheet by Wednesday, when the [Government Publishing Office (GPO), which originally published the file,] removed it from its website shortly after The Post notified the agency of the numbers’ existence. GPO has since re-uploaded the spreadsheet with the Social Security numbers redacted.”
  • “Whether it was a careless and sloppy handling of records or a deliberate disregard of decorum, either scenario is a perfunctory and callous display of government and a frightening reminder of the current state in Washington,” former housing and urban development secretary Ben Carson, whose name was listed in the spreadsheet alongside a Social Security number, told our colleagues.

At the White House

Biden to award Presidential Citizens Medal to 12 people for Jan. 6

Jan. 6, 2023: Two years have passed since a violent mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, leaving five people dead, hundreds injured and a city on edge. 

Today, President Biden will award 12 people, including law enforcement officials and mother-and-daughter election workers, with the Presidential Citizens Medal, our colleague Yasmeen Abutaleb reports. The honorees, who refused to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and defended the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, will be awarded for “exemplary contributions to our democracy,” a White House official said Thursday. 

  • Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after the attack, will be posthumously awarded. On Thursday, Sicknick’s longtime partner Sandra Garza sued Trump and two rioters, Julian Elie Khater and George Pierre Tanios, for “wrongful death,” per the Hill’s Julia Shapero. The lawsuit seeks $30 million in damages.
  • Biden is also expected to deliver an impassioned speech that doubles as a warning: “The threats that were exposed by the Jan. 6 select committee, and appeared beat back in the 2022 midterms, remain very much at large,” Politico’s Jonathan Lemire and Eli Stokols report. “He will link Republicans to the extremists who attempted to forcibly overturn the results of Trump’s defeat.”

Hundreds of pro-Trump rioters are awaiting trial for their role in the insurrection. “The attack on the U.S. Capitol ignited the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history, with more than 930 people federally charged so far and more to come,” our colleagues Tom Jackman and Spencer S. Hsu report.

  • “About half of the arrests so far have been for misdemeanors, and for those given actual jail time, the average sentence has been 48 days. But most of the misdemeanants have not received any jail time: most have received probation, home detention or halfway house time, or a fine. These defendants are typically rioters who entered the Capitol and didn’t engage with the police, but left a trail of social media posts and photos before, during and after Jan. 6.”
  • Meanwhile, “right-wing supporters of the ‘Jan. Sixers’ have formed prayer chains, instigated letter-writing campaigns, organized vigils and raised millions for their legal defense — all with the aim of supporting the 932 federally charged defendants they see as valiant patriots, prisoners of conscience persecuted for engaging in their First Amendment rights,” our colleague Annie Gowen reports.

What we're watching

The December jobs report comes out this morning amid continued worries about the economy even though hiring has remained strong.

From our colleagues Lauren Kaori Gurley and Abha Bhattarai:

December is slated to be the 24th straight month of robust, often sizzling job growth that shifted the balance of power in the labor market, giving workers more options to seek better jobs and higher wages. Bigger companies with deeper pockets often had the upper hand in this dynamic, but as the economy cools, the dynamic is changing.

Mass layoffs at some large and high-profile employers have sounded alarms in the tech sector, as well as advertising, media, finance and professional services, in the lead-up to the holidays and into the new year… 

The softening in the labor market appears to be benefiting small- and medium-size employers that had spent much of 2022 scrambling for workers, with the limitations of a smaller labor pool shaped by the pandemic. More of these companies are now finding the employees they need.

At the White House

As Taliban erases women’s rights, Biden encounters limits of U.S. sway

NEW: “The Biden administration is contemplating actions to punish the Taliban for its treatment of women and girls, potentially including cuts to American aid, even as officials acknowledge that the U.S. withdrawal has left them with little power to stop the group’s leaders from imposing their harsh vision on Afghan society,” our colleague Missy Ryan reports.

  • The Taliban “cannot expect to take these draconian, barbaric steps that prevent opportunity for women and girls but more recently inflict such tremendous suffering on all of the people of Afghanistan and still expect to find a path to improved relations with the rest of the world,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “It is our goal with the response that we are developing internally and with our allies and partners to prove to them that will not be the case.”
  • “Officials have been reluctant to alter or restrict U.S. assistance as part of their attempt to defend rights for women and other groups, arguing that such cuts could exacerbate the suffering of Afghans … [But] that approach may be changing as Taliban leaders show willingness to flout global condemnation.”

The Media

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