The Political Notebook 1.27.23
Gallego takes aim at Sinema, not Republicans; Senate shouldn't punt a debt ceiling increase to the House.
Ruben Gallego’s announcement of his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate occasioned many to write incumbent Kyrsten Sinema’s political obituary.
Current polls have her running considerably behind Gallego and Kari Lake, at this point a proxy MAGA Republican candidate, in a three-way race. If Sinema runs as an independent, goes the conventional wisdom, she has no chance of actually winning. The only question is whether she will take more votes from the Democratic or the Republican candidate.
Heretofore, Gallego has maintained that she would take more votes from the GOP contender – that her presence in the race increases, not decreases, the chances for a sharply progressive candidate, such as himself, to win. However, what he said while announcing suggests that he doesn’t truly, or at least fully, believe that.
His announcement statements took several shots – some veiled, some undisguised – at Sinema. He didn’t materially contrast himself with the MAGA Republicans, or the conventional Republicans of yore for that matter. That indicates that, regardless of what current polls say, he regards himself as being in competition with Sinema for left-leaning voters.
His announcement highlighted his humble beginnings and service as a Marine. These can have universal appeal. However, he used his humble beginnings as part of his contrast with Sinema. I remember mine and still seek to be a voice for the left out and left behind, was his pitch. She’s forgotten hers and hobnobs with the rich and powerful, taking advantage of the indelible recent images of Sinema at Davos. This cultivation of class resentment is an appeal to leftist voters, not the swing voters and disaffected Republicans who determined Arizona election outcomes in both 2020 and 2022.
Gallego apparently has the Democratic nomination wrapped up. He is unlikely to have serious primary competition and national progressive money rolled into his campaign coffers upon his announcement.
So, Democrats will have their solidly progressive candidate. The MAGA fever in the GOP doesn’t seem to have broken, so Republicans are likely to nominate another Lake or Blake Masters.
In such a line-up, I think Sinema has a much better chance to win as an independent than conventional wisdom is giving her. So, it seems, does Gallego.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that it is up to GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to negotiate a debt ceiling increase with President Joe Biden. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was quick to say, yep, a debt ceiling increase needs to originate in the House.
As poetic justice, this has much to recommend itself. As a path to avoiding a government default, however, it may be a mistake.
House Republicans are saying no debt limit increase without spending cuts. But it is highly unlikely that House Republicans can muster sufficient votes for any specific debt ceiling increase or any specific spending cuts. Putting the ball in their court is presumably designed to expose that sooner than later, so the discussion about avoiding default can move into the realm of the politically feasible.
However, the situation in the House is probably more dire than just chasing political unicorns. There are probably enough Republicans who will never vote for a debt ceiling increase under any conditions to doom any House GOP led effort. I strongly suspect that Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar will be among them. Perhaps newbie Eli Crane as well.
That means that whatever debt ceiling increase is enacted will be what can overcome a filibuster in the Senate and gets ramrodded through the House. Meaning that it is McConnell and Schumer who need to start constructing a deal to avoid a default.
McCarthy may not be able to bring whatever can pass the Senate to the floor of the House for a vote and retain his speakership. The no-deal caucus can dethrone him at any time.
So, avoiding default may require a discharge petition bringing a debt ceiling increase to the floor over McCarthy’s opposition. Under House rules, the discharge petition can’t be for a Senate bill. But it would be important that the Senate pass a bill in advance anyway, so the House bill being discharged can mirror what is politically acceptable in the Senate.
Watching House Republicans flounder would be politically instructive. But, if default is to be avoided, the hard work will take place in the Senate. And it needs to be completed early enough that a discharge petition to avoid a default remains a viable option.
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org.