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

Lawmakers Want Biden to Ask Permission Before Bombing Yemen Indiscriminately

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vibe check: The Chevron conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pet of the week

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

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

Millions of Americans Could Soon Be Very Offline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vibe check: Trump wins over GOP senators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pet of the week

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

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

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

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Representative Jason Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pet of the Week

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

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

The Billionaires Tax Is Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vibe check: The woes of the 118th Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m reading

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

Bonus: My favorite books I read this year

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

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

Pet of the week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vibe check: Just say no (to Monumental)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m reading

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

Pet of the week

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

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

Moderate Republicans Are Warming to the Idea of Impeaching Biden

GOP lawmakers in vulnerable districts believe that the White House’s refusal to respond to subpoenas has given them leeway to push the envelope.

President Joe Biden
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The House is expected to vote next week to formally open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. At first glance, this is a redundant move, given that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy unilaterally announced the beginning of the inquiry earlier this fall—just as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi had done when opening the inquiry into President Donald Trump in 2019, a decision much criticized by Republicans at the time.

But GOP lawmakers contend that the Biden administration’s intransigence has forced their hand to call a formal vote: Following in the footsteps of Trump, the White House has refused to abide by congressional subpoenas, arguing that the inquiry is illegitimate because it did not receive a vote in the House.

But there’s another reason the formal vote is in the offing now but wasn’t back in September. McCarthy had launched the inquiry unilaterally because of skepticism from some Republicans who represent swing districts, or districts that Biden won in 2020; simply announcing the process shielded them from a potentially difficult vote. But these Republicans may not have such compunctions now, as they can cite the Biden administration’s recalcitrance as their reason to vote to open an inquiry next week, when they may not have done so before.

“You would have thought they would have stepped up and worked with us, and not basically in many ways played chicken, saying, ‘We’re gonna force you to do an inquiry vote,’” said Representative David Schweikert, who represents an Arizona district that Biden carried. When asked whether some Republicans would feel any trepidation about authorizing an inquiry, Schweikert replied: “I think if the White House had not said, ‘Screw you, you don’t have legal authority,’ you might have had more of that. But they set this clock in motion.”

The GOP posture, including deciding to hold a full vote after White House stonewalling, echoes the process leading to the 2019 impeachment of Trump on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress. Indeed, because so many House Republicans believe the first impeachment of Trump was a politically motivated smear campaign, there is an apparent eagerness to return the favor for Biden. (The House committees conducting the inquiry have yet to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by Biden in connection with the business practices of his son Hunter.)

A formal vote to open an impeachment inquiry would lend the investigation some legal oomph. A special counsel for Biden wrote in a letter last month that the House could not “claim the mantle of an ‘impeachment inquiry’” without such a vote. On Wednesday, Speaker Mike Johnson said that he expected unanimous support from House Republicans in opening an inquiry. “This is a vote to continue the inquiry of impeachment, and that’s a necessary constitutional step. I believe we’ll get every vote that we have,” he said.

However, not every House Republican is convinced that a vote to open an inquiry is the way to go. Representative Ken Buck said that he did not believe a vote was necessary, because the process had already begun. “I wasn’t in favor of it when Kevin [McCarthy] brought the issue, and I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that there’s a link between Hunter Biden’s activities and Joe Biden,” Buck told me. “There’s no need to call it an impeachment inquiry either. You can just move forward with the Oversight [Committee] investigation that’s ongoing.”

Buck, who slammed GOP efforts to open an inquiry in a September op-ed, has a decidedly independent streak—he voted to oust McCarthy and then opposed the nomination of Representative Jim Jordan as speaker. He argued that the White House did not have “a valid argument” for avoiding participation in the inquiry, but noted that several committees are already investigating Biden.

Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, whose Pennsylvania district supported Biden in 2020, said that he still needed to discuss the issue with party leaders, to determine whether a full vote on an inquiry is necessary. “I’ve got no ax to grind. I’m not taking a partisan angle. I just want to get to the truth,” Fitzpatrick told reporters. “I need them to tell me, what are they going to get with [a full House vote] that they can’t get now?”

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

Supreme Struggles

The Supreme Court delved into two high-profile cases this week with potentially far-reaching implications. On Monday, justices heard arguments in a case on a bankruptcy settlement for Purdue Pharma that would determine whether the Sackler family can be shielded from future civil lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic. The following day, the court considered another case that could rewrite the tax code by determining whether it is constitutional to tax unrealized income.

Both of these cases hinge on very technical legal considerations related to bankruptcy and tax law—hardly thrilling subjects. But they involve issues that stir very strong emotions: the opioid epidemic and taxes on the wealthy. The outcomes have the potential to further define public opinion of the court, which in turn may affect perceptions of its legitimacy.

Public approval of the Supreme Court has cratered in recent years, a trend that only intensified after the court’s conservative majority overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Only 44 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the Supreme Court this year, according to the Pew Research Center, a drop of 26 percentage points since 2020. A Gallup survey released in the fall of 2022 found that only 47 percent of Americans had trust in the judicial branch, and a record-high 42 percent said the Supreme Court was too conservative. Experts warn that this apparent lack of confidence threatens to erode the legitimacy of the court—and its decisions.

Perception of the Supreme Court as a political body is not new, said Logan Strother, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University who has written on this subject. For example, in the wake of decisions on the Affordable Care Act roughly a decade ago, people’s opinions of the court were influenced by whether they approved or disapproved of the law. The difference now is in the makeup of the court: In previous years, more moderate conservative justices acted as swing votes, occasionally granting “wins” to liberals in significant cases.

“We’re in a different world today, where you have a very solid conservative majority, and it’s really unlikely that the liberal side will be winning high-profile cases in the foreseeable future,” Strother explained. “In the last couple of decades, we’ve had off-setting wins and losses. Today we’re going to see a steady march of conservative wins … if you’re not getting wins, there’s nothing that’s going to buoy support for the court.”

There is particular frustration among Democrats in Congress about the recent activity of the Supreme Court, and these decisions could further cement their concerns. Senator Peter Welch, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued that issues of taxation are the purview of Congress, not the courts. “It’s a legislative decision—what gets taxed, how it gets taxed—and then voters have the ability to demonstrate their displeasure or support in elections,” Welch said. “The court has consistently been overreaching and interfering with what are legislative policy decisions and imposing its own policy preferences.”

How people feel about the outcomes of the cases will depend on media framing as well. For example, the bankruptcy settlement reached by Purdue Pharma would dedicate billions of dollars to addressing the opioid crisis. But the wealthy Sacklers are hardly popular, thanks to their active role in developing and promoting the use of opioid medication despite known risks. If a decision upholding the settlement is framed primarily in terms of shielding members of the Sackler family from future liability, it could anger those Americans who already feel betrayed by the Supreme Court.

Strother’s research has also found that if a person questions the legitimacy of the court, they are more likely to support reforms or policy changes, such as imposing term limits or adding justices. In simple terms, agreement or disagreement with the court’s rulings contributes to perception of its legitimacy. If a person agrees with a ruling, they are more likely to feel as if the court is acting fairly; if they disagree, they will think the decision, and by extension the court itself, is driven by legal rather than political considerations. Moreover, the court is more perceptive—and more sensitive—to public opinion than you might imagine. As TNR contributor Simon Lazarus has argued, the court’s vulnerability in this regard has seen liberal pressure campaigns shape the court’s decision-making in significant ways.

One Republican who approves of the court’s recent conservative rulings, Senator Thom Tillis, told me that he believed the Supreme Court has been “balanced,” but acknowledged “it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”

“Politicizing law enforcement, politicizing the FBI, politicizing the courts are, I think, unhelpful,” he said.

What I’m reading

Nobody plays a bad actress better than Natalie Portman, by Sam Adams in Slate

Is the press ready for a second Trump term?, by George Packer in The Atlantic

Timothée Chalamet, the boy king, by Alison Willmore in Vulture

How millennials learned to dread motherhood, by Rachel M. Cohen in Vox

What happened when the U.S. failed to prosecute an insurrectionist ex-president, by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker

In Uvalde, students followed active shooter protocol. The cops did not, by Lomi Kriel and Lexi Churchill of ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, and Jinitzail Hernández of The Texas Tribune

Chasing Jane Austen’s bad boys, by Kirsten Denker in The New Republic

Fandom’s great divide, by Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker (from 2014) (RIP Norman Lear)

Pet of the Week

Want to have your pet included at the bottom of next week’s newsletter?Email me:
Author’s note: This description was written by Rebecca Segers, who submitted the picture. The author presents the following without any additional commentary.

Nepotism is the word for today, as Grace features her mother’s cat, Sir Duncan Crooktail First of His Name, the most perfect orange boy ever.

Duncan was adopted at the tender age of 7, 8, or 9 according to Lollipop Farm in Rochester, New York, who also gave him the random birthdate of March 23, 2015, which suggests far more specificity than they were actually willing to commit to.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Social Security?

The retirement-age population is growing. The national birth rate is declining. This spells trouble for the cash-strapped program.

Tom Williams/Getty
Martin O’Malley, Biden’s nominee for commissioner of the Social Security Administration

Social Security is generally considered politically untouchable, but lawmakers have been fretting about its future for months. In March, the Treasury Department reported that the trust funds for the program, which currently provides benefits for 67 million Americans, will be depleted in 2034.

This does not mean that Social Security will be bankrupt; around 80 percent of benefits will be payable through the combined funds of disability insurance and old age and survivors’ insurance. Still, the projection comes one year earlier than last year’s prediction, raising alarm bells about the program’s future.

This will certainly be a topic of concern for Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who was nominated by President Joe Biden to become commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The Senate Finance Committee approved O’Malley’s nomination on a bipartisan basis on Tuesday, although it’s uncertain when he will receive a floor vote.

Laura Haltzel, a senior fellow with the Century Foundation, highlighted the demographic shift that is making Social Security’s revenue stream unsustainable: The retirement-age population is growing while the national birth rate is declining. Over time, in other words, fewer workers will finance the program as more retirees are relying upon it.

“The problem is that you cannot pivot on a dime and create a workforce today,” Haltzel said. With only 10 years until 2034, raising the retirement age—one of the common ideas for solving the solvency problem—is an insufficient solution, Haltzel said. 

The issue is not merely that the workforce cannot accommodate an aging population, said Andrew Biggs, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The problem is also political; once granted, benefits are difficult to revoke. Biggs sourced that dynamic to 1977, when Congress changed the formula for determining Social Security benefits so that they automatically increased, indexed to wage growth—a decision, he said, that “locked in the effects of demographics.”

“Congress loves to promise things. It hates to draw back on promises,” Biggs said. “They were setting in place a massive political problem.” 

Republicans have bristled at Democratic allegations that they wish to cut Social Security—a talking point precipitated by GOP Senator Rick Scott’s proposal to slash the program. GOP lawmakers, perhaps predictably, blame President Joe Biden for claiming that Republicans support cutting Social Security benefits, in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

“It’s too easy to play a political football with,” grumbled Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, who has proposed, along with Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, an independent investment fund to keep Social Security solvent. Another Republican, Senator Mitt Romney, told me that it’s “so easy in this country to demagogue one’s opposition, and to scare seniors into thinking their benefits will be cut.”

But the issue of Social Security is particularly thorny for Republicans, as older Americans skew right. Cutting benefits for currently retired or soon-to-retire Americans is politically impossible. “They do want to address deficits and debt, and yet a huge driver of these deficits and debt is important to their own political base now,” Biggs said about the dilemma for Republican lawmakers.

One proposal some Republicans have floated to increase Social Security revenue is to means-test the program, so that wealthier Americans don’t receive benefits they may not need. “I think the average American who has saved money, has led a blessed life, is willing to take some off of the benefit,” GOP Senator Thom Tillis told me. 

In theory, this is the kind of idea that seems like it would appeal to Democrats. A major tenet of the modern Democratic Party is that the wealthiest Americans should pay their fair share; if they do not need benefits, why should they receive the same amount in Social Security as lower-income Americans? Tillis continued that he mentioned means-testing “because I knew that that would be something on their list.” However, such a change would account for only a small fraction of revenue raised and could potentially hurt those retired and soon-to-retire Americans that all politicians are desperate to protect. Moreover, Democrats are generally loath to cut any benefits—even for wealthier Americans.

Haltzel explained that means-testing Social Security would functionally replicate a program that already exists—Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, which is targeted for low-income retired and disabled Americans—and would undermine the initial purpose of the program. 

“The whole reason that [Social Security] was structured the way it was, was to ensure that every American had a stake in the program,” said Haltzel. Social safety net programs like SSI are often stigmatized and may not receive sufficient funds to help all those in need. Haltzel worried that if Social Security transformed into a welfare program, it would be means-tested to the point where it cuts out those who would benefit from the program.

Vibe check: The commission question 

A major priority for new House Speaker Mike Johnson is establishing a so-called “fiscal commission”: a panel to address the ballooning deficit and interest payments on American debt, as well as Social Security and Medicare’s impending solvency issues. On Wednesday, the House Budget Committee held a hearing on several bipartisan bills to create a fiscal commission.

“We need an outside group of experts to help us learn what the absolute truth is,” said GOP Representative Steve Womack, a co-sponsor of one of the pieces of legislation.

Fiscal commissions have a mixed track record: The 1983 Greenspan Commission helped Congress pursue a path to keeping Social Security solvent—although it fell short of its 75-year goal—but the 2010 Simpson-Bowles commission did little more than raise public awareness about the growing deficit.

Representative Scott Peters, the Democratic co-sponsor of a bill that would create a bipartisan, bicameral commission, including outside experts, told me ahead of the hearing that it was difficult for one party to solve the problem. For example, while Democratic Representative John Larson has introduced a bill to keep Social Security funded, that measure did not make it through the House Ways and Means Committee, even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Not touching Social Security is a “cruel lie,” argued Peters.

“If you want to cut Social Security, what you do is nothing,” Peters said. “But if you want to save Social Security, if you want to save benefits, the sooner we do [take action], the better chance we’ll have.” 

But Representative Brendan Boyle, the ranking Democrat on the committee, noted during the hearing that the conclusions of a fiscal commission—particularly regarding Social Security—will eventually need to be acted upon by a potentially recalcitrant Congress. 

“Ultimately, individuals will have to put up a vote either saying, ‘Yes, this is how we’re going to raise more revenue,’ or ‘Yes, this is how we’re going to enact cuts,’” said Boyle.

Indeed, the problem with receiving a recommendation from a commission is the actual follow-through, which is why several members who have sponsored legislation to create such a panel call for an up-or-down vote on the eventual recommendations.

“Using a commission is the only way that you can actually get something through a filibuster, and also whoever’s in the majority in the House,” said GOP Representative Blake Moore, another member of the House Budget Committee. 

Many Democrats support either eliminating Social Security’s cap on taxable wages, expanding the types of compensation subject to Social Security payroll taxes—fringe benefits like health insurance, for example—or increasing payroll taxes. “The problem has been that, over time, the amount of revenue that is subject to [Social Security payroll] tax has been declining, partially because of a disparity in the way wages have grown,” Haltzel told me. 

Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, who testified at the hearing, worried that Republicans’ promise to not raise taxes would necessarily lead to cuts in Social Security. “It’s not just about getting numbers aligned on the balance sheet, it’s about what our values are,” McGovern said. “If you’ve signed a pledge, ‘No new taxes,’ then revenues are not on the table.”

Congress is not exactly known for its promptness in tackling issues. If Social Security will no longer be solvent as of 2034, it’s easy to see lawmakers not taking any action until the waning months of 2033. Still, Romney, who has co-sponsored another bipartisan bill in the Senate to create a fiscal commission, argued before the House Budget Committee that, regardless of timeline, inaction was not an option.

“If we don’t fix this problem, we’re going to be known as the worst generation,” Romney said.

What I’m reading 

Ridley Scott’s Napoleon: Accidentally a comedy?, by David Klion in The New Republic
Paternity leave alters the brain—suggesting daddies are made, not born, by Chabeli Carranza in The 19th
Antagonisms flare as red states try to dictate how blue cities are run, by Molly Hennessy-Fiske in The Washington Post
Americans are losing benefits. That could hurt Biden in 2024, by Garrett Downs, Olivia Olander, Michael Stratford, and Marcia Brown in Politico
Some Republicans were willing to compromise on abortion ban exceptions. Activists made sure they didn’t, by Kavitha Surana in ProPublica
My father, my faith, and Donald Trump, by Tim Alberta in The Atlantic
Everybody knows Flo from Progressive. Who is Stephanie Courtney?, by Caity Weaver in The New York Times Magazine

Pet of the week

Today’s pet of the week is Robey, submitted by Deborah Hall. Robey is an Anatolian shepherd dog, and will soon celebrate his eighth birthday.

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

Farm Bill’s Food Stamp Generosity May Be a Bridge Too Far for Some Freedom Caucusers

Divisions over relief for food insecurity remain a big sticking point as lawmakers try to move this must-pass measure over the goal line.

Tom Williams/Getty Images
Representative Glenn Thompson, chair of the House Agricultural Committee

The continuing resolution to keep the government funded through early next year includes an extension of the farm bill, a massive package of legislation that governs key agriculture and nutrition programs. The farm bill, which is approved roughly every five years, was extended at current levels through the end of September next year.

Congress is regularly late to approve the farm bill, so lawmakers aren’t excessively concerned about an extension. Representative Glenn Thompson, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, told me that the yearlong extension had more to do with the need for stability in key programs than any pessimism about negotiating the bill in a timely fashion.

“We’re not looking to wait until September to do a farm bill. We have to extend it that far because of the complexities of some of these agricultural programs,” Thompson said. Although some farmers have worried about leaving reference prices to trigger crop insurance at 2018 levels in the year 2023, Thompson and other members believe that extending the bill is better than having nothing at all.

Representative Jim McGovern, a Democratic member of the committee, offered the faint praise that the extension was “clean.” “There’s no right-wing, MAGA, bullshit culture-war attachments to it,” McGovern said. “It gives our farmers and and it gives people who rely on nutrition programs some peace of mind that this won’t all come crashing to a halt anytime soon.”

Another Republican member of the committee, Representative Zach Nunn, echoed that sentiment. “I think it’s incredibly important that we provide certainty for our farmers,” Nunn said. “I’ve already got guys back in Iowa who have made decisions on what they’re going to plant, how they’re going to harvest, what livestock operations are going to look like. And so giving them a long runway is important.”

The farm bill is a traditionally bipartisan measure, bolstered by a marriage of rural agricultural interests and nutrition assistance advocates. The largest part of the farm bill is also the most controversial: the nutrition title, which includes funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, more colloquially known as food stamps. Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus have vented their spleen about the farm bill extension, indicating that spending on SNAP is a nonstarter for them.

“The farm bill itself represents everything that’s wrong with Washington, because the farm aspect of it only comprises about 25 percent of the bill,” said Representative Bob Good, a member of the Freedom Caucus. “You’re hijacking, holding hostage, the farm portion to the welfare part of it.”

The bill that raised the debt limit in June included tightening of work requirements for able-bodied adults without children up to a certain age, although it also strengthened exceptions. However, some conservative Republicans believe that SNAP needs to be further adjudicated. Representative Barry Moore, another member of the committee and of the Freedom Caucus, said that it was “certainly possible” some conservative Republicans would withhold their votes due to their frustrations with SNAP.

Thompson told me that any opposition to the farm bill based on wanting to cut SNAP further is “unfortunately out of ignorance.” “People that really don’t understand the program, they’re not aware of how the program actually works and the changes and refinements that we’ve made—significant ones—earlier this year,” said Thompson.

Representative Don Bacon, another GOP committee member, predicted that Democratic votes would make up for opposition from hard-line Republicans.

“A lot of them come from agricultural areas, so it totally eludes me,” said Bacon.

Vibe check: No rest for the WIC

The continuing resolution keeping the government open through early next year did not include emergency funding for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, commonly referred to as WIC. The Biden administration had requested an additional $1.4 billion to maintain the program amid an increase in participation and an uptick in food costs.

Like the continuing resolution passed in September, the one considered by Congress this week includes flexibilities to keep WIC afloat in the near future. But that’s only a short-term solution, said Nell Menefee-Libey, the public policy manager at the National WIC Association.

“I​​t’s something of a BandAid on a bullet hole, because we’re really borrowing against the program’s future, and jeopardizing the long-term stability and flexibility to serve families,” Menefee-Libey said. “It’s really, really discouraging that Congress hasn’t indicated that they intend to maintain the tradition of full funding for the program, and that has engendered a lot of uncertainty.”

Democrats are worried over the future of WIC, but they currently lack a clear answer for how they will keep the program afloat. “We’ll be searching for a way to get that funding, but when you look at what’s happening in the House, where it’s considered a miracle to get a C.R. passed … that’s a daunting challenge,” said Democratic Senator Peter Welch.

The emergency funding for WIC, while a priority for many Democrats, was not on the top of the list for Republicans. “If the Democrat allegation is that the C.R. does not meet every single one of their policy desires, they’re right,” said GOP Representative Dusty Johnson. “I’ve yet to see a legislative vehicle deliver every single win that any single person wanted. Welcome to the game.”

McGovern argued that his Republican colleagues did not appreciate the urgency of the situation. “They have no clue. Either that, or they don’t give shit. It’s one or the other, and both are unforgivable,” he said.

Menefee-Libey said that state directors administering WIC “maybe do not have the faith that Congress will fully fund the program.”

“If we, God forbid, get to January and have a full-year appropriations vehicle that doesn’t fully fund the program, then state directors would be in the position of having to turn folks away for the first time in nearly three decades,” she said. “So new moms in the middle of a national maternal health crisis will lose access to WIC, as well as, the kids on the program could also be turned away. It’s just a disastrous result.”

Vibe check: Let them fight

The House has been in session for 10 weeks in a row, and the Senate for five weeks. And lately, perhaps in part due to pent-up frustration from having to actually go into the office, lawmakers are getting a little punchy—literally. The girls are fightingggg.

This week, Representative Tim Burchett, one of the eight Republicans to vote to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker, was left fuming after McCarthy elbowed him in the back. (McCarthy denies it was intentional.) Meanwhile, in the upper House, Senator Markwayne Mullin challenged a witness at a hearing to a fistfight. And to round out the ill-tempered shenanigans, Representative James Comer, the chair of the Oversight Committee, called Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz a Smurf.

And that was all on Tuesday.

GOP Senator Kevin Cramer expounded on the bad vibes in Congress, writing the chaotic mood down to the fact that it was just about time to head home for Thanksgiving recess. When I pointed out that most Americans don’t have the luxury of getting cranky just because they’re forced to work multiple weeks in a row, Cramer noted that Congress was filled with strong personalities. (Democrats will mention that this week’s perpetrators were all Republicans, but some of them also have a history of public sparring.)

“There aren’t a lot of shrinking violets in Congress. You got here by telling everybody you’re better than the other person and bragging on yourself,” said Cramer. “It’s not concerning to me. I think it’s plenty entertaining. I tried to keep it a little bit above that myself, but even I’m capable, every now and then, of losing it.”

Other senators were not as equable. Democratic Senator Tina Smith told HuffPost that “this kind of behavior is unacceptable.”

“I actually got up and left before it was over because I was so upset by what Senator Mullin did. It’s a result of people having bad judgment who don’t seem to be able to detach from a policy disagreement,” Smith said.

Men (in Congress) will literally threaten violence in the hallowed halls of the Capitol instead of going to therapy.

What I’m reading

The Confederate general whom all the other Confederates hated, by Eric Foner in The Atlantic

The lie of “deinfluencing,” by Rebecca Jennings in Vox

The final frontier for helicopter parents, by Juno DeMeio in The Cut

What happened to ‘woke’? How the right’s rallying cry faded away, by Dave Weigel in Semafor

What does the Kennedy name mean now? by Maura Judkis in The Washington Post

How Trump and his allies plan to wield power in 2025, by Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman, and Charlie Savage in The New York Times

The latest culture war starts with dead whales, by Molly Taft in The New Republic

Pet of the Week

Today’s pet of the week is Sundae Breeze, submitted by Ali Feldman. She’s a very social pup: According to Ali, you can find Sundae on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

Emotions Are Running Feverishly High in Congress

“People are full of sadness and rage and hurt, and nobody does their best work in that environment,” said Representative Becca Balint.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib
ALI KHALIGH/Middle East Images/AFP/Getty Images
Representative Rashida Tlaib spoke at an October 20 rally at the U.S. Capitol calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Congress is a political body of more than 500 people with varying agendas and priorities. As such, its functioning is often influenced by emotion more than clinical analysis. This has been particularly true in the past month, after Hamas launched its  massacre of 1,400 Israeli citizens and took roughly 200 people hostage. In the weeks since, Israeli strikes have killed more than 10,000 people in Gaza, including more than 4,000 children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

“What I have been saying for weeks is, everybody is acting from the amygdala right now. People are full of sadness and rage and hurt, and nobody does their best work in that environment,” Representative Becca Balint, who has called for a humanitarian pause in the conflict, told me. “I don’t want to say people shouldn’t feel what they feel, but we need to really think strategically about this entire region.” 

The United States has traditionally been Israel’s strongest and most vocal ally, and as The Washington Post’s Abigail Hauslohner notes, supporters of Israel have had more success in swaying lawmakers. But the toll on civilians in Gaza has begun to concern the White House and some Democrats in Congress. As the weeks have stretched on, the latter have called for a “cease-fire” or a “humanitarian pause.” On Wednesday, dozens of congressional Democrats sent a letter to the White House calling for temporary protections for Palestinians due to concerns about civilian casualties, the Associated Press reported.

“There’s a growing consensus that we have to help Israel to make a series of choices that enable them to forge a path forward for peace, and enabling humanitarian aid is a fundamental strategic goal,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who called for a humanitarian pause last month. “If you want Israel to be safe and stable, you cannot have millions of internally displaced refugees. The world appropriately rallied around Israel on October 7, and in order to maintain international support, they have to demonstrate that they are abiding by the Geneva Conventions and our basic expectations.” 

The Democrats who support a pause are also quick to point out that it differs greatly from a cease-fire: The former is a brief break in the conflict to allow the delivery of aid, and the latter is open-ended. “Cease-fires are long-term cessation of hostilities, and that would allow Hamas to regroup and attack Israel again,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. 

But efforts to pass aid to Israel have been complicated by political considerations. President Joe Biden’s supplemental funding request to Congress also included funds for Ukraine and the southern border, as well as humanitarian aid to Gaza. The Republican-controlled House, under newly minted Speaker Mike Johnson, narrowly passed a partisan $14 billion stand-alone bill supporting Israel—plus cuts to the IRS that would actually increase the deficit, meaning that it’s a nonstarter in the Democratic-majority Senate. Moreover, Republicans in the Senate say they will not accept any aid package that doesn’t address immigration.

“In the end, we’re going to support Israel, and we’re going to support our friends and allies in Taiwan and Ukraine, and we’re not going to do that without a strong immigration and border provision,” said GOP Senator Roger Wicker.

Meanwhile, there’s been a lot of heated rhetoric in the House. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz caused an uproar among House Democrats for saying that the 15 representatives who voted against a resolution affirming support for Israel don’t “have a soul,” CNN reported. Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American serving in Congress, was censured by her colleagues—including several Democrats—on Tuesday for her comments that Palestine would be free “from the river to the sea,” which is interpreted by some to mean support for ending the existence of Israel.

“I can’t believe I have to say this, but Palestinian people are not disposable. We are human beings just like anyone else,” Tlaib said in an impassioned speech on Monday. “The cries of the Palestinian and Israeli children sound no different to me. What I don’t understand is why the cries of Palestinians sound different to you all.”

Meanwhile, a Democratic proposal censuring  GOP Representative Brian Mast for his comments comparing Gazan civilians to Nazis was pulled from consideration on Wednesday. Mast did not back down, saying on Tuesday, “I would challenge anybody to find a better word to compare them to than the word ‘Nazi,’ because they only live next to Jews so long as they can find a convenient way to kill them.” 

OK, I know that’s a long lead-up, but there’s a lot of nuance here. Despite the differing opinions on cease-fire vs. humanitarian pause—and on where American eyes should be focused—lawmakers I’ve spoken to on both sides of the aisle insist that there is agreement on strongly supporting Israel.

“I think Democrats are unified in that we all want to save as many lives on both sides: Israeli lives and Palestinian lives,” said Representative Gregory Meeks, the Democratic ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I don’t think anyone is arguing that Israel should not go after Hamas. We are concerned about the people that are caught in the middle.” 

But that agreement doesn’t make passing aid any easier—particularly given that Congress needs to focus first on passing government funding legislation to avert a shutdown on November 17. The emotions involved only further complicate an already difficult situation.

“I have very strong feelings about protecting Israel and getting the support they need. It just feels like one of those issues where we can’t fail,” Murphy told me. “I probably can’t do justice to the metaphysics of Israel support.”

Vibe check: Capitol Hill

Israel, Ukraine … Taiwan? 

While several elements of the White House’s funding request incur strong feelings among lawmakers, one aspect is generally accepted as uncontroversial: around $2 billion for the Indo-Pacific region, and specifically Taiwan. The idea is to bolster Taiwan as a counterweight to China and further prepare for any potential conflict. But, unlike in Ukraine and Israel, the prospect of escalating tensions is almost entirely theoretical.

“It’s not a hot spot right now. If it was a hot spot, it would probably be more controversial,” said Senator Ben Cardin, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, about the provision to offer aid to Taiwan. Which raises the question: If it’s not an immediate issue, why is it part of the supplemental agenda?

“I think there’s just a strong bipartisan awareness that helping Taiwan defend itself is in the interest of the region, the world, and the United States,” Senator Tim Kaine told me. “It may not have the urgency, but it is bipartisan, and it’s seen as critically important.”

GOP Senator Mike Rounds further explained that aid to Taiwan pertains to the American “defense industrial base” and “getting the resources that would be available for buildup in the Taiwan region.” In this vein, the White House also said their supplemental proposal as a whole would invest around $50 billion in the U.S. defense industry.

One can almost imagine the ghost of Dwight Eisenhower tapping the sign: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Vibe check: Campaign trail

OK, this week’s newsletter does include a little something on Tuesday’s elections. I chatted with Heather Williams, the interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, on Wednesday. Here are some excerpts from our conversation, condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 

Inside Washington: What do you think are the biggest takeaways from Tuesday night?

Heather Williams: Virginia voters resoundingly rejected the Republican agenda and Governor Youngkin in the state [and showed] that abortion remains a cornerstone issue in the states, and that the role and the impact of state legislatures on people’s lives have never been clearer.

I.W.: Speaking of abortion, why do you think that it was so pivotal in this year’s elections? And how do you expect to see its importance going forward? 

H.W.: The Dobbs decision threw this issue to the states; they made it really crystal clear. Voters voted in November of 2022 against abortion bans, and we’ve seen that continue. 

[Voters] care about it because Republicans are just dead set on banning abortion. They do it the minute they get power, the minute their power changes. We saw this in North Carolina with the legislature: The first agenda item the new Republican supermajority had was to ban abortion.… Voters knew in Virginia that they would go to the polls on Tuesday, and if they woke up with a Republican majority in their state House, that there would be an abortion ban.

I.W.: Looking ahead to 2024, what are the biggest states that you’re paying attention to? Are there any really critical state legislative elections coming up?

H.W.: We’ll have a number of special elections that will still come at the end of the year.… We joke that if it’s a Tuesday, there’s an election. So we’ll have those as we start the year. And then as we move into 2024, we are going to be ensuring that we’re returning our majorities in the Minnesota House, the Michigan House, and the Pennsylvania House. And that we are building new majorities in Arizona, both chambers in New Hampshire, in the Pennsylvania Senate, working to build majorities there. And then we’re going to be looking at ensuring that we are getting Democratic governors, those newly elected and those that we expect to elect in 2024 in North Carolina: the veto pen. That’s really, really important, and it’s really important for not only the issue of abortion in the states, but also a governor having the ability to block these really extreme Republican agendas.

What I’m reading

I may be a political reporter, but my second love is art criticism and culture writing. Here are some of my favorite long-form stories I’ve read lately, political and otherwise:

Priscilla confronts a creepy Elvis, by Andrew Marzoni in The New Republic

Is Tommy Tuberville the most ignorant man in D.C.?, by Cameron Joseph in Rolling Stone

The next generation of law students is obsessed with Lina Khan, by Marcia Brown in Politico

Joe Lieberman will not leave his fellow Democrats alone, by Kara Voght in The Washington Post

Are ‘Elf’ and ‘Love Actually’ the last holiday classics we’ll ever get?, by Esther Zuckerman in The New York Times

Women played an unprecedented role at the Pope’s synod. Will it make any difference?, by Paul Elie in The New Yorker

Pet of the week

OK, I know everyone has already been subjected to photos of my cat, Pumpkin, both in The Run-Up and on X, né Twitter. But come on, look at how cute he is! (Don’t forget to email me with submissions of your own pet.)

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