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Behind the scenes at the Capitol—and beyond, by Grace Segers

GOP Senators Say They Support IVF—Just Not a Federal Law to Secure It

Paying lip service to protecting the procedure is the easy part. But not everyone is willing to back up their words with legislation.

Bill Clark/Getty Images
Senator Tammy Duckworth discusses the Alabama Supreme Court ruling on in vitro fertilization.

On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth brought forward legislation to protect access to in vitro fertilization, known as IVF, on the Senate floor. Duckworth attempted to approve the legislation via unanimous voice vote, a maneuver that requires only one senator to object to prevent its passage. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican from Mississippi, blocked it on the floor.

In the weeks since the Alabama Supreme Court issued a controversial ruling declaring that fertilized embryos inside or outside of the uterus are children—leading IVF providers to halt operations across the state—many Republicans have repeatedly expressed their support for the procedure. Despite being localized to one state, the court’s decision has had political repercussions across the country, including for federal GOP lawmakers and candidates.

It has further seeped into national campaign politics: The National Republican Senatorial Committee put out a memo last week that “encourages Republican Senate candidates to clearly and concisely reject efforts by the government to restrict IVF,” arguing that the Alabama ruling “is fodder for Democrats hoping to manipulate the abortion issue for electoral gain.” Democrats have indeed seized upon the issue, pointing out when GOP candidates have previously expressed support for fetal personhood. If an embryo is a child, the argument goes, then IVF is inherently under threat, because it often requires discarding fertilized eggs that are not viable.

Setting aside the purely political considerations, Republicans announcing support for IVF only raises further questions about what that endorsement means. For example, if every frozen embryo is a child, should a mother be required to carry it, even if physicians know it is nonviable and will result in a miscarriage? How should frozen embryos be handled?

When I asked whether a frozen embryo could be considered a person, GOP Senator Kevin Cramer replied: “I don’t know.” “I believe that life begins at conception,” Cramer continued, although he added that he was “not suggesting a federal definition.” “We need to demonstrate our compassion universally, and not just pick a political side and feign compassion.”

Senator Markwayne Mullin, whose wife underwent fertility treatment over seven years, offered a different perspective on when life begins. “When my wife and I, we first experienced a pregnancy, and I heard a heartbeat—that was life to me. I mean, that was my child,” said Mullin. When his wife later suffered a miscarriage, that was “a true death to us,” Mullin continued.

“When you start talking about that, I start looking towards a heartbeat, because that’s when life begins,” he said.

Senator Cynthia Lummis said, “It could be justified to say that the rights of a child do not apply to an in vitro situation, that they would only apply in vivo,” HuffPost reported. This would require an embryo to be implanted in a uterus.

Meanwhile, Senator Josh Hawley said determining how life should be defined is “more of a legal question.” However he said that “there may be a place here for a federal backstop to make sure that it remains available”—as long as it is focused purely on IVF, and not on abortion, an indication that he would steer clear of most Democratic proposals. (In Hawley’s home state of Missouri, a 2016 state court decision ruled that frozen embryos are not children; state legislators have since introduced bills attempting to overturn that ruling. Advocates for a proposed state constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights say it will also protect IVF access.)

Other Republicans argued that the issue should be left to the states. Senator Roger Marshall, a longtime ob-gyn who worked with patients struggling with fertility, acknowledged that determining how frozen embryos should be handled was a “tough question,” even as he reiterated his support for IVF. “I think it’s an incredible gift of knowledge that God has given us and that we should use that knowledge as physicians,” Marshall said. “I think the Dobbs decision clearly states that this should be dealt with at the state level, and would encourage state legislatures to protect in vitro fertilization.”

Indeed, the Dobbs decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Roe v. Wade, paved the way for the Alabama court to make its decision regarding embryos. Abortion rights and access to other reproductive procedures and care are intertwined in state law, and are now being determined on a state-by-state basis.

The Alabama decision opened a proverbial can of worms for lawmakers across the country who believe that life begins at conception, and has faced blowback from lawmakers—even those in the Yellowhammer State. State lawmakers in the Alabama legislature hastily brought forward a bill to establish legal protections to IVF providers; critically, it doesn’t address whether an embryo is considered an unborn child, an idea that formed the crux of the court’s decision that embryos should be protected under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. (Both chambers of the legislature advanced legislation to protect IVF clinics from lawsuits on Thursday.) In Florida, a hearing on a state bill to establish civil liability for the death of an unborn child was postponed.

Other states already have laws on the books regarding the legal status of embryos; for example, in Louisiana, an embryo fertilized in vitro is considered a “juridical person,” meaning that it has limited rights. As such, viable embryos cannot be deliberately discarded by physicians, although a nonviable embryo is no longer considered a juridical person. Frozen embryos need to be stored out of state to be in line with the law, which adds further costs for those undergoing IVF treatment.

“It seems as if there’s a certain respect being paid to the potential personhood,” said Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy about his state’s law. However, he stopped short of calling for a federal law modeled on Louisiana.

“Our Founding Fathers kind of said, if the states can work it out, let them work it out. And I’d like to think the states would look to Louisiana,” Cassidy said.

Author’s note: A few hours before the deadline for this newsletter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would step down as Republican leader in November. This is, to paraphrase another inveterate Senate Guy™, a BFD. To read more about the shadow race to succeed McConnell, check out my September article on the senators vying to replace him.

This article first appeared in Inside Washington, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by staff writer Grace Segers. Sign up here.

Vibe check: How Christian nationalism informs American politics

Each week, I provide an update on the vibes surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: A new poll provides insight on the rise of Christian nationalism.

In his opinion concurring with the decision that embryos should be considered children, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court frequently invoked God, as well as the words of Scripture and Christian philosophers. Justice Tom Parker wrote that “even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

Parker has previously espoused Christian nationalist beliefs and expressed support for the “Seven Mountains Mandate,” a strain of Christian dominionism that dictates the “seven mountains” of social influence must be conquered to impose fundamentalist Christian beliefs on society. (TNR contributor Elle Hardy wrote about this movement back in August 2022.)

Parker’s beliefs are in line with much of his state: According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 47 percent of Alabamians qualify as Christian nationalism adherents or sympathizers. Along with North Dakota, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Louisiana, Alabama was one of five states where more than 45 percent of the population hold Christian nationalist beliefs.

“It’s not about cultural influence, it’s actually about political domination,” said Robert Jones, the president and founder of PRRI, about the tenets of Christian nationalism. “What this is about is using power to impose their views, even when they’re not achieving those through democratic means.”

Nationally, only about three in 10 Americans qualify as adherents or sympathizers of Christian nationalism, according to the survey, which was conducted over several months and based on interviews with 22,000 people. But on a state-by-state level, the survey found that Christian nationalist tendencies were strongly correlated with previous support for former President Donald Trump and Republican Party affiliation. Sixty-six percent of white evangelical Protestants and 55 percent of Hispanic Protestants hold Christian nationalist beliefs.

The tenets of Christian nationalism could have serious influence on the politics of this election year, particularly given that Trump is once again likely to be the Republican nominee for president. Trump himself has embraced that language: In a recent speech to the National Religious Broadcasters, the former president said, “I will fight even harder for Christians with four more years in the White House,” promising to combat “anti-Christian bias.” (Of course, what Trump means by “Christian” is “conservative Christian.”)

According to the PRRI, Christian nationalists were also more likely to agree that “there is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders,” and that “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save the country.”

“I think we’re going to see more and more of these strong-arm tactics moving outside of the norm of democracy precisely because the demographics of this country are changing,” said Jones about the proliferation of Christian nationalist ideals among politicians. The U.S. was once a majority-white and Christian country, but in 2022, white Christians only made up 42 percent of the population.

“That sea change, or shift, has really set off this apocalyptic, in some way desperate reaction,” Jones continued. Indeed, in his speech before the National Religious Broadcasters, Trump said, “It’s the people from within our country that are more dangerous than the people outside.”

The country has already seen the effects of belief in violence as a tool for political change linked with support for Trump: On January 6, 2021, the former president’s supporters laid siege to the Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 election.

“The real danger of the Christian nationalist worldview is that it casts political opponents as existential enemies, and it thinks of politics in black and white terms of good versus evil, God versus Satan,” said Jones. When that perspective is prevalent, it justifies the use of violence for political means. “We’re actually trying to defeat and vanquish people who have literally been cast as instruments of the devil.”

What I’m reading

“What can I even say without having to go to jail?” by Julianne McShane in Mother Jones

This ballot measure would restore Roe. Abortion rights groups are attacking it, by Rachel M. Cohen in Vox

A wild and dangerous 2024 experiment, by John G. Hendrickson in The Atlantic

They renounced Trump. Will they get fellow conservatives to vote Biden? by Kara Voght in The Washington Post

A backward movie for an upside-down world, by Bilge Ebiri in Vulture

The ‘Killmonger Cut’ is everywhere in games, by Trone Dowd in IGN

Pet of the week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of the next newsletter? Email me:

This week’s featured pet is Khaleesi, submitted by Reese Gorman. She is extremely loud and demanding, and she loves to lick and have her belly rub. Khaleesi’s greatest mission in life is to kill all squirrels.

When a Failed Pregnancy Becomes a Crime

The Alabama IVF ruling has stoked fears that patients and their health care providers might soon be subject to criminal prosecution in cases where a hoped-for birth goes wrong.

Protestors participate in a 2019 rally against bans on abortions in Montgomery, Alabama.
Julie Bennett/Getty Images
Protestors participate in a 2019 rally against bans on abortions in Montgomery, Alabama.

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court handed down a ruling that could have devastating repercussions for families hoping to obtain in vitro fertilization treatment, or IVF. The court ruled that frozen embryos outside of the womb are “children,” in accordance with state law allowing civil litigation for the wrongful deaths of children and a 2018 constitutional amendment to protect the rights of “the unborn child.”

This 8–1 ruling protecting the rights of “extrauterine children” thus leaves clinics vulnerable to lawsuits. The lone dissenter, Justice Greg Cook, wrote in his opinion that “the main opinion’s holding will mean that the creation of frozen embryos will end in Alabama.”

The decision in Alabama raises concerns about the “criminalization of pregnancy outcomes,” said Kimya Forouzan, principal policy associate for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion access. An outcome as common as a miscarriage could be viewed with suspicion; if an IVF treatment fails to take, that could not only be considered a physical failure of the mother but potentially a criminal one as well. Or, for the clinics that would provide IVF treatments, a power outage caused by a storm could be cause for liability.

The Alabama ruling was the latest salvo in a longtime campaign by abortion opponents to “establish personhood,” that is, to enshrine into law that life begins at conception. That battle has been ongoing in Alabama, where the 2018 constitutional amendment, ratified by voters, requires courts to “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” Last year, the Alabama attorney general said that women who use abortion medication could be prosecuted for violating a law written to protect children from meth-lab fumes.

“In the state of Alabama, for more than a decade, there have been efforts to stretch state laws and amend state laws to apply to fetuses and embryos, and to criminally punish pregnant women,” said Michele Goodwin, a professor at Georgetown Law and expert on abortion law. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Goodwin continued, it emboldened state legislatures and courts “to either enact sweeping laws, or to bend precedent, to bend state constitutions, to bend legislation to suit what would be pro-natalist aims and anti-abortion aims.”

Restrictions to abortion access have particularly affected lower-income Americans, many of whom cannot afford to travel to another state to obtain the procedure. With the Alabama decision, a new subset of people—middle- to high-income families struggling with fertility issues—could face the consequences of limited reproductive care for the first time. (This week, the University of Alabama at Birmingham temporarily paused IVF procedures.)

“While there has been a targeting of poor people and their reproductive futures—women of color, certainly, and their reproductive futures—there are categories of Americans that have been able to experience parenthood because in significant ways they could afford to use these technologies,” said Goodwin. “Now what we see is the coming for these technologies, and those communities of people, who will now find themselves vulnerable.”

Meanwhile, days before the Alabama decision was handed down, and a few hundred miles away, a state House committee in Oklahoma approved a bill that would create a database within the Oklahoma State Department of Health to track women who have had abortions, as well as how many they have had, and require physicians to justify why they performed an abortion under oath. It would also prevent Oklahomans from obtaining some over-the-counter emergency contraceptive prescriptions without a physician’s approval, and would place new restrictions on intrauterine devices, or IUDs, a popular form of birth control.

The Oklahoma bill is emblematic of the larger movement across several states. “We have seen throughout the states an effort to ban or limit access to contraception generally,” said Forouzan, pointing to legislation in several states to limit young people’s ability to obtain contraception. This legislation could provide another blueprint for states seeking to restrict access to certain contraception.

“As we monitor the state legislative sessions, as they progress, we see different types of bills start to trend, in a sense. So they’ll have success being implemented in one state, and then in the next session, we’ll see a few states that have introduced them,” Forouzan said. “Often, that can serve to normalize something that we hadn’t really seen before, especially when it comes to abortion restrictions.”

The same goes for litigation: The Alabama decision has already inspired a religious organization to challenge a proposed ballot initiative in Florida to protect abortion rights. “Every human life begins as an embryo, and now the Alabama Supreme Court has upheld the decision of its citizenry that every unborn life should be protected, no matter their stage or location,” said Mat Staver, the chair and founder of Liberty Counsel, which is bringing forward the challenge in Florida.

This development is only to be expected. “What one sees in the wake of the kind of pro-natalism that’s taken hold in the United States is that when one state sneezes, the rest catch a cold,” said Goodwin.

This article first appeared in Inside Washington, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by staff writer Grace Segers. Sign up here.

Vibe Check: A government funding jump scare

Each week, I provide an update on the vibes surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: Congress is a horror movie, and the need to fund the government is the monster lurking behind the door.

This Monday, we celebrated Presidents’ Day, so named because it happens to fall roughly around the birthdays of noted Aquarians George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. (February 19 actually was Washington’s birthday, which means we get an extra point for accuracy, I guess.)

Congress, as it is wont to do, opted to extend the three-day weekend into a full week away from Washington. (Yes, comms directors, I know lawmakers do work in their districts/states, simmer down.) Which means that when they return, on the evening of February 28, they will have three legislative days to partake in what’s become one of their more regular pastimes: preventing a partial government shutdown. Long ago, in mid-January, Congress approved a “laddered” continuing resolution, extending funding for five federal agencies through March 1, and then for the remaining nine through March 8. This itself was an extension of a previous continuing resolution, but here’s the best part: Unless Congress can pass all 12 appropriations bills in a few days, there will likely be yet another short-term continuing resolution to avert a shutdown.

Representative Mike Quigley, the Democratic ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee pertaining to transportation and housing, said that he did not believe Congress could approve appropriations bills before the early March deadlines. “You’re never losing money betting against Congress,” Quigley said. When asked if Congress would need to pass another continuing resolution, Quigley replied: “That’s always a safe bet.”

Appropriations Committee staff will still be working to finalize legislation while lawmakers are away from Washington, said Representative Rosa DeLauro, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee. But some sticking points remain, she added, such as the possible inclusion of so-called “policy riders” that would provide wins for conservative lawmakers otherwise upset by the amount of spending. “Riders are unacceptable,” DeLauro said. “If they decide they’re going to create chaos again around the riders, then the process becomes unglued.”

Continuing resolutions are exceedingly unpopular with many Republicans in the rank and file, so Speaker Mike Johnson has had to lean on the Democratic minority to help push the stopgap measures over the finish line. He will likely have to do so again, using a procedural maneuver that allows legislation to pass with support from two-thirds of the House. Given the narrow three-seat Republican majority, conservative members could otherwise throw hurdles in front of any spending legislation.

If another such short-term resolution is needed, it will likely enrage far-right Republicans even more, potentially threatening Johnson’s speakership. Lest we forget—and truly, how could you?—Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted in part because of his compromise to keep the government open last fall. If the government funding bills do pass in “minibus” or “omnibus” form, in which several measures are roped together for one vote, many hard-right members would see that as a further betrayal.

Then there’s the threat of not actually being able to pass any appropriations bill, and instead needing to approve a full-year continuing resolution—an idea opposed by Democrats and Republican hawks, as it would functionally amount to across-the-board spending cuts (including for defense programs). Axios reported this week that given these disagreements, many House Republicans are expecting a government shutdown, even if it only lasts a few days.

Despite the time crunch, some lawmakers remain optimistic. “A lot of these bills are pretty close to done now,” said Representative Tom Cole, the chair of the Transportation and Housing Subcommittee in the Appropriations Committee. However, he acknowledged there were “some disagreements we knew we would kick upstairs” for committee leadership to consider—i.e., the aforementioned policy riders—and he said that some agency funding bills were still being hammered out. At a recent Republican leadership retreat in Miami, Punchbowl News reported, Cole said that he expected congressional leaders to back the spending bills, rather than relying solely on appropriators to push them across the finish line.

Moreover, despite not having passed government funding for fiscal year 2024, congressional appropriations committees will soon begin working on fiscal year 2025. President Joe Biden will also be releasing his proposed budget (*cough* policy wish list) soon.

“This shows you how messed up we are,” said Quigley about the potential overlap in budgets. “This is no way to run a railroad.”

What I’m reading

Control of the House could come down to this New York Republican, by Grace Segers in Politico. (No, I don’t have a doppelgänger who is also a political reporter—I wrote this piece for Politico’s magazine, and you should check it out!)

Everyone knows Sutton Foster can sing. Now we know she can juggle, by Michael Paulson in The New York Times

Matt Gaetz’s chaos agenda, by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker

Naps, jokes and younger advisers: How octogenarians think Biden can win, by Meryl Kornfield in The Washington Post

Private equity has its eyes on the child-care industry, by Adam Harris in The Atlantic

The hot new luxury good for the rich: air, by Shayla Love in The New Republic

Pet of the Week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of the next newsletter? Email me:

This week’s featured pet was submitted by The New Republic’s own Daniel Pritchett. Norma Jean—not named after Marilyn Monroe—was rescued from ASPCA seven years ago, chosen because she was super shy and sitting alone in a corner of a box. She’s since come out of her shell and is very friendly, playful, and vocal. The only toys she plays with are pom-pom balls, which Daniel describes as “endearing and strange.”

How Tom Suozzi’s Big Win Upended Washington’s Border Wars

His special election victory has Democrats drunk on Long Island iced tea—and hopeful that a winning message just fell in their laps.

Tom Suozzi celebrates during an election night watch party.
Jeenah Moon/Getty Images
Tom Suozzi celebrates during an election night watch party. Suozzi won the race to succeed ousted New York Representative George Santos.

I know it’s tough, but let’s not read too much into this. Yes, Democrat Tom Suozzi won the special House election vacated after the ouster of George Santos, flipping the Long Island and Queens–based district. But while his defeat of Republican Mazi Pilip can inform how we think about the 2024 elections in the suburbs, there’s a substantial risk of overinterpretation.

First, you better know this district: New York’s 3rd congressional district is one of the wealthiest in the country, with a median salary of nearly $130,000. It is also relatively diverse across racial, ethnic, and religious lines, with significant Asian, Hispanic, Jewish, and Muslim populations. And then there is the “act of God” factor that came into play on Tuesday: Voter turnout was likely disrupted by a massive snowstorm, which resulted in school closures. Democrats had the early voting advantage, while Republicans who were more likely to turn out on Election Day had more trouble traveling to the polls.

There’s also the idiosyncrasies of the candidates to consider: Pilip was a relative nobody with limited political experience, bolstered by the well-oiled machine of the Nassau Republican Party. Suozzi is a former county executive and representative who held the district for six years before unsuccessfully running for governor in 2022, allowing the Biden +8 district to be snatched up by Santos.

Still, it’s instructive to consider the outcome of the election, if not as a true crystal ball then at least as tea leaves. The race was defined by what Lawrence Levy, the associate vice president and executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, called the “three I’s and one A”: immigration, Israel, inflation, and abortion. Suozzi’s win “shows that a moderate candidate who has ties to the community—and not just to some ideological sliver of it at one extreme or the other—has a real good chance to buck some pretty powerful political trends.”

The topics of immigration and Israel became increasingly salient toward the end of the race. The district has a large Jewish population, including a significant bloc of Orthodox Jews, who tend to be more conservative. (The Ethiopian-born Pilip is, herself, an Orthodox Jew, and served in the Israel Defense Forces.) But immigration was even more critical to the election.

“The issue of the border and migration had a particular salience on Long Island, fed by a daily drumbeat of headlines about migrants arriving by the busload in New York City,” said former Representative Steve Israel, a Democrat who represented the district until 2017. “Immigration and border safety is unquestionably an issue on the minds of voters across the country, but it had special significance for New York voters because of the daily news headlines.”

Republican attacks on Democrats regarding immigration policy were particularly successful on Long Island in 2022; Suozzi used hard-line language on the issue in the waning days of the campaign to counter them. He slammed Pilip for her opposition to the bipartisan border deal that was negotiated in the Senate—and then blocked by the GOP. Suozzi tied Pilip to the transgressions of her would-be Washington colleagues, arguing that she was uninterested in real solutions to addressing the “migrant crisis.”

In a postelection memo, the super PAC affiliated with House Democratic leadership argued that Suozzi offered a blueprint for future Democratic campaigns, saying that “it is imperative for Democrats to take the fight to Republicans and hammer them on their failure to support the Senate’s bipartisan border security bill.” (Or, as Speaker Mike Johnson put it, Suozzi “sounded like a Republican talking about the border.”)

“On contentious issues like the border and immigration, Tom Suozzi taught Democrats that they don’t have to shy away from those issues, but can lean into them,” said Israel. “Essentially, he met voters where they are, and that’s a vital lesson.”

Indeed, according to CNN reporter David Wright, immigration was the top issue by ad spending, with $12.4 million spent on advertisements related to the topic through Sunday. A Pilip-aligned super PAC spent $1.35 million on a 30-second ad that aired during the Super Bowl, bashing Suozzi as “soft on illegal immigration and tough on taxpayers.”

Truly, a frankly bonkers amount of money was spent on a roughly two-month campaign. In the period between October and the end of January, Suozzi raised roughly $4.5 million, compared to $1.3 million raised by Pilip. The race also attracted significant outside spending. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the political action committee associated with House Republican leadership, spent nearly $5 million against Suozzi, according to OpenSecrets. Meanwhile, the House Majority PAC, which is associated with House Democrats, spent nearly $6 million against Pilip.

Suozzi may also have benefited from engaging certain segments of the district, such as the Asian American community. Representative Grace Meng, who represents the neighboring district and lent some of her campaign staff to Suozzi, praised his engagement with the Asian population, particularly in Queens—participating in community meet and greets, hiring staff who spoke multiple Asian languages, and spending money on advertisements in Asian media.

“This is one reason why I wanted Tom to win, was because I want to be able to say to almost every candidate that, ‘hey, when you engage in our community, their voices are being heard,’” said Meng, adding that she hoped this race provided a “blueprint” for future Democratic candidates to reach out to Asian communities.

As someone who spent the majority of her childhood on Long Island, I can confirm: It is an odd political petri dish of suburban mentality, New York bluster, and provincial loyalty. Although Suozzi’s district had begun to pivot to the right in 2021 and 2022—triggered in large part by considerations around crime and immigration—in the special election, it returned to its more natural state of moderate Democratic tendencies.

“In 2024, it reverted to its natural center and centrism,” Israel said.

This article first appeared in Inside Washington, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by staff writer Grace Segers. Sign up here.

Vibe check: Salty about SALT

Each week, I provide an update on the vibes surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: failure to launch a rule to lift the cap on the state and local tax deduction.

In keeping with the theme of the week, we’ll turn now to a major policy issue for Long Island politicians in particular: the state and local tax deduction, colloquially known as SALT. (It’s also generally a major priority for Republicans in high-tax, typically blue states, but I’m sticking to a motif here.)

In 2017, Republicans in Congress approved massive tax cut legislation. As one of the revenue streams for the nearly $2 billion measure, the law capped the SALT deduction at $10,000 per household. Prior to this law, taxpayers could deduct state and local income, property, and sales taxes with no limit. Although the SALT deduction primarily benefits the wealthy nationwide, lifting the deduction cap has become a major priority for lawmakers representing districts with high state and local taxes in states such as New York, New Jersey, and California.

“Everybody has a perspective.” said Representative Marc Molinaro, a Republican representing an exurban swing district in upstate New York. “Ours is, by no fault of their own, New York taxpayers are overtaxed, and they deserve the same middle-class tax relief as every other American. And our goal is simply to garner what support we can.”

Fast-forward to two weeks ago: Several of these SALT-focused House Republicans were frustrated by the exclusion of a SALT-related provision in a bipartisan tax deal. Four New York Republicans—including three Long Islanders—initially blocked a procedural vote in protest, before allowing the measure to pass with the promise that they would get a vote on a measure to end the so-called “marriage penalty” in the SALT deduction cap. Their legislation, which would double the cap to $20,000 for married couples for the 2023 tax year, was narrowly approved by the House Rules Committee at the beginning of February and faced a procedural vote on the House floor this week. The bill would only apply to couples earning up to $500,000 annually.

Unfortunately for the SALT-y members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, raising the cap is (a) expensive and (b) unpopular with pretty much everyone who doesn’t represent a wealthy, high-tax district. The Penn Wharton Budget Model at the University of Pennsylvania found that the bill to lift the cap would cost roughly $12 billion in lost revenue. The measure would also benefit the wealthy more than the middle class: An analysis by the Tax Foundation found that the proposal would primarily benefit filers earning more than $200,000, while the Tax Policy Center calculated that only one in 1,000 households earning less than $100,000 annually would qualify for a tax cut.

The rule vote for the SALT measure was brought to the House floor on Wednesday evening. It failed, due to opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike. (Lest you think this is only a problem for Republicans, there are SALT-focused Democrats who were disappointed by the lack of movement on the issue when their party controlled the House as well.)

All of the above raises the question: Why prioritize lifting the SALT deduction if it is doomed to fail, sad-trombone style? Perhaps not coincidentally, several of the New York Republicans interested in lifting the marriage cap also represent swing districts and are locked in tough reelection races in 2024. What better way to show that you fought for your constituents’ priorities than pressing for the passage of a bill to ease their tax burden?

Well, a better way would be to actually see it approved. But barring that, a failed rule vote will do the trick.

What I’m reading

The raw talent in Usher’s halftime show, by Hannah Giorgis in The Atlantic

The once and future Democratic Party, by Rebecca Traister in New York

A prescription for housing? by Rachel M. Cohen in Vox

Kristen Stewart uncensored: ‘I want to do the gayest thing you’ve ever seen in your life’, by Alex Morris in Rolling Stone

This year, love and death go hand in hand on Valentine’s Day, by Ruth Graham in The New York Times

Pet of the week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of the next newsletter? Email me:

This week’s featured pets are Darrow (bottom) and Eugene (top), submitted by Brendan Pedersen. Darrow, who is 3 years old, is “physically and emotionally soft,” according to Brendan. He likes to wander around at night and sing the song of his people, and is obsessed with the whooshing sound the Hulu app makes when you open it on a Roku TV. Eugene, who just turned 1, is a recent amputee due to a birth defect in his front left arm. He likes to scream in excitement when he has something he shouldn’t, “i.e., wrapper fished out of the trash.” The defining characteristic of both boys: They love their brother.

The Most Cynical Week in Washington

Behind all the political theater over the now-dead border bill, there is still a humanitarian crisis that’s been left to fester.

Senator James Lankford at the U.S. Capitol on February 7
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Senator James Lankford at the U.S. Capitol on February 7

The national security supplemental legislation that included a controversial bill on border and asylum policy—which failed to even scrounge up 60 votes in the Senate on Wednesday—was the result of months of negotiations, yet ended in foreseeable defeat. So foreseeable, in fact, that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer immediately replaced it on the floor with a bill that included aid to Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific region—without any border provisions. The second supplemental advanced on Thursday afternoon, with more votes expected over the weekend.

Nonetheless, the first national security supplemental proposed this week, and the bipartisan border bill contained within, was significant for two reasons: its politics and its policy. Less than 24 hours after its release, Senate Republicans immediately torpedoed the prospects of the bill negotiated in part by one of their own—GOP Senator James Lankford—because they found it insufficiently stringent.

Even though the border legislation will not become law, it’s worth considering its substance: It could provide a framework for future legislation or—perhaps more likely—yet another cautionary tale as to why substantive immigration-related measures are doomed to fail in the modern political era.

Substantively, the initial supplemental contained controversial elements regarding asylum, immigration, and border policy, which left many humanitarian and immigrant rights groups concerned. Not only was this legislation insufficient to solve any of the problems the bill purported to solve, these organizations say, but serious unaddressed issues will remain long after the media stops gawking at this week’s legislative wreckage.

“It doesn’t do anything to solve the root of the problem, which is that our immigration system hasn’t been overhauled since 1986,” said Mark Hetfield, the president and CEO of HIAS, a refugee resettlement organization. “The entire asylum system is bearing the burden that we haven’t updated our immigration laws to make sure they meet the labor needs of the country.”

The border legislation would have made significant changes to the backlogged asylum system. It would have made it more difficult for migrants to claim asylum, requiring them to show greater proof that they have a “credible fear” of facing persecution upon returning to their home countries. It would attempt to streamline the appeals process by functionally excising immigration courts, granting those decisions to internal review boards. It would include around $3 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to expand detention capacity.

The measure would also require the Department of Homeland Security to shut down the border if illegal crossings exceed 5,000 migrants over a week, or 8,500 in one day; the administration would also be able to shut down the border if crossings exceed 4,000 daily for a week. The border would only reopen if crossings dropped to 75 percent of that number over the course of a week. (This was a provision that many Republicans found to be unsatisfactory, contending that it allowed for too many crossings.)

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the director of the refugee resettlement organization Global Refuge, called that provision “deeply unsettling” because it would require the expulsion of migrants seeking asylum without recourse, and thus perhaps even a violation of international agreements like the Refugee Convention.

“I think at the end of the day, we all understand that bipartisanship requires compromise. But lawmakers have to ask themselves, does it require us to compromise our nation’s core values?” O’Mara Vignarajah said. “We’re trying to support the effort to fix the system but also ensure that it doesn’t preclude people in the most desperate of circumstances from exercising a legal right.”

There are elements of the legislation that humanitarian organizations would support, including offering 250,000 new visas for migrants who wish to work in the United States or join family members, making asylum-seekers eligible for work permits as they wait, and providing a pathway to citizenship for children of immigrants who came to the U.S. on certain work permits. However, as Hetfield put it, “the good stuff doesn’t compensate for all the bad stuff.”

Hetfield argued that economic circumstances “demand” immigration reform to help address the labor shortage. Many migrants are using the asylum system to get into the U.S. for work, he continued, even though that process is not designed for such a purpose. “What really drives me crazy is this line that Republicans have been giving for years, which is that ‘first we have to fix the border,’” Hetfield said. “It is one ecosystem.”

This article first appeared in Inside Washington, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by staff writer Grace Segers. Sign up here.

Vibe check: Update on the Afghan Adjustment Act

Each week, I provide an update on the vibes surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: the future of a key bill to aid Afghan allies.

There were other elements of the initial legislation that did not make it into the second supplemental proposal, including a version of the Afghan Adjustment Act: a bill that would grant Afghan evacuees paroled into the U.S. after the withdrawal from Afghanistan a way to obtain permanent residency, and that would expand and streamline the Special Immigrant Visa process for allies still trapped in Afghanistan. Veterans groups and humanitarian organizations have been lobbying to pass the bill for years.

“We’re very unhappy about it not being in the bill right now,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of the co-sponsors of the Afghan Adjustment Act.

The initial exclusion of the Afghan Adjustment Act was a major blow to the tens of thousands of Afghans paroled into the U.S., the allies still in Afghanistan, and their advocates stateside. However, there was a fervent behind-the-scenes effort by the bill’s supporters in the Senate to ensure it would receive a vote as an amendment—assuming, of course, that the underlying second supplemental could advance.

“We are trying to get a vote on that amendment,” Senator Chris Coons, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told me on Wednesday afternoon. “There’s a strong bipartisan group that would support it.”

Although it was unclear whether there would be votes on amendments at the time of publication, the Afghan Adjustment Act might be a relatively popular addition.

“If it gets offered as an amendment, I’ll be voting for it,” said Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican co-sponsor of the Afghan Adjustment Act. “I’ve got to imagine that there are several members that would want to offer that up as one of the amendments.” Such an amendment might be brought by Senator Amy Klobuchar, who introduced the legislation in the Senate and has helped drive the behind-the-scenes effort to attach it to the supplemental.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, who introduced the bill in the House, said on Wednesday that the Afghan Adjustment Act is “noncontroversial” and has bipartisan support. (The bill is not entirely “noncontroversial”—GOP Senator Chuck Grassley previously blocked it due to concerns over vetting of parolees, even though the legislation would include an additional vetting process.)

But Blumenauer also highlighted the chaos that has consumed Congress, indicating that across-the-aisle endorsements may not be enough to get this portion over the finish line. “It’s a crazy time. I mean, who knows?” Blumenauer said.

For refugee advocates, the inclusion of the Afghan Adjustment Act in the initial supplemental legislation was a positive step forward—even if it didn’t make up for the provisions they did not like. “When you work in the immigration space, you’ve got to have hope,” said O’Mara Vignarajah. “But it still feels like an uphill battle.”

What I’m reading

Billy Joel said he’d retired from pop. Here’s what brought him back, by Caryn Ganz in The New York Times

It was a pleasure just to watch Carl Weathers move, by Matt Zoller Seitz in Vulture

We all know we should save the whales. What about the sardines? by Russell Jacobs in Slate

Team Cow or Team Soy: The milk wars roiling America, by Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal

TikTok is full of tryhard slang, by Rebecca Jennings in Vox

Pet of the week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of the next newsletter? Email me:

This week’s featured pets are Bandit (left) and Cleo, submitted by Tal Kopan. The two are 7-year-old littermates; their favorite things include cuddles, scratchies, loudly hunting their toys in the middle of the night, and sharing Goldfish crackers for snack with their human sister.

Is Washington Writing the Script for the Next Forever War?

The Biden administration's open-ended escalations in the Middle East are starting to feel like the sequel to a bad movie.

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks to reporters during a vote in the Senate Chambers of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 25, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Sen. Tim Kaine speaks to reporters during a vote in the Senate Chambers of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 25, 2024 in Washington, DC.


It’s been a few days since three U.S. service members were killed in a drone strike by an Iran-backed militia in Jordan. President JOE BIDEN has said that the U.S. “shall respond” but has not given details about what that response will be. Given the various ongoing conflicts in the Middle East—including Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, and recent U.S. airstrikes against Houthis in response to their disrupting traffic in the Red Sea—reporter GRACE SEGERS wonders whether lawmakers are concerned that the U.S. might become embroiled in yet another “forever war” in the Middle East. She questions senators across the ideological spectrum about this possibility.

Enter Senator TIM KAINE, a Democrat from Virginia who has co-sponsored legislation to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.

KAINE:  We shouldn’t be in another war in the Middle East, but particularly without a congressional debate and vote. So self-defense is one thing, but escalating regional conflict with the U.S. involved and our troops at risk is something that should not happen without a congressional debate and vote.

Camera pans to the Senate basement. Grace asks Senator MIKE ROUNDS, a Republican from South Dakota, if he’s worried about the U.S. getting entangled in a larger conflict in the United States.

ROUNDS:  Sure, everybody should be. If we continue down this policy of not dealing with the problem children in the Middle East, yes. It started with a very, very poor policy with regard to Afghanistan, and now it’s continued on … where if you don’t deal with these individuals that are causing the problem up front, then they just continue to test the waters.

GRACE:  Isn’t there the threat that if you go down that route of responding, that then it could end up in a tit-for-tat?

ROUNDS:  We know what happens when you’re in a tit-for-tat, which is what we’re in right now. Where all we do is, just kind of push them a little bit, and then they go, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.” So then they push back, and now they’re killing Americans. Bottom line is, they have to fear us, and they have to respect our military.

Back outside of the Senate chamber, we turn to Senator JOSH HAWLEY, a Republican from Missouri who has been skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts.

HAWLEY:  We’ve got to find a way to isolate Iran, to cut off any kind of support from the international community, to return to something like we had in the previous administration, where they really were truly isolated. Their revenues were way down. I mean, that’s got to be our goal while we continue our pivot toward the Pacific, where our biggest enemy is in China, where our biggest national security threats are.

GRACE:  I think everyone wants to avoid another type of “forever war,” but do you feel as if there are steps that could be taken where the U.S. could go in that direction again?

HAWLEY:  I’m leery of anything that would get us more involved in the Mideast in terms of central command—the central command area of authority—in terms of more manpower, more hardware. We have finite resources, and we have threats all over the world, but we have to prioritize.… Do I want to do nothing with Iran? No, I think we need to retaliate. We certainly need to isolate them. But I think we want to be careful that we don’t find ourselves embroiled, we don’t take actions that can embroil us in a major military conflict.

INT. U.S. CAPITOL—IN THE SENATE BASEMENT ON JANUARY 31, 2024 Enter Senator CHRIS COONS, Democrat from Delaware, a close ally of Biden.

GRACE:  I’m wondering if you’re concerned at all—

COONS:  “Wondering if you’re concerned.” Oh, my. That’s quite a way to frame it.

GRACE:  Sure.

COONS:  Let’s try again.

GRACE:  How do you feel about the possibility that what’s happening in the Middle East could escalate into another type of “Forever War” that the U.S. could be embroiled in?

COONS:  (Laughs, shakes head) Well, that’s about as negative a way as you could possibly characterize it. “Are you concerned about another Forever War?” I mean the answer to any formulation like that is going to be, “Of course I’m concerned.” Let’s put it differently: How confident am I that President Biden is clear eyed about the risks in the Middle East and is taking measured, responsible steps to both deter aggression and defend our troops and yet avoid a regional conflagration? Highly confident.

One of the great things about having a president with 50 years of experience in foreign policy is, he’s very, very aware of the difficulties, the tension, the competition in the region; the differences between the Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas; the different militias in Syria and Iraq; and the overarching role that Iran is playing. But I’m confident that he is carefully balancing how to deter Iran, how to strike back in a way that shows a firmness and determination to protect American troops, with an eye towards avoiding broadening the conflict.

Camera pans to GRACE, who looks directly into the lens as she offers the following analysis.

GRACE:  It’s still unclear to what extent the U.S. will become further engaged in conflicts in the Middle East in the coming weeks. While senators agree that Iranian-backed aggression should not go unheeded, the correct path for de-escalation is uncertain. While the prospects of another “forever war”—à la Afghanistan or Vietnam—are unappealing, time will tell whether the current conflict will evolve into a full-blown sequel.

Vibe check: Senate Republicans iffy on Mayorkas impeachment

Each week, I provide an update on the vibes surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: how Senate Republicans are reacting to the impending impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The House Homeland Security Committee advanced articles of impeachment against Mayorkas early on Wednesday morning, after a brutally long and contentious hearing. (Readers will be unsurprised to learn that the articles, which have been decried by Democrats as a “political sham,” passed along party lines.)

With the full House expected to vote on the articles imminently, the Senate may soon undertake its third impeachment trial in five years—albeit the first trial for a Cabinet official in a century and a half. The outcome is a foregone conclusion: Sixty-seven senators would need to convict Mayorkas for him to be removed, which would never happen in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The impeachment discussion also comes as bipartisan negotiators toil over a legislative deal on border security, although it is one that House Republicans—spurred by former President Donald Trump—have insisted will be DOA in the lower chamber.

For their part, Senate Republicans are feeling mixed about the House sending articles of impeachment for Mayorkas their way. When I asked Senator Mitt Romney whether he believed an impeachment trial was the best use of the Senate’s time, he bluntly replied: “No.”

Senator Todd Young, who previously expressed frustration with the speedy timelines of the two Trump impeachment proceedings, highlighted “the importance of some measure of due process and building a very strong factual foundation before you impeach.”

“Otherwise you end up … with snap impeachments. I predicted this was what would happen. It is happening,” Young said. “There was a rush to impeach. There’s a rush to dispense with our consideration of the impeachment.”

Indeed, it’s possible that the Democratic-controlled Senate may try to avoid the issue altogether by moving to table the articles. “It’s going to be up to Senator Schumer how to proceed over here, I suspect,” predicted Senator John Cornyn, who is “all for” the House’s impeachment effort. “I suspect [Democrats] might try to table impeachment, which will take 51 votes, because they probably don’t want additional attention to their failures.”

Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, did not commit to a decision on holding a trial, saying the Senate will “see what the House does first.”

Even those who approve of the House’s actions could be noncommittal about the prospects of a trial. Senator Tommy Tuberville appeared broadly supportive of the effort, saying he was glad the House is “doing their work.” However, when asked about whether a trial would be a valuable use of time, Tuberville said, “Well, not our time, but their time.”

What I’m reading

The band that’s been charting America’s burnout for decades, by Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic

Are we sliding toward McCarthyism? by Emily Tamkin in The New Republic

​​Prisoners in the US are part of a hidden workforce linked to hundreds of popular food brands, by Robin McDowell and Margie Mason in the Associated Press

Tammy Murphy and the nepo state, by Simon van Zuylen-Wood in New York

Chita Rivera, electrifying star of Broadway and beyond, is dead at 91, by Robert D. McFadden in The New York Times

Pet of the week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of the next newsletter? Email me:

This week’s featured pet is Babs, submitted by Eleanor Mueller. The 6-year-old Babs acts exactly like a dog, according to Eleanor, even coming running when you walk in the door and climbing on top of you any time she can.

Lawmakers Want Biden to Ask Permission Before Bombing Yemen Indiscriminately

The administration's escalation of an open-ended conflict with the Houthis has reawakened the long-running debate over who has the power to go to war.

Tom Williams/Getty Images
Senators Tim Kaine (left) and Todd Young

As tensions in the Middle East escalate, some lawmakers are questioning whether the Biden administration can authorize attacks against the Houthi militants in Yemen without the express consent of Congress.

“We just need to get clarity about their perception about their legal authorities and the implications of those understandings moving forward. The American people want us to duly deliberate before committing to some sort of sustained action against the Houthis or others,” said Senator Todd Young, a Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has helped lead efforts in the Senate to overturn the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, that justified American action in Iraq. 

This month, the Biden administration authorized multiple strikes against the Houthis, an Iranian-backed organization based in Yemen that has disturbed traffic in crucial shipping lanes connecting to the Suez Canal. The Defense Department has characterized strikes against the Houthis as “defensive,” citing “imminent threat” of attack to merchant ships and U.S. Navy vessels. The Houthis began attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea in response to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

“I know of no definition of self-defense that includes protecting foreign flagships. It might be a really good thing to do—but what’s the legal justification for it?” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, the other leader of efforts to overturn the 2002 AUMF in the Senate, told me on Tuesday. “There’s a ‘What’s the strategy?’ question. And since the administration said they expect more escalation, and that’s what’s happening—OK, then, well, what’s the plan to de-escalate?”

Indeed, President Joe Biden himself has acknowledged that, despite failing to dissuade the group from attacking vessels traveling through key sea lanes, the campaign against the Houthis may be open-ended: “Are they stopping the Houthis? No,” Biden said last week. “Are they going to continue? Yes.”

(Insert extremely quick primer: The Houthis control a portion of territory in Yemen, and a Saudi-backed campaign to uproot them—supported by the United States—proved to be largely ineffective; a truce was eventually implemented in 2022. That conflict displaced millions of people and further exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the Middle East’s poorest country.)

On Tuesday, Young and Kaine were joined by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and Republican Senator Mike Lee in sending a letter to the White House asking for more details on the administration’s strategy in responding to Houthi attacks. While the senators said they “support smart steps to defend U.S. personnel and assets” and “hold the Houthis accountable for their actions,” they “further believe Congress must carefully deliberate before authorizing offensive military action.”

“The Administration has stated that the strikes on Houthi targets to date have not and will not deter the Houthi attacks, suggesting that we are in the midst of an ongoing regional conflict that carries the risk of escalation,” the senators said, adding that there is “no current congressional authorization for offensive U.S. military action against the Houthis.” Kaine separately told me that his office has been in contact with White House staff but has not yet received a satisfying response as to the administration’s strategy against the Houthis.

Some lawmakers in the House have also raised concerns about the president’s authority to launch strikes against the Houthis. In an op-ed in The Nation last week, Democratic Representative Ro Khanna argued that Biden has “both the constitutional obligation and a political imperative” to seek authorization from Congress.

“Conducted with extensive planning and in coordination with five other countries, the multiple rounds of US airstrikes in Yemen are retaliatory strikes for deterrence, not defense,” said Khanna.

It’s not just the strikes against the Houthis that have members of Congress scratching their heads. Young and Kaine also each expressed bafflement at the Biden administration’s use of the 2002 AUMF to justify airstrikes in Iraq earlier this month. The White House said the strike was justified by Article 51 of the United Nations charter, which outlines a nation’s right to self-defense, as well as the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

“We could not understand, like, what was the [White House] counsel’s office thinking? And we still haven’t gotten a good answer,” said Kaine.

Young, who described himself as a “recovering attorney,” told me on Tuesday that it was a “mistake” to cite the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq strikes, calling it an “untenable position.” 

“Sometimes attorneys can get carried away. And that’s what happened in this case, which is what led the administration to a nonsensical and inconsistent position,” Young said. “The 2002 AUMF was drafted and passed for the narrow purpose of ensuring that we could go to war against Saddam Hussein’s regime. Saddam Hussein is dead, last time I checked—still dead, still very dead. And that AUMF is no longer in effect as a matter of law.”

The House voted in 2021 to repeal the 2002 AUMF. The Senate repealed the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs on a bipartisan basis last year, although that second measure has not made progress in the now Republican-controlled House. The recent strikes in Yemen—and, to a lesser extent, in Iraq—are once again raising questions about how far a president can go without congressional authority. Even in a divided and often dysfunctional Congress, some lawmakers argue that debating to authorize use of force in the legislature is a necessary next step.

“My anticipation would be that the president’s hand would be substantially strengthened if he came to Congress before committing to any longer-term action,” Young said.

This article first appeared in Inside Washington, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by staff writer Grace Segers. Sign up here.

Vibe check: The Chevron conundrum

Each week, I provide an update on the vibes surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: how lawmakers are reacting to a Supreme Court case with far-reaching effects.

The Supreme Court appears poised to overturn a key precedent that empowers federal agencies, which would in turn raise the level of specificity required for  Congress to draft regulatory laws to a near-impossible standard of complexity.

In oral arguments last week, conservative members of the court seemed skeptical of the so-called Chevron doctrine,” a precedent that grants agencies authority to interpret congressional statutes when intent is unclear. The 1984 case that established the Chevron doctrine is one of the most cited cases in recent legal history; if overturned, it would transfer authority from executive agencies to the courts to determine legislative intent.

Although the Chevron doctrine was established during and supported by the Reagan administration, recent support for or opposition to it has largely fallen along party lines, with Democrats in favor of preserving agency authority and Republicans opposed.

“The Supreme Court is considering a power grab designed to make day-to-day governance less effective and to give the courts more power in determining every detail of how government works,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, who joined an amicus curiae brief supporting the doctrine along with other Democratic senators. “Instead of having scientists, for example, figure out the safety standards on nuclear energy, overturning the Chevron doctrine would mean courts could make that decision.”

But Republicans argue that Congress should be more specific in outlining statutes, contending that changing administrations allow agencies to interpret laws differently based on who is in office. “For too long, Congress has been content to punt decision-making to unelected bureaucrats in the executive branch,” said Senator Ted Cruz, who led several other Republican lawmakers in an amicus brief urging the court to overturn the precedent. “The growth of the administrative state has allowed politicians to avoid accountability to the people.” (However, the Supreme Court justices—who would almost definitely end up deciding what actions taken by regulatory agencies are kosher and which aren’t—are just as unelected and perhaps even less accountable to voters than executive branch bureaucrats.)

Senator Josh Hawley, another Republican opponent of the doctrine, said that “Congress has deliberately given up authority to agencies.”

“And then, you know, we whine about it all the time. ‘Oh, these agencies, they pay no attention to us.’ Well, that’s because we’ve given them wide-open discretionary authority,” Hawley told me. He echoed the common Republican belief that agencies functionally amount to a “fourth branch of government,” unaccountable to Congress or the executive (a Deep State, if you will).

Still, requiring Congress to be more specific in developing statutes would require a degree of granularity lawmakers are not used to considering. Moreover, supporters of the doctrine argue that leaving a statute up to the courts would not necessarily ensure stability in interpretation, because conservative and liberal justices may rule differently on a law: This could ultimately bring a statute before the conservative-majority Supreme Court for final decision, which has shown itself to be largely hostile to government regulation.

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse—who led the brief supporting the doctrine and has pointed out the ties between the conservative Koch network and the plaintiffs in one of the Supreme Court cases under consideration—said that agencies are already held accountable.

“Look at all the CRAs we’ve done in this building,” Whitehouse said, referring to votes to undo agency actions under the Congressional Review Act. “Look at the appropriations riders that get put on, look at all the Oversight Committee work, look at what’s happening to [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas on the House side, and tell me that Congress doesn’t oversee agencies.”

Whitehouse, who has pressed for the Supreme Court to adopt a formal ethics code, also argued that the judicial branch may not be the best venue for interpreting laws. “Even if it were true, which it isn’t, the idea you could solve an accountability problem by moving the locus of decision to an even less accountable part of government, shows how little this argument makes sense,” Whitehouse said.

What I’m reading

NJ race to replace Menendez pits insiders vs. grassroots backlash, by Jonathan Tamari in Bloomberg

She filed a complaint after being denied an abortion. The government shut her down, by Caroline Kitchener and Dan Diamond in The Washington Post

A small town struggles to survive in the heart of Mississippi’s hospital crisis, by Devna Bose in Mississippi Today

‘It’s embarrassing’: Republicans worry they have no achievements to run on in 2024, by Sahil Kapur in NBC News

The menu trends that define dining right now, by Priya Krishna, Tanya Sichynsky, and Umi Syam in The New York Times

Fetterman’s break from the left excites Republicans, by Ursula Perano in Politico

Pet of the week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of the next newsletter? Email me: 

This week’s featured pets are Ruby and Layla, submitted by Ally Boguhn. Ruby is a Boston terrier–French bulldog mix, and Layla is also a Boston terrier mix. The two pups, who are both rescues, like to hang out together in the sun. Fun fact about Layla: She can jump through hoops, a talent she enjoys sharing with guests at parties.

Millions of Americans Could Soon Be Very Offline

A staggering number of households across the country may lose broadband access if Congress doesn’t act.

Helen H. Richardson/Getty Images
A tower technician makes repairs on the Pollard cell tower in rural Rio Blanco County, Colorado.

Without additional funding, a program providing affordable internet access for low-income Americans could end this spring. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission warned that the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, was due to run out of funding in May and would no longer accept new enrollments beginning in early February. In October, the White House requested that Congress authorize an additional $6 billion for the program, which helps provide discounted internet access for around 23 million households.

In order to address that impending shortfall, a bipartisan crew of senators have introduced legislation to extend the program, which provides up to $30 monthly discounts on internet bills for low-income families and up to $75 monthly discounts for eligible households on tribal lands. The bill, which also has bipartisan support in the House, would grant the program an additional $7 billion to keep it running.

The ACP replaced the pandemic-era Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which provided $50 monthly broadband subsidies for low-income households. “When the pandemic happened, it became crystal clear that a robust affordable broadband program is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said Gigi Sohn, the executive director of the American Association for Public Broadband, which supports the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act.

Senator Peter Welch, who introduced the legislation in the Senate, said that he was heartened by the bipartisan support; as the lack of broadband access particularly affects people living in rural areas, it’s an issue that crosses party lines. However, it’s unclear whether the legislation will be a part of the ongoing appropriations process to keep the government funded. “We have to contend with all the complications of a complicated budget,” said Welch.

Despite its bipartisan support, the program is not universally popular. Some Republicans have challenged the FCC’s claims that ending the program would lead to 23 million households getting disconnected. In a letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel last month, several Republican lawmakers argued that “it appears the vast majority of tax dollars have gone to households that already had broadband prior to the subsidy.”

“The program’s record of targeting taxpayer subsidies to consumers who already had broadband is further apparent in the FCC’s enrollment numbers: The number of households in the ACP—approximately 22 million—far exceeds the 16 million unconnected households according to 2021 Census data,” the letter said. However, many of the current beneficiaries of the ACP had previously obtained access through the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

Sohn said that the ACP helped both people who previously did not have access to the internet and those with “internet insecurity.” “There are families who may purchase internet for a couple months so the kids can do homework and then they disconnect over the summer,” Sohn said. “It’s not a constant connection, which is what you want.”

Welch argued that even if a household technically has access to broadband, it doesn’t mean that they can afford it. “This is a $30 rebate for folks, many of whom are making $15,000 a year with two kids. So we’ve got to help those folks so that they can get ahead, their kids can get ahead,” said Welch. “So I think it’s a totally worthwhile use of money.”

Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, the bill’s Republican co–lead sponsor in the House, also argued that keeping low-income Americans connected to the internet should outweigh concerns about cost.

“It’s more expensive for people not to have access. The downstream costs, economically and socially and psychologically, are much more expensive than not doing it,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s an investment, not an expense. Not everything that you spend money on is an expense.”

Vibe check: Trump wins over GOP senators

Each week, I provide an update on the vibes surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: growing support for Trump among Republican senators.

With Senator Ted Cruz’s endorsement of former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, more than half of the 49 Republicans in the Senate now formally support Trump’s presidential bid. Despite the outright antagonistic relationship between the former president and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican senators have increasingly fallen in line behind Trump’s campaign.

On Wednesday, Cruz told reporters that Trump’s blowout win in the Iowa caucuses this week left him with the belief that the race is “effectively over.” Senator Cynthia Lummis concurred, saying that “the window closed” on Trump’s would-be competition—the fact that Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are sallying on to compete in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries notwithstanding. “I think in 2023 the window was open to more candidates but when finally 2024 rolled around ... it just became apparent the window had closed and Trump was going to be the nominee,” Lummis told HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who endorsed Trump on Sunday, explained to reporters why he had chosen Trump over his home state governor, Ron DeSantis. “I endorsed the candidate in the race who asked for my endorsement,” Rubio said.

Still, support for Trump among Republican senators isn’t universal. Senator John Thune, the GOP whip, told CNN that he has “always been worried” about Trump’s general election prospects. Senator John Cornyn said that “it’s not over yet.”

Senator Mike Rounds, who endorsed fellow Republican Senator Tim Scott for president before Scott dropped out of the race, told me that he was waiting to endorse another candidate. “I have a huge amount of respect for Tim, and … with him stepping into it, I think it probably would have been inappropriate—based on our relationship—not to have offered him my full endorsement,” Rounds said. “Now I can relax a bit.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Senator Mitt Romney—one of Trump’s harshest critics—expressed frustration with not only Trump but his supporters.

“I think a lot of people in this country are out of touch with reality and will accept anything Donald Trump tells them. You had a jury that said that Donald Trump had raped a woman, and yet I don’t think that seems to be moving the needle,” said Romney, referring to a ruling by a New York jury last year that Trump sexually abused writer E. Jean Carroll. “There are a lot of things about today’s electorate I don’t understand.”

What I’m reading

How Octavia Butler told the future, by Tiya Miles in The Atlantic

$6 trillion in taxes are at stake in this year’s elections, by Richard Rubin in The Wall Street Journal

‘This to him is the grand finale’: Donald Trump’s 50-year mission to discredit the justice system, by Michael Kruse in Politico

A death at Walmart, by Jasper Craven in The New Republic

The stunt awards are back, by Brandon Streussnig and Bilge Ebiri in Vulture

Hakim, meet Hakeem: How a young city farmer got to know a congressman, by Mihir Zaveri in The New York Times

Pet of the week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of the next newsletter? Email me:
This week’s featured pet is George, submitted by The New Republic’s own Tori Otten. Here are some collected facts about George, provided by Tori:
1. He weighs five pounds, and most of it is fluff.
2. He enjoys sleeping on his stomach, but with his head elevated. It’s very strange and looks uncomfortable.
3. He can catch his own tail.
4. His favorite snacks are apples with peanut butter and roasted squash.
5. His growl sounds like an electric pencil sharpener.
6. He’s very good at identifying the one person in the room who doesn’t like dogs and then deciding this person is now his best friend.

Congress May Finally Pass a Child Tax Credit—but Will It Pay Off for Families?

A bipartisan deal is in reach at last, but there’s no guarantee that some children won’t get left behind.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Representative Jason Smith

There’s a lot of news on the child tax credit this week, so I’m focusing the full newsletter on that topic. Rest assured, the key deals dominating conversation in Congress—on funding the government, foreign aid, and the border—will be live issues going forward. But the chances of a bipartisan deal on a critical anti-poverty measure is my favorite story on Capitol Hill this week.

reported earlier this week that the top members of the tax-writing committees in the House and Senate are close to hashing out a deal on legislation that would expand the child tax credit and implement business-friendly tax benefits and deductions. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith, a Republican, have been negotiating an agreement for several months, and lawmakers believe that they are close to creating compromise legislation amenable to both parties.

Democrats have long aimed to reinstate some version of the expanded child tax credit that was briefly implemented by the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, which drastically lowered child poverty during the six months it was in effect. However, it appears that one of the key elements of the expanded child tax credit that helped alleviate child poverty may not be included in the final tax deal.

Democratic members of the Ways and Means Committee told reporters on Wednesday that they had been briefed on a framework that would cost around $70 billion, with $35 billion each for the expanded child tax credit and business tax benefits. Democrats said they were told it would be paid for in part by ending employee retention tax credit claims. The framework discussed would also increase partial refundability of the child tax credit, without providing full refundability for the poorest Americans. However, a source familiar with the negotiations between Wyden and Smith cautioned that the numbers related by House Democrats were not final and that there were still elements of a deal under consideration.

The American Rescue Plan Act eliminated the earnings requirement for the credit and allowed families too poor to pay income taxes to claim it—a provision colloquially known as “full refundability.” The American Rescue Plan Act also increased the amount of the credit and disbursed it on a monthly basis, instead of an annual lump sum. During the six months that it was in effect, from July through December 2021, this measure contributed to a dramatic decrease in child poverty, as well as a drop in food insecurity among families with children.

Although the decrease in child poverty in 2021 was due to a combination of those changes to the child tax credit, the refundability portion was perhaps the most significant expansion, because it allowed parents without income tax liability to still access the credit. Under current law, the $2,000 credit is only refundable up to $1,600.

“The refundability piece is critical, because you can’t just raise benefit levels on their own and expect to see these gaps close,” said Megan Curran, the policy director of the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. Curran and her colleagues recently released a report finding that 18 million children under age 17 were ineligible for the full credit—including 91 percent of children living below the poverty line and 36 percent in households living between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty line.

Democrats have been unsuccessfully working to revive the credit for years, and the current negotiations appear to be the closest lawmakers have come to a deal. However, Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee were unhappy with the numbers they were seeing from Wyden and Smith’s talks.

“This has to be a CTC tax package that makes that kind of profound difference in people’s lives. And right now, I don’t think they’re there yet,” said Representative Jimmy Gomez, a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Representative Don Beyer told reporters that “it’s definitely not enough.” “There’s no refundability, which we’ve always wanted. It’s not monthly, which we’ve always wanted. It does move the dollar amount up, which is good,” said Beyer. Democrats said that the amount refundable would be $2,000 by 2025, matching the amount of the nonrefundable credit.

Partial refundability meant that low- to middle-income children do not receive the full credit, as well as children in very poor households. Moreover, the amount available changes based on how many children a household has: For example, a parent with one child would need to earn around $31,000 per year to obtain the full credit, while a parent with two children would need to have an annual salary of $36,000.

Under the current framework being discussed, people earning under $2,500 would be ineligible. The credit would still phase in at a 15 percent rate for each dollar of earnings above $2,500. But rather than getting up to 15 percent of annual income in tax credits capped at $1,600 per year—the refundable amount of the current credit—those eligible would receive 15 percent of their income capped at $2,000 in 2025.

A source familiar with the negotiations also said that the framework would phase in the credit per child, allowing parents with multiple children to receive a higher amount. A November analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that phasing in the credit at a rate of 15 percent per child would “benefit 23 percent of families in the lowest income quintile by an average of $270.”

Democratic senators also appeared more sanguine with the turn of events than their House counterparts.

“It’s not going to be everything that I would’ve wanted,” Senator Michael Bennet, a Democratic member of the Finance Committee and longtime advocate for expanding the credit, told me on Wednesday. “We weren’t going to do any extensions of the [research and development] tax credit without improvements to the child tax credit, that’s going to make a difference here, and that’ll make a difference to a lot of poor kids.”

Some progressives voiced their frustration with the possible deal in a meeting of Democrats on the Finance Committee Wednesday morning. But Wyden noted that because the credit would be “relitigated,” it would give Democrats the opportunity to push for some of their priorities—such as full refundability—again in 2025.

“I’d much rather get into 2025 from a position of strength, which is what we get if we get the child tax credit improved now,” Wyden told me.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers appear pleased about the addition of benefits and deductions for businesses in a potential deal, even if it’s still unclear when an agreement will be formally announced. Smith told me that he believed “pro-growth tax policies” would be crucial for combating inflation.

“The three tax provisions of R&D, business expensing, and interest expensing—those are crucial, and they’re crucial for Republicans and they’re crucial for Democrats,” said Representative Blake Moore, a Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. However, he acknowledged that the future of such legislation is uncertain, adding: “I don’t have any visibility on how it plays out. I don’t think anybody truly, truly does.”

Lawmakers would want to pass a deal by the end of January, to allow for the credits to retroactively apply to the 2023 tax year. But that gives them little time to reach an agreement, and it’s uncertain what vehicle they would use to pass such comprehensive tax legislation. The opacity of the deal’s future was echoed by Neal, who sounded more bearish on its prospects. 

“This idea that it’s just around the corner doesn’t seem to be very plausible,” he told reporters.

What I’m Reading

The nation’s capital is falling behind on fighting violent crime. Here’s why, by Yours Truly. (Yes, I realize I’m promoting my own article in the “What I’m reading” section, but that’s because it’s a very thorough reported piece!)

The U.S. is dealing with an Israeli leader who’s losing control, by Nahal Toosi in Politico

Trump is connecting with a different type of evangelical voter, by Ruth Graham and Charles Homans in The New York Times

Skipping school: America’s hidden education crisis, by Alec McGillis in ProPublica

This tribe got their “land back.” But it’s no longer livable, by Margaret Grebowicz in The New Republic

The queerest thing about Taylor Swift, by Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic

Pet of the Week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of the next newsletter? Email me: 

Today’s featured pet is Hope, a 10-year-old rescue kitty submitted by Ursula Perano. Hope, whom Ursula adopted two years ago, is very food-motivated, and trained to use buttons for certain commands.  

The Billionaires Tax Is Back

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has a plan to make the ultrarich pay.

Senator Ron Wyden (left) and Senator Mike Crapo
Senator Ron Wyden (left) and Senator Mike Crapo

Eons ago, in the fall of 2021, congressional Democrats mulled potential revenue streams for the Build Back Better Act, the multitrillion-dollar proposal to overhaul the nation’s social safety net, tax system, and climate policy. For instance, Senator Ron Wyden, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, proposed a “billionaires income tax” on Americans with more than $1 billion in assets.

Fast-forward to 2023: The Build Back Better Act is a footnote in history, an ambitious idea sunk by conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, and Republicans now control the House. But Wyden, along with 16 Democrats, formally introduced the Billionaires Income Tax Act at the end of November this year, offering a blueprint for the party’s economic argument ahead of the 2024 election.

“Look, I believe deeply in success. It’s what made this country so special. This isn’t an attack on success, this is a push for some fairness,” Wyden told me in an interview. “That’s what the public believes in, and why it’s picking up support.”

The legislation targets a practice known as “buy, borrow, die” that billionaires use to avoid paying income taxes: A billionaire buys assets that appreciate in value, borrows against those assets’ increasing and untaxed value, and then passes on the assets to beneficiaries when they die, without paying taxes. Wyden’s legislation would require people with more than $1 billion in assets to pay capital gains taxes on the appreciation of value in these assets—such as real estate, stocks, or collectibles—regardless of whether they are sold.

If it were to become law, such a proposal would likely be challenged in court as soon as the ink of the president’s signature was dry. But Wyden argued that enforcement mechanisms already exist in the tax code; moreover, the Sixteenth Amendment of the Constitution allows for Congress to tax earnings, and proponents argue that this proposal is an income tax, not a so-called “wealth tax.” Wyden also pointed out that Supreme Court justices seemed hesitant to upend the tax code in recent arguments for another tax-related case.

“I think people were kind of surprised how cautious the court was going to be,” Wyden said about recent oral arguments in Moore v. Harper.

Wyden believes that the hundreds of billions of dollars that could be generated from this tax could be used to shore up funding for Social Security and Medicare, both of which are facing impending shortfalls, or address childcare needs. Biden has proposed similar legislation, which would apply to around 20,000 households, as opposed to the roughly 1,000 people who would be affected by Wyden’s plan, but Wyden argued that both ideas had a similar purpose.

“These are bills that are very much complementary, designed to do the same thing and to make sure, as we have this debate, about what kind of economic system we want for our country, that Democrats are going to fight for a tax system that helps everybody get ahead and includes making the most fortunate pay their fair share,” he said.

While it might make for a good conversation-starter, recent history proves that such a proposal would be unlikely to make it through Congress, even if Democrats controlled both chambers once more. It would also likely take a back seat early next year to other tax-related priorities, such as ongoing negotiations to reinstate a version of the expanded child tax credit in exchange for extending research and development credits that many Republicans support.

But to Wyden, what the bill stands for is just as important as its prospects of passage.

“Last time I looked, there’s an election coming up in 2024, something rumored to that effect. And people are going to say, ‘What are you for?’” Wyden said, noting the relative popularity of increasing taxes on billionaires among average Americans. “Now there’s an actual piece of legislation, black-letter text, 17 senators on it—six members of the Senate Finance Committee—and that’s going to give us a chance to force a real debate.”

Vibe check: The woes of the 118th Congress

The Senate left Washington on Wednesday without reaching a deal on a supplemental funding package, including aid to Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific region, as a bipartisan trio of senators continued negotiating a deal to reshape immigration and border policy.

Supporting Ukraine is increasingly unpopular with Republican voters, and GOP lawmakers have said they will not support a supplemental package without addressing one of the thorniest and most complex issues in Washington: immigration. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema, and Republican Senator James Lankford are expected to continue working on a deal over the holiday recess. Despite a pledge by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on a supplemental package next year, there are multiple obstacles to passage:

  • Whatever immigration deal they announce will likely anger Republicans, who argue it does not go far enough, and Democrats, who believe it goes too far—a dynamic complicated by the fact that no Latino lawmakers are included in the negotiations.
  • Even if such a package were to pass in the Senate, its prospects are dire in the House, given the aforementioned lack of widespread GOP support for Ukraine and anger about an immigration deal that hard-liners will see as too soft.
  • Congress doesn’t return until the second week of January, just a few days before the Iowa caucuses—where former President Donald Trump holds a sizable lead. A victory in Iowa would further cement his status as the presumptive nominee, and he essentially has unilateral power to tank any deal.
  • Congress also needs to worry about keeping the government open early next year, with the deadlines to fund several agencies split between mid-January and early February. “January is not going to be an enjoyable month,” Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, told reporters on Tuesday. “Let me just say that. So Happy New Year to all of you.”

Let’s face it: Congress did not function especially well in 2023. Fewer than two dozen bills were signed into law this year, a dramatic decrease from previous years. The House was embroiled in chaos for much of the year, culminating in the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy in October and the ascension of Speaker Mike Johnson, a little-known Louisiana conservative with minimal leadership experience. Neither chamber managed to pass the 12 appropriations bills to keep the government funded. And if you think 2023 was bad, just wait until we’re in a presidential and congressional election year, when it becomes doubly difficult to pass anything substantive.

Lawmakers are also frustrated. “We don’t work around here,” said Senator Pete Ricketts, a freshman Republican. “Most normal Americans work 8 to 5, and work weekends to get the work done.” The Senate, on the other hand, typically has its first vote of the week on Mondays at 5:30 p.m. and its last on Thursdays at 1:45 p.m. This Tuesday, only 67 out of 100 senators showed up in Washington.

Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said that he used the tactic of appending his priorities to must-pass bills like the annual defense authorization legislation; that way, even if Congress struggles to pass basic legislation, he can tell his constituents that he was able to get agenda items approved. “I got parts of 10 bills in the defense bill [this year],” said Kaine. “If you look at ’24, there may even be fewer bills with the [political] dynamics, but we will pass a defense bill.”

Basically: Congress isn’t operating as it should, and everyone—including lawmakers—knows it. When I asked Democratic Senator Jon Tester on Tuesday whether he believed Congress was functioning well, he gave me an incredulous look and laughed: “Are you serious?”

What I’m reading

Zac Efron wrestles with his legacy, by Daniel D’Addario in Variety
2023 was the year TV really put us through it, by Phillip Maciak in The New Republic
Why isn’t the government doing more about the housing crisis? by Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic
Inside The New York Times’ big bet on games, by Charlotte Klein in Vanity Fair
An egg fried rice recipe shows the absurdity of China’s speech limits, by Li Yuan in The New York Times
Immigrant workers are essential to Wisconsin’s dairy industry. But when they get injured, they’re often cast aside, by Maryam Jameel and Melissa Sanchez in ProPublica

Bonus: My favorite books I read this year

Most of these did not come out this year, because I’m terrible at reading books in a timely fashion. And yes, most of these are fantasy and science fiction, because I love fantasy and science fiction.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
Romney: A Reckoning, by McKay Coppins
Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
Translation State, by Ann Leckie
Nona the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir
The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon
Witch King, by Martha Wells
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin

Pet of the week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of the next newsletter? Email me:

This week’s featured pet is Bam Bam, a playful and balloon-loving boy submitted by Eric Michael Garcia. Bam Bam is one and a half years old, and was adopted from the D.C. Humane Society.

This article first appeared in Inside Washington, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by staff writer Grace Segers. Sign up here.

Here’s Why Abortion Rights Activists Are Taking Their Fight to the States

Favorable terrain—and friendlier courts—have been found far from Washington, D.C.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images
Demonstrators at the U.S. Supreme Court, rallying in support of abortion rights

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade last year, there has been a scramble in the states to either further limit or protect access to abortion, with outcomes largely determined by which party controls the levers of state government. This, in turn, has led to a wave of lawsuits pushing back against particularly restrictive state laws.

Mary Ziegler, a law professor at University of California, Davis, said that abortion rights advocates were trying to “reverse engineer” the incremental legal strategy that anti-abortion groups used to undermine Roe over several decades.

“There are very few people who are going to be sympathetic to the idea of making someone carry a pregnancy to term that’s going to kill them, for example. So you’re trying to start with what you consider the more practical, winnable cases,” said Ziegler, who has written several books on the history of abortion access in the United States. While a potential victory could expand access to abortion in the short term, advocates are also filing these cases with an eye to long-term effects even in the case of defeat.

“You may be trying to show that these laws are unworkable, or you may be trying to show that they have cruel effects, or you may be trying to build political opposition to them,” Ziegler continued. “Also, you may be trying to gain recognition of state constitutional models that can be expanded or reinterpreted over time.”

The role of state courts in determining the future of abortion access was particularly apparent this week, as state supreme courts in Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming heard arguments in abortion-related cases. A lower court in Idaho is also hearing a case on whether four women can pursue lawsuits against the state after being denied abortions.

The Arizona case concerns a pre-statehood ban on nearly all abortions. Last year, a lower court ruled that the 1864 law, which only allows exceptions when the mother’s life is endangered, could not be applied to physicians performing abortions in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. However, anyone who is not a doctor would still be subject to prosecution under the old law.

Jill Habig, the founder of the Public Rights Project, which is representing one of the defendants in the Arizona case, identified the connection between litigation to preserve abortion rights in states and ballot initiatives to expand access. Arizona will likely have an initiative on the ballot in 2024 to permit abortion through fetal viability, which is typically 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“What we’ve seen in the last couple of years is that litigation can often move faster in state courts than voters can, because of the election calendar,” Habig said. “This litigation is trying to preserve the status quo and make sure that Arizona doesn’t become the next Texas … then voters can potentially expand access.”

Another abortion-related decision in Texas made national headlines this week, when the state Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that would have allowed a pregnant woman whose fetus had been diagnosed with a fatal condition to obtain an abortion. The woman, Kate Cox, had already traveled out of state for the procedure.

The state Supreme Court argued that Cox, who was more than 20 weeks pregnant, did not qualify for an exception as outlined in Texas’s law banning abortion, which only applies when a pregnancy endangers the life or health of the mother. Cox’s lawyers and doctors argued that continuing her pregnancy would threaten her health and ability to have children in the future. Cox has been to the emergency room four times during her pregnancy.

Last week, a pregnant woman in Kentucky filed a lawsuit challenging that state’s two abortion bans, citing the state constitutional right to privacy and self-determination. The Kentucky Supreme Court previously upheld the state’s abortion bans, ruling in February that abortion providers could not raise their patients’ constitutional rights on their behalf. The decision noted that patients themselves could challenge the constitutionality of the laws, a tactic now taken by plaintiff Jane Doe in this latest lawsuit.

Ziegler said there was a pattern to several of these lawsuits, which include plaintiffs in “tragic circumstances,” often with wanted pregnancies, like Cox in Texas.

“We’ve started to see a lot more of these cases where either the plaintiffs have exceptional circumstances or the argument is based on exceptional circumstances,” Ziegler said.

Depending on the location, state courts may potentially be friendlier venues to abortion rights cases than federal courts; in many states, supreme court justices are elected by voters, and some state constitutions more explicitly protect the right to privacy than the U.S. Constitution.

“The state court landscape offers more opportunity both for immediate action and then short-term or medium-term change over the next few years,” Habig said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it would decide whether to restrict access to mifepristone, a medication used in more than half of all abortions in the country. The Biden administration and the manufacturer of the drug had appealed a lower court ruling that would make it more difficult to obtain mifepristone. The court’s consideration of the case demonstrates that the future of abortion access will not only be determined on a state-by-state basis.

Vibe check: Just say no (to Monumental)

Each week, I provide an update on the vibes surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: a decision that has Washingtonians on edge.

I try to keep my own personal feelings out of this newsletter, beyond the occasional arch aside. Alas, this week must be an exception, as I express the ire echoed by many Washingtonians about the decision by Monumental, owner of Washington’s NHL and NBA teams, to move their arena across the Potomac River into Virginia.

(You may be wondering, why did Grace dedicate an entire, lengthy segment of her weekly newsletter to this personal screed? First of all, if you’re based in Washington, D.C.—which I know many IW readers are—you probably have a strong opinion on this as well. Perhaps more importantly, the House did not vote until 5 p.m. on the day that this newsletter was due, and I needed to come up with something to fill this space.)

Let me first preface this by saying: I do not care about sports. I’ve only seen the Capitals play once, and thought that hockey was too fast to follow. I’ve never seen the Wizards play, and—from what little I know about basketball gleaned from watching SportsCenter at physical therapy—they’re supposedly pretty terrible. (Editor’s note: Can confirm.) The better Washington basketball team, the WNBA Mystics, would reportedly remain at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.’s Gallery Place neighborhood.

But moving the arena to the Potomac Yard neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia—a decision announced by Governor Glenn Youngkin and team owner Ted Leonsis on Wednesday—is a bad idea. I say this not just as a Washington resident, but as a former denizen of Alexandria. (I’m not going to explain all the details of the reported deal, but you should check out this Washington Post rundown.)

First of all, even if Capital One maintained its status as a live events venue, this would be a massive blow to Washington, D.C.’s already struggling downtown. The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and the continued trend of work from home has decimated Gallery Place and surrounding neighborhoods like Penn Quarter.

But I believe it would be bad news for Alexandria, as well. The area across the street from the proposed new arena is home to a classic suburban strip mall, including one of the best Target stores in the DMV and my favorite Barnes and Noble. It’s also next to an absolutely bangin’ bike trail, which—along with being a vital community service—helped keep me and many other Northern Virginia residents of the time sane during the height of Covid. The proposal for the new arena includes future developments that could disrupt the idyll of the strip mall–bike trail nexus, not to mention strain the lowly Route One roadway, which already struggles with a glut of traffic.

Many local fans and Washington, D.C.-area residents are not pleased—at least, if memes are any indicator to go by. “I feel like no one is talking about the genius of putting an outdoor concert venue a quarter of a mile from an active airport runway,” Jason Rogers, the NHL reporter for Washington City Paper, wrote on X, noting the proposed arena’s proximity to Ronald Reagan National Airport.

“Bailing on your city is a pretty bold move for the worst team in basketball, after being bad for years. If you were actively trying to have as few fans as possible, what would you do differently?” Sam Baker, an editor for Axios, said in another post on X. José Andrés, the restaurateur with several restaurants in Gallery Place and Penn Quarter, wrote on X that he hoped these teams “can stay in the city that’s shown so much support.”

Despite the dread evinced by some Alexandrians, the local government is ecstatic. “A project this special will help the City realize our collective strategy and the vibrant vision for this neighborhood and for our City as a whole,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said. For now, the congressman representing the proposed arena location is remaining circumspect: “This is, of course, an exciting announcement and I am eager to learn more about practicalities, economics and opportunities involved,” said Representative Don Beyer in a statement.

(Moreover, there is no guarantee that any of the economic boom these local politicos are dreaming up will ever come to pass. As a 1997 Brookings Institution study determined, “Regardless of whether the unit of analysis is a local neighborhood, a city, or an entire metropolitan area, the economic benefits of sports facilities are de minimus.”)

Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers in the Virginia state legislature and the NIMBYs of NoVa have already raised concerns about moving the arena, threatening its prospects; the move must be approved by state legislators. Washington, D.C., residents—sports lovers and sports-indifferents alike—can only hope some kind of political spanner is thrown in the works before a final decision can be made.

What I’m reading

Modern Britain is a scene from Slow Horses, by Helen Lewis in The Atlantic
Sentenced to life for an accident miles away, by Sarah Stillman in The New Yorker
Mike Lawler loves cable TV, but his rocky relationship with the local press draws scrutiny, by David McKay Wilson in the Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Pet of the week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of next week’s newsletter?Email me:

This week’s featured pet is Mako, submitted by Nancy Morin. Mako, a Chinese crested hairless mix with some Mexican Xolo and Chihuahua, was adopted from the Yavapai Humane Society in 2021. Mako is an “absolute doll,” and although she will sit with Nancy’s husband for a very short time, Nancy is very clear that Mako “is definitely MY dog.” She does have her quirks, Nancy says, but don’t we all?