Political chaos defined 2023, and sets up a volatile 2024

But FIRST… Politically, 2023 was a chaotic, dysfunctional and volatile year. 

It started with those 15 votes needed to elect Kevin McCarthy speaker; it included averting a debt-ceiling crisis, McCarthy’s own ouster and a war in the Middle East; and it ended with just the sixth expulsion of a U.S. House member in history.

Oh, and that doesn’t include anything that happened on the presidential campaign trail. 

And 2024 is set up to be another chaotic, dysfunctional and volatile year — if not more so. 

You have the potential for another government shutdown in January and February, when money for crucial government programs expires. 

There’s the Feb. 13 special congressional election to fill George Santos’ seat, and Democrats winning it back could leave the GOP majority hanging by a thread. 

Donald Trump’s trial in D.C. on federal criminal charges begins March 4 — the day before Super Tuesday. (Also, the second E. Jean Carroll defamation trial against Trump starts Jan. 15 — the day of the Iowa caucuses.)

The new year could bring us trials into the different charges Hunter Biden is facing, as well as possible full-fledged articles of impeachment against President Joe Biden, even though Republicans have yet to identify any high crimes or misdemeanors committed by the president.

In June, it’s likely we get a Supreme Court decision over the access to abortion pills. 

And that’s just the first half of 2024, and it doesn’t include anything on the campaign trail or regarding war or instability overseas. 

So buckle up for what promises to be another volatile year in American politics. 

For more on what to expect for 2024, check out the latest Chuck Toddcast.

Headline of the day

The number of the day is … 35

That’s the number of House lawmakers who have said they will not seek re-election in 2024, opting to leave Congress or run for a different elected office.

The number rose Thursday after North Carolina Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel and Georgia GOP Rep. Drew Ferguson announced they will not seek re-election. Nickel is instead exploring a run for Senate in 2026, per NBC News’ Ali Vitali.

In a statement, Nickel blamed redistricting in his state, where a GOP-drawn congressional map significantly changed the demographic and partisan makeup of his district, making it much more Republican. He is the third North Carolina Democrat — after Reps. Jeff Jackson and Kathy Manning — to forgo a re-election run next year.

Democrats are leaving the chamber in higher numbers than Republicans so far, with 23 House Democrats not seeking re-election to the House, versus just 12 House Republicans. There are also three lawmakers leaving the chamber before the end of their terms — Reps. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Eyes on 2024: Dean Phillips softens “threat to democracy” criticism of Biden

Ten days ago, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., was asked on the presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire if Biden is a threat to democracy.

“Yes,” Phillips answered, per NBC’s Emma Barnett. 

“Because if he wasn’t he would say something about what happened in Florida last week. And if he wasn’t, he would do something about what happened in New Hampshire,” Phillips added, appearing to refer to state parties’ efforts to keep him off the primary ballot against Biden. 

But during an appearance on “Meet the Press NOW” on Thursday, Phillips softened that criticism, trying to draw a distinction between Biden, the man, and Biden’s candidacy. 

“The president is not a threat to democracy, but running and suppressing other candidates is a threat when you are behind in the polls, like he is,” Phillips said. 

“I just want to make it clear he is not a threat,” Phillips later added. “He’s a good man and someone I respect. But this delusion that he can win is a threat to democracy.”

Phillips also called Biden “unelectable,” citing recent polling showing Biden trailing Trump in a hypothetical rematch, and he did say that if Biden’s standing improves in May or June, “I’ll pack it up.” 

In other campaign news …  

Trump’s secret weapon: NBC’s Alex Tabet reports from Iowa that Trump may have a secret weapon when it comes to bringing together GOP voters: fear. Some anti-Trump voters told Tabet that they are afraid they could be ostracized if they are vocal about their opposition. 

Trump’s Iowa expectations: Trump is looking for a big win in Iowa, telling his supporters at a recent rally there, “That margin of victory is so, so powerful,” per NBC’s Jake Traylor. 

Impeachment politics: A Biden campaign fundraising email from Vice President Kamala Harris focused on the House launching an impeachment inquiry “has already become the vice president’s top-performing pitch of the entire reelection,” CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger writes, citing a Biden campaign source. And Politico explores the“high-stakes balancing act” facing vulnerable New York GOP House members when it comes to supporting impeachment. 

Christie hits the airwaves: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is launching his first TV ad of the campaign in New Hampshire, per Axios, where a narrator says, “Chris Christie is the only one who can beat Trump because he’s the only one trying to beat Trump.” The spot knocks former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for attacking each other rather than the front-runner. 

Speaking of Christie: Christie could get a boost from a top critic of college presidents’ approach to antisemitism, per NBC’s Jonathan Allen, who reports that billionaire Bill Ackman co-hosted a fundraiser for the former governor. 

Trump trials: In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said it’s a “silly notion,” that she would pause her case against Trump just because he’s running for president. In New York, an appeals court upheld a gag order that prohibits Trump from speaking about court staff in his ongoing civil fraud trial. And in Michigan, a court rejected a challenge to the former president’s spot on the presidential primary ballot.

The pick is in: In New York’s 3rd District, Republicans on Thursday selected their candidate — Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip — as their choice to run in a special election to succeed ousted former GOP Rep. George Santos.

He’s running — again: In Nebraska, Democrat Tony Vargas draws on his Latino and working-class roots while he runs a second time to unseat Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.

Turmoil in Florida GOP: Florida Republican Party Chair Christian Ziegler floated the idea of a buyout in exchange for his resignation after news broke that he was under a criminal investigation related to sexual battery, NBC News’ Matt Dixon reports.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Congress this week passed an $866 billion defense policy bill that is headed to Biden’s desk.

The U.S. government has urged Israel to move to a new phase of its war in Gaza, hoping Israel will end the large-scale ground campaign and opt for “a more targeted” phase of the war, NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez, Monica Alba, Caroline Kenny and Megan Lebowitz report.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday vetoed a $54 million European Union aid package for Ukraine.