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The Early 202

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

Speaker McCarthy faces first test on rules package

The Early 202

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

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In today’s editionPresident Biden is in Mexico City today and Tuesday for the North American Leaders’ Summit, with migration, drug trafficking and climate change at the top of the agenda. … Another American export? Bolsonaro supporters assault the presidential office building, Congress and the Supreme Court … but first …

On the Hill

Speaker McCarthy faces first test on rules package

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will face the first test of his leadership today after he secured the gavel in the early hours Saturday morning following 15 rounds of voting and a last-minute deadlock that almost brought Republicans to blows on the House floor.

House Republicans are set to vote this evening on the chamber’s rules — a source of much of the infighting that led 20 Republicans to try to block McCarthy from getting the top job. Tensions have eased in the conference since Saturday morning, but the discord isn’t over.

Conservative hard-liners won their most prized concession from McCarthy in the rules package as part of the deal to support him for speaker: restoring the motion to vacate, which would allow a single lawmaker to force a vote on whether to depose him.

Some Republicans have expressed concerns about other concessions the hard-liners dragged out of McCarthy. He can afford to lose four Republican votes if all Democrats vote against the package and no lawmakers vote “present” or skip the vote. 

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) said he plans to vote against the rules package in protest of potential cuts to defense spending that could result from changes intended to balance the federal budget.

  • “I’m going to visit Taiwan here in a couple of weeks,” Gonzales said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “How am I going to look at our allies in the eye and say, ‘I need you to increase your defense budget, but yet America is going to decrease ours’?”

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who has broken with her party at times, told “Face the Nation” she was considering voting against the rules package because Republican leadership had not been clear about “what backroom deals were cut” to win over the McCarthy holdouts.

It’s unclear how many other Republicans are considering voting against the package. 

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who has been critical of the concessions McCarthy made to win the speakership, is leaning toward voting for the package, a spokeswoman from him told The Early on Sunday. 

Decentralizing the House

After four years in the minority and seeing Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) tight grip on the chamber, McCarthy’s allies have defended the rules package, even though it diminishes the power McCarthy can wield.

“Anything that takes more power out of leadership and gives more ability to rank-and-file members is going to be really good for our conference,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), a McCarthy ally, told The Early on Sunday.

He added that the new rules would make it harder for Republicans to pass legislation and will force lawmakers to take tougher votes because more rank-and-file members will be able to offer amendments and bills. But it’s worth it, he said, because members want more say in the legislative process. 

“I think our voters sent us here to take tough votes,” Armstrong said. 

There are reasons for skepticism that changing the rules will cure what ails the House. When House Democrats changed the rules after winning back the majority in 2006 to let any lawmaker offer amendments on spending bills, “Republicans seized the opportunity and put forth scores of politically charged proposals to alter a routine agriculture spending bill, bringing the debate to a virtual standstill,” the New York Times’s Carl Hulse notes. “Democrats quickly reversed course and put limits on amendments.”

And despite all the bitter internal battles, most legislation that passes the House is likely to be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate — and any bills that make it through the Senate could be vetoed by President Biden.

“We’re a Republican House with a Democrat Senate and a Democrat in the White House,” Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), a longtime McCarthy ally, told reporters early Saturday after McCarthy became speaker. “There’s realism around that. But there is hope and demand that we start more aggressively.”

The rules details

Here are a few of the most notable provisions in the rules package that the House will vote on today:

  • Cut-as-you go (CUTGO) rule: This is a variant of the pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules used on and off by Congress for decades. PAYGO mandated that Congress pay for new spending or tax cuts with new revenue or spending cuts elsewhere (although the rule was often waived). CUTGO would make lawmakers pay for spending only with cuts — no new taxes allowed.
  • Debt-limit vote: This provision scraps the so-called Gephardt rule, which allowed the House to avoid a direct vote on lifting the debt limit (which can be used against lawmakers who vote for it in campaign ads).
  • Holman Rule: This rule, which dates to the 19th century, allows “amendments to appropriations legislation that would reduce the salary of or fire specific federal employees, or cut a specific program,” according to a summary of the rules package.
  • Single-subject bill requirement: Starting Feb. 1, lawmakers would need to declare the “single subject” of any bill introduced.
Key committee chair races

Also on the agenda this week: The House Steering Committee will meet at 10 a.m. today to decide the outcomes of unresolved committee chair races. The members who want the slots will appear before the panel, which includes many McCarthy allies, to make their cases. 

The big ones include the Ways and Means Committee, which Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) and Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) are vying to lead, and the Homeland Security Committee, for which Reps. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) are seeking the chairmanship. The Budget Committee and the Committee on Education and Labor* are also up for grabs.

*Note: In their rules package, Republicans will change the name of the Committee on Education and Labor to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. They will also change the name of the Oversight and Reform Committee to the Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

The first bills to get a vote

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced Sunday that he would put forward votes this week on four GOP priorities: 

  • Scrapping increased funding for the IRS that passed last year. Republicans say the money will go toward hiring 87,000 new IRS agents, but our colleague Glenn Kessler fact-checked the claim and found the number to be “wildly exaggerated.”
  • Creating a committee on the “weaponization of the federal government against U.S. citizens.” This is going to be a new Judiciary Committee select subcommittee. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the head of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the lawmakers who spent days blocking McCarthy for the speakership, wanted to lead the panel.
    • But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus member and McCarthy ally, will lead the new subcommittee, too, according to a senior Republican aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal a decision that hasn’t been made public.
  • But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus member and McCarthy ally, will lead the new subcommittee, too, according to a senior Republican aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal a decision that hasn’t been made public.
  • A bill to prohibit sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China. 
  • A bill to hold “‘woke’ prosecutors accountable” by releasing cases the prosecutors don’t accept. 

The last three of these bills are all messaging bills: legislation that has no chance of being signed into law but signify Republicans’ priorities. (It’s a bipartisan tradition: House Democrats also passed many messaging bills they knew couldn’t pass the Senate.)

At the White House

Three amigos, three problemas

President Biden is in Mexico City today and Tuesday for the North American Leaders’ Summit. 

Migration, drug trafficking and climate change will be top of mind when Biden, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meet, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday. 

“President Biden’s trip to Mexico City represents an opportunity for the United States to further strengthen our expansive partnerships with Canada and Mexico, and reaffirm that North America represents the preeminent economic powerhouse of the 21st century,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement to The Early.

The summit follows Biden’s first presidential trip to the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday. 

House Republicans have promised to investigate Biden’s border policies. As part of his negotiations to win over enough Republican votes to become speaker, McCarthy agreed to take up a border security plan championed by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) that calls for completing the border wall and expelling migrants attempting to cross. The plan does not address undocumented immigrants in the United States. 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who has vowed to focus on a bipartisan immigration bill in the new Congress against tough odds, will lead a bipartisan group of senators to the border on Tuesday. 

Biden’s border policies

The summit follows the Biden administration’s decision to expand Title 42, the Trump-era pandemic border policy. The move to expel migrants from countries such as Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua who cross the border illegally drew blistering condemnation from Democrats and immigration advocacy groups

  • “I am deeply disturbed that instead of working with Congress to develop a solution to the multiple humanitarian crises that are fueling mass migration in our hemisphere, the Administration is circumventing immigration law which will exacerbate chaos and confusion at the Southern border,” Menendez said Thursday after the policy was announced.
  • The expansion of the policy is a remarkable “move to the center on an issue that has loomed over the first two years of [Biden’s] administration,” our colleagues Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Nick Miroff, Maria Sacchetti and Kevin Sieff report. But it’s also a “deflating and lonely moment for a president who had promised to leave President Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policies in the dustbin of history,” Maria and Nick write.
Mexico’s stance

When Biden meets López Obrador today, he is likely to press Mexico to take on a larger role to stem the flow of migrants at the border. 

“Mexico is a big part of making this new system work,” said Shannon K. O’Neil, the Nelson and David Rockefeller senior fellow for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. So far, Mexico has agreed to take in 30,000 Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan migrants each month.

To guarantee continued Mexican cooperation, O’Neil expects discussions to revolve around strengthening the capacity of Mexico’s asylum system by providing legal or financial support.

But as Republicans continue to hound the Biden administration over immigration and threaten investigations into Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s handling of the border, one former Obama administration official said Mexico’s sense of urgency to blunt immigration wasn’t nearly as great as it is in the United States.

  • The “perception that the Biden administration and Democrats have not been able to control and defend the southern border” looms over the summit, the former official told the Early on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic. Although Mexico and the United States each have presidential elections coming up in 2024, the issue plays differently in Mexican politics, the official added.

Assault on presidential palace, Congress challenges Brazil’s democracy

Another American export?: Thousands of supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the presidential office building, Congress and the Supreme Court on Sunday, “in scenes that hauntingly evoked the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol,” our colleagues Anthony Faiola and Marina Dias report

The self-styled “Trump of the Americas” has fueled discontent among his supporters since his loss to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in October. He has refused to officially concede.

  • “The scenes of smoke and violence were at once both shocking and predictable, the tragic realization of a prophecy Bolsonaro has repeatedly uttered to mobilize his base and terrify his adversaries: If I’m removed from power, he often hinted, violence will follow,” our colleague Terrence McCoy reports from Rio de Janeiro

Sunday’s attack was the largest threat to Brazilian democracy since the 1964 military coup.

Lula denounced the rioters as “fascists” in an address to the country. Bolsonaro also condemned the rioters.

Biden called the situation “outrageous” while touring the U.S. border wall. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Democratic lawmakers also condemned the attack. (Republicans were much less vocal.)

Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who served on the committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol:

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.):

Former congressman Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of two Republicans who served on the Jan. 6 committee

The Media

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Coffee Break(s)

If you are going through your clothes at the start of the year, too, this guide to donating clothes so they don’t end up in the landfill is really helpful. 

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