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The Catchup: 5 major politics stories from the past week

A weekly guide from Yahoo News’ Jon Ward to help you navigate the biggest stories in politics

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters about avoiding a government shutdown and launching an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on Thursday.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters about avoiding a government shutdown and launching an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on Thursday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

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. 11, 2023, began with remembrances of the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil 22 years ago; with President Biden returning from a quick cross-globe trip India and Vietnam aimed at countering Chinese influence in that region; and with FDA approval of a new COVID booster shot.

Looming next week are an autoworkers strike that began Thursday night and lots of angst in Washington over a potential government shutdown on Oct. 1.

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

Republicans open impeachment inquiry into President Biden

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced Tuesday that he’s opening an impeachment inquiry, without a House vote, claiming that there is a “culture of corruption” around Biden.

Why it matters:

  • Just two weeks ago, McCarthy told conservative Breitbart News that “to open an impeachment inquiry is a serious matter, and House Republicans would not take it lightly or use it for political purposes.” He said he would hold a vote in the House to authorize an inquiry, something he criticized Democrats for not doing in 2019 when they began their impeachment inquiry of former President Trump.

  • This week, McCarthy reversed course and opened the inquiry himself, without a vote. There aren’t enough Republicans supporting such a measure to pass it, but McCarthy is under pressure from hard-liners in his party who are threatening to remove him from his post.

  • McCarthy did not appear to gain any ground with hard-right Republicans who are threatening to remove him. The week ended with him shouting at House members in a closed meeting. But the impeachment effort is serving the GOP’s larger goal of giving them something to say in response to former President Trump’s criminal indictments.

Good reads:

Mitt Romney announces he’s leaving the Senate

Romney, a Utah Republican, announced Wednesday that he is not running for reelection in 2024.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with reporters on Wednesday after announcing that he will not seek reelection.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with reporters on Wednesday after announcing that he will not seek reelection. (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post via Getty Images)

Why it matters:

  • Romney, the Republican nominee for president in 2012, has been one of the GOP’s most resolute opponents of the rising populism and nationalism represented by former President Trump. His departure means the GOP will likely slide further toward Trumpism, and his seat in the Senate will now be open, potentially moving the Senate further to the right.

  • Romney’s comments to The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins for a forthcoming biography have a dark subtext. Romney expressed deep concern for the future of American democracy. “His time in the Senate had left Romney worried—not just about the decomposition of his own political party, but about the fate of the American project itself,” Coppins wrote.

  • “This is a very fragile thing … Authoritarianism is like a gargoyle lurking over the cathedral, ready to pounce,” Romney told Coppins.

Good reads:

A week of Elon Musk news

A new biography of the billionaire owner of Tesla, SpaceX and social media company X — written by Walter Isaacson — was released Tuesday, prompting an avalanche of stories about Musk.

Elon Musk arrives for a Senate bipartisan Artificial Intelligence Insight Forum on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Elon Musk arrives for a Senate bipartisan Artificial Intelligence Insight Forum on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Why it matters:

  • There was plenty of focus on Musk’s mercurial personality, his political drift to the right and his impact on American politics. But Musk’s involvement in the war in Ukraine was one of the biggest stories, after Isaacson’s book revealed that Musk cut off Ukrainian military access to his Starlink satellite system during an assault on Crimea, a part of Ukraine that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014.

  • The entire episode prompted new focus and concern on Musk’s pervasive influence in many areas of public life, from foreign policy to domestic communications, and raised questions about the extent to which he might have been influenced by Russian propaganda or communications. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin praised Musk as an “outstanding person” this week, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for an investigation into Musk’s ability to dictate foreign policy.

  • Yet when tech leaders met with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Wednesday about regulating artificial intelligence, Musk was there. Musk launched his own AI company in July.

Good reads:

Iranian prisoner swap

The Biden administration cleared a major hurdle toward a swap of five American citizens held by the Iranian government, for five Iranians in U.S. custody and an unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian funds.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is leading the U.S. diplomatic effort to lower tensions with the government in Iran.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is leading the U.S. diplomatic effort to lower tensions with the government in Iran. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Why it matters:

  • Tensions remain elevated between the U.S. and Iran, but Iran needs the money for a troubled economy and the Biden administration is looking to bring Tehran’s hard-line government into a diplomatic resolution to slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapons program.

  • The prisoner swap could take place as soon as Monday, after the Biden administration cleared hurdles for the unfreezing of financial assets this week.

Good reads:

Another legal setback for 'Dreamers' in DACA ruling

A federal judge in Texas ruled Wednesday that the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program cannot be expanded, knocking down an attempt by the Biden administration to do so.

Beatrice Cruz of Arizona holds a sign in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy after a hearing on the DACA program in Houston in June
Beatrice Cruz of Arizona holds a sign in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy after a hearing on the DACA program in Houston in June. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Why it matters:

  • DACA, a program started under former President Obama in 2012, allows undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country for two-year intervals, and to seek employment.

  • But the Texas judge, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen, ruled in 2021 that the program was unlawful. That decision blocked new enrollees from being included in DACA but did not end protections for those already in the program.

  • The Biden administration sought to address the 2021 ruling with a regulation issued in 2022. But Hanen’s ruling this week found the Biden regulation insufficient.

  • The ruling does not end protections for the roughly half a million people currently enrolled in DACA. The case is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Good reads: