January 28, 2024

Thanks for joining Sunday Sneak, our weekly look ahead at the trends shaping American politics.

🚨 Situational awareness: Three U.S. soldiers were killed and dozens wounded in a drone strike by a pro-Iranian militia on a U.S. outpost in Jordan, the worst assault on American forces in the Middle East since the Oct. 7 Hamas offensive.

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 1,147 words ... 4.5 minutes.

1 big thing: Trump's Nevada lock

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Nevada's Republican delegates are all but locked up for former President Trump, even though the contest isn't for another week and a half, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

Why it matters: Trump allies in Nevada's Republican Party gave him a runway to sweep the state's 26 delegates when they proceeded with a caucus system despite a state-sanctioned primary taking place two days earlier.

  • "This was clearly a move to basically set up where Trump really had no competition" in the caucuses, Mike Noble, an independent pollster who specializes in the Southwest region, told Axios.

Driving the news: Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley is participating in the Feb. 6 state-run primary, which will not award any delegates.

  • A 2021 Nevada law said a state-run primary must take place if more than one candidate files for president.
  • The state GOP proceeded with holding its caucuses, which are scheduled for Feb. 8 — and said that candidates can't participate in both contests.
  • "The best way to describe it is the fix is in for the Don in Nevada," Noble said.

Zoom in: Caucuses often reward candidates with a strong voter base, said Daniel Lee, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

  • "Caucus voters are going to be your more enthusiastic, fervent supporters of the candidate ... precisely the type of supporters that Trump has," Lee said.
  • Trump dominated the 2016 Nevada Republican caucuses, beating second-place Sen. Marco Rubio by 22 percentage points.
  • "It gives each candidate the opportunity to perform. It's about getting their people out," Nevada GOP chairman Michael McDonald, a fake elector for Trump in 2020, said last year.

Zoom out: Trump advisers have been working behind the scenes with party activists to revise delegate selection rules in the former president's favor.

  • In California, which has the most delegates of any state, a new rule allows a candidate to win all of the state's 169 delegates if they receive a majority of the primary.
  • Delegates in California previously had been awarded in proportion to results in congressional districts.
  • Other states such as Idaho, Louisiana and Michigan have made changes to their selection rules.

The bottom line: "Trump will get the delegates and Haley won't get any credit for a quote unquote, 'win' in the primaries," Noble said.

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2. 💰 Quiet rebellion threatens GOP tax chair

Reps. Vern Buchanan, left, and Jason Smith. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House GOP's top tax writer doesn't just face blowback over the surprise deal he unveiled this month:

  • Now the background chatter suggests Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) could lose his gavel, Axios' Juliegrace Brufke reports.

Why it matters: Senior Republican sources said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) — who narrowly lost a heated three-way race for the position in 2023 — has been urged to challenge the House Ways and Means chairman for the top job.

  • Removing a sitting chairman before the end of their three-term limit would be unusual.
  • The last sitting chair to be demoted before their time was in 2005.

Zoom in: Multiple GOP lawmakers fumed about how negotiations on the bipartisan tax deal were handled.

  • GOP critics said key members weren't consulted on negotiations. Some members learned of the deal on social media, a senior committee source told Axios.
  • "I don't know who the f*** he's dealing with," one lawmaker told Axios. "How does Jason Smith announce the deal before the speaker knows about it?"
  • "Jason negotiated with the Senate and the Dems. For some reason Republicans weren't included in his negotiation," the lawmaker said.

Behind the scenes: Axios spoke with members who had a range of issues with the deal. Top complaints included:

  • The lack of a change to the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap.
  • Others cited the Wall Street Journal editorial board's criticisms of the language on bolstering the child tax credit.

Between the lines: With former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and top lieutenants no longer influencing committee assignments, some members said the dynamics could be more favorable for a potential challenger.

  • 'I'm sure Vern is hearing this [complaints about the panel] and most would tell you that they don't believe that Jason would have ever been Ways and Means chair if not for McCarthy," the source said.

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3. 🇺🇸 Biden hit from all sides on Middle East strikes

Houthi followers protest against recent U.S. airstrikes in Yemen. Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

President Biden is facing rare simultaneous criticism from interventionists and isolationists in Congress over his recent strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen and other militia groups in the Middle East, Axios' Andrew Solender reports.

Why it matters: Dovish lawmakers on the ideological ends of both parties argue the president lacks the authority to unilaterally carry out the strikes — while, conversely, foreign policy hawks say he isn't going far enough.

  • An administration official told Axios the Biden team is "confident, after consultation with the Justice Department and interagency lawyers, that U.S. actions against Houthi targets are consistent with international and domestic law."

Driving the news: A group of 14 House Democrats and eight House Republicans signed onto a letter to Biden on Friday raising "serious concerns" about what they labeled "unauthorized" strikes against the Houthis.

  • That follows a similar letter from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) last week.
  • "What is your administration's understanding of 'self-defense' in the context of these strikes?" they asked, pointing to Biden's admission that the strikes have not deterred the Houthis.

The intrigue: It's no longer just foreign policy doves raising objections to the Biden administration's recent actions in the Middle East.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), one of Congress' preeminent defense hawks, said in a floor speech on Thursday that rather than overstepping his authority, Biden is "failing to sufficiently exercise the authority he has."
  • "He's played whack-a-mole against warehouses and launch sites but left the terrorists' air defenses and command-and-control facilities intact," the GOP leader said.

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4. 📝 Mayorkas faces articles of impeachment

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

House Republicans unveiled articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this morning, blaming him for the surge in illegal border crossings and fentanyl trafficking, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

Why it matters: Republicans are barreling toward impeachment over the logistical and humanitarian crisis at the border even as they balk at passing new, stringent policies that Biden has promised to use to "shut down the border."

  • The House Homeland Security Committee will consider the impeachment articles Tuesday morning, and Speaker Johnson has promised a floor vote "as soon as possible" after that.
  • Democrats and legal experts have criticized the effort, saying Republicans have failed to show that Mayorkas has committed any high crimes and misdemeanors — the constitutional standard for impeachment.

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📬 Thanks for starting your week with us. This newsletter was edited by Kathie Bozanich.