The most surprising development in Washington of late has been the political transformation of Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman. The hulking cueball has full-throatedly supported Israel since the October 7 attacks — this week to the point of telling South Africa to “sit this one out” after bringing a genocide case against the Jewish state at the International Court of Justice. He has also talked of the need for “reasonable border talks,” branded his alma mater Harvard “pinko” and said he’s “not a progressive.” It’s almost like he wants to win Pennsylvania again.
“How is it possible that John Fetterman in the last few months has seemingly become more based than half of the senate GOP???” Donald Trump Jr. approvingly tweeted Thursday.
The John Fetterman of early 2024 is certainly a far cry from the John Fetterman of 2022, a Bernie-bro stroke victim who beat an avowed moderate in the Democratic primary, struggled to voice a cohesive thought and was shepherded into the Senate by his wife Gisele. Mrs. Fetterman was no stranger to the limelight herself — making public appearances on behalf of her husband and posing for Vogue. Yet the senator’s pitch to the center and return to oratory form has coincided with the near-disappearance to his wife. Or, as @jarvis_best put it, “Fetterman’s camera thirsty devil wife disappeared from public view at the exact same moment Fetterman became a Republican for literally no reason.”
Gisele has been on a “social media break” since November, apparently due to her feeling insulted by being treated “as simply someone’s spouse.” The break is not an exhaustive one, but is more disciplined than the “Selena Gomez,” when you announce your departure and return within days. She is off Instagram altogether and has only tweeted twice since late November: retweeting a picture of “bestie night” with MSNBC anchor Katie Phang and responding to a fan wondering about her with a heart and heart-hands emoji last week (Cockburn’s nieces tell him this means she is likely just refraining from posting while still “lurking” on the app).
As for public appearances, news sources suggest that Gisele had a walk-on role during the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker on December 10 — they describe her as an “activist” rather than “simply someone’s spouse” — but otherwise it’s also radio silence.
This stands in stark contrast to the many, many interviews Gisele has put herself forward for since 2022 — with the Cut, People and the New Republic, to pick a handful.
So what gives? Is Gisele’s absence part of a conscious media strategy on behalf of Team Fetterman? Could a tension between the senator’s comms staff and his wife’s ambitions to be a prominent national activist be in play? Or is a more substantial rift to blame?
Ways and Means to an end
The House GOP’s ongoing investigations of the Biden family are starting to cause serious headaches for one of their own: the chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Missouri’s Jason Smith.
Along with the Judiciary and Oversight Committees, the normally sleepy Ways and Means Committee has seized the spotlight on leading the impeachment inquiry of President Biden, with IRS whistleblowers testifying about topics such as Ukrainian energy company Burisma paying Hunter Biden millions of dollars. Smith said such testimony is “vital to understanding efforts by top officials to protect Joe Biden.”
While there’s certainly a reason why the Ways and Means Committee should be involved in an impeachment inquiry, some committee Republicans want to focus on what’s long been the committee’s bread and butter: cutting taxes. Ways and Means staffers speculate that the reason for Smith’s shift focus is that Hunter equals TV and tax policy does not.
That’s been a notable shift from when longtime committee member, Kevin Brady, ran the Ways and Means show. While Brady was chair during the Trump administration, the committee ran point on the Trump tax cuts. On some levels, Smith was an unusual choice to succeed Brady, because he vaulted over several more senior committee members to become the youngest-ever chair of the committee, aged forty-two.
A touch over one year into his chairmanship, the self-proclaimed “firebrand” conservative from rural America has taken his committee in that direction. But with his powerful ally, Kevin McCarthy, now watching Congress’s business on C-SPAN and having lunch with the FT, Smith will have to handle any possible rebellion on his own.
Paul the Apostle
Kentucky senator Rand Paul, after some teasing, released an anti-endorsement in the Republican presidential primary this morning, declaring himself “never Nikki.”
“I don’t think that any informed or knowledgeable libertarian or conservative should support Nikki Haley,” Paul said in a video, on the grounds of her views on “our interventions overseas,” her “involvement in the military-industrial complex,” “$8 million being paid to be part of the team,” a reference to the change in her net worth since leaving the Trump administration, and how “she thinks you should be registered to use the internet.” Paul points out that the nation’s founders “posted routinely anonymously” and thinks her position on internet anonymity should “disqualify her in the minds of all libertarian-leaning conservatives.”
Haley’s chances of upsetting Donald Trump in the primary would take a blow if she isn’t able to get a good result in New Hampshire, which votes in an open primary on January 23. To pull that off, the former UN ambassador needs to secure a significant number of swing votes in the Granite State, which has a strong libertarian streak. Could the anti-endorsement from Paul, the most prominent libertarian-conservative in Washington, scupper her?
White House senior living
Finally, a message from America’s 45th president… mocking the 46th president for his years. Yesterday Donald Trump posted a parody ad on his Truth Social and Instagram accounts for “White House Senior Living,” boasting of its facilities. An upbeat track accompanies footage of President Biden walking slowly on the beach, being escorted around by his wife and eating pizza (get it?) and ice cream. The ad concludes by saying that White House Senior Living is “where residents feel like presidents.” Trump will be seventy-eight if he retakes office in 2025.