Axios Sneak Peek

The back of a propped up cardboard cut-out of the U.S. Capitol.

December 08, 2023

πŸ•Ž Welcome back to Sneak, and Happy Hanukkah to all our Jewish brothers and sisters.

  • Smart Brevityβ„’ count: 1,041 words ... 4 minutes.

🚨 Situational awareness: Federal prosecutors have filed unspecified new charges against Hunter Biden, CNN reports.

1 big thing: House punishment factory works overtime

Illustration of the US Capitol and Washington Monument with abstract stars.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The holidays are approaching, but Congress isn't sending good tidings:

Why it matters: Personal animus has defined the first year of the House GOP's majority, with rank-and-file lawmakers forcing votes on censures, impeachment and a historic expulsion β€” often without the support of leadership.

Driving the news: Bowman, who pleaded guilty to pulling a fire alarm Capitol Hill fire alarm in September, is the third lawmaker to face the symbolic rebuke this year.

  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) was censured last month for her criticism of Israel and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was censured in June for his promotion of Trump-Russia allegations.

The House also voted to expel former GOP Rep. George Santos this month after a bombshell Ethics Committee report accused him of a "complex web" of criminal wrongdoing.

  • It was the first successful expulsion vote since 2002 and made Santos only the sixth House member in U.S. history to be expelled.
  • And who could forget the unprecedented ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from his post? He announced this week he will resign from Congress at the end of the month.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The big picture: The rise in punitive actions this congressional session doesn't exist in a vacuum β€” it's part of a years-long trend of Congress devolving into a vessel for open partisan warfare.

  • The 118th Congress in particular has been a powerhouse for these fights, with 2023 seeing easily the most censure, impeachment, expulsion and contempt resolutions of any year at least since 1989, according to data from Quorum.
  • The number of these measures has risen precipitously since several high-profile fights over impeachment and censure in June.

What we're hearing: Lawmakers in both parties who want to work across the aisle and pass legislation are growing impatient with the continued dominance of partisan fights on the House floor.

  • "We should be focused on getting stuff done," said one House Republican. "We are hopeful the deck has been cleared and we return to our regular broadcast."
  • "All they do is vacate the chair, expulsions, censures, reprimands, impeachment," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
  • "There is no positive agenda for America. They don't even pretend that they have one anymore," Raskin continued. "It's a politics of spectacle that they got from Donald Trump. ... Every day we walk in here it's just another version of 'The Apprentice.'"

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2. πŸ‘€ Fox News piles on Vivek

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Vivek Ramaswamy's theatrical, conspiracy-laden performance at last night's Republican debate exhilarated fringe elements of the online right, but drew outright disgust from conservative commentators on Fox News.

Why it matters: Ramaswamy's increasingly radical debate stunts have coincided with a slide in his favorability ratings. Polling criteria unveiled today for the next two debates β€” at least 10% in Iowa and New Hampshire β€” could threaten the viability of his candidacy over the next month.

Driving the news: In a heated interview with Ramaswamy on "Fox & Friends" this morning, co-host Brian Kilmeade slammed the candidate's position on giving Ukrainian territory to Russia as "so naive."

  • "You know what's naive? Those who claim that Ukraine is a paragon of 'democracy' in a battle of good vs. evil," Ramaswamy shot back.
  • "Vivek was embarrassing. You know, he just came in too hot once again. He got booed a number of times," co-host Steve Doocy said earlier in the program.
  • "Worst debate performance in a long time," Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz tweeted after Ramaswamy held up a notepad that read "Nikki Haley = corrupt."
  • "It's frankly disappointing and unpalatable that we keep being subjected to what has, as I see, become behavior as a court jester," said "Outnumbered" co-host Emily Compagno.

The other side: Pro-Trump surrogates celebrated Ramaswamy's labeling of fellow GOP candidate Nikki Haley as a "fascist neocon." Notorious white nationalist Nick Fuentes encouraged Ramaswamy to run again in 2028 after the candidate endorsed the racist "great replacement theory" and suggested Jan. 6 was an "inside job."

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3. ⛰️ Dems eye Montana abortion vote to boost Tester

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In late November, Democrat-aligned groups filed paperwork in Montana to begin the lengthy process of getting a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights on the state's ballot, Axios' Alex Thompson and Stef Kight report.

Why it matters: The effort in Montana would boost vulnerable Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's re-election bid, and is part of a national strategy by Democrats to put abortion issues on the ballot in as many critical states as possible.

  • The proposed amendment β€” which is not final β€” would prohibit "the government from denying or burdening the right to abortion before fetal viability."
  • Tester, a longtime advocate of abortion rights, has been pushing the effort behind the scenes, a person familiar with the effort to Axios.

The intrigue: Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a potential future presidential candidate who has been funding efforts to protect abortion rights across the country, is likely to make a financial and strategic investment in the Montana effort, according to a spokesperson.

  • Pritzker, a billionaire, and his pro-abortion rights group Think Big America donated $1 million to support the recent abortion-rights referendum in Ohio and $1 million to a campaign in Nevada to put a similar measure on the ballot there next year.
  • Nevada is a presidential swing state with a key Senate race as well.

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4. πŸ•―οΈ Parting shot

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff forcefully condemned the rise of antisemitism at the lighting of the National Menorah this evening β€” singling out the presidents of Harvard, MIT and Penn for their recent comments at a congressional hearing.

  • "Normally this is a time of celebration and joy. I want us to celebrate Hanukkah," Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president, told the crowd gathered on the Ellipse.
  • "And I know right now that might seem a little far-fetched to some of you. I know you're in pain. I'm in pain."

Photos: Hanukkah around the world

πŸ“¬ Thanks for reading this week. This newsletter was edited by Kathie Bozanich.