May 19, 2023

Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,097 words ... 4 minutes.

Situational awareness: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) suffered serious complications from her bout with shingles that were not previously disclosed, The New York Times reports.

1 big thing: Biden faces bubbling progressive rebellion

Biden getting off Air Force One
Biden arrives at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) heaped praise on the negotiators President Biden designated for debt ceiling talks this week, sounding more optimistic than ever that there may be a "path" to a deal.

Why it matters: McCarthy got what he wanted when Biden cut out congressional Democrats in favor of bilateral negotiations. But now progressives are fuming — raising the possibility of a revolt against their own president if he gives away too much.

Driving the news: A group of 11 Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), sent Biden a letter today urging him to "prepare to exercise your authority under the 14th Amendment" to raise the debt ceiling, Axios' Andrew Solender reports.

  • "We cannot reach a budget agreement that increases the suffering of millions of Americans," they wrote, arguing that it is "seemingly impossible to enact a bipartisan budget deal at this time."
  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Axios that House progressives "will have something similar."

What they're saying: "[N]obody should assume, including the White House, that House Democrats or the Progressive Caucus or anyone else is gonna go along with something that’s negotiated without us at the table," Jayapal warned.

  • "Whatever they decide is going to have to be voted on by members," said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). "And I hope they recognize that and make sure they're taking very good stock about what we're feeling."
  • One senior House Democrat warned that the vote could become a "damned if we do, damned if we don't" decision, given the "difficult competing interests" of avoiding default and minimizing spending cuts.

Between the lines: Democrats have been remarkably united under Biden — watching, sometimes gleefully, as McCarthy has contorted himself on a near-daily basis to satisfy the range of competing factions in the GOP conference.

  • But House Republicans have so far defied the odds — passing their own debt ceiling bill, opposing Democratic efforts to peel off moderates for a discharge petition, and forcing Biden to come to the table.
  • Now, it's the Democrats who are on the back foot. If a deal is reached when Biden returns from Japan on Sunday, McCarthy said a House vote could be held next week.

The other side: The right-wing House Freedom Caucus fired its own warning shot today, calling for an end to the bipartisan talks and insisting that the Senate take up the debt ceiling bill that House Republicans passed.

The bottom line: Like any compromise, a deal will ultimately have to be made in the middle. "When the poles are howling, that's usually a signal that something is afoot in between," tweeted Republican strategist Liam Donovan.

2. 📺 Partisan squabbles force Dems to watch Fox

James Comer on Fox News
Screenshot: Fox News

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are resorting to Fox News to keep tabs on their GOP chair's web of alleged evidence in his sprawling investigations, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

Why it matters: House Oversight Republicans are plowing ahead with hearings in which they tout explosive claims about FBI bias and Biden family influence peddling — sometimes without sharing evidence or whistleblower transcripts with Democrats.

  • It's not unusual for the majority party to initially speak to and vet whistleblowers on their own, but investigative panels in the past have typically shared information with the minority before the public.
  • That hasn't always been the case with this Congress.
  • Committee members have sent scathing letters and argued mid-hearing over withheld whistleblower information and whether key witnesses are, legally, even whistleblowers.

The other side: Republicans say their whistleblowers don't trust Democrats. They accuse the minority of attacking witnesses' character rather than engaging with their allegations — and of leaking information that could create a "chilling effect."

Keep reading.

3. 🚀 Countdown to DeSantis launch

Courtesy of TIME

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will officially declare his candidacy next week ahead of a May 25 donor meeting, where he'll launch a fundraising blitz seeking to prove he's the Republican best-positioned to take on former President Trump.

Why it matters: It's a moment months in the making — but one that risks feeling anti-climactic, given that DeSantis has been running a de facto campaign since February through his nationwide book tour.

  • Filing the paperwork will force DeSantis to drop the pretense that he's only focused on governing Florida — paving the way for more of a direct strategy of attack against Trump.
  • DeSantis teased his new tone in a call this afternoon, according to The New York Times, telling top donors that out of the three "credible" candidates for 2024 — him, Trump and Biden — only he and Biden "have a chance" of being elected.
Screenshot via CNN

TIME Magazine's Molly Ball is out with a cover story profiling the conservative transformation DeSantis has engineered in Florida, where he has used hardball tactics to dominate the GOP-led legislature:

At one point, a Republican lawmaker was planning to oppose a DeSantis-backed bill until he got a phone call from the governor, who had helped the lawmaker get elected. Without preliminaries, DeSantis barked into the phone, “Do you know why you’re here?”
“Yes,” the startled lawmaker answered. Without saying another word, the governor hung up, two people familiar with the incident told me. Message delivered.

What we're watching: Any post-launch honeymoon for DeSantis could be short-lived.

  • Trump is committed to destroying his candidacy, with his super PAC spending more than $12.5 million to attack DeSantis in the past seven weeks alone.
  • Disney today pulled the plug on a nearly $1 billion office development in Orlando that would have produced 2,000 jobs with an average salary of $120,000, the most costly salvo yet in the corporation's feud with DeSantis.

4. 🐘 '24 floodgates open

Glenn Youngkin ad
Screenshot of Youngkin ad

With rising skepticism of DeSantis' ability to defeat Trump, the prospective Republican field is suddenly getting a lot more crowded — and weird:

  • Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin baffled political observers by releasing a new ad today linking himself to Ronald Reagan, with the unmistakable aesthetic and undertones of a presidential aspirant. Youngkin had previously said he is solely focused on this year's Virginia legislative races.
  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie received an endorsement from former hedge fund founder and Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who told Semafor he expects billionaire Steve Cohen will back Christie as well.
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who has little name recognition outside his state of 780,000, is nearing a decision to launch a "dark horse" campaign.

📬 Thanks for reading this week. This newsletter was copy edited by Kathie Bozanich.