The truth is out there
Some good news from the James Webb Space Telescope: they’ve found their first confirmed exoplanet, a mere 41 light-years away from Earth. It’s almost the same size as Earth, but don’t start packing yet. Although this planet’s star is considerably cooler than our sun, it’s a few hundred degrees warmer than Earth, and any atmosphere it has could be 100% carbon dioxide. If anybody lives there, they might be shopping for new real estate of their own — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Annual Report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), noted a big increase in UAP sightings. The report described 171 of these more recent sightings as “uncharacterized and unattributed,” some with “unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities.” Whatever they are, we assume they’ll need lobbyists.
US to hit debt limit on January 19
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen sent a letter to House and Senate leadership advising them that the nation will reach its statutory debt limit on January 19, after which Treasury will need to take “certain extraordinary measures” to prevent default. Yellen identified two of these “extraordinary measures:” redeeming existing investments and suspending new investments in the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF) and the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund (Postal Fund), and suspending reinvestment of the Government Securities Investment Fund of the Federal Employees Retirement System Thrift Savings Plan. She warned, however, that these were only temporary fixes: “It is therefore critical that Congress act in a timely manner to increase or suspend the debt limit.” Failure to do so, Yellen said, “would cause irreparable harm to the US economy.” She reminded legislators that even the threat of default had led to a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating in 2011.
Both houses of Congress are scheduled to be in recess until the week of January 23.
House Republicans organize under Speaker McCarthy
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) won election as Speaker of the House, and House Republicans have organized their leadership and committees. Committee chairs for the 118th Congress are:
Agriculture — Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-PA)
Appropriations — Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX)
Armed Services — Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)
Budget — Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX)
Education and the Workforce — Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)
Energy and Commerce — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
Financial Services — Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC)
Foreign Affairs — Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)
Homeland Security — Rep. Mark Green (R-TN)
Judiciary — Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Natural Resources — Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR)
Oversight and Accountability — Rep. James Comer (R-KY)
Science, Space, and Technology — Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK)
Small Business — Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX)
Transportation and Infrastructure — Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO)
Veterans’ Affairs — Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL)
Ways and Means — Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO)
House creates Select Committee on competition with China
One of the House’s first acts in this Congress was the passage of H.Res.11, a bipartisan resolution to establish a 16-member Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. The House approved the resolution by a vote of 365-65, with unanimous support from Republican members. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) will chair the committee. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus (CAPAC), said that while CAPAC was officially neutral on the legislation, it would be “vigilant in overseeing the committee’s work, hearings, and rhetoric” that might promote racial profiling or violence against Asian-Americans. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said Democrats on the committee would “work in a serious, sober and strategic manner to evaluate our relationship with the Chinese government and to address the rise of authoritarianism globally.”
McHenry announces subcommittee chairs, new Republican members of House Financial Services Committee
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) wasted no time in announcing eleven new Republican members and chairs of six recalibrated subcommittees.
Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) will chair the Subcommittee on Capital Markets, responsible for oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.
Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) will chair the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy, which oversees the prudential financial regulators, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Federal Reserve System.
Rep. French Hill (R-AR) will chair the Subcommittee on Digital Assets, Financial Technology, and Innovation, charged with “providing clear rules of the road among federal regulators for the digital asset ecosystem” and identifying best practices and policies.
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) will chair the Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions, whose responsibilities include “strengthening policies to combat the generational threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party” and overseeing the Office of Terrorism Financial Intelligence.
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) will chair the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, whose purview will include oversight of all agencies, departments, and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction, including “agency and programmatic commitment to diversity and inclusion policies and best practices.”
Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) will chair the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, which will oversee HUD and FHFA as well as developing policies to strengthen the housing market and increase the nation’s housing supply.
The panel’s new Republican members are:
Dan Meuser (R-PA)
Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI)
Andrew Garbarino (R-NY)
Young Kim (R-CA)
Byron Donalds (R-FL)
Mike Flood (R-NE)
Mike Lawler (R-NY)
Zach Nunn (R-IA)
Monica De La Cruz (R-TX)
Erin Houchin (R-IN)
Andy Ogles (R-TN)
Reps. Lawler, Nunn, De La Cruz, Houchin, and Ogles are all new to Congress. Rep. Flood is serving his first full term, having won a special election last June.
House Ways & Means Chairman Smith welcomes ten new Republicans
Newly appointed House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO) announced that the Republican Steering Committee had assigned ten new Republicans to the panel:
Rep. Mike Carey (R-OH)
Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA)
Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-MN)
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY)
Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT)
Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA)
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL)
Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY)
Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX)
Smith said the panel would work “to ensure a tax code that supports the millions of working-class families who are struggling in the Biden economy,” and said they would “hold the Biden Administration accountable for the crises it caused and get answers on the White House’s abuse of power.”
Granger announces ten new members for House Appropriations
Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, welcomed ten new Republican members to her panel, including freshmen Reps. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) and Jake LaTurner (R-KS) and returning Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), who served in the 114th Congress.
Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK)
Rep. Jerry Carl (R-AL)
Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ)
Rep. Michael Cloud (R-TX)
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA)
Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-TX)
Rep. Scott Franklin (R-FL)
Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS)
Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-KS)
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT)
Granger called the Republican members “a strong team to fight for fiscal responsibility.”
Rodgers welcomes nine new Republican members to Energy & Commerce
Last Wednesday Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the new chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, announced nine new Republican committee members:
Randy Weber (R-TX)
Rick Allen (R-GA)
Troy Balderson (R-OH)
Russ Fulcher (R-ID)
August Pfluger (R-TX)
Diana Harshbarger (R-TN)
Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA)
Kat Cammack (R-FL)
Jay Obernolte (R-CA)
Rodgers said, “Trust and confidence in representative government is broken, and the people have placed their trust in us to restore it. Energy and Commerce is at the forefront of this mission.”
Joyce, Spanberger promise bipartisanship as Chamber tells Congress, “Make government work.”
US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne P. Clark delivered a blunt message to Congress in the Chamber’s annual State of American Business address: “The state of American business is fed up.” Government itself has become a source of risk for businesses, “locked in a cycle of hyper-partisanship and political power swings.” Clark laid out the Chamber’s “Agenda for American Success,” which includes permitting reform, immigration reform, public-private partnerships for innovations in energy, a return to American global leadership, and a recommitment to the rule of law. In conversations after Clark’s speech, Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) agreed on the need for bipartisan work to raise the debt limit, speed up regulatory approvals, and update immigration laws. Joyce, who chairs the moderate Republican Governance Group, said that he and his colleagues had already challenged House leadership about proposals that “are not good for people in our districts.” Spanberger pointed to Senate work on immigration reform that could form a basis for bipartisan agreement in this Congress.
CFPB proposes public registry of “terms and conditions” in form contracts
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPPB) is seeking comment on a proposed rule that would create a public registry of common terms and conditions used in form contracts with nonbank service providers. Nonbanks under the CFPB’s supervision would need to submit to the Bureau any terms and conditions language that seeks to waive or limit consumer rights or protections. The Bureau would not prohibit this language, but would publish it in a public database. Collecting and publishing this information, the Bureau said, “would allow for enhanced risk-based government oversight.” The proposed requirements would apply to payday lenders, private student loan originators, and mortgage lenders and servicers, and to larger companies engaged in student loan servicing, auto financing, consumer reporting, consumer debt collection, and international remittances. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) blasted the proposal, calling it “unprecedented,” and saying, “Committee Republicans will finally ensure Director Chopra and the CFPB are held accountable.” Comments are due to the CFPB by March 13.
The Confirmations, Nominations, Departures
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), who had been elected in 2020 to a second term in office, resigned from the Senate on January 3. Governor Jim Pillen appointed former Governor Pete Ricketts to succeed Sasse until a special election in 2024, when Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) will also be up for reelection.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has named Paul Munter as the agency’s Chief Accountant, a position he has held in an acting role since January 2021.
Cristina Martin Firvida will become the SEC’s Investor Advocate on January 17. She most recently served as Vice President of Government Affairs for Financial Security and Livable Communities at AARP.
Eric Gerding, Deputy Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance, will succeed Renee Jones as Director of the Division of Corporate Finance on February 3, when Jones leaves the SEC to return to a teaching position at Boston College Law School.
The Week Ahead
Monday, January 16 was a federal holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and both houses of Congress have scheduled this week as a district work period. The Senate is scheduled to return on January 20, and the House is scheduled to return on January 21.
January 17-20 US Conference of Mayors holds its annual Winter Meeting in Washington, DC. Infrastructure, immigration, housing, and crime will be among the major topics of discussion, and speakers will include Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The Ellis Insight
Jim Ellis on Political News
Arizona Former local Phoenix news anchor Kari Lake (R), who just lost a close race for Governor, claims a small lead in a new hypothetical US Senate poll featuring her, incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I), and US Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix).
Blueprint Polling conducted the survey (1/5-8; 618 AZ registered voters; interactive voice response system & text) and projects that Ms. Lake, who has not indicated that she will run for the Senate, leads Rep. Gallego and Sen. Sinema, 36-32-14%, respectively.
Though Sen. Sinema trails badly, she could certainly rebound and come from the outside to win, especially if the Democratic and Republican candidates almost evenly split the remaining vote. Considering recent vote history since 2018, such an outcome is certainly possible.
Rep. Gallego is an all-but-announced Senate candidate. He may, however, face opposition from US Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Phoenix), and possibly others, in the Democratic primary.
California Golden State Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) this week announced that she will enter the 2024 US Senate campaign, apparently irrespective of what veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) decides about her own political future.
Accompanying the Porter video announcement was a poll that the David Binder Research company conducted for the Congresswoman’s campaign committee soon after the November election. The study tested a hypothetical general election battle between Reps. Porter and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). Also included in the poll were Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), both of whom have also discussed running for the Senate. No Republican alternative was listed.
The Binder survey (11/19-21; 600 CA registered voters; live interview & online) projected that Reps. Porter and Schiff would advance into the general election from the state’s top two jungle primary system. Between Porter and Schiff, the electorate would break 37-26% in Porter’s favor with Republicans backing the Orange County Congresswoman in a 25-5% clip. This is largely due to Schiff’s strong negative ratings among Republicans, likely over his prominent role in the Trump impeachment process.
Rep. Lee is reportedly telling supporters that she will run for the Senate next year, following Rep. Porter’s lead, but will not formally declare her intentions until Sen. Feinstein announces her expected retirement. Rep. Schiff is expected to follow a similar path into the Senate contest. Assuming all of this does happen, Los Angeles School Board member Nick Melvoin (D) announced that he will run for Rep. Schiff’s House seat.
Michigan While Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D) decision to retire after the 2024 election caught many by surprise and leads to several individuals assessing their own chances of winning an open Senate race in a lean Democratic state, one person who is apparently ready to jump into the race is three-term Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing).
Other Democrats reportedly seriously considering their own candidacies are Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and possibly Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor), Haley Stevens (D-Birmingham), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit). Multiple names are being mentioned on the Republican side but there is little definitive movement toward anyone from the GOP making a declaration of candidacy at this time.
Missouri Lucas Kunce, the attorney and Iraq and Afghan War veteran who lost the 2022 Missouri Democratic Senate nomination to philanthropist Trudy Busch Valentine, announced that he will mount a 2024 challenge to Sen. Josh Hawley (R). Ms. Busch Valentine then lost 55-42% to new Senator Eric Schmitt (R) in November.
Last August, Mr. Kunce failed to claim the Democratic nomination by a 43-38% margin against Ms. Busch Valentine, a member of the Busch beer family, in what should be considered an under-performance. Mr. Kunce was a favorite of the progressive left, raised $5.6 million, and appeared to be the race leader until Ms. Valentine became a late entry into the primary campaign.
While Mr. Kunce is a credible candidate, he must prove he can mount a stronger effort in 2024 if he is to seriously challenge Sen. Hawley in a state that will likely be a lock for the eventual Republican presidential nominee.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse (R) has officially resigned his seat in order to assume the Presidency of the University of Florida, and new Governor Jim Pillen (R) chose former Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) as the interim replacement. Mr. Ricketts will serve until the next general election in 2024. The seat is next in-cycle for a six-year term in 2026.
Gov. Pillen wanted to pick a Senator who would commit to serving a long while in order to build seniority for the state to compliment two-term Sen. Deb Fischer (R) who is seeking re-election in 2024. Therefore, Mr. Ricketts committed to running both in 2024 and 2026, assuming a successful outcome in the special election next year. Senator-Designate Ricketts will be sworn into office when the Senate next convenes on January 23rd.
AZ-1 Veteran Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills) had another close call in the 2022 election, winning a seventh term with just 50.4% of the vote in a newly configured district that the FiveThirtyEight data organization rates as R+7. His opponent was first-time candidate Devin Hodge (D), a communication consultant who may well run again. This week, orthodontist Andrew Horne (D) became Rep. Schweikert’s first 2024 challenger with his announcement of candidacy. We can again expect this race to be competitive in two years. A crowded Democratic field is expected to form.
CA-47 We also saw quick action in what will be an open 47th Congressional District now that Ms. Porter is an announced Senate candidate. 2020 congressional nominee Scott Baugh (R) immediately declared that he would run again, as did former Congressman Harley Rouda (D). The latter man was elected to the House in 2018 from the former 48th District, approximately 59% of which now lies in Porter’s new 47th. In 2020, Mr. Rouda lost his re-election to current 45th District US Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Orange County).
Kentucky Despite former Gov. Matt Bevin (R) teasing political observers by coming back to his 2015 gubernatorial announcement location to make a speech hours before candidate filing was closing, he did not jump into the race and the Republican field of challengers vying to oppose Gov. Andy Beshear (D) is now set. Another potential entry who decided against filing is John Schnatter, the founder of the Papa John’s pizza company.
The major Republicans who are now officially running include Attorney General Daniel Cameron, former UN Ambassador Kelly Craft, state Auditor Mike Harmon, state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck. The 2023 Republican primary is set for May 16th, with the general election scheduled for November 7th. Expect this to become a toss-up general election campaign.
Louisiana In a surprising move, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser (R) changed his mind about running for Governor and instead declared his intention to seek re-election later this year. Before, Mr. Nungesser said he would run for Governor if Sen. John Kennedy (R) did not. After Sen. Kennedy declined to enter the race, it was assumed that Nungesser would immediately jump and become one of the leading contenders. Several others were declaring for Lt. Governor with the understanding that the seat would be open.
With Mr. Nungesser’s decision to stay put, it appears that Attorney General and former Congressman Jeff Landry (R) becomes the front runner to replace term-limited incumbent John Bel Edwards (D). As a result of the Nungesser decision, state Treasurer John Schroder (R) then entered the Governor’s race. The leading Democrat to-date is Transportation Department Secretary Shawn Wilson.
Candidate filing does not end until August 10th for the October 14th jungle primary, so the fluid contender field can still greatly change. If no candidate receives majority support in this first election, the top two finishers will runoff on November 18th.
Mississippi Magnolia State Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley (D), a second cousin to the late music legend Elvis Presley, announced that he will compete for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in a quest to challenge Gov. Tate Reeves (R) later this year. Mr. Presley was elected to the Public Service Commission in 2007 after serving seven years as Mayor of Nettleton, a town of approximately 2,000 residents. He is the first person to become an official 2023 gubernatorial candidate. Secretary of State Michael Watson is a potential Republican primary challenger to Gov. Reeves.
Candidate filing closes February 1st. The statewide primary is set for August 8th with a runoff date on August 29th for those races where no candidate achieves majority support in the initial vote. The general election is November 7th.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) announced his 2024
gubernatorial candidacy in what will likely become a crowded open seat Republican primary. Mountain State Gov. Jim Justice (R) is ineligible to seek a third term and may run for the Senate.
Already in the race is state Del. Moore Capito (R-Charleston), son of West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R), and auto dealer Chris Miller, the son of 1st District Congresswoman Carol Miller (R-Huntington). Two other minor candidates have also entered the race. No Democrat has yet come forward.
Former state Delegate S. Marshall Wilson is also running, representing the Americans Coming Together Party (ACT). Many more candidates are expected to enter the race. Rumors persist that Sen. Joe Manchin (D) may run for Governor or retire instead of seeking re-election.
South Carolina Despite the US Supreme Court already hearing the Alabama racial gerrymandering case that should set the benchmark for how congressional districts must comply with the Voting Rights Act, a federal three-judge panel late last week struck down the South Carolina congressional map as a racial gerrymander and ordered a new draw to be completed and passed into law before March 31st. Depending upon the eventual Supreme Court ruling, however, this action may become moot.
The panel ruled that the District 1 and 6 configurations, those of Reps. Nancy Mace (R-Charleston) and Jim Clyburn (D-Columbia), constitute a racial gerrymander because the legislature’s map packed too many African American voters into Mr. Clyburn’s district. On the other hand, the judges declared that the District 2 and 5 formation, those of Reps. Joe Wilson (R-Springdale) and Jeff Duncan (R-Laurens), does not constitute a racial gerrymander.
It is unclear at this time if Palmetto State Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) will appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court or comply with drawing a new map, one that could easily be rendered irrelevant depending upon the future SCOTUS action. The high court will rule on the Alabama case before the end of June.
Virginia Senate Though Republican state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) defeated US Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk) in the November election, Tidewater Democrats rebounded with a tight special election win to convert her vacated Senate seat. Democrat Aaron Rouse captured a close 50.4 – 49.5% victory over Republican Kevin Adams to expand the Dems’ Senate advantage to 22-18.
In 2020, President Biden carried this state Senate district with a 54-44% margin, but GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin won the seat 52-48% in the 2021 gubernatorial election. Therefore, the 7th Senatorial District is clearly politically marginal in nature.
Virginia House In two House of Delegates special elections, each party held a risked vacancy in landslide proportions. In the 24th District where Delegate Ronnie Campbell (R-Rockbridge) passed away in December, the deceased incumbent’s wife, Ellen Campbell, easily succeeded her late husband with a 66-34% victory.
In Fairfax County’s 35th House of Delegates district, Democrat Holly Seibold recorded a 67-33% win to keep the seat in the Democratic column. She will replace Del. Mark Keam (D) who resigned to accept a position in the Biden Administration. The pair of victories now yield 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats in the state House.