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The Early 202

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

House Democrats eye possible way out of debt limit debacle

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) says he fractured his pelvis, punctured one of his lungs and tore ligaments in his neck in a fall last week — but he has some adorable dogs helping him recover. Tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today’s editionCamila DeChalus traveled to George Santos’s district and found voters feel a mix of regret and resignation … Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella report that year one of Youngkin’s term was a clash of politics and policy … What we’re watching: The bad blood at today’s Ticketmaster hearing … but first …

On the Hill

House Democrats eye possible way out of debt limit debacle

As the two parties settle into a standoff over the looming need to raise the debt limit, some Democrats have been talking about a potential escape hatch: A discharge petition.

Filing a discharge petition would allow Democrats to force a vote in the House on raising the debt limit with the support of as few as five Republicans, allowing them to do an end run around Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the Republican majority. (A discharge petition allows an absolute majority of the House to force a floor vote on a bill even if leadership is opposed.)

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who was the top Democratic on the House Budget Committee during the 2011 debt limit showdown, said in an interview that he saw a discharge petition as the most likely way out of the impasse between the White House and House Republicans.

But the process, which would need to start in the House, would be long and complicated and holds no guarantee of success. 

  • Still, House Democrats will start to strategize on the possible use of a discharge petition this week in a series of formal and informal meetings, according to multiple people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private deliberations.

It is expected to come up at a meeting between President Biden and the top three Democratic leaders in each chamber at the White House today, according to a senior Democratic aide. 

The discharge petition is by no means Democrats’ preferred tactic, multiple aides warned. But it is something Democrats need to understand and be prepared to employ as a last resort should Republicans refuse to raise the debt limit without spending cuts opposed by Democrats. 

“You prepare for any number of things that could happen,” the senior Democratic aide said. 

Escape hatch or dead end?

One problem with the discharge petition: The moderate House Republicans whom House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) would need to pull off such a maneuver have said they aren’t interested.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who represents a district that Biden carried in 2020 and who is one of the most moderate House Republicans, said in an interview that he wouldn’t sign onto an effort to lift the debt limit that doesn’t include spending cuts.

“There’s got to be some commitment by President Biden to reduce spending for us to even consider doing a discharge petition,” Bacon told The Early.

A lifeline for McCarthy?

Some Democrats fear that rallying opposition around the motion to discharge would be a potential lifeline for McCarthy. 

More immediately, Democrats are working to ensure their party sticks together in refusing to negotiate with Republicans, multiple Democrats said. 

Jeffries will hold at least one meeting this week with Democratic ranking members on committees. While the discharge petition is expected to be discussed, a unified stance is the priority. 

“The meetings will be about assessing the landscape and making sure everyone is on the same page,” a Democratic aide said. 

In his first floor speech of the new Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday put the onus on McCarthy to detail the spending cuts his conference is seeking in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling and avoiding a default that economists say would cause a major financial panic. 

The federal government is expected to exhaust the “extraordinary measures” it is taking to avoid hitting the debt limit as soon as June, according to Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.

“If Republicans are talking about draconian cuts, they have an obligation to show Americans what those cuts are, and let the public react,” Schumer said. “And let’s let them do it now, not six months from now when the danger of default is much closer.”

The waiting game

While Republicans might balk at signing onto a discharge petition now, Van Hollen predicted they would be willing to deal as a potential default loomed.

“Getting closer to the cliff may clarify the issue for some House Republicans who aren’t willing to consider doing this the responsible way from the get-go,” he said.

But Democrats’ refusal to negotiate over the debt limit could be a tough stance to maintain. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has bucked the party already, telling CNN’s Manu Raju on Monday that the White House’s stance was “not responsible.”

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, have already started preliminary negotiations over the debt limit, a member of the group said. And Biden has agreed to meet with McCarthy, although a date has not been set. 

The precedent

There are also reasons to be wary of the discharge petition as a deus ex machina.

While discharge petitions are filed frequently — there were 18 in the last Congress — they’re cumbersome and time-consuming to use. They can only be attempted with legislation that’s been referred to committee for at least 30 legislative days. Once a discharge petition has gained enough signatures, it must appear on the legislative calendar for at least seven legislative days before the lawmaker who filed the petition can file a motion to discharge, triggering a vote to bring the bill to the House floor.

Just a handful of discharge petitions have obtained the necessary 218 signatures and become law in the recent decades, including a 1986 law that weakened gun control measures and the 2002 campaign finance law championed by the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a former Republican congresswoman from Florida who is now a lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said she was skeptical that Republicans would cooperate with Democrats on such a maneuver.

“I don’t think that Republicans will, by and large, buy into that,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

While House Republicans moderates have been willing to buck their party on immigration and some other issues, teaming up with Democrats on a discharge petition to lift the debt limit would compromise a much more sacred principle: Republicans’ hard-won control of the House floor.

“One thing that Kevin McCarthy has built into the fabric of the conference is the importance of maintaining control before by sticking together on procedural votes,” said John Stipicevic, a former McCarthy deputy chief of staff who is now a lobbyist at CGCN Group.

The campaign

In George Santos’s district, voters feel a mix of regret and resignation

“George Santos deceived us”: “Sitting in the basement of an American Legion building, an American flag tucked in the corner and the sounds of a church rock band playing above, a group gathered for a local Republican club meeting to discuss one thing: Rep. George Santos,” our colleague Camila DeChalus writes.

  • “Every day that he’s still there, we are suffering. I mean, he’s become a joke on late-night talk shows, but to us, it’s not funny because we deserve a real congressman,” said North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, who endorsed Santos during his campaign but has since called on him to resign.
  • “Santos’s constituents say they once saw him as a fresh face for the Republican party, a promising candidate who could flip New York’s 3rd Congressional District from Democratic control … But Santos’s tenure in Congress was thrown into disarray before it even started, when the New York Times reported he fabricated large parts of his resume,” Camila writes. “What has followed has been a consistent drip of new details, seemingly every day, that have painted the picture of Santos as a serial fabulist.”
  • “Caught in the middle of the drama are the 746,449 constituents in Santos’s district, which spans parts of northeastern Queens to towns along the North Shore on Long Island. In interviews with The Washington Post over several days, residents who supported Santos said they both regretted their choice and were resigned to his status as a member of Congress. But the prevailing sentiment, among both Republicans and Democrats, was raw anger and a sense of being cheated.”

In the States

Youngkin’s first year a clash of politics and policy

A year in review: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) “arrived at the Executive Mansion a little over one year ago with a burst of bravado, a brand-new figure in Virginia politics who radiated the success of a can-do multimillionaire and promised a ‘movement’ to ‘restore power to the people,’” our colleagues Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella write.

  • “In the 12 months since inauguration, Youngkin has faced the realities of governing a diverse state with a divided legislature. The results have been mixed. His legislative wins — most notably an end to mask mandates in public schools and $4 billion worth of tax cuts — came with the cooperation of the Democratic-controlled state Senate.”
  • “Other initiatives might have won Youngkin points in national conservative media — prohibiting the teaching of ‘critical race theory’ in schools, setting up a ‘tip line’ for parents to report objectionable school officials — but inflamed tensions without producing any real outcome.”
  • “Most significantly, Youngkin as governor has continued the balancing act he pioneered as a candidate — reaching out to both the Trump base of the GOP and more mainstream Virginia voters. Recent statewide polls have shown him with approval ratings of 50 percent or slightly better.”

What we're watching

On the Hill: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing today examining Ticketmaster’s domination over the ticketing and live events industry. The hearing comes two months after the Taylor Swift ticket fiasco — a botched rollout of concert tickets that left millions of fans frustrated.

  • Live Nation Entertainment president Joe Berchtold is one of six witnesses who will appear before the committee. He is expected to blame bots and cyberattacks for the chaos in his opening statement: “We knew bots would attack [Swift’s] onsale, and planned accordingly,” Berchtold is expected to say. “We were then hit with three times the amount of bot traffic than we had ever experienced … While the bots failed to penetrate our systems or acquire any tickets, the attack required us to slow down and even pause our sales. This is what led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret.”

At the White House: President Biden will meet with Democratic congressional leaders, including Schumer and Jeffries, today at the White House. Vice President Harris will also be in attendance. Biden will also host a reception for new members of Congress. 

Trump: Finally, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney will decide whether to unseal the grand jury’s final report today. The long-awaited report details the 26-member grand jury’s criminal investigation into whether former president Donald Trump and his allies broke the law when they tried to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

The Data

An immense toll, visualized: “There have been more than 600 mass shootings since Jan. 1, 2022 in the United States,” our colleagues Júlia Ledur and Kate Rabinowitz report. “With eight days to go, this January has had more shootings than any other January on the database’s records. The toll is immense. In 2022 alone, mass shootings have killed 673 people and injured 2,700.”

  • “Not a single week in 2022 has passed without at least four mass shootings.”

The Media

Early reeeads: 

From us: 

From across the web: 


Flag on the play: Unnecessary roughness

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