The Catchup: 5 major political stories this week, from the debate to the shutdown

Jon Ward is a Yahoo News senior correspondent who has covered national politics for over 15 years.

You’re shifting gears to head into the weekend, so here are the top five political stories worth remembering this week.

The week of Sept. 25, 2023, began with Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey insisting he did not take the bribes that federal prosecutors have accused him of taking, but by midweek he was facing calls to resign from a majority of his fellow Democratic U.S. senators.

Next week we’re likely to be discussing the impacts of a government shutdown, which looks certain to begin this weekend.

Here’s what I think stood out from this past week.

Leading Republican candidate for president insinuates that America’s top general should be put to death

Former President Donald Trump posted on his social media site, Truth Social, that he was angry about a phone call made by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to reassure the Chinese government that the U.S. government was stable after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.

Trump, last Friday night, called the phone call "an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH."

Why it matters

Milley made the call to prevent an accidental military conflict with the Chinese. It was a follow-up to phone calls made in October 2020 by himself and other U.S. government officials, including Trump's Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, to ease what Esper said were concerns about an "accidental conflict or confrontation" with China.

Esper — who Trump chose to head the Pentagon from 2019 to 2020 — also told CNN Monday evening that it was a "legitimate concern" that Trump, if he becomes president again, will seek to put political opponents and public critics in prison.

Milley has also expressed alarm about political prisoners in a second Trump term.

Good reads on this

Reuters:Milley takes steps to protect his family

The Atlantic: The Patriot: How Gen. Mark Milley protected the Constitution from Donald Trump

The Hill:Former defense secretary: 'It's a legitimate fear' Trump will retaliate if reelected

Republican infighting sends U.S. government toward shutdown

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy remained unable to pass a bill through the lower chamber of Congress that would fund the government. Senate Republicans have begun to openly criticize McCarthy and House Republicans for failing to govern.

The federal government will run out of money a minute after midnight Sunday morning and enter a shutdown.

Why it matters

"Shutting down the government isn't an effective way to make a point. Keeping it open is the only way to make a difference on the most important issues we are facing," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican.

A shutdown would mean that some segments of the government would work without pay, and only be compensated with back pay once the shutdown was over. This includes U.S. military personnel, some federal law enforcement, Transportation Security Administration employees and Federal Aviation Administration workers such as air traffic controllers.

Food assistance for the poor would continue for a brief period but may run out of financing after only a few days.

House Republicans are so riven by internal disputes that McCarthy seems unlikely to pass anything out of the House without Democratic votes. That is expected to trigger a vote to remove him from the speakership.

The question then would be whether Democrats might vote such a measure down, joining with a majority of Republicans, and what they might want in return for supporting McCarthy.

Good reads on this

Semafor: The procedural move that could shorten — but not stop — a shutdown

The Hill: More in new poll would blame Republicans for shutdown

NBC News:Trump breaks with McCarthy, pushes Republicans to shut down government

2nd GOP debate marred by bickering

Seven Republican presidential hopefuls took part in the second GOP primary debate Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Much of the two hours was dominated by candidates talking over one another and the moderators, making the night an ugly spectacle.

The consensus seemed to be that Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, was the only person who had a good night, and that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a few decent moments but didn’t do enough to arrest his steady descent in the polls.

Why it matters

No one has yet emerged as a significant Republican alternative to Trump, who holds a commanding lead in the polls. In fact, the central question of the GOP race is whether Trump will even face a credible challenge at all.

Haley, before the debate this week, had already overtaken DeSantis for second place in New Hampshire and South Carolina in recent weeks, following her strong first debate a month ago. That trend is likely to continue.

"Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber," Haley told Vivek Ramaswamy, in the most memorable line of the night.

Good reads on this

Yahoo News: 'Hot mess' 2nd GOP debate leaves Haley, DeSantis and Scott to spar for 2nd place

The New York Times: 'The entire debate was a gong show': Winners and losers from the 2nd Republican showdown

Biden and Trump both court striking autoworkers

The United Auto Workers strike is entering its third week today, after beginning on Sept. 15. A week ago the UAW expanded the strike from 13,000 workers up to 18,000 and increased the number of facilities where workers walked off the job. Today, UAW president Shawn Fain is expected to again announce an expansion of the strike to include more workers and more plants.

President Biden visited a picket line in Detroit on Tuesday and endorsed the union's push for a 40% raise. Labor historians told the Associated Press they were not aware of a sitting U.S. president ever joining workers in an ongoing strike. A day later, former President Trump gave a speech to a nonunion auto parts plant in Detroit.

Why it matters

Biden’s unprecedented visit, and Trump’s appearance, both point to a political reality: The working class in the Rust Belt is up for grabs. Michigan is a key swing state, and working-class voters are in many ways a toss-up constituency. They might not like the GOP’s traditional anti-union stance, but many are also disenchanted with the Democrats on the economy and cultural issues.

The UAW, which has roughly 383,000 members (down from 1.5 million in 1979), has not endorsed Biden. But Fain, the group's president, stood with Biden during his visit to UAW workers in Detroit and thanked him for his visit.

By contrast, Fain said there was "no point" in meeting with Trump. "I don't think the man has any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for," Fain said of Trump.

Good reads on this

Reuters: UAW plans to strike additional auto targets Friday absent serious progress

HuffPost:Trump in Michigan: Union negotiations 'don't mean as much as you think'

Time: Why Trump is talking about electric vehicles

Republican witnesses at 1st impeachment hearing say evidence doesn’t support impeachment

Republicans held their first impeachment hearing in the House Oversight Committee on Thursday. They called three witnesses. Two of the witnesses said there is no evidence of corruption or wrongdoing by President Biden, because Republicans have not demonstrated a link between Hunter Biden’s shady business deals and his father.

“I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment,” said the Republicans’ first witness, George Washington Law School professor Jonathan Turley. “But I also do believe that the House has passed the threshold for an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Biden.”

Why it matters

Bruce Dubinsky, an expert in forensic accounting and also a witness called by Republicans, echoed Turley’s comment that there is currently no evidence of corruption by President Biden.

“I am not here to even suggest that there was corruption, fraud or even any wrongdoing. In my opinion, more information needs to be gathered and assessed before I would make such an assessment,” Dubinsky said.

Turley said that Biden has “spoken falsely” about aspects of his son’s business dealings, that he was the focus of an influence campaign and that he “may have” benefited financially. But Turley cautioned against taking those things out of context or exaggerating them.

Why the huge gap between witnesses called by Republicans and GOP politicians, who have said for months that Biden is corrupt and they have evidence showing it? One reason is that the witnesses are under oath, and politicians on cable news or even in a committee room are not.

Good reads on this

CNN: The most predictable impeachment investigation in history

Yahoo News: Biden impeachment: Even House Republicans' own witnesses see no evidence of wrongdoing

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