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‘The Stupidest Vote in the World’

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Omar Is Ousted
      •  The Senate Can Play Committee Games, Too
      •  Chris Sununu Is Fu**ing Crazy
      •  The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen in Florida
      •  Sanders Will Give Republican SOTU Response
      •  Pelosi Conditionally Endorses Schiff
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude: The Pope Gives the World the Finger
      •  This Week in Freudenfreude: That Is Vote Enough

Omar Is Ousted

It took an extra day to get around to it, but yesterday, House Republicans did as expected and voted to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It was essentially a party line vote, with 218 Republicans supporting the move and 211 Democrats opposing it. Only Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), who voted "present" bucked the trends.

The official reason for booting Omar is that she has made critical-of-Israel statements in the past that were deemed (by some) to be antisemitic. The person writing this, namely (Z), is not Jewish, and so does not feel especially comfortable judging exactly how offensive Omar's words were. Nonetheless, it is hard to take seriously this alleged cause of action, for several reasons:

  • There are 25 Jewish members of the House Democratic Caucus. All have accepted Omar's apologies, and none supported her removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) received committee assignments, including on the Homeland Security Committee. Surely, the antisemitic things Greene has said, things that she did not apologize for, are at least as bad as the things Omar said.

  • Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has also veered into antisemitic territory in his time. For example, back in 2018, he posted this tweet to his account:

    It warns that George
Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg are trying to 'buy this election'

    In case the problem here is not clear, George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg are all Jewish by heritage, and the notion that Jews use their money to puppetmaster the government is an old, old antisemitic trope. The tweet was problematic enough that McCarthy decided to delete it. On the other hand, he did not decide to remove himself from the speakership, or from any of his committees.

We thus conclude that Omar's statements about Israel are just a red herring, and that she is being removed for other reasons. The other two scapegoats, Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell (both D-CA), were punished because they were leading enemies of Donald Trump. And Omar is, well, an avatar for the enemies of America, as far as much of the base is concerned. She's a woman, a minority, an immigrant and a Muslim. There is plenty of bigotry directed at all four of those groups among some (or even many) members of the MAGA crowd. After all, Trump first ran for president primarily on his hatred of brown immigrants, with hatred of Muslims (including the "Muslim" Barack Obama) a close second.

Obviously, our assessment that this whole thing isn't about antisemitism, and is really just a massive dog whistle, is not some sort of profound insight unique to us. To take one example, among many, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) addressed the House yesterday, after the vote, and declared:

There is nothing consistent with the Republican Party's continued attack, except for the racism and incitement of violence against women of color in this body. This is about targeting women of color in the United States of America.

AOC received a thunderous round of applause from her Democratic colleagues after these remarks.

Ultimately, the big story here is this: The extremists in the Republican coalition continue to call the shots, and the alleged moderates continue to fall in line. By hook or by crook, McCarthy and his leadership team managed to whip every GOP vote except one. This despite the fact that at least two Republican members, Ken Buck (CO) and Mike Simpson (ID), were caught afterward badmouthing the move, with the former describing it as the "stupidest" move he's seen in a while, and the latter warning that the Republicans just made Omar into "a martyr." The duo then begged reporters not to repeat those remarks, though obviously the request was not honored.

It's possible that McCarthy and the more moderate Republicans are just paying the bills from the Speaker's election, and that the day will come when the House does something other than kowtow to the demands of the MAGA 20. But there's no sign, as yet, that such a day is imminent, or even that it's ever going to come. (Z)

The Senate Can Play Committee Games, Too

The drama in the House is not the only soap opera in town. Republicans in the Senate also know a thing or two about using committee assignments to do a little score-settling. Although, in this case, it's Republicans turning on their own.

Specifically, readers will recall that Sen Rick Scott (R-FL) challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for leadership in the upper chamber. Scott's loudest cheerleader in that election was Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Their machinations did not come close to succeeding; McConnell kept his job by a vote of 37-10.

McConnell does not appreciate disloyalty. And, as science tells us, turtles "possess significant long-term abilities when it relates to memories that could affect their survival." So, as the Minority Leader was working out committee assignments, he decided it was time for some punishment. Consequently, both Scott and Lee were dumped from the powerful Senate Commerce Committee yesterday. And, just to add a little extra insult to injury, McConnell advised the duo via text message.

Scott, for his part, is furious, and griped that he was probably the most qualified member of that committee. "I probably ran the biggest company almost any senator in the history of the country has ever run. I was governor of the third-biggest economy in the United States, Florida. I've got a business background." Somehow, the Senator forgot to mention that his fortune was built on a foundation of Medicare fraud; his company was fined $1.7 billion, the largest healthcare fraud penalty in U.S. history.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway here, however, is not that politicians on both sides of the Capitol are playing committee games. It's that Scott, like Cruz, is a huge jerk who is loathed even by members of his own party. Keep that in mind the next time Scott starts making noises about running for president. (Z)

Chris Sununu Is Fu**ing Crazy

We will now pause a moment while you pick yourself up off the floor and regain your breath. We are assuming that our absolutely hilarious headline had you rolling around on the ground, in nearly uncontrollable fits of laughter, probably for multiple minutes. Right?

We say this because Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) appeared on CNN yesterday, and spent much of his time backtracking from past criticism of Donald Trump. While the Governor said he still thinks Trump is not going to be the GOP nominee in 2024, he also made clear that if Trump does land the nod, he'll have Sununu's full support. "I'm going to support the Republican nominee because I can guarantee they're better than any of the Democrats," he explained.

At that point, CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota wondered how Trump could be better than any Democrat if he's "fu**ing crazy," as Sununu said he was back in 2022, during a speech at a fundraising dinner. "Yeah, that was funny," the Governor responded. "It was a roast. It was a funny joke. Again, if you're saying I wouldn't support the nominee because I made a joke at a roast, it was a good joke. I take pride in that, I got a lot of laughs." We'll pause now, while you pick yourself up off the floor again. Sorry to hit you with this sort of side-splitting humor two times in the span of three paragraphs.

Have you recovered? OK, good. Now we can move on to the observation that, as far as we can see, there are two possible theories of the election for non-Trumpy Republican presidential candidates:

  1. Try to monopolize the Never Trump lane in the primaries, hope that two or more Trumpy Republicans split the Trumpy vote, and win a bunch of delegates with 40% of the vote, thanks to the GOP's winner-take-all rules. Then, in the general election, appeal to moderate Republicans and independents, and hope that most of the Trumpy Republicans come home, figuring that a non-Trump Republican is still better than a Democrat. Or, at very least, that they stay home and don't cast burn-down-the-house votes for the Democrat.

  2. Try to be non-Trumpy enough to win the sane Republicans, but deferential enough to Trump not to alienate the Trumpy Republicans. Win the primaries according to the same plan as above, but then try to unify the Republican Party by walking a very careful line between Trumpy and non-Trumpy, the way that Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) did in his election.

We had an item earlier this week in which we wrote that Sununu might just make the first option work.

On the other hand, we do not believe the second battle plan is actually plausible for Sununu, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence or any other Republican. Clearly, Sununu disagrees. He presumably saw the poll that says that 30% of Republicans are Always Trumpers, and won't vote for any other candidate. The Governor probably also saw the interview that Trump did with Hugh Hewitt, in which the former president refused to commit to supporting the 2024 GOP nominee if it's not him, and also implied that if he doesn't get the nod, he might run as an independent.

Taking in all this information, Sununu clearly thinks his only path is to remain as Trump-friendly as he can, and then to hope that if he gets the nomination, the "Always Trump" voters aren't necessarily "Only Trump" voters. The Governor is a skilled and successful politician, and we are not, so perhaps he's onto something. But, to us, this approach looks like pure fantasy. (Z)

The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen in Florida

Let us begin here with a quote from George Orwell's 1984:

This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs—to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct, nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place. The largest section of the Records Department, far larger than the one on which Winston worked, consisted simply of persons whose duty it was to track down and collect all copies of books, newspapers, and other documents which had been superseded and were due for destruction.

So, that's rewriting the past to make sure it comports with the views of the dominant political party, and removing any books or other materials that challenge the party line. Orwell knew of what he spoke, having witnessed the rise and progression of Nazism, Italian fascism and Stalinism. And, as he wrote the book in 1949, he was concerned it could happen again.

Well, guess what? It's happening again, in Florida. As readers know, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has taken a great interest in the education of the state's students. Or, perhaps we should say their reeducation. The DeSantis-instigated House Bill 1467 requires that the books available to Florida students be pornography-free, apolitical, age-appropriate and "suited to student needs." To appear in a classroom, books must be approved by someone who has received training from the state in what is, and is not, acceptable.

The thing is, Big Brother... er, DeSantis, is great at stunts that own the libs. But he's terrible at followthrough. And so, specific guidelines for the book-vetting training were not made available until just a few weeks ago. The deadline for book review is just weeks away. Consequently, teachers in multiple districts have been warned that they had better remove all non-approved books from their classroom, or else wrap them in paper until they are vetted, at risk of facing felony prosecution for distributing "harmful materials to minors." That particular crime carries a maximum penalty of $5,000 and 5 years in prison.

Of course, there are many books in schools. And again, time is short. So, how will all this vetting get done? Have no fear, the state is hard at work recruiting and training people who are highly qualified for the work. And by "people who are highly qualified," we mean "people who hate wokeness, even if they don't really know what that means." Here, for example, is a webpage meant to attract volunteers in the state's Manatee County:

It says: Community Patriots
Manatee, Woke Buster's Wanted. Calling all Woke Busters to Action! We ALL have skin in this game. Whether your a Tax
Payer, Parent, Grandparent, or Community Member, the society that is trying to be created by this deranged wokeness is
nothing more than Mental Abuse for Children which WILL ultimately lead into Physical Abuse! We all must do our part to
SAVE the CHILDREN and OUR Society!

Undoubtedly, readers will agree that having people who have not mastered the correct use of apostrophes, or the difference between "your" and "you're," are ideal candidates for something like this.

All we can say here is the same thing we say whenever we write an item like this: DeSantis is a very frightening man. His willingness to use state power to impose his views on people is deeply concerning. The fact that he doesn't really care about those views, and is actually just interested in the vulgar pursuit of power, is arguably even more concerning. If he ends up as the GOP presidential candidate, there will be more than a few commercials featuring Florida students talking about how their educations were "improved" by DeSantis' actions. Will those commercials connect with voters? Probably, but we really don't know. (Z)

Sanders Will Give Republican SOTU Response

No, not that Sanders, although we would pay good money to see Bernie do his impression of a Republican responding to the State of the Union. In fact, the Sanders chosen to deliver the response to Joe Biden's address next week is Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-AR).

This is a pretty savvy choice. She's still in Donald Trump's good graces, and so the selection won't set him and the Trumpy elements of the party off, the way that Ron DeSantis would. But she's also somewhat reserved, and so not likely to say something absolutely bonkers that could haunt the Republican Party. She's a woman, and of course the GOP is trying to make itself woman-friendly. And while she's not a presidential candidate (by all indications), she might plausibly be on the VP shortlist next year. So, the Party might just get some 2024 mileage out of this.

In short, the folks who make these decisions—primarily Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell—managed to find a suitable choice and to avoid any serious controversy. Though it would have been interesting to see dueling SOTU responses, one from a MAGA House member and one from a more sane Republican senator. (Z)

Pelosi Conditionally Endorses Schiff

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) may technically be a backbencher these days, but she's possibly the most powerful backbencher in the history of Congress. When she speaks, Democrats listen. And yesterday, she spoke up and said that "If Senator [Dianne] Feinstein [D-CA] decides to seek re-election, she has my whole-hearted support. If she decides not to run, I will be supporting House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, who knows well the nexus between a strong Democracy and a strong economy."

There is little here that is surprising, per se. Schiff has been one of Pelosi's most loyal and most trusted lieutenants for years, and so of course she backs him. Beyond that, you don't generally get to be a leading member of your party if you develop the habit of throwing other prominent members of your party under the bus, particularly if those members come from the same state and city you do. Pelosi and Feinstein have been close allies for 30 years, and it's inconceivable that the former speaker would openly call on the current senator to step down.

Nonetheless, the subtext here is as plain as day. Pelosi has made very clear that a worthy successor to Feinstein is available, and that she (Pelosi) and the rest of the Democratic establishment are just waiting to line up behind him. All the Senator has to do is give word that she's standing down. And, hint hint, Pelosi would like to see that announcement come sooner rather than later, so the race can get underway in earnest.

We should also point out that there is a nightmare scenario here for the Democrats:

  1. Feinstein decides to run again
  2. The Republicans coalesce behind a non-whackadoodle candidate
  3. In the jungle primary, the progressive Democrats split the young/lefty vote, and Feinstein and the Republican advance
  4. In an ugly general election campaign, voters are warned over and over that Feinstein is in cognitive decline
  5. Feinstein does one or more things during the campaign to reinforce that impression, like botch a debate or fumble easy questions from reporters
  6. A bunch of moderate Democratic/independent Californians conclude that a mentally firm non-whackadoodle Republican is better than a mentally infirm Democrat
  7. The votes of the above group plus the votes of the Republicans constitute a majority

A lot things have to break in just the right way, but the above sequence is at least plausible. And it's probably the only way that California sends a Republican to the U.S. Senate anytime in the next generation.

In view of this slim-but-nonzero possibility, we imagine that many Democrats who are less close to Feinstein than Pelosi is are twisting the Senator's arm a bit behind the scenes. And we also imagine that will get more aggressive, and more public, the longer that Feinstein waffles. If she actually jumps in, then it will be very interesting indeed to see what folks like Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) do. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: The Pope Gives the World the Finger

Pope Francis I tries to be creative in his ministry to the world's Catholics, and he is an enthusiastic user of Twitter as part of his toolkit. This week, he decided to do a thing built around the theme of God placing "the gift of life in your hands," and to use each finger, one per day, as a metaphor for some important Catholic value.

Unfortunately for the Prince of the Apostles, nobody thought to warn him (or, at least, his tweet ghostwriter) that his plan might run into some problems, oh, right about Wednesday. And so, the Bishop of Rome sent out this tweet:

The middle finger, which is higher than the others, reminds us of something essential: honesty. To be honest means not getting entangled in the snares of corruption.

Oopsie. It took a few hours before someone familiar with U.S. idiom alerted the Vatican to the problem. The tweet was replaced with one that uses "the third finger" in place of "the middle finger."

Nonetheless, a few hours was plenty of time for the rapscallions on Twitter to weigh in. The majority of the responses were of the obvious sort; among those were: "It is also the finger that is most important for driving in the great state of New Jersey," "Then I am doing the Lord's work driving on the Belt Parkway this morning; Who else wants a blessing?," and "Your Holiness, in light of this information about the middle finger, I am going to flash it constantly to remind people to be honest."

We do not need to recount the various criticisms made of the Catholic Church, nor the various ways in which Francis seems to be a pretty decent fellow, on the whole. We chose this story solely because the Church and the papacy sometimes tend to be just a wee bit self-important and stuffy. There's always a little schadenfreude in it when a person or an institution like that ends up with a little egg on their face, and we get a reminder that even the pope is human, and puts his cassock on one leg at a time. Well, one sleeve at a time, at least. We imagine that if the Supreme Pontiff was reading this, he would agree entirely. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: That Is Vote Enough

There is a pretty famous story about Andrew Jackson from during his presidency. A man once visited the Executive Mansion to implore the President to keep his local postmaster on the federal payroll because he (the postmaster) had lost his leg on the field of battle, and the postmastership was the only job he could do and still support his family. The fellow making the pitch had to admit, however, that the postmaster had voted for Jackson's opponent in the presidential election. "If he lost a leg fighting for his country," observed Jackson, "that is vote enough for me," and the man kept his job.

There is much to criticize about Old Hickory, of course. We recount this story because it shows that even one of the most famous users of patronage in U.S. history recognized that sometimes qualifications for a job are more important than party loyalty. That is something that too many politicians, on both sides of the aisle, are prone to forget today.

One clear exception to that rule, however, is Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK), who has now won two statewide elections in usually red Alaska. She has already made a habit of reaching across the aisle when choosing staffers, and this week, she took that to a new level, hiring Josh Revak to be her state political director. Why is that noteworthy? Revak is not only a Republican, he's one of the people who ran against Peltola in the election for Alaska's U.S. House seat. In a statement, the Representative explained: "Since I won the election with support from Alaskans on both sides of the aisle, I've been building a team ready to tackle the issues that unite us."

We recognize, of course, that there is some level of political calculation in hiring across the aisle when you're a member of the minority party, and you're hoping to keep your job. That said, there are no other members of the House, even those from swingy states/districts, who make such a point of including people from both parties as part of their team. That's a nice counterpoint to all the partisan nastiness in Washington these days (see, for example, the first item above).

Meanwhile, Peltola has certainly been very impressive since she moved onto the national stage last year. She may have a promising future; a U.S. Senate seat seems very plausible, and maybe even something higher than that. Also, reader S.C. in Mountain View has reminded us that one upside of ranked-choice voting is that it discourages mudslinging and personal attacks during the campaign. If a sitting member and her former opponent can come together like Peltola and Revak have, then it would seem that the system is working as designed.

Have a good weekend, all! (Z)


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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb02 Not at the Beach, Anyway
Feb02 Always Trumpers Won't Give Up
Feb02 Iowa Republicans Have Introduced a Bill Banning Mifepristone
Feb02 Could Arizona Republicans Blow It Again?
Feb02 NRSC May Play Favorites This Time
Feb02 COVID-19 Is Not Going Away
Feb02 Might Sotomayor or Kagan Retire?
Feb02 DeSantis 1, College Board 0
Feb01 House Republican Circus Continues
Feb01 Help Us, Obi-Don Kenobi--Your Death Is Our Only Hope
Feb01 Trans Is The New Abortion?
Feb01 Haley 2024 Is Set to Launch
Feb01 E-V.com Tracking Poll: January 2023
Feb01 Kari Lake Could Be in Hot Water
Jan31 The Game of Debt-Ceiling Chess Is in Full Swing
Jan31 Sununu for President?
Jan31 What, Exactly, Is DeSantis' Plan?
Jan31 Trump Continues to Keep the Courts in Business
Jan31 Senate Judiciary Committee Expects to Probe Durham Probe
Jan31 If at First You Don't Succeed...
Jan31 Setec Astronomy, Part I
Jan30 Trump Actually Starts Campaigning
Jan30 Trump 1, DeSantis 0
Jan30 Republicans Are Running Away from Their Own Tax Plan
Jan30 Are the Democrats Making a Mistake in New Hampshire?
Jan30 AOC May Become Vice Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee
Jan30 Both Parties Prepare for a Special Election That Probably Won't Happen
Jan30 What's Woke?
Jan30 What about Brian?
Jan30 No National Brands Are Advertising on Truth Social
Jan30 Women Control All the Money
Jan29 Sunday Mailbag
Jan28 Saturday Q&A
Jan27 Schiff's Into Gear
Jan27 The Race for RNC Chair Just Got a Lot More Interesting
Jan27 Say "Hello" to the Congressional Dads Caucus
Jan27 Voters Do Not Like McCarthy or His Conference
Jan27 Speaking of Weaponizing the Federal Government...
Jan27 Americans Do Not Have Freedom of Cake, at Least in Colorado
Jan27 This Week in Schadenfreude: No News(max) is Good News
Jan27 This Week in Freudenfreude: Great Scott
Jan26 McCarthy Picks the Witch Hunters
Jan26 Facebook to Reinstate Trump
Jan26 Santos' (Un)lucky Number: 199.99
Jan26 Senate Republicans Aren't Getting Involved in the RNC Race
Jan26 All Quiet on the Eastern Front
Jan26 What Can the Democrats Do about the MAGA 20?
Jan26 It's Location, Location and Location
Jan26 The Most and Least Popular Senators
Jan26 Debbie Dingell Is Starting a Heartland Caucus