The Thursday Slatest: Chaos in the GOP
California Republican Kevin McCarthy, the presumed favorite to take over for John Boehner as Speaker of the House, suddenly dropped out of the race for that position on Thursday in a major Capitol Hill shockeroo. In other news:
- Paul Ryan almost immediately said he didn't want the job (though rumor has it John Boehner is trying to talk him into it).
- The kind of people who are amused by such things were amused that McCarthy dropped out just hours after being endorsed by Dick Cheney.
- One of the Americans who helped foil an August terrorist attack on a train in France was stabbed and severely wounded in an area of Sacramento known for nightlife.
- Jeb Bush claimed Washington, D.C. is "not part of [his] DNA," which is incorrect.
- Russia (which is sort of but not entirely fighting a proxy war aginst the U.S.) tried to shoot missiles into Syria but they landed in Iran.
- The prosecutor who investigated Michael Brown's death at the hands of Darren Wilson won a "Prosecutor of the Year" award.
- Senate Democrats prepared to propose a bill, which will likely fail, which would close loopholes that can allow criminals to obtain guns.
- And Urban Outfitters "asked" its salaried employees in Philadelphia to "volunteer" to do manual labor in a rural warehouse, for team-building and whatnot.
Have a good day out there!
D.C. “Not Part of My DNA,” Says Guy Whose Brother Had Parents’ Anniversary Party in White House
Jeb Bush is doing badly in the 2016 GOP presidential primary polls and is trying to give his campaign a boost, Slate's Josh Voorhees wrote yesterday from Iowa, by relaunching himself as an outsider who can "disrupt" Washington, D.C. Bush continued on this theme today:
Jeb: “I’ve never worked in Washington. It’s just not part of my DNA”— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) October 8, 2015
The first part of that statement is true, as Jeb doesn't seem to ever have held a job that involved living in Washington. The second part of the statement is one of the most disingenuous statements in American politics' distinguished history of disingenuous statements. Washington is in Jeb Bush's DNA in an almost literal sense, in that he was born three months after his grandfather Prescott became a senator. Members of his immediate family have been president or vice president for 20 of the past 35 years.
Here's a picture of Jeb at an anniversary party that his brother threw for his parents in the White House.
In other words, that's a picture of members of the Bush DNA tree including Jeb Bush, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Barbara Bush, George H.W. Bush, Margaret Bush, Walker Bush, Marvin Bush, Jenna Bush, the younger Barbara Bush, Pierce M. Bush, Maria Bush, Neil Bush, Ashley Bush, John Ellis Bush Jr., Mandi Bush, George P. Bush, and Columba Bush comfortably taking a Christmas-card style photo in the very metaphorical center of Washington, D.C. Jeb Bush is not an outsider.
Russian Missiles Aimed at Syria Land in Iran Instead
At least four Russian cruise missiles fired from a ship in the Caspian Sea missed their targets in Syria and instead landed in Iran, U.S. officials have told CNN. It’s not yet clear where they hit or if there were any casualties and neither Russian nor Iranian authorities have confirmed the incident.
Russia opened up a new front in its offensive in Syria on Wednesday by launching missiles from ships in the Caspian at targets in Syria more than 900 miles away, crossing Iranian and Iraqi airspace.
The “Kaliber” cruise missiles used in the strikes are a new design that has never been used in combat before. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday that the 26 missiles fired from 11 ships had all hit their ISIS targets, destroying them with no civilian casualties. It’s not clear if these were the same missiles that U.S. officials were talking about Thursday.
Reaction from the Iranian government might be fairly muted. Iran had reportedly lobbied for Russia to launch strikes in Syria on behalf of their mutual ally Bashar al-Assad, an effort that included a visit to Moscow from Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in August. Iran has agreed to share intelligence with Russia, along with Syria and—to the immense annoyance of U.S. leaders—Iraq. Iran’s not really in much of a position to criticize Russia, also a major source of its arms.
Given how crowded the skies over Syria are getting, the risk of allies accidentally striking each other is certainly high, but this was definitely not the scenario most Syria watchers were expecting.
Are the U.S. and Russia Fighting Against Each Other in Syria?
The skies over Syria are getting very crowded. The Pentagon says that some time in the past few days, two U.S. aircraft were diverted in order to maintain safe flying distance with Russian jets. U.S. pilots are under orders to maintain a 20 nautical mile distance from any Russian plane, a limit that has been tested several times already since Russia started flying missions over the country in the past few weeks. After last month’s news that Russia would be sending troops to Syria in an effort to bolster President Bashar al-Assad’s flailing regime, it has become clearer that America’s goals in Syria and Russia’s diverge a great deal more than the two sides are willing to admit.
The U.S. and Russia had held talks last months on “deconflicting” their forces in Syria, which essentially meant trying to avoid the unlikely but potentially disastrous scenario where the two sides end up fighting each other. Defense Secretary Ash Carter insists there’s no cooperation between the two, only “basic technical discussions on safety procedures for our pilots over Syria.” For now, the two countries are waging “rival, uncoordinated air campaigns” over Syria, as Reuters reports.
One would hope there are enough safeguards in place to avoid a dogfight between U.S. and Russian fighters, but Russia’s involvement is undoubtedly stymieing U.S. strategy in the conflict, such as it is. Russia is also directly attacking rebel forces supported by the U.S. So are the U.S. and Russia fighting against each other in Syria or conducting parallel operations?
A favorite line of critics of Barack Obama’s foreign policy is that he plays checkers while Putin plays chess. I think this gives Putin too much credit as a grand strategist: He’s more of a master improviser, adept at turning chaotic situations to his advantage but not always thinking more than a step or two ahead. But the metaphor is accurate in that the two sides are playing very different games.
Russia’s intentions in getting involved in the risky conflict may have flummoxed Washington, but it’s at least clear what victory looks like for Putin: a pro-Russian government still in power in Damascus.
Russia’s makes little distinction between ISIS and the other rebel groups fighting Assad. "If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it's a terrorist, right?" is how Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put it last week. Russia, which has been alarmed by what it sees as U.S. backed coups against pro-Russian governments in Ukraine, Georgia, and elsewhere, might even view U.S.-backed rebels as more of a threat than ISIS.
For the U.S., the end goal is a little less clear. It wants to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, as the president put it. Publicly, the Obama administration maintains that it supports anti-Assad rebels and wants the Syrian leader to step down, but it clearly doesn’t trust the rebels on the ground enough to give them the weaponry or air cover they would need to actually win. U.S. efforts to train its own anti-ISIS rebel force, meanwhile, have been a nonstarter.
For now, the U.S. plan seems to be to focus on fighting ISIS in Iraq and supporting a Kurdish offensive against it in the chaotic east of Syria, while hoping that the situation in the west—where rebels are fighting government forces—will just work itself out. This is extremely bad news for the rebel forces in the northwest and south of the country, who have been holding out against both the government and ISIS for years and now have to contend with Russia as well.
But as long as ISIS is still a threat, the U.S. and Russia can keep a wide berth and focus their efforts on different parts of the country. The official lines will be that they are not fighting with or against each other, just fighting parallel wars at the same time in the same country. If either of the two campaigns actually do start to make headway against ISIS, then the remnants of the internationally backed rebel forces could turn their full attention to Assad’s Russian-backed regime. At that point, the official line becomes a lot harder to maintain.
Dick Cheney Midas Touch Strikes Again as McCarthy Endorsement Precedes McCarthy Failure
Dick Cheney isn't good at anticipating future events. This was most famously illustrated when he said that the U.S. forces invading Iraq in 2003 would find weapons of mass destruction and be “greeted as liberators,” but it was also underlined Thursday morning when he endorsed California Republican Kevin McCarthy for the House speakership mere hours before an embattled McCarthy dropped out of the race. From Cheney's statement, via Politico:
I’ve known Kevin McCarthy for many years. He is a good man and a strong leader. As a man of the House and a former member of the House leadership, I know that Kevin McCarthy is the person we need as Speaker in these dangerous and important times.
Dick Cheney has a Midas touch where instead of gold the things he touches turn into failure and chaos.
Will Paul Ryan Jump Into the Speaker’s Race? He Says No.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy just shocked Washington, D.C., by dropping out of the race to become the next speaker of the house. The other declared candidates are Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, neither of whom were previously thought to have enough support to win. High-profile Benghazi committee chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina has already indicated that he doesn't want the job. Eyes thus turned naturally to Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin rep who one could picture having the combination of fiscal hard-liner bona fides and status within the national party that the job will require. But, in a quickly issued statement, Paul Ryan says no dice:
Kevin McCarthy is the best person to lead the House, and so I’m disappointed in this decision. Now it is important that we, as a Conference, take time to deliberate and seek new candidates for the speakership. While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate. I continue to believe I can best serve the country and this conference as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Current Speaker John Boehner has said he plans to step down by the end of October.
The Prosecutor Who Handled the Darren Wilson Case Just Won Missouri’s “Prosecutor of the Year” Award
Bob McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor who oversaw the legal proceedings that led to the non-indictment of Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the fall of 2014, was honored Thursday at a Missouri Bar luncheon after the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys named him "Prosecutor of the Year."
McCulloch was the public face of the decision to spare Wilson of any criminal charges in connection with the shooting death of Michael Brown. That decision, which sparked violent clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, was made by members of a grand jury after prosecutors from McCulloch’s office presented them with evidence during closed-door hearings. McCulloch was criticized at the time for his handling of the case, with many arguing that his office had deliberately gone easy on Wilson out of a desire to protect him and the Ferguson Police Department.
Some Ferguson residents and officials protested McCulloch's involvement in the case in the weeks after the shooting, saying he should recuse himself because his personal history—his father, a police officer, was shot and killed by a black man in 1964—made him biased.
Wilson was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing by a Department of Justice investigation, which found that there was no reliable evidence that Brown had his hands up in surrender at the time of his death, or that Wilson was wrong to fear for his life during the confrontation.
Nevertheless, Wilson's non-indictment highlighted how rarely police officers who have killed civilians in the line of duty are charged and taken to trial. McCulloch himself has served as the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County since 1991, and since that time, his office has been tasked with overseeing five cases involving people who had been killed by police officers; indictments were not handed down in any of them.
A call to the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys was not returned. No one from the Missouri Bar was available to answer questions.
Presumed Front-Runner Kevin McCarthy Drops Out of Speaker Race in Bombshell Move
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has dropped out of the race for speaker of the house, according to reporters outside the House Republican conference’s closed door meeting to decide its nominee Thursday afternoon. McCarthy was expected to win the conference’s nomination for speaker but reportedly told members that he was out.
Per one GOP rep, McCarthy tells conference he's "not the right guy" and they "need a new face."— Eliana Johnson (@elianayjohnson) October 8, 2015
Retiring Speaker John Boehner has postponed the election.
McCarthy lost the faith of some in his conference when he “misspoke” about the nature of the Benghazi committee. And he was never the right match for the most conservative elements of the party, who were withholding their votes until certain demands were met.
McCarthy was being challenged by Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who made a late entry after McCarthy’s Benghazi statement, and Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, who was backed by the House’s hard-right Freedom Caucus.
Update, 1:30 p.m.: Here is McCarthy's full statement:
Urban Outfitters: Our Salaried Employees Love Weekend “Volunteering” at Rural Shipping Center
Good Lord. URBN, the parent company of Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People, got caught by Gawker asking its salaried headquarters employees to "volunteer" on weekends at a rural shipping center an hour-plus away—and responded by claiming that said employees love giving up their Saturdays to do a manual labor job, for free, three counties away from their actual office. Here's URBN's official statement about the program:
After successfully opening our new fulfillment center in June, we asked salaried employees at our home office to volunteer for shifts that would help support the new center through a busy month of October. Unsurprisingly, we received a tremendous response, including many of our senior management. Many hourly employees also offered to pitch in—an offer which we appreciated, but declined in order to ensure full compliance with all applicable labor laws and regulations. The dedication and commitment of URBN employees are second to none, and their response to this request is a testament to their solidarity and continued success.
The volunteering shifts are six hours long and take place on Oct. 17, 18, 24, 25, and 31.
I mean, who wouldn't give up their Halloween to go here—
—to earn "team player" company morale points that may or may not ever pay off via actual compensation or advancement?
Airman Who Helped Foil French Train Attack in Critical Condition After Sacramento Stabbing
The American airman who received a Purple Heart for helping subdue a heavily armed terrorism suspect aboard a French train is in critical condition after being “repeatedly stabbed,” CBS News reports. The incident took place in Sacramento, which is near Stone's hometown of Carmichael, California. From local station KCRA:
Hometown hero Spencer Stone was stabbed multiple times early Thursday morning near several popular bars in midtown Sacramento, KCRA has confirmed with the U.S. Air Force.
The stabbing happened about 12:45 a.m. near 21st and K streets, Sacramento police said.
A fight in the street allegedly led to Stone being stabbed multiple times in the torso, prompting investigators to block off two blocks in the area, Sacramento police said.
Stone was 23 on Aug. 21 when he and several others (all of whom later received the French Legion of Honor medal) confronted and subdued a 26-year-old Moroccan man named Ayoub el-Khazzani, who was armed with an AK-47, a pistol, and a box cutter on a train traveling from Paris to Amsterdam. Stone was reportedly the first to tackle el-Khazzani and was hospitalized after being slashed during the ensuing struggle. He was given a Purple Heart medal at a Sept. 17 Pentagon ceremony.