• A (Little Bit of) Wall Is Being Built
• Kobach Ran a Lousy Campaign
• The FoxConn Con
• Jerrold Nadler Will Subpoena Matthew Whitaker on January 3
• Maxine Waters Also Has an Agenda
• Adam Schiff Wants to Know if Trump Took Action against the Media
• More on Arizona
• It Is Not Quite as Partisan as You Might Think
• Monday Q & A
The White House has about 6 more weeks to get laws passed. Once the Democrats show up in force in January, Congress won't be able to name a post office, let alone do anything more substantial. Donald Trump sees the lame-duck session of Congress as his last chance to create a legacy, but it won't be easy.
His top priority is a sweeping revision of the nation's immigration laws. This is presidential aide Stephen Miller's brainchild. Trump would love to have the border wall be fully funded, cut legal immigration, reduce the number of people getting asylum, and generally make sure fewer immigrants, legal or otherwise, get in. The problem is that not all Republicans want this. In general, the business community likes having lots of immigrants because they are willing to work for less than Americans are. Senators and representatives who have received major funding from business interests are going to push back hard against Miller's plans.
The lame-duck session will have only 12 working days, and getting anything that complex done in 12 days is well-nigh impossible, especially when the Republicans are divided and the Senate Democrats will filibuster any plan that does not include a pathway to citizenship for the dreamers, something Miller and Trump don't want. The most likely outcome is that as a last hurrah, the House will pass some kind of slap-dash bill but it won't even make it to the floor of the Senate since Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) knows very well it could never pass. (V)
Details are very scarce, but the AP and others are reporting that Texas firm SLSCo has been awarded a $145 million contract to build six miles of wall along the Mexican border. That will go along with 2 extra miles of fencing that has already been built in California, which means that the total for the Trump presidency will eventually reach 8 miles.
One point that is not clear is where the $145 million came from, and another that is not clear is where the authority to spend the money in that way came from. It is probable that the funds are being reallocated from other parts of the Department of Homeland Security budget. And it is likely that the authority is a liberal interpretation of already-existing Congressional approval for repairing and upgrading the current wall. The two miles in California was, in fact, regarded as a repair to the existing structure, and SLSCo will be fixing and heightening existing construction while adding the extra six miles.
In any event, the new mileage will extend the current barriers to roughly 586 miles, leaving 1,403 miles unfenced. If Trump were to try to finish the wall at the rate that the newly-built six miles will cost, that would mean a total price tag of about $34 billion. And that's before we consider that the unwalled portion of the border involves a lot of difficult topography through mountains with no roads, along with legal issues, that would undoubtedly increase the price tag well beyond that of the "easy" six miles currently set for construction.
The legal issues center around the fact that nearly all the border land in Texas (close to 1,000 miles) is privately owned and the one thing Texans hate more than the idea of the big bad federal government confiscating their guns is the big bad federal government confiscating their land. Any attempt by the feds to use eminent domain to grab it will be met by thousands of lawsuits over the value of the land. Needless to say, that $34 billion and maybe much more, depending on what the courts say the land is worth, isn't coming from Mexico, and it's not coming from Congress, either, particularly once Democrats are in control of the House.
Put another way, those eight miles of wall are what Trump is going to run on in 2020. It will technically be true that he built the wall, at least part of it, and "technically true" is more than enough for the base, which is often happy to settle for "not true at all." He will say, "I built the wall," and will probably sell t-shirts and hats with that, and maybe even wall paperweights. The good news for those who find this a waste of time and money (a group that includes many Republicans) is that once the 2020 election is over, there will be no real political need for Trump to build any more wall, whether he wins reelection or not. So, it is likely that the federal budget will suffer only slightly, when all is said and done. (Z)
Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach (R) not only lost his election, he pretty much got crushed. Though no Democrat has won a statewide election there in 12 years, Kobach is going to finish nearly 5 points behind his Democratic vanquisher Laura Kelly (48% to 43%). That is very poor in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly two-to-one.
Does this suggest that the Sunflower State is trending purple, then? It almost certainly does not. Kobach underperformed the other Republicans on the ballot by about 80,000 votes, and the issue appears to be that he ran a truly terrible campaign. Although he is blaming a lack of money, GOP operatives in Kansas say the real problems were elsewhere. "It was the most dysfunctional thing I've ever seen in my life," said one of them, referring to the Kobach campaign. The soon-to-be-former Kansas secretary of state relied mostly on his extensive media appearances, his close relationship with Donald Trump, and the notoriety he got from his efforts to combat "voter fraud" (really, to stop Democrats from voting). The first two did not help as much as he thought, and the latter appears to have actually hurt him with people who still place some value on, you know, democracy. On top of that, Kobach showed little interest in the nuts and bolts of campaigning, preferring high-profile stunts over the hard work of raising funds, meeting with constituents, building a "get out the vote" operation, etc. Those things still matter, even in the age of Fox News, Facebook, and Twitter.
Is this the last we've heard of Kobach, then? Probably not. Although his political career in Kansas appears to be over, it is generally believed that Trump will find a place for him in the administration. After all, the President hires only the best people. There is even talk that Kobach is in line to replace departed AG Jeff Sessions, though it is hard to imagine that the Senate would confirm him. Some of them care about democracy, too. (Z)
Kris Kobach is not the only GOP gubernatorial candidate who may have blown a winnable race by hugging Donald Trump and his policies a bit too close. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker lost a much closer race; the roughly 30,000 votes he came up short represents just over 1% of the total tally (it was Tony Evers, D, at 49.6% and Walker at 48.4%). Walker was definitely hurt, and possibly hurt a lot, by coverage of the deal that he negotiated with Chinese electronics manufacturer FoxConn, aided substantially by the Trump administration (particularly First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner).
On its surface, the deal was pretty simple, and even possibly reasonable: Wisconsin provides FoxConn with $4.5 billion in subsidies, and in exchange FoxConn expands its operations in the state, creating 13,000 "good-paying, blue collar jobs." But as the New Yorker's Dan Kaufman (and many others) have reported, on second (and third and fourth and fifth) glance, the deal smells like something other than a rose.
To start, consider the costs to Wisconsin. Manufacturing concerns, even those that have $158 billion in revenue last year as FoxConn did, are excused from paying state taxes in the Badger State. That means that the $4.5 billion can't be given in the form of tax credits—it will be straight cash transfers from the state government to the corporation's coffers. On top of that, many Wisconsinites have been forced to sell their homes to the government through (dubious) use of eminent domain. FoxConn was also given a pollution waiver by the Scott Pruitt-led EPA, and the state legislature gave the company special privileges when it comes to appealing court rulings, such that the deck is stacked heavily in FoxConn's favor in any lawsuits that might pop up (say, from people getting cancer due to pollution).
Meanwhile, the benefits to Wisconsin aren't so great, either. Despite the fact that the U.S. economy is currently creating jobs at a brisk pace, the FoxConn deal won't create anywhere near the 13,000 jobs that were claimed. In fact, the factory that is being built will be—wait for it—mostly automated, and so will need only 3,000 workers, most of them white-collar types with very specialized training and education in robotics' hardware and software. And Wisconsin doesn't actually have the people needed to fill all those slots, so more than half the jobs will have to be staffed by engineers brought in from Asia. Oh, and the factory will be near the Illinois border, so it's very possible that many of the local hires will actually come from that state.
Adding it all up, then, the state is going to end up paying at least $300,000, and perhaps as much as $500,000 for every job created for a Wisconsin resident (and that's before we talk about the other costs, like the environmental damage). It's estimated, by a pair of University of Wisconsin economists, that if the state had just given the $4.5 billion to local entrepreneurs, it would have created 92,000 jobs. Having given the money to FoxConn, however, means that—according to analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau—the earliest that the Badger State might see a return on its investment (if everything goes as well as possible) is 2042.
Was this enough to cause roughly one Wisconsinite in a hundred to switch their vote from Republican to Democrat? It's certainly possible, particularly since the matter got extensive coverage in the weeks leading up to the election. Meanwhile, it's also a reminder to regard any "deals" negotiated by the Trump administration with great skepticism until presented evidence to the contrary. Or, as The Hive's Bess Levin more earthily puts it, "The FoxConn deal is the ultimate example of Trump promising Americans the world and then handing them a flaming bag of s**t." (Z)
In case anyone was wondering what the House Democrats will do with their new power when the 116th Congress convenes on January 3, 2019, they don't have to wonder any more. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who will chair the House Judiciary Committee as of that date, told CNN's Jake Tapper yesterday that he will subpoena Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as soon as he gets the power to do so. Nadler also made it clear why he wants to haul Whitaker before his committee: "He's totally unqualified, and his only qualification seems to be that he wants to be—that the president wants him to be the hatchet man to destroy the Mueller investigation."
Many media outlets have noted that "principal officers" of the federal government have to be approved by the Senate, which Whitaker has not been. Whitaker's qualifications aside, what is a bit surprising is that by not demanding that he be confirmed by the Senate, the Senate is de facto giving up one of its most important powers: Confirming (or not confirming) presidential appointments. The House, of course, is not involved directly, but it is at least conceivable that Nadler and other House members feel that strengthening the executive branch and weakening Congress is not a good thing. Since Donald Trump is clearly playing hardball, Nadler could play hardball right back if he wants to by starting the process to impeach Whitaker. When Jerry Ford was once asked what an impeachable offense is, he replied that it is whatever 218 members of the House think it is. So far, Nadler hasn't said anything about that, but he has the power to get the ball rolling. He could go a different route and sue the administration, instead, though.
Another subject Nadler brought up is whether the White House put pressure on the FBI not to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations against now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He could subpoena top FBI officials and ask them under oath about that. (V)
Jerrold Nadler isn't the only House Democrat with a plan. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) does, too. Donald Trump likes to call Waters (who happens to be a black woman) a low-IQ individual. He is likely to start collecting more data on her intellectual abilities the moment Congress convenes in January. Waters has been on the House Financial Services Committee for 28 years and will get the gavel on January 3rd. She has already made it clear who she is going to hammer with it. Here are her top priorities:
- Fraud by the financial services industry
- Protecting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Deutsche Bank, which is deeply entwined with both Donald Trump and Russian money
- Wells Fargo, which created fake accounts for customers, improperly denied loan modifications to others, and more
She also has some other things on her list, albeit a bit further down, including mortgage practices, payday lenders, and flood insurance. Trump will no doubt tweet about her constantly, but she is about to become the most powerful black woman in the country and she intends to use that power to the max. (V)
Yet another incoming House committee chairman gave a sneak peak at his plans yesterday. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) will chair the House Intelligence Committee in January. Yesterday he told Axios that he wants to find out if Donald Trump used "instruments of state power" to punish the Washington Post or CNN for publishing stories he didn't like. Specifically, he said that Trump has met with the postmaster general in an effort to raise the postal rates on Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns the Post. If that is true, it would raise all kinds of red flags. Schiff also wants to know whether Trump tried to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner (which owns CNN) to punish CNN.
Nadler, Waters, and Schiff are only three of the more than a dozen House committee chairs who have the unilateral power to issue subpoenas. If these three are typical, there are going to be a lot of fireworks next year. One problem that a lot of high-placed people are about to have is what to do when they are on the hot seat. Probably most of them first think about trying to finesse questions, as did Mark Zuckerberg when he was forced to testify before Congress. But people like Nadler, Waters, and Schiff are much too smart for that to work. If they don't get answers to their questions, they will drill down rather than give up. Then the people testifying are going to have to decide whether to answer truthfully (which in some cases may be admitting a felony) or to lie to Congress (which is also a felony). It could get dicey. (V)
The mules are still trudging along bringing in votes to be counted in Arizona. They are not fast, but they keep a comin'. In a tight Senate race, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is still leading Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), now by 32,292 votes, but there are still about 200,000 votes to be counted, of which 160,000 in Maricopa County (Phoenix). Normally Maricopa County goes Republican, but Sinema has a lead of 46,000 votes in the county already, and each new batch increases her lead, so unless nearly all the remaining votes are from deep red pockets of Maricopa, McSally isn't going to net 32,000 votes there. The situation is so dire for McSally that Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report has now projected a win for Sinema. If that is true, the Democrats will have 47 seats in the new senate [or 48 in the unlikely event that Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) pulls a rabbit out of the hat and beats Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL)].
The Arizona race differs from the Florida Senate and gubernatorial races in an important way. In the Florida races, the Republicans are alleging misconduct on the part of the Democrats, without any evidence of it. In Arizona, McSally hasn't gone down that road, and hasn't hit Sinema in a nasty way. Maybe the difference is because that race has two women, but there is also another possible explanation. The national Republicans want every Senate seat they can get, of course, in part as a bulwark against a potential Democratic landslide in 2020. In contrast, McSally just wants to get a promotion to the Senate. She is surely keenly aware that Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is just keeping the late John McCain's seat warm and has said he will resign at the end of this year. McSally knows very well that if she plays nicely with others and doesn't get a lot of people angry with her, she is the leading choice to replace Kyl if she loses her own race. It is increasingly likely that both women will end up in the Senate, and keeping things cordial between them makes it easier for them later to work on nonpartisan issues that benefit Arizona (like who owns the water in the Colorado River, a perennial battle between Arizona and California).
For years, people have been saying that some day Arizona will become a purple state. In fact, Hillary Clinton may have blown the 2016 election in part by spending time and resources in Arizona instead of in Wisconsin, which she didn't visit even one time. Purple time may be rapidly approaching, however. Not only do we have a very close Senate race in the Grand Canyon State, but in the secretary of state race, the Republican, Steve Gaynor, is leading the Democrat, Katie Hobbs, by only 424 votes. The superintendent of public instruction race is also close, with Democrat Kathy Hoffman leading Republican Frank Riggs by only 46,721 votes. For a red state, having three races this close is unusual. (V)
A lot has been made about how partisan the country has become and it is surely far more partisan than 30 years ago, when "Rockefeller Republicans" roamed the Northeast and Democrats were frequently spotted in the South, but the transition to straight-party voting isn't entirely here yet. There are 17 red states that voted for Donald Trump and have a Republican governor and two Republican senators. There are 14 blue states that voted for Hillary Clinton and have a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators. But there are still 16 states that neither party has captured completely (yet). Here is what the picture looks like:
|State||2016 Winner||Governor||Senior senator||Junior senator|
|Alabama||Donald Trump (R)||Kay Ivey (R)||Richard Shelby (R)||Doug Jones (D)|
|Alaska||Donald Trump (R)||Mike Dunleavy (R)||Lisa Murkowksi (R)||Dan Sullivan (R)|
|Arizona||Donald Trump (R)||Doug Ducey (R)||Jon Kyl (R)||Undecided|
|Arkansas||Donald Trump (R)||Asa Hutchinson (R)||John Boozman (R)||Tom Cotton (R)|
|California||Hillary Clinton (D)||Gavin Newsom (D)||Dianne Feinstein (D)||Kamala Harris (D)|
|Colorado||Hillary Clinton (D)||Jared Polis (D)||Michael Bennet (D)||Cory Gardner (R)|
|Connecticut||Hillary Clinton (D)||Ned Lamont (D)||Richard Blumenthal (D)||Chris Murphy (D)|
|Delaware||Hillary Clinton (D)||John Carney (D)||Tom Carper (D)||Chris Coons (D)|
|Florida||Donald Trump (R)||Undecided||Undecided||Marco Rubio (R)|
|Georgia||Donald Trump (R)||Undecided||Johnny Isakson (R)||David Perdue (R)|
|Hawaii||Hillary Clinton (D)||David Ige (D)||Brian Schatz (D)||Mazie Hirono (D)|
|Idaho||Donald Trump (R)||Brad Little (R)||Mike Crapo (R)||Jim Risch (R)|
|Illinois||Hillary Clinton (D)||J.B. Pritzker (D)||Dick Durbin (D)||Tammy Duckworth (D)|
|Indiana||Donald Trump (R)||Eric Holcomb (R)||Todd Young (R)||Mike Braun (R)|
|Iowa||Donald Trump (R)||Kim Reynolds (R)||Chuck Grassley (R)||Joni Ernst (R)|
|Kansas||Donald Trump (R)||Laura Kelly (D)||Pat Roberts (R)||Jerry Moran (R)|
|Kentucky||Donald Trump (R)||Matt Bevin (R)||Mitch McConnell (R)||Rand Paul (R)|
|Louisiana||Donald Trump (R)||John Bel Edwards (D)||Bill Cassidy (R)||John Kennedy (R)|
|Maine||Hillary Clinton (D)||Janet Mills (D)||Susan Collins (R)||Angus King (I)|
|Maryland||Hillary Clinton (D)||Larry Hogan (R)||Ben Cardin (D)||Chris Van Hollen (D)|
|Massachusetts||Hillary Clinton (D)||Charlie Baker (R)||Elizabeth Warren (D)||Ed Markey (D)|
|Michigan||Donald Trump (R)||Gretchen Whitmer (D)||Debbie Stabenow (D)||Gary Peters (D)|
|Minnesota||Hillary Clinton (D)||Tim Walz (D)||Amy Klobuchar (DFL)||Tina Smith (DFL)|
|Mississippi||Donald Trump (R)||Phil Bryant (R)||Roger Wicker (R)||Cindy Hyde-Smith (R)|
|Missouri||Donald Trump (R)||Mike Parson (R)||Roy Blunt (R)||Josh Hawley (R)|
|Montana||Donald Trump (R)||Steve Bullock (D)||Jon Tester (D)||Steve Daines (R)|
|Nebraska||Donald Trump (R)||Pete Ricketts (R)||Deb Fischer (R)||Ben Sasse (R)|
|Nevada||Hillary Clinton (D)||Steve Sisolak (D)||Catherine Cortez Masto (D)||Jacky Rosen (D)|
|New Hampshire||Hillary Clinton (D)||Chris Sununu (R)||Jeanne Shaheen (D)||Maggie Hassan (D)|
|New Jersey||Hillary Clinton (D)||Phil Murphy (D)||Bob Menendez (D)||Cory Booker (D)|
|New Mexico||Hillary Clinton (D)||Michelle Lujan Grisham (D)||Tom Udall (D)||Martin Heinrich (D)|
|New York||Hillary Clinton (D)||Andrew Cuomo (D)||Chuck Schumer (D)||Kirsten Gillibrand (D)|
|North Carolina||Donald Trump (R)||Roy Cooper (D)||Richard Burr (R)||Thom Tillis (R)|
|North Dakota||Donald Trump (R)||Doug Burgum (R)||John Hoeven (R)||Kevin Cramer (R)|
|Ohio||Donald Trump (R)||Mike DeWine (R)||Sherrod Brown (D)||Rob Portman (R)|
|Oklahoma||Donald Trump (R)||Kevin Stitt (R)||Jim Inhofe (R)||James Lankford (R)|
|Oregon||Hillary Clinton (D)||Kate Brown (D)||Ron Wyden (D)||Jeff Merkley (D)|
|Pennsylvania||Donald Trump (R)||Tom Wolf (D)||Bob Casey (D)||Pat Toomey (R)|
|Rhode Island||Hillary Clinton (D)||Gina Raimondo (D)||Jack Reed (D)||Sheldon Whitehouse (D)|
|South Carolina||Donald Trump (R)||Henry McMaster (R)||Lindsey Graham (R)||Tim Scott (R)|
|South Dakota||Donald Trump (R)||Kristi Noem (R)||John Thune (R)||Mike Rounds (R)|
|Tennessee||Donald Trump (R)||Bill Lee (R)||Lamar Alexander (R)||Marsha Blackburn (R)|
|Texas||Donald Trump (R)||Greg Abbott (R)||John Cornyn (R)||Ted Cruz (R)|
|Utah||Donald Trump (R)||Gary Herbert (R)||Mike Lee (R)||Mitt Romney (R)|
|Vermont||Hillary Clinton (D)||Phil Scott (R)||Patrick Leahy (D)||Bernie Sanders (I)|
|Virginia||Hillary Clinton (D)||Ralph Northam (D)||Mark Warner (D)||Tim Kaine (D)|
|Washington||Hillary Clinton (D)||Jay Inslee (D)||Patty Murray (D)||Maria Cantwell (D)|
|West Virginia||Donald Trump (R)||Jim Justice (R)||Joe Manchin (D)||Shelley Moore Capito (R)|
|Wisconsin||Donald Trump (R)||Tony Evers (D)||Ron Johnson (R)||Tammy Baldwin (D)|
|Wyoming||Donald Trump (R)||Mark Gordon (R)||Mike Enzi (R)||John Barrasso (R)|
Depending on what happens in Arizona, Georgia, and Florida, up to three more states could be added to the partisan category, or maybe to the split category. (V)
A very diverse group of questions today, several of them addressing the issue of "what next?" Let's get to it.
Imagine a generic Democrat wins the 2020 election while the Republicans maintain control of the Senate (as you clearly think is virtually certain). Suppose Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) simply decides that no cabinet appointment, subcabinet appointment, Supreme Court or lower judicial appointment will even come for a vote. Or if they do, they are defeated. What happens then? M.B., Montreal, Canada
Let us start with that "virtually certain" part. It's true that we (and others) have written that 2020 is going to be a tough road for the Democrats, Senate-wise, just because they are starting in a big hole. However, that was when we thought Arizona was a goner for the blue team. Now, it is more likely than not that Kyrsten Sinema will be elected, which will make for a 53-47 Senate, assuming that things don't work out for Bill Nelson in Florida (likely) and Mike Espy in Mississippi (all but certain, although Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R, is apparently trying her best to have a "macaca" moment with her jokes on Sunday about how she would like to be in "the front row" for a lynching). That means the Democrats will need to score at least a +3 (and the White House) in 2020, which is daunting but doable. Doug Jones is probably a dead man walking, so it's actually +4, but Colorado, North Carolina, and Maine are potentially viable for them. If they can take those three, then they would just need one "surprise," which they could get in Iowa, Georgia, Texas, Alaska, or—as several folks wrote in to point out—Arizona, which will be up due to the death of John McCain. The Democrats are certainly not favored to retake the Senate, but that (likely) change of fortune in Arizona is very big. And let us not forget that at this point in 2016, the House seemed out of reach, too.
Now, moving on to your question, you actually present two very different scenarios. The first one is that McConnell (or any other GOP majority leader) refuses to bring any of the president's nominees up for a vote. That would be entirely his doing, as he schedules the Senate's business. There would be enormous pressure on him, including from members of his own caucus, to back off that position, but we will imagine for hypothetical purposes that he sticks to his guns. What would happen is that the generic Democrat would sue McConnell, and would argue that while the Constitution does not specify a timeframe for the consideration of nominees, the framers clearly intended that only a reasonable amount of time may elapse. The Supreme Court would presumably agree with that argument (Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito can hardly keep calling themselves originalists if they dissented), and would likely provide a definition of "reasonable" (60 days, or 90 days, or something like that).
On the other hand, if the scheme was to vote down all of the president's nominees, that would involve most or all of the GOP caucus. The good news for McConnell is that the Supreme Court probably couldn't do much about that approach, since the judges can't tell the senators how to vote. The bad news is that keeping 50 or 51 or 52 folks on the same page, vote after vote, would be like herding cats. If just a few GOP senators broke ranks, either because they did not agree with the plan, or because they feared the wrath of their voters, then the whole thing would fall apart. Consider how much the Democrats struggled to maintain solidarity on Brett Kavanaugh (which, of course, they ultimately failed to do).
Incidentally, you might ask the question: Why didn't Barack Obama file suit in the manner described above when McConnell refused to consider Merrick Garland? Only he knows for sure, but three likely explanations present themselves. The first is that refusing to consider one nominee, while bad, is far less egregious than refusing to consider all nominees. The second is that "No Drama Obama" did not generally like to use such aggressive tactics. And the third is that he thought (probably incorrectly) that it would be a good campaign issue for Democrats, and (definitely incorrectly) that Hillary Clinton would be elected and the whole point would be moot.
We all know 'dog whistles' happen in elections, and people will claim they misspoke, or used a perfectly normal phrase that got taken the wrong way. Other than assuming bad faith by people on the right, how do you tell which is which? DeSantis warning voters not to "monkey this up" seems like a slamdunk, but then no lesser a site than electoral-vote.com (Friday questions) referred to the idea of nominating Obama as Speaker to make him President again if Trump and Pence had to quit as "monkeying around with the system," clearly meaning no harm by it. So is there an objective way to call it? J.C., Oxford, UK
We are certainly willing to take our lumps around here, when warranted. And, if we were not answering this question (and linking to the old question), we would probably go back and change our wording there, just to be safe. Similarly, if someone wrote in and was sincerely unhappy (you don't seem to be unhappy, just curious), we would likely have offered our apologies and changed it. The particular passage you note only happened because, writing on deadline, there was no great word that presented itself that was not a little too slang-y. "Messed around with the system?" "Screwed around with the system?" We might have used "tinkered around with the system," but "tinkered" doesn't quite mean the same thing.
Anyhow, as to your question, we would say this is inherently a subjective, and not objective, question. That said, the real issue is intent. Recall that a dog whistle is something that has two meanings, one for racists and one for non-racists. For the passage you note in your question to be a dog whistle, one would have to believe that: (1) We have some number of racist readers we are trying to communicate with, and (2) We wished to tell those people that we don't want Barack Obama to be Speaker because he is black. Both of those propositions are, we would argue, hard to swallow.
It's also possible that we just strayed into racist territory, with no dog whistle (but presumably by accident). Here's a quick pop quiz. Which of these phrases have racist or bigoted origins?
- Peanut gallery
- No can do
- Off the reservation
- Long time, no see
- Mumbo Jumbo
- Sent down the river
- Hip hip hooray!
- Welshed (on a bet)
The answer is: Numbers 1-8 for sure, and maybe numbers 9 and 10. "Gypped" is a slur against the Roma (previously known as the "gypsies," and stereotyped as thieves and cheaters). The "peanut gallery" is where black folks sat for vaudeville performances. "No can do" and "Long time, no see" were both used to mock non-native speakers of English (particularly Chinese immigrants). "Off the reservation" was, of course, a reference to Native Americans. "Hooligan" is a reference to the Irish, and comes from a song that mocked the common Irish name "Houlihan." "Mumbo Jumbo" is also anti-black, and mocks the West African spirit Maamajomboo. "Sent down the river" refers to one of the worst punishments a slave could receive in the United States, since downriver plantations invariably meant worse weather and harder work (note, however, that "up the river," which we sometimes use, is a reference to Sing Sing Prison, which was upriver of New York City). Some think "Hip hip hooray" comes from the anti-Semitic Hep-Hep riots, which were a months-long pogrom against Jews in the German Confederation. And "welshed" may be a slur on the Welsh people; the Oxford English Dictionary is unclear on this point.
We bring this up as an example; if someone uses any of these phrases (or, in the case of the "monkeying" sentence we wrote), the intent was probably not deliberate, so pointing it out and asking for a correction is usually enough. In fact, we recently changed "welshed" to "renege" in a piece after a warning from a reader. What makes DeSantis different from us is that he (and his surrogates) have said a number of racist (or potentially racist) things without apologizing or correcting themselves, he's embraced a president who often says racist things without apologizing or correcting himself, and he's a member of a party that has been using dog whistles for decades. So, he gets far less benefit of the doubt when it comes to intent, in our view.
President Trump has threatened that he will not entertain legislation from Democrats if they move forward with investigating him. But, couldn't the Democrats turn the tables? Democrats in the House of Representatives could let him know that investigations will be deprioritized if he helps push through their agenda. Cooperating with Democrats would cause Trump to lose his base and probably the next presidential election, but he might play along if stopping investigations kept him out of jail by preventing discovery of crimes. If the Democrats' goal is to promote good laws, rather than simply "getting Trump," might it be worth living with that understanding? M.T., Exton, PA
It is true that Trump is no ideologue, and regards himself as a dealmaker. It's also true that Democrats have a broad array of options when it comes to pursuing their agenda. However, we would imagine that an arrangement like the one you describe is very unlikely for three reasons. The first is that Trump may or may not be a dealmaker (it's arguable), but there is no question that he is unreliable. He makes deals and then backtracks on them; that has been his MO for five decades. You can't start and stop and start and stop an investigation as he promises and backtracks, and the Democrats are clever enough to realize that. The second issue is that the Democratic base, while divided over (and mostly opposed to) impeachment at this point, nonetheless just voted for accountability and oversight. If the Democrats sat on their hands, whatever the reason, their voters would be furious. The third issue, related to the second, is that if the Democrats' base found out about the quid pro quo you propose, it would make the Party look corrupt and unprincipled, and would fuel the base's outrage that much more. So, this sort of arrangement is not likely.
If Donald Trump's main goal is to protect himself and his family, the better path for him would be to negotiate the presidential equivalent of a plea deal, and to agree to resign in exchange for immunity from prosecution. That would surely be OK with the Democratic base, would be considerably less unethical than trading bill-signing for non-prosecution, and would even allow Trump to claim that his presidency was a great success, only ended by those infernal troublemaking Democrats.
Lindsey Graham wants Rick Scott in Senate hearings despite the strong possibility of a recount happening. Has a representative or senator ever been sent to Capitol Hill pending a recount and then lost the recount? A.E.M., Miami Beach, FL
This actually can't happen. When an election is held, its results need to be certified (usually by the state's secretary of state). A victorious representative or senator is, at that point, given a signed document that verifies their victory, which they then present to the Secretary of the House or the Secretary of the Senate. These documents cannot, and will not, be created while a recount is underway.
You didn't ask, but the opposite situation—namely, that someone was elected and certified, but then was not allowed to take their seat—has happened quite a few times. The most common reasons: (1) They were a white Southerner elected during the Reconstruction, with assistance from severe suppression of the black vote; (2) They were a Mormon elected from Utah while polygamy was still practiced; and (3) Their election was secured under overtly shady circumstances (bribes, ballot box stuffing, etc.).
Before the election I was deluged with requests from candidates for money. Now that the election is over, I'm being deluged with requests from candidates for recount money. Do the candidates actually need the recount money? If it's a state-mandated decision to do the recount, does the state pay for that or do the candidates pay (or partially pay) for the recount? What if it's not a state-mandated decision? G.C., South Pasadena, CA
They are definitely telling the truth. In all cases, candidate-initiated recounts have to be paid for by the candidate's campaign (otherwise, everyone would ask for a recount). And in most cases, state-mandated recounts also have to be paid for by the candidate's campaign (or the candidates' campaigns). If the recount changes the outcome, though, most states refund the money to the newly-ordained winner. Don't expect the campaign to send you a refund in those circumstances, however.
I have a question on why you write out Stormy Daniels' name the way you do, namely "Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford)." Given that the media does not typically report on Thomas Mapother IV, Stefani Germanotta, Alecia Moore, Paul Hewson, Terry Bollea, Katheryn Hudson, Mark Sinclair, Aubrey Graham, Jelena Hadid (etc.), as no one would understand them as anything other than: Tom Cruise, Lady Gaga, Pink, Bono, Hulk Hogan, Katy Perry, Vin Diesel, Drake, Gigi (etc.). What benefit does this blog gain from the (nee Stephanie Clifford) moniker? S.D., Orlando, FL
It is because, in contrast to those other folks, she is widely known (and referred to) by both names. In particular, in court documents, they have to use her real name. In media coverage, they often use her stage name. That means that it's somewhat necessary to mention both, just in case a reader doesn't know that, and doing it in this particular way is quick and easy.
It is not especially common that a person is known widely by two different names, but it does happen, and we would give the same treatment to other folks if they happened to come up. For example, some serial killers and criminals are known equally by their real name and the nickname in use prior to their identities being known. So, we would write Ted Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber), David Berkowitz (aka the Son of Sam), or Richard Ramirez (aka the Night Stalker). Another group would be people who became very famous under one name and then switched to another. So, if they came up, we would write Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens), Sananda Francesco Maitreya (formerly known as Terence Trent D'Arby), or Shuhada' Davitt (formerly known as Sinéad O'Connor). A third group, and the one in which Daniels belongs, would be folks who very consciously alternate between their real and assumed names, depending on context. Hulk Hogan does not do that, but The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) certainly does. If Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), or Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King), or Robin Gunningham (aka Banksy) were to somehow pen an op-ed for the New York Times, we'd be in the same situation.
I know for many years the Democrats have been represented with the symbol of a donkey, and the Republicans an elephant. What is the history behind these choices, and were they made at the same time? Did each group choose its own animal and promote it, or was it something that became common from press coverage, like the colors red and blue? L.H., Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The donkey came first. When Andrew Jackson, who was a little rough around the edges, ran for president, his foes attempted to portray him as a donkey. Jackson actually decided he kind of liked the comparison, since donkeys are tough and hardworking and so forth. So he appropriated it (in much the same way that the generation immediately before him appropriated the originally defamatory "Yankee Doodle"). And after Jackson, every Democrat for generations claimed to be an incarnation of him, so they all embraced the donkey, too.
The elephant became the GOP counterpart thanks to the work of one man (and, really, one cartoon by that man). That man is Thomas Nast, the legendary political cartoonist of the Gilded Age, and someone who has a strong case as the most influential American artist of all time. His drawings, published in Harper's Weekly and other publications, shaped elections for decades. Here's the 1874 cartoon where he created the Republican elephant:
The notion stuck very fast, and it's been the elephant and the donkey ever since. Though it should be noted that local branches of the parties sometimes had their own animal symbol. In Louisiana, for example, the Democrats were associated with a rooster for many years, and in New York (particularly NYC) it was a tiger.
Incidentally, Nast is also known for "creating" another famous character. Here is that drawing:
Santa predates Nast by a fair bit (500-1500 years, depending on your interpretation), but he didn't really begin to get popular in America until the latter part of the 19th century. So it was up to Nast to determine the "look" of Mr. Claus, with the rosy cheeks and beard and red suit and black belt. (Z)
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