November 22, 2023

Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevityโ„ข count: 981 words ... 3.5 minutes.

1 big thing: Biden's Iran danger

Photo illustration: Aรฏda Amer/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A surge of attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East โ€” at least 66 since Oct. 17 โ€” is forcing President Biden to navigate a dangerous tightrope on two life-and-death priorities:

  1. Protecting U.S. service members.
  2. Preventing the war in Gaza from escalating into a calamitous regional conflict.

Why it matters: Hamas' Oct. 7 terrorist attack and Israel's operation to eradicate the Palestinian militant group have turned the region into a tinder box at a key moment in which Biden is politically vulnerable at home.

Driving the news: Iranian-backed militants in Iraq used a close-range ballistic missile on U.S. forces at al-Asad air base last night, damaging infrastructure and causing non-serious injuries, according to the Pentagon.

  • In response, the U.S. carried out an airstrike inside Iraq for just the third time since former President Trump ordered the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.
  • The retaliatory attack comes after Biden and his top officials had repeatedly warned Iran not to exploit the situation in Gaza, often by echoing one word: "Don't."
Screenshot via Fox News

The big picture: While Iran's saber-rattling has not translated to direct military involvement over the last month, some critics have scoffed at the idea that Biden's words or policies have "deterred" the Islamic Republic.

  • The Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen yesterday hijacked a cargo ship in the Red Sea โ€” believing it to be Israeli-linked โ€” and since October have fired multiple missiles intercepted by the U.S. and Israel.
  • White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said today the U.S. is considering re-designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization, a label Biden had rolled back within weeks of taking office.
  • Senior Biden official Amos Hochstein arrived in Israel yesterday for talks on defusing tensions with Lebanon, amid concerns over escalating border skirmishes between the IDF and Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Between the lines: Kirby also voiced concern today that Iran may provide Russia with ballistic missiles for its war with Ukraine, bolstering the nexus between two of the biggest global crises of Biden's presidency.

Zoom in: Foreign policy has played a remarkably outsized role in damaging Biden's approval rating over the last month, driven mainly by Democratic divisions over his full-throated support of Israel's war in Gaza.

  • With little daylight between GOP support for Israel and Biden's rhetoric since Oct. 7, Republicans have instead focused their attacks on what they see as the president's weakness toward Hamas patron Iran.
  • Republicans hammered Biden for a September hostage deal that would have allowed Iran to access $6 billion in frozen funds โ€” and are now ramping up criticism of a sanctions waiver established under Trump that allows Iraq to purchase electricity from Iran.

What to watch: A U.S. official noted to Axios that Biden has a "track record" of establishing deterrence during past cycles of attacks from Iranian proxies, including when he first took office and as recently as this past March.

Share this story

2. ๐Ÿ”ฅ Wild read: Tempers flare on DeSantis team

Photo: Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

Two of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' closest allies nearly came to blows during a private meeting last week hosted by the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, NBC News reports.

  • "You have a stick up your a--, Scott," top Never Back Down consultant Jeff Roe reportedly fumed at longtime DeSantis confidant Scott Wagner during a fierce debate about budgeting.
  • "Why don't you come over here and get it?" Wagner shot back, standing up from his chair before being restrained by two other Never Back Down board members.

Why it matters: The exchange โ€” during a meeting meant to plot out a strategy for halting former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley's momentum โ€” is the latest example of infighting within a DeSantis operation plagued by bad polls and a candidate who has failed to live up to expectations.

  • Roe, the face of Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) 2016 presidential campaign, represents the faction of professional political operatives running the deep-pocketed and unusually hands-on super PAC.
  • Wagner is a member of DeSantis' Tallahassee-based inner circle, according to NBC.

The intrigue: Three DeSantis allies have now launched a second super PAC, partly due to frustration that Never Back Down's branding has become so closely associated with DeSantis โ€” weakening its attack ads against Haley.

3. ๐ŸŒŠ House retirement flood

Photo: Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two more members of the House announced they would not seek re-election today, bringing the number of retirements to 12 in November alone โ€” the most in a single month since Ballotpedia began tracking in 2011.

  • Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a 30-year veteran of Congress who represents Silicon Valley, will retire from her safe-blue seat at the end of this term.
  • Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), who has represented a Republican stronghold for eight terms, will serve for several more months before becoming the president of Youngstown State University.

The big picture: Punchbowl News' Mica Soellner interviewed about a dozen outgoing House members about their decision to leave behind an increasingly dysfunctional workplace.

  • "It's insane and it adds no value to my life," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). "The things I care about, I can do better not here."
  • "It's stupid, you know," said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). "Impeach that person, censure that person, it's all political, so members can go raise money and talk tough back home."

4. ๐Ÿ’ฐ Charted: House GOP fundraising arm lags Dems

Data: Federal Election Commission; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Federal Election Commission; Chart: Axios Visuals

The NRCC ended October with $37.3 million in cash on hand after raising $75.1 million this year, Axios' Erin Doherty writes from the group's public FEC filing.

Zoom in: The NRCC had its best online fundraising week of the cycle the week after House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) was elected, ending a three-week stalemate.

  • Johnson met with Trump at a fundraiser for Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) at Mar-a-Lago last night, days after "wholeheartedly" endorsing the former president.

Share this chart

๐Ÿ‘‹ Thanks for reading tonight. This newsletter was edited by Kathie Bozanich.