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

The Tragic Fallout of the World Central Kitchen Airstrikes

The IDF’s attack on food aid workers in Gaza is roiling Washington—and having a chilling effect on everyone working to stave off starvation.

One of the vehicles where employees from the World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip,  Majdi Fathi/Getty Images
Majdi Fathi/Getty Images
One of the vehicles that carried employees from the World Central Kitchen who were killed in an Israeli airstrike, in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip

This week, after Israeli airstrikes killed seven workers from World Central Kitchen—the globe-trotting food aid organization famous for showing up wherever there are people in need (including Washington, during government shutdowns)—multiple humanitarian organizations have suspended their operations in Gaza due to concerns about the safety of their staff. These workers were killed despite traveling through a “deconflicted zone” in armored cars clearly labeled with the World Central Kitchen logo and sharing their movements with the Israeli military. World Central Kitchen, a humanitarian organization founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, is among the groups pausing their operations in Gaza, even as more than one million Palestinians are on the brink of starvation.

Andrés told Reuters in an interview that the convoy had been targeted “systematically, car by car.” “This was not just a bad luck situation where ‘oops,’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place,” Andrés said. The strikes hit the convoy shortly after it left its warehouse in Deir Al Balah, where it unloaded over 100 tons of food aid.

Jeremy Konyndyk, the president of Refugees International and a former top official at USAID, called the strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy a “significant escalation,” notable in part because the organization had worked to coordinate their efforts with the Israeli military. But he also noted that many Palestinian aid workers have been killed since the onset of the war in October; the United Nations has reported that more than 180 humanitarian workers have died.

“Israel is trying really hard to portray this as a one-off, an accident and aberration, and it’s none of those things. The only thing that is different here is that it was international personnel,” Konyndyk said. “This one is different in degree—it is even more egregious, it is more severe, it is grotesque. But it is grotesque in a way that follows a pattern of [Israel Defense Forces] behavior.”

Anera, an organization that provides aid in the Middle East, which has partnered with World Central Kitchen and other groups, is also temporarily suspending its operations. The deaths of the humanitarian workers this week come after the killing of Anera worker Mousa Shawwa last month. As with the seven workers killed this week, Shawwa had shared his coordinates and movements with the Israeli military before his death. Sandra Rasheed, the Palestine director for Anera, said in an interview that aid workers in Gaza had been concerned about their safety after the death of Shawwa and his young son shortly thereafter.

“When April 1 happened, and the WCK convoy was deliberately and intentionally targeted and attacked, and there were seven people that were killed that day, that was a real big shocker to them. They were really worried, [and] they knew that it could have been them,” Rasheed said about the Anera workers, who coordinated closely with World Central Kitchen on the ground. Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that strikes occurred, he called them “unintentional,” and other Israeli military leaders have characterized them as an error—but this does not reassure Anera workers, Rasheed said.

The deaths of the World Central Kitchen workers have invited international condemnation, including some of the strongest criticism from President Joe Biden. (The Biden administration has continued to approve munitions and aid for Israel, although Congress has not approved new military assistance since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.) In Washington, Andrés is an institution, respected across the political class; the deaths of the World Central Kitchen staff may thus resonate with American politicians more than the everyday devastation of Israeli strikes in Gaza. Rasheed theorized that the international community had become accustomed to the deaths of Palestinians, which have topped 30,000, according to health officials in Gaza.

“When the world sees images of international aid workers who are going into a crisis situation, who are going there to serve and to support the people, and then they are killed, that is a shock for them,” Rasheed said.

The pause in operations is temporary, Rasheed said, noting that Anera is still working on aid procurement. However, she said that she would like to see accountability for the Israeli military and more pressure put on the U.S. to stop supplying weapons to Israel.

“Are we being naïve that that would happen? I’m not so sure. I think that the shock of what happened and even some of the initial language of what President Biden said, shows an indication that people are starting to think that people need to be held accountable, that this needs to stop,” Rasheed said.

In a statement on Tuesday, Biden said that he was “outraged” by the incident. However, Politico reported that, while privately “angry,” Biden did not plan on changing the country’s policy toward Israel anytime soon.

“It’s very hard for me to see any real prospect of Israeli behavior changing without the U.S. government majorly upping the ante. Netanyahu has shown repeatedly that he will happily ignore the guidance that he gets,” argued Konyndyk. “As long as the approach of the U.S. government is to urge him to change, rather than deploy leverage to force him to change policy, he won’t change.”

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

The Mifepristone Case Isn’t the Endgame for Abortion Opponents

The Supreme Court was skeptical of this week’s case, but less spurious legal challenges are on the horizon.

Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court
Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images
Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday

The Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared skeptical of arguments in favor of limiting access to mifepristone, a medication approved long ago by the Food and Drug Administration for abortions—at least on the grounds that the plaintiffs, a group of anti-abortion doctors who haven’t actually prescribed the drug, had standing to claim that its availability somehow injured them. Justice Neil Gorsuch mused that the case could be “a prime example of turning what could be a small lawsuit into a nationwide legislative assembly on an FDA rule or any other federal government action.”

This is the first major abortion-related case the Supreme Court has heard since the conservative majority overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000, but attorneys for the plaintiffs—the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which set up shop shortly after Roe was overturned—asked the court to block rules the agency implemented in 2016 and 2021 that made it easier to access the drug, including by mail. (Medication abortion represented 63 percent of all U.S. abortions in 2023, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute, and it’s believed that the rise in abortions since Roe was overturned is largely due to the availability of abortion pills by mail.)

The court will release a decision by early July at the latest, but even if mifepristone survives this ruling, abortion opponents will continue to bring legal challenges against the drug. States that have implemented abortion restrictions “will file copycat lawsuits to try to restrict access to medication abortion in every state in the country,” warned Julia Kaye, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project.

During oral arguments on Tuesday, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas indicated another potential legal avenue for restricting mifepristone: They frequently mentioned the Comstock Act, a nineteenth-century law that bans sending obscene material and drugs for abortions through the mail. The federal government effectively stopped enforcing the law nearly a century ago, and the courts have narrowed interpretation of the law to apply only to mailing explicitly illegal material. However, as my colleague Melissa Gira Grant wrote last year, abortion opponents have sought to revive the Comstock Act to block abortion medication.

“This case is just one inflection point in an ongoing assault by anti-abortion extremists against all of our freedoms, both from the state and local level to the federal level,” said Mini Timmaraju, the president and CEO of Reproductive Freedom for All, an advocacy group that supports abortion access.

A coalition of conservative groups, led by the Heritage Foundation, has prepared a nearly 1,000-page “playbook” for a potential Republican president in 2025, including plans to restrict abortion. This would include directing the FDA to rescind its approval of mifepristone and stopping “promoting or approving mail-order abortions in violation of long-standing federal laws that prohibit the mailing and interstate carriage of abortion drugs”—a reference to the Comstock Act.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, has mulled supporting either a 16-week or 15-week ban on abortion, with some exceptions. Republicans in Congress have also proposed bills to limit abortion, such as legislation that would roll back the FDA regulations allowing telemedicine prescription and mail delivery of mifepristone and even ban medication abortion altogether. Although efforts to restrict mifepristone tanked an agriculture appropriations bill last year, abortion opponents hope that a Republican in the White House and GOP majorities in both chambers of Congress could strengthen their hand.

On top of the 14 states that have banned abortion outright, 12 other states have passed at least one restriction on telehealth medication abortion. Meanwhile, blue states have begun adopting “shield laws” to protect doctors from prosecution should they prescribe abortion medication for out-of-state patients. Progressive groups have also championed state ballot initiatives to protect the right to an abortion in red states.

“We are in the states fighting around these ballot initiatives and fighting for governors, and A.G.s, and state legislatures that will uphold reproductive freedom,” said Timmaraju.

Vibe check: The scene outside of the Supreme Court

Each week, I provide an update on the vibes surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: The scene on the ground at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The scene outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning was a familiar one, as anti-abortion and pro-Roe demonstrators held competing rallies. There were signs calling abortion a “human right” and signs declaring, “Abortion pills are murder”; anti-abortion rallygoers lying on the ground in protest and abortion supporters in Planned Parenthood pink dancing as Beyoncé’s “Cuff It” thumped from massive loudspeakers.

Shanay Watson-Whittaker, the director for Michigan campaigns at Reproductive Freedom for All, had traveled from her home state. Bedecked in the organization’s signature deep purple, Watson-Whittaker spoke of her six children in their mid-twenties. “This is about their future. It’s up to them what they want to do with their bodies, and I want to make sure that the government does not interfere with that,” she said. “I’m here to make my voice heard for them and their future.”

Inside the courthouse, most justices appeared skeptical about whether the anti-abortion doctors could prove concrete harm from mifepristone. Kaye argued that the case “should have been laughed out of court from the start,” adding, “We are certainly hoping that the justices will recognize that anti-abortion groups’ arguments in this case defied bedrock legal principles and are not based on a shred of credible evidence.”

But Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life, argued that “this is about providing medication to women without a doctor.”

“As Democrats, we support regulation. We support regulation in every avenue. And for some reason we’ve carved out abortion as, ‘Let’s give this to women without regulations and health and safety standards,’” Day said outside the court, as she waited to speak before the crowd of abortion opponents. (As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted in an amicus brief in this case, “Serious side effects occur in less than 1% of patients, and major adverse events—significant infection, blood loss, or hospitalization—occur in less than 0.3% of patients.”)

While mifepristone can be prescribed by a doctor or obtained through a clinic, including via telehealth, a patient’s ability to access it may depend on how strictly their state has restricted abortion; the legality of using mifepristone in a state where abortion is banned is murky.

In April, the Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in a case relating to a federal law allowing emergency access to abortion procedures. One thing is all but certain: When the court next convenes to consider a case relating to abortion rights, there will be protesters jostling outside, shouting to have their voices heard.

What I’m reading

Can this forgotten anti-poverty program be saved? by Grace Segers in The New Republic
Can a tribe’s religious freedom claims halt a major copper mine? by Taylar Dawn Stagner in Mother Jones
‘The whole bridge just fell down.’ The final minutes before the Key Bridge collapsed, by Lee O. Sanderlin and Adam Willis in The Baltimore Banner
In a secret game of prisoner swaps, Putin has held most of the cards, by Aruna Viswanatha, Bojan Pancevski, Drew Hinshaw, and Joe Parkinson in The Wall Street Journal
Living abroad, Jim McDermott finds his liberal utopia, by Ariel Cohen in Roll Call
Why some LGBTQ+ groups oppose the current Kids Online Safety Act, by Jasmine Mithani in The 19th
How Kate Cox became a reluctant face of the abortion rights movement, by Charlotte Alter in Time

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 Tom Grafton. Hank is pictured after a long day at the dog park.

The Popular, Bipartisan Bills That Can’t Get Passed

They’re good ideas, they poll well, and they enjoy the support of Republicans and Democrats. And they haven’t got a hope in hell.

Vermont Senator Peter Welch walks through the hallways of the Senate at the U.S. Capitol.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Vermont Senator Peter Welch introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act in the Senate.

Every once in a while, a bipartisan group of lawmakers comes together to support a popular policy that fulfills the interests of industry leaders and everyday Americans alike. These instances are supposed to be the slam dunks of legislating, a time for lawmakers to prove they are interested in governing to the advantage of their constituents.

It’s all easier said than done.

So it goes with the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, bipartisan and bicameral legislation to fund a program that aims to provide 23 million households with affordable internet access. Unless the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, receives an additional $7 billion in funding from Congress, April will be the final full month that households will receive the benefit. In early February, the program stopped accepting new enrollment.

“It’s a good thing that the program has broad bipartisan support. It’s a terrible thing that no one has been able to figure out how to turn that support into actual dollars for the program,” said Greg Guice, chief policy officer at the Vernonberg Group and spokesperson for the Affordable Broadband Campaign.

As a supplemental funding request, the ACP Extension Act was designed to be attached to a larger legislative vehicle. This week, Congress is considering the second tranche of bills to fund the government for the current fiscal year. It’s unlikely that the bill will be tacked onto this spending minibus, and it’s unclear when another opportunity to approve the additional funding for the ACP might arise. So the Federal Communications Commission, telecommunications companies, and low-income Americans alike are bracing for the end of the program.

Senator Peter Welch, the Democrat who introduced the bill in the Senate, said that while the funding bill was not the “last opportunity” to approve the ACP Extension Act, it nevertheless represented “the best opportunity” to get the measure over the goal line. “The ACP has a lot of support, but finding a vehicle to include it, on a practical level, is the challenge,” Welch told me.

The ACP 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. It is used by low-income Americans in urban, suburban, and rural areas; it benefits families in red and blue states alike. Indeed, eight of the states that rank highest for enrollment—Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Oklahoma—are largely controlled by Republicans. In November, 26 governors of both parties sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting Congress work with the Biden administration to extend the program.

According to a recent national survey by the Benenson Strategy Group, 49 percent of ACP participants are military families and 19 percent are households with seniors. That same report found that 95 percent of participants said they would struggle with costs if the program is not reauthorized, 75 percent said they fear losing online health care services, 65 percent fear job loss, and 81 percent of parent participants would worry about their child falling behind in school.

Research by the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society has shown that the ACP has helped connect more Americans to the internet. In a recent ethnographic survey, the AARP further found that internet access helps older Americans maintain connections and adapt to a changing world, with participants calling the loss of the ACP “unthinkable.” Some reports also demonstrate a clear economic benefit: Recent analysis by Benton found that every dollar spent on ACP subsidies “returns nearly two dollars in impacts to those using the program.”

ACP supporters outside of Congress comprise a broad coalition, from telecommunications companies like AT&T and Verizon to advocacy groups like the NAACP, the AARP, and the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s also popular with voters: A recent poll by the Digital Progress Institute found that majorities of Republican, independent, and Democratic voters support extending the ACP.

Nevertheless, the program has its detractors. Some Republican lawmakers have questioned whether ending the ACP would truly result in millions of Americans losing their internet access, with several writing in a December letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel that “it appears the vast majority of tax dollars have gone to households that already had broadband prior to the subsidy.” Senator Ted Cruz has also argued that the ACP is redundant, given a preexisting program called Lifeline intended to lower the cost of broadband. (The discount offered by Lifeline is far lower than that of the ACP, and it also has more stringent eligibility requirements.)

However, a recent survey by the FCC found that 68 percent of ACP recipients had inconsistent or no internet service prior to enrolling in the program, with the majority of those respondents citing affordability as the biggest roadblock to obtaining service. The survey also found that 29 percent of participants would drop their internet service provider if they no longer received the $30 discount monthly. The ACP—which was established by the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law—replaced the pandemic-era Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which had around nine million participants. Many who received subsidies through that program then transferred to its successor.

With congressional action uncertain, the FCC is preparing for the wind-down of the ACP. Participants may receive a partial ACP benefit in May, with the amount determined by individual service providers. Qualifying ACP participants earning under a certain threshold could apply for Lifeline, although several providers that participate in ACP do not also participate in Lifeline. Some cities and states have their own internet subsidy programs, and several internet service providers have discounts for low-income and elderly users.

Even if Congress did approve legislation to extend the ACP, it would only keep the program solvent for the next year. A longer-term solution, Guice said, would be for the FCC to expand its revenue base for the universal service fund, which collects money from telecommunications companies with the goal of providing universal internet access. Unlike the ACP, the universal service fund is not subject to the congressional appropriations process.

“What we have now proven, I believe, is that if you leave it to Congress to figure out how to help low-income families get broadband, they’re clearly going to get it wrong,” said Guice. “That failure demonstrates why we cannot let low-income broadband services be provided for through the appropriations process.”

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

Vibe check: Progress on special immigrant visas for Afghans

The funding minibus that will theoretically be approved by Congress in the coming days includes a provision to add 12,000 special immigrant visas, or SIVs, for Afghans who helped the United States during its war in Afghanistan. The current cap is 38,500 SIVs, a congressionally authorized limit that was expected to be reached around the August anniversary of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

This number falls short of the 20,000 additional visas sought by the Biden administration. Still, advocates are celebrating the increase as a qualified victory—an improvement on the current situation, if still insufficient to address the overarching need.

“It’s not a silver bullet, but it is rare in this work that we’re able to celebrate our victories,” said Shawn VanDiver, the founder and president of #AfghanEvac, a coalition that helped to evacuate Afghans during the withdrawal. The authorization of additional SIVs provides “breathing room” for the program, as it grants additional time before the cap is reached and helps thousands of Afghans eligible for SIVs in the U.S. who arrived before completing their application process.

Adam Bates, the supervisory policy counsel at the International Refugee Assistance Project, or IRAP, said in a statement that the “authorization of additional visas extends a vital lifeline for Afghans who risked their lives on behalf of the U.S. mission in their country, but it’s not nearly enough to fulfill the promises the U.S. government made to Afghan allies.” IRAP has undertaken a class-action lawsuit challenging federal delays in SIV application processing.

“With an application backlog of more than 100,000 applicants, many of whom have waited for years, Congress must continue authorizing additional visas until every eligible applicant has one,” Bates said.

Representative Jason Crow, a veteran who served in Afghanistan, said that Congress would need to approve more SIVs next year. “We think [it] gives us time over the next year to process those who are in the immediate pipeline and have passed the chief admission approval or prepared for interviews, but certainly next year we’ll have to go back for more,” Crow said. The State Department has said that the agency is issuing 1,000 visas per month, meaning that the additional 12,000 will likely not last as long as some advocates would hope.

Remember the previous segment of this newsletter, when I talked about bipartisan and bicameral bills that, for whatever reason, are unable to pass? One such measure is the Afghan Adjustment Act, legislation that would expand eligibility for SIVs, streamline the SIV application and approval process, authorize additional SIVs, and provide Afghan evacuees paroled into the U.S. who are not eligible for SIVs with a pathway to permanent residency. A group of senators unsuccessfully attempted to tack on an amendment based on the Afghan Adjustment Act to a national security supplemental bill approved last month. (Another, slightly narrower bipartisan bill, the Afghan Allies Protection Act, has also been unable to garner sufficient support to be approved.)

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a co-sponsor of the Afghan Adjustment Act in the Senate, echoed the sentiment that increased SIV numbers were preferable to inaction. “Any number is better than none, but I still hope the Afghan Adjustment Act will be approved,” Blumenthal said.

Another co-sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator Jerry Moran, also praised the addition of SIVs to the minibus even as he called for the passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act. “I don’t think it diminishes the political support or the need for the Afghan Adjustment Act, but it will help many Afghans who helped the United States have a future,” Moran told me.

However, with thousands of Afghans paroled into the U.S. having already applied for asylum, VanDiver worried that passing the Afghan Adjustment Act might eventually become a moot point. “I’d like to see adjustment, but the challenge is that Congress doesn’t seem willing to do it,” said VanDiver. “We’ll have most of the asylum [claims] adjudicated for these Afghans by the time Congress passes anything.”

Helal Massomi, the Afghan policy adviser at Global Refuge, a refugee advocacy and resettlement organization, argued that passing the Afghan Adjustment Act when it was first introduced would have solved some of the issues relating to SIV availability and backlog. “If there is a problem with SIVs right now, it’s because Congress doesn’t act on time, or act at all,” said Massomi, who herself had to evacuate from Afghanistan. “If they don’t pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, we will keep facing these kinds of problems.”

Moran said that “the urgency seems to be missing” from those in Congress who do not support the bill. “Even when there’s a sense of urgency around here, things happen without a lot of urgency,” Moran noted wryly.

Massomi also noted the time crunch regarding the impending presidential election. Former President Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, issued a ban on people from Muslim-majority countries entering the U.S. as one of his first acts in office, and may be less inclined to support efforts to expand SIV access.

“It’s time for the leadership in the House, the leadership in the Senate, to do something. If the administration changes, if we have another president, it will be extremely hard for Afghans to be resettled here,” Massomi said.

What I’m reading

Irish Wish is a crypto-fascist, AI-generated harbinger of doom, by Rachel Handler in Vulture

D.C.’s crime problem is a democracy problem, by Harry Jaffe in The Atlantic

Beyoncé has a country hit. How will country radio handle that? by Emily Yahr in The Washington Post

‘It feels like a mountain you never get done climbing’: Covid isn’t over for disabled and older adults, by Sarah Luterman in The 19th

Young people don’t want to farm anymore. Can Pennsylvania change their minds? by Marcia Brown 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 pet was submitted by The New Republic’s own Alex Shephard. Harriet is nine and a half. “Last year, she barked 19 times. This year, she has barked zero times,” Alex says. “Sweet and stubborn, she is as fiercely loyal to her many friends as she is to her numerous enemies (the bus, the street sweeper, shopping carts, plastic bags blowing in the wind).”

Washington Is Leaving Haiti in Limbo

Aid to the embattled Caribbean nation is caught in a Capitol Hill logjam. But this is no ordinary partisan impasse.

A protester reacts while tires burn in the street during a demonstration following the resignation of its Prime Minister Ariel Henry, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Clarens Siffroy/Getty Images
A protester reacts while tires burn in the street during a demonstration following the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

This week, embattled Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry agreed to resign. He had spent the last week stranded in Puerto Rico, unable to return, as armed gangs took control of the airport in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Henry’s announcement came after negotiations involving Haitian stakeholders, Caribbean leaders, and U.S. and Canadian officials resulted in the proposed creation of a presidential transition council. Henry, who was appointed—not elected—with international backing, had served as leader of Haiti since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Haiti has been wracked by violence in recent years, with gangs controlling 80 percent of Port-au-Prince.

Kenyan officials had previously vowed to lead a multinational security support mission in the form of a deployment of 1,000 police officers to help combat the gangs. On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged an additional $100 million to finance the deployment; this brings the total promised contribution to $300 million, along with $200 million promised by the Department of Defense.

The Biden administration has also called on congressional Republicans to release a hold on an additional $40 million in pledged funds, arguing that it is necessary for a multinational force led by Kenya to deploy.

“The security force was needed months ago, but now it’s really needed,” said Senator Tim Kaine, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee that oversees Western-hemisphere policy. “It would be a disaster if they were to say, ‘Well, we can’t do it, because the U.S. isn’t meeting its commitment.’”

Lawmakers have released $10 million of the pledged funds, although a congressional Republican aide said that money had not yet been spent by the administration. On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson that “it is imperative that the United States ensures they have the resources to complete the mission.”

“The situation on the ground in Haiti has rapidly deteriorated while House Republicans have refused to deliver the resources necessary to carry out this mission,” Jeffries wrote. “It is not in America’s national security interests to hold up the transfer of funds that support security stabilization in Haiti, particularly given the present crisis on the ground.”

The State Department says that it has briefed Republicans in Congress on the planned deployment multiple times, but GOP lawmakers and staff say that they have not received key logistical information on how long the deployment would last and what the long-term goals are, not to mention how to transport the Kenyan force when the airport is currently closed. While the GOP congressional aide said that the White House has offered an organizational structure, this does not include specific price tags or timelines.

“We need to feel some level of confidence that this is an effective plan moving in an effective direction. And we’ve given money to support moving in that direction, but then they’ve not reciprocated with anything to kind of instill confidence,” the aide said.

Moreover, after Henry’s announcement this week, Kenyan officials said that the deployment is on hold until a new government is formed, raising further questions about how the United States can and should respond to the ongoing crisis.

“We remain confident that the mission will go forward,” a senior State Department official told reporters in a press call on Tuesday. “In all the conversations we’ve had, Kenyan officials have said that they intend to go forward and they intend to lead this mission.”

But Haiti has a complex history of international interventions, from its founding more than 200 years ago in a revolution by enslaved people overthrowing the French colonialist power. In 2010, thousands of Haitians died in a cholera outbreak that was sourced to a U.N. peacekeeping camp established after a devastating earthquake.

“You just have this cyclical pattern in Haiti of intervention, and things get worse after the intervention. And I think there is a knee-jerk reaction where people say, ‘Well, it’s entirely because of the intervention, so we shouldn’t have any interventions ever again,” said Sophie Rutenbar, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute who previously served as mission planning officer for the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.

The U.S. in particular must strike a delicate balance in offering assistance to Haiti, given how the Haitian people might interpret the superpower next door barging into their affairs.

“The role that the U.S. should play is following the people of Haiti, what they want to do, listening to them, and listening and letting CARICOM lead,” said Representative Gregory Meeks, the Democratic ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, referring to the coalition of Caribbean countries. “It should not be us imposing anything on anyone in Haiti. The voices of the Haitian people need to be heard.”

Representative Ayanna Pressley, a co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus who has a large Haitian population in her Massachusetts district, also highlighted her support for a transitional government. “The United States and international community must help restore security to Haiti and work toward a just and stable future that the Haitian people deserve,” Pressley said in a statement. “With Prime Minister Henry rightfully stepping down, that means facilitating the establishment of a representative transitional government led by Haitian civil society, disrupting arms trafficking to the island, and providing urgent humanitarian relief.”

Of course, some in Haiti have opposed the presidential transition council proposed by CARICOM, with gang leaders in particular arguing that they should have a seat at the table. “We Haitians have to decide who is going to be the head of the country and what model of government we want,” Jimmy Chérizier, a gang leader known as Barbecue, said this week. “We are also going to figure out how to get Haiti out of the misery it’s in now.”

Whether and when congressional Republicans release the hold on aid, the Kenya-led mission in Haiti will likely not be the end of American engagement in the country.

“The U.S. has a huge impact on Haiti concretely in terms of money, engagement, and aid, but it also has a big impact in terms of its symbolic [role] in the Haitian imagination,” Rutenbar said.

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

Vibe Check: Farm bill futures

And now we return to everyone’s favorite topic: the farm bill. (Well, it’s one of my favorite topics, anyway, and it’s my newsletter, so …)

Let’s cast our minds back: Congress was supposed to approve a new farm bill—the massive legislation that covers nutrition, farming, and conservation policy—in 2023, five years after the 2018 farm bill went into effect. But negotiations stretched into this year, with Congress passing a one-year extension of the 2018 measure. The House Agriculture Committee is expected to release text of its version in the coming weeks, with a committee markup and vote sometime this spring. But funding for the farm bill remains controversial, with Republicans seeking to claw back funds from one of Democrats’ signature legislative achievements.

Republicans are looking to repurpose about $15 billion in funding intended for “climate-smart” agriculture policies, as approved in the Inflation Reduction Act, the 2022 climate, health, and tax policy bill passed by Democrats. Republicans want to use those funds that have not been obligated for something other than fighting climate change. GOP lawmakers have also suggested restricting future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan, the method by which the federal government determines benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, also known as food stamps. The Biden administration updated the Thrifty Food Plan in 2021, which resulted in increased benefit amounts for SNAP recipients; the proposed change by Republicans would not affect current benefits.

“We don’t do any harm. We can find significant pay-fors without doing harm to either conservation or nutrition or the CCC,” Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn Thompson, a Republican, told me, also referring to the Commodity Credit Corporation, a line of credit tapped by the Department of Agriculture that GOP lawmakers would like to restrict. Under the GOP proposal, the Thrifty Food Plan could still be increased based on “cost of living adjustments,” Thompson said, but the plan would also “prevent any future administration from manipulating other variables.”

“But it would also prevent any future administration from arbitrarily cutting benefits. It’s kind of a firewall,” Thompson argued. (Thompson also recently laid out these arguments in an op-ed for Agri-Pulse.)

In 2018, the House version of the farm bill passed along party lines, thanks to GOP cuts to SNAP; Thompson hopes that this year will not be so partisan. Indeed, there are expected to be $75 billion worth of bipartisan programs in this year’s bill.

“At the end of the day, when you’ve got strong bipartisan policy, that normally results in strong bipartisan support,” Thompson said.

But Democrats are deeply displeased with these proposed Republican revenue streams. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, has argued that restrictions to the Thrifty Food Plan would lower the amount the formula is increased in the future, which in turn would result in smaller increases in SNAP benefits. Democrats are also largely against any rescissions in Inflation Reduction Act funding, and Stabenow—who is retiring at the end of this year—has threatened to block passage of the farm bill over these GOP proposals.

“[Republicans] double down on the cruelty [in] every farm bill, and I don’t want to be part of any of that,” said Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, a member of the Agriculture Committee. “I’m not going to support a farm bill that increases hunger in America. I’m not going to support a farm bill that goes after conservation programs.”

While introducing a farm bill would put pressure on members who represent agricultural interests in their districts, Democrats have thus far been largely united. For Representative Nikki Budzinski, a freshman Democrat whose southern Illinois district includes rural communities, passing a bipartisan farm bill is a major priority. But she put an emphasis on the “bipartisan”—meaning, without changes to the Thrifty Food Plan or the IRA’s conservation provisions. She argued that the nutrition, conservation, and farming elements of the bill are “very cyclical and interconnected”: Farmers produce the foods used by SNAP participants and use the climate-smart techniques prescribed by the IRA.

“I can’t support a bill that hurts our family farmers,” Budzinski said.

What I’m reading

Is the Rio Grande Valley just lost now to Democrats? by Luisita Lopez Torregrosa in The New Republic

No one’s children, by Steve Inskeep in The Atlantic

Biden’s highest-ranking trans official is learning the limits of representation, by Nathan Kohrman in Mother Jones

What’s the price of a childhood turned into content? by Fortesa Latifi in Cosmopolitan

Four years on, Covid has reshaped life for many Americans, by Julie Bosman 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 Skippy, submitted by (Hoth Takes co-host) Haley Byrd Wilt. Skippy weighs just shy of five pounds and has only two remaining teeth, but nonetheless thinks he could fight a German shepherd and win.

The White House’s Slow Cease-Fire Shift Is Getting Tepid Reviews

Critics of the administration still feel it is falling short—but they believe the pressure they’re bringing is starting to be felt.

Kamala Harris speaks in Selma, Alabama, where she called for an "immediate ceasefire" in Gaza.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
Kamala Harris speaks in Selma, Alabama, where she called for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza.

Over the weekend, Vice President Kamala Harris called for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza, and urged Israel to allow a greater flow of aid into the region. Harris called the situation in Gaza “devastating” and a “humanitarian catastrophe,” adding that “too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”

“Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate cease-fire, for at least the next six weeks,” Harris said in remarks in Selma, Alabama, where her speech was frequently punctuated by applause and cheers.

Harris’s language was arguably more direct than any of the previous rhetoric that’s come out of the Biden administration, although her message was not a dramatic departure from the White House line. The White House has previously called for a six-week cessation in hostilities, and Harris urged Hamas—which she called a “brutal terrorist organization”—to accept a deal allowing for a cease-fire for the month of Ramadan, as well as a release of Israeli hostages. (NBC News reported that National Security Council officials toned down elements of Harris’s speech; the vice president’s office denies this.) The White House also authorized aid to be air-dropped into Gaza over the weekend.

Nevertheless, for critics of the Biden administration’s approach to the war in Gaza, a call for a temporary cease-fire doesn’t address one of their key demands: a reduction in America’s substantial financial support for Israel’s military campaign.

“Now they just have rebranded a humanitarian pause that they’ve always supported—a temporary humanitarian pause—as a cease-fire,” said Waleed Shahid, a progressive Democratic strategist who has previously worked with Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Summer Lee. “They’ve gotten comfortable with using that word that millions of people have been chanting around this country and the world, but the substance of the policy has not really changed that much, which is continued U.S. weapons funding for an operation that is indefensible.”

Layla Elabed, the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan—which urged tens of thousands of voters in Michigan to vote “uncommitted” in protest of the Biden administration’s response to the war in Gaza—said in a statement that Harris’s remarks were proof that “the Biden administration is moving because of the pressure from uncommitted Democrats.”

“But let’s be clear: This is a temporary cease-fire, or what they used to call a humanitarian pause,” Elabed continued. “Our movement’s demands have been clear: a lasting cease-fire and an end to U.S. funding for Israel’s war and occupation against the Palestinian people.”

Senator Chris Van Hollen, one of the members of Congress who has called for a cease-fire, said that he believed there is still more the Biden administration can do to put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I think that it’s good that we’re doing airdrops, but airdrops do not begin to provide assistance at scale,” Van Hollen said. “The fact that the United States is doing airdrops is a clear symptom and sign of the fact that the Netanyahu government needs to be doing a lot more and the Biden administration needs to be pushing them to do a lot more.”

This week, Harris also met with a member of Israel’s war Cabinet, Benny Gantz, on Monday. According to Axios’s Barak Ravid, the meeting allowed for Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan to vent their frustration with the Israeli response to the October 7 Hamas attack, which killed more than 1,200 Israelis. Gantz, considered a political rival of Netanyahu, also met with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Gantz, whose visit to the U.S. was not approved by Netanyahu and has been controversial in Israel, did not meet with Speaker Mike Johnson.

“I thought he gave us reason to believe that our concerns should be Israel’s concerns in dealing with the humanitarian issues,” Senator Ben Cardin, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters after the meeting. “I think he heard that the situation should be a concern to all of us, to Americans and Israelis. We all have to deal with the fact that it’s unacceptable, and we all have a responsibility to respond to it.” (However, Cardin said that Gantz did not discuss a potential cease-fire.)

Harris’s remarks over the weekend are reflective of Biden’s need to maintain the support of certain key blocs of voters who traditionally vote Democratic.

“The fact that that speech was held in Selma gives me some indication that they see it as a broader problem with the Democratic electorate, including Black voters,” said Shahid. Last month, leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a prominent historically Black Christian denomination, called for an end to U.S. funding for Israel, citing the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians as “mass genocide.”

The location of her remarks was significant: She delivered them at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the site of a historic civil rights protest nearly 60 years ago this month. Representative Al Green, who has called for a cease-fire, acknowledged that the decision to give these remarks in Selma “could be a coincidence,” but he added that it could also be a sign that “we may be facing another Edmund Pettus Bridge moment.”

“I hope that we don’t have this Edmund Pettus Bridge moment where, in the month of Ramadan, we find ourselves with something very ugly happening in Gaza that could have been avoided,” Green told me. “I’m grateful that she made the call, and my hope is that we will heed her warning … in terms of lives being saved.”

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

Vibe Check: Shutdown week

The good news: The government probably isn’t going to shut down this weekend, the deadline for passing six appropriations bills. Lawmakers reached a deal to fund several agencies, creating a “minibus” of spending bills that will likely be approved in both chambers of Congress. This package includes measures to fund agencies covered by the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Transportation-Housing, and Urban Development bills.

The bad news: As difficult as it was to reach an agreement on these bills, this is the easy part. The agencies funded by this minibus tend to be less controversial, although there were several minor sticking points that contributed to the delay in releasing these bills. (For example, whether to include extra funding for a nutrition assistance program aiding needy women and children, a provision that did make it into the final package.) The measures considered this week represent only around 30 percent of the discretionary spending to be approved this year.

It may be more difficult to reach a consensus on the remaining spending bills, which must be passed by March 22 to avert a shutdown. This minibus would include Defense, Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, Homeland Security, Financial Services, State-Foreign Operations and Legislative Branch measures. (Stop yawning! This is important!)

“It’s a lot of money, obviously. I think a lot of Democrats have a hard time sometimes with Defense, and some of our guys have a hard time with Labor-H,” said GOP Representative Tom Cole, using shorthand for the appropriations bills. However, he noted that when the two bills were paired in previous years, they ended up passing with more than 350 votes. They’ll need similarly large margins this year, as House leadership will use a procedural maneuver to put it on the floor without a formal vote in the Rules Committee, which will then require approval from two-thirds of the chamber.

Cole, who leads an appropriations subcommittee, also pushed back against some of the more far-right members of the Republican conference who have expressed frustration with the compromise funding bills, and with passing them as a group.

“You either govern, or you don’t. When you’re in the majority, you’re supposed to govern,” said Cole. “I regret that people think, ‘Well, I get to vote for defense and veterans, but then I don’t have to vote for anything else.’ Well, I’m sorry, but there’s a federal government out there.”

Hard-line conservatives are loath to accept that (a) the White House and Senate are held by Democrats and (b) Republicans have a razor-thin majority in the House, two factors that make it hard to contemplate passing appropriations legislation without the help of Democrats. After former Speaker Kevin McCarthy made a deal with Biden on government funding levels last spring, it became very difficult for current Speaker Mike Johnson to do anything but accept those numbers.

“We’re in a very difficult negotiating position right now, because of our thin margins and the fact that we’re having to do this under suspension,” said GOP Representative Steve Womack, referring to the floor procedure that will require the measure to receive two-thirds support on the House floor to pass.

“If [Johnson] is not going to get all of the Republicans to lock arms in supporting it, he’s going to have to raise the threshold and negotiate with Democrats,” continued Womack, the chair of the subcommittee overseeing the Financial Services appropriations bill.

Negotiations have largely moved past the subcommittee level, with final details being hashed out by congressional leadership. But this can cause frustration on both sides of the aisle, as rank-and-file members can be shut out from final talks.

“Republicans in the House basically refused to negotiate at the subcommittee level, so all of that is with leadership,” said Senator Chris Murphy, the chair of the appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Homeland Security measure, one of the thornier bills to negotiate.

But for the so-called appropriations “cardinals” leading the subcommittees, regardless of how difficult the second tranche of bills may be, it’s important to follow through.

When I asked Senator Jon Tester, the chair of the subcommittee overseeing defense appropriations, whether the next minibus would be more difficult to approve, he replied: “God, I hope not. I hope it’s easier.”

What I’m reading

Lauren Boebert doesn’t want to lose the House, by Ben Terris in The Washington Post

A lover of music, Hank Johnson’s newest mission is protecting hip-hop, by Tia Mitchell in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Joe Biden’s last campaign, by Evan Osnos in The New Yorker

Do Americans have a ‘collective amnesia’ about Donald Trump? by Jennifer Medina and Reid Epstein 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 Maverick, submitted by Chris Branscum. Likes include: eating, playing, long naps, belly rubs, and soft blankets. Maverick is, according to Chris, “a serious cat.”

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.