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Jan. 6, two years later
Plus: The latest on the speaker’s race and what makes Hakeem Jeffries so special, in the words of an insider close to the new House Democratic Leader.
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In a couple of hours, members of Congress will gather on the House steps for a bipartisan remembrance ceremony recognizing two years since the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
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“We obviously have this in front of us in the organizing this Congress has to do, but it’s not lost on anyone on our sidee of the aisle the importance and significance of January 6,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar said to Supercreator on Wednesday. “All of us in the chamber have our experiences personally from that day. But what that means to the officers who this chamber and held that last line on our behalf and the threat that democracy faced that day.”
Aguilar served on the committee that spent 18 months investigating the attack, which culminated in an extensive report that lays a significant share of the blame at the feet of former President Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection with his lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. (Trump went on to be impeached for the second time after the attack, becoming the first president to hold the distinction.)
“The respect and reverencee that I hold for [January 6th Committee Chair] Bennie Thompson and [Vice Chair] Liz Cheney and the other members of the committee for the work that they did in advancing that final report,” he said. “It’s something that I still probably haven’t taken in as much given the aggressive schedule that we’ve had and the importance of thee work that is in front of us.”
For Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, the anniversary is an opportunity to honor those who defended the Capitol from the domestic terrorists hellbent on overthrowing the government.
“Whether it was holding the line on the lower west terrace, leading insurrectionists away from the Senate Chamber, or acting quickly to protect members and staff, history will forever note that on January 6th, democracy lived on because of those heroes,” Schumer said in a statement. “On this second anniversary of the January 6th insurrection, Americans must rise to the occasion to ensure, and to expand, the promise of democracy — and never take this noble experiment for granted.”
House Republicans wasted no time on Tuesday, in one of their first actions in the majority, removing the magnetometers that were installed outside the House chamber after the Capitol attack. And if adopted, a new rules package for the new Congress would remove fines for members who fail to comply with security screenings before entering the House floor.
"Members should not face unnecessary disruptions as they carry out their constitutional duties," Republicans on the House Rules Committee said.
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Joe Biden will host a ceremony at the White House on Friday where he’ll give a speech and award the Presidential Citizens Medal to 12 people, including Capitol Police. Metropolitan Police, election workers and officials at the state and local level who have “performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.” A White House official said this will be the first time President Biden has awarded the Citizens Medal, which is one of the nation’s highest civilian honors.
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“We don’t want a do-nothing Congress”
After the January 6th events, members will convene in the House chamber to presumably continue voting to elect a new speaker, a task required before representatives can be sworn into office, rules for the next two years can be adopted, committees can be formed and laws can be passed.
If you’ve lost count at home, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has been nominated 11 times and failed to secure the 218 votes required to seize the speaker’s gavel due to fierce opposition from 20 members of his conference, some of whom just don’t like the guy while others have used his weak bargaining position to extract enormous concessions. In fact, Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat and the subject of an item later in the newsletter, has earned more votes each round thanks to the unanimous support of his members despite Republicans holding a slim majority.
It’s so bleak for him that McCarthy’s team reportedly viewed the fact that he didn’t lose any support as a victory, despite the fact that failed to gain any in the process. This screenshot perfectly captures the vibe:
Most of us left the Capitol last night unsure if today would be the day House Republicans united around McCarthy — or convinced him to clear the path for an alternative.
“I hope so,” Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Trump-supporting firebrand from Georgia, told me as she was heading into the chamber to vote to adjourn until noon.
McCarthy and his supporters had hoped to pause voting much earlier on Thursday and for several days instead of hours to give the GOP leader and his allies the space to negotiate with the detractors and spare him the humiliation the multiple defeats. But Democrats recommended against this idea as were the McCarthy opponents who wanted to see an agreement on paper before granting permission to go home.
And as he threads the needle between offering enough sweeteners to convert his adversaries without alienating his allies, Democrats have toggled between finding humor that McCarthy has spent years working to become speaker and is still falling short and sounding the alarm about how his personal ambition is affecting their voters back home.
“We cannot organize our district offices, get our new members doing that critical work of our constituent services, helping server the people who sent us her on their behalf. Kevin McCarthy’s ego in his pursuit of the speakership is drowning out the voices and the needs of the American people,” House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark told reporters on Thursday. “[House Republicans] say they came here to help fight inflation. They cannot stop fighting among themselves to move us forward. So we are here in this dangerous situation.”
As extraordinary as the moment is, House Republicans have attempted to spin the gridlock as somehow a demonstration of the messiness of American democracy. And Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, one of the detractors McCarthy hopes to sway, expressed skepticism that people care that the House is mired in such dysfunction.
“Somebody who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, this morning, and they’re going to their job, they’re going to school: ‘Oh no, 24 hours without a speaker of the House,” Roy said, his words dripped with sarcasm.
But House Democrats have pushed back by pointing to the fact that they were able to organize and pass meaningful legislation with similarly slim margins first in 2019 during a 35-day government shutdown — the longest in American history triggered by former Trump’s frustration that Congress wouldn’t fund his border wall — and again in 2021 after the attack on the Capitol.
“Yes, the American people do care. We don’t want a do-nothing Congress. But it appears that that is what some Republicans want to bring to the American people,” Jeffries said to Supercraetor on Thursday. “All we are asking Republicans to do is get it together amongst yourselves so we can make life better for people in Iowa, in the heartland, in urban America, in rural America, in suburban American and in small-town American and Appalachia as well,” Jeffries said.
A spokesperson for Roy did not respond to a request for comment.
And while votes aren’t expected this weekend, Clark on Thursday told reporters that her message to the caucus would be to stay in town until the speaker’s race is resolved.
“This is not a hard sell because they understand what is at stake. And this isn’t about events and celebrations that they have planned, which of course, you know, we would love to be able to do that. But this is about the dangerous moment that we are in and it is about the chaos that the Republicans are creating,” Clark said. “So we have to be here to make sure that we are doing everything possible to end this crisis, to get a functioning House of Representatives and to get to work for the American people.”
What makes Hakeem Jeffries special? The LeBron factor
The McCarthy impasse feels even more striking when juxtaposed against the full-throated endorsement Hakeem Jeffries has received from the House Democrats to the point that it’s become a foregone conclusion that he’ll receive all 212 votes from the caucus during every vote for speaker.
A source close to Democratic leadership told me that Jeffries, who made history when he became the first Black congressional party leader and the first person to receive a unanimous vote for speaker since 2007 when his predecessor Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to hold the position, is special because he’s the perfect mix of high- and lowbrow.
“I like to compare it to LeBron James,” the source said. “Before LeBron, there were big guys or there were fast guys. But LeBron was both big and fast. And I think Hakeem is a substance guy and a style guy. He knows the legislation, he reads all of it. He knows at a definitive level what the substance is. But he’s also able to deliver that in a compelling way, as it relates to messaging and communications. And so I think he’s this rare combination of substance and style in the way that LeBron is speed and size.”
The source told me that Jeffries’ meteoric rise is unsurprising because he’s worked hard to build deep personal relationships with members across the Democratic Caucus.
“He’s traveled to their districts, he knows their family members, he has meals with many of them,” they added. “He’s also worked very hard on being one of our strongest messengers in the party, which is critical in a time like this. And I think for all of those reasons, the fact that he has such strong support is no surprise.”
It’s also no surprise that Jeffries has earned the attention of the MAGA base of the Republican Party, which has wasted little time attempting to demonize the new Democratic Leader with similar tropes that Pelosi endured in her two decades at the top of the party.
Marjorie Taylor Greene on Wednesday posted an attack ad against Jeffries, whom she claims is a “radical leftist” who’s more dangerous than Pelosi.
But the source told me that Jeffries isn’t focused on settling scores with the other side.
“The American people need help. People need jobs. People need higher wages, people need affordable housing. They need all of these things,” they said. “Democrats are at the table. Mr. Jeffries has made clear that he's willing to work with Republicans where he can if it advances the ball for the American public and improves their lives.”
However, if House Republicans remain divided, the source warned, they can’t do the basic bread-and-butter things that Americans rely on their government for.
Jeffries reinforced this sentiment on Thursday in one of his signature soundbites.
“[Former Democratic House Speaker] Tip O’Neill got along with [former Republican President] Ronald Reagan. [Former Democratic Sen.] Ted Kennedy got along with [former Republican Sen.] Orrin Hatch. Joe Biden got along with [former Republican Sen.] John McCain. Nancy Pelosi got along with [former Republican Speaker] John Boehner,” Jeffries said. “All we are asking is House Republicans to get along with each other.”
This will require some soul-searching among the Republican Party, the source from earlier told me.
“It seems to me that the Republicans in the House, you have a group of them that are unified around that same issue but you have a large group of them that are unified around their own personal agenda and are willing to burn the place to the ground to make that happen,” they said. “I think this is obviously a reflection of Kevin McCarthy, but it’s not completely connected to him as much as is connected to the brokenness of the Republican Party and how badly Donald Trump has damaged that party and its ability to get anything done for the American people.”
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