Graham Says Harris Would Be a Tough Candidate
Cracks Emerge In GOP Strategy to Avoid Shutdown
Trump Steps Into North Korea
Harris Sees Fundraising Spike
Hunter Wants Evidence of Affairs Excluded
Trump Campaign Worker Behind Fake Biden Site
• SCOTUS: Partisan Gerrymandering is None of Our Business
• Supreme Court Blocks Citizenship Question for the Moment
• Trump Is at the G-20 in Japan
• Booker: I Wouldn't Be Biden's Veep
• Pelosi Capitulates
On the whole, Democratic debate v1.2 was a fair bit stronger than v1.1. Maybe that is because most of the Democratic frontrunners were on stage last night, whereas Wednesday night was heavy on members of the B team. Or, maybe it was because Thursday's participants were able to watch and learn from what happened on Wednesday. In any event, last night's participants did a much better job of giving substantive answers, and of putting forward actual policy proposals.
Who helped themselves the most? Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). She checked all the boxes, delivering compelling answers to the moderators' questions with feeling and clarity. Here's an example:
She also did a very good job of introducing herself to the voters, deftly weaving elements of her record and her personal story into her answers. For example, in her dustup with Joe Biden (more on that below), she described what it was like, as a child, to help integrate her elementary school in Berkeley. Some of the choices she made in her time as a prosecutor have left her out of step with the Democratic electorate, but if Thursday night is any indication, she's doing a good job of reinventing herself and putting that part of her résumé in the rearview mirror.
Who helped themselves the least? There are three answers here. The first is Joe Biden. He is very polished, which will happen when someone spends half a century in politics. However, as he is wont to do, he came off a little bit canned. Usually the candidates spoke until they were told to shut up, but several times he said, "My time's up, right?" Translation: "I memorized a 60-second answer; that's all I've got." Further, as you may have heard, Biden served as Barack Obama's vice president. If you hadn't heard it, well, he reminded everyone half a dozen times, which got a tad excessive. Worst of all for him, however, is that the other candidates were far more willing to attack him than the folks on Wednesday night were willing to attack Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) was the first to take a shot:I was 6 years old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention and said it's time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans. That candidate was then-Senator Joe Biden. Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago. He is still right today.
There were several other terse exchanges between Biden and one rival or another, but the one that is going to get far and away the most attention is the one we've already alluded to. The former Veep tried to explain his recent, somewhat complementary, remarks about two of his former colleagues who were segregationists. The California Senator let him have it:
Biden most certainly came out on the short end of that exchange.
The other candidates who did not help themselves were Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang. Whatever it is they are trying to achieve, it is not going to be easy with only 3 minutes (Yang) and 5 minutes (Williamson) of speaking time. That was less than any of Wednesday's candidates, and the combined total was less than Biden, Harris, or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who got 13.6, 11.9, and 11.0 minutes, respectively. On those occasions that they did speak, they did not impress. Yang found a way to turn pretty much every answer into a restatement of his $1,000/month guaranteed minimum income plan. Williamson, for her part, sounded congested, and often meandered. One had the impression that she took a dose of Sudafed right before the debate. Or maybe something that's legal in her home state of California, but not in Florida.
Anyone else worth mentioning? On the positive side, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend). He was almost as good as Harris—clear, genuine, relatable. 2020 may not prove to be his year, but have no doubt, this man is a rising star. Oh, and he also showed off his Spanish-language skills, but in a considerably more natural fashion than Beto O'Rourke or Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Wednesday:
Continuing with the positives, Sanders also had a pretty good night. His 2020 campaign has been foundering a bit, but on Thursday at least, he reminded viewers of his 2016 "I don't give a crap what anyone thinks" magic.
On the negative side, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) had an underwhelming night, which is not good, given that she was expected to be a frontrunner this cycle, and yet she's gained no traction. One specific black mark on Thursday: She was particularly egregious in ignoring the rules and seizing more time than was her due. For example, when asked to identify, in a word or two, "one issue" that she would choose as her focus, she said "Passing a family bill of rights," and then used that as a jumping off point to list five or six different policies. Every candidate thinks the rules don't apply to them, and tries to steal a little extra time and attention, but she was really over the top.
How did the moderators do? They divided the labor in the same manner as on Wednesday, with Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, and José Diaz-Balart taking the first hour, and Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd handling the second. The good news is that they didn't have any more microphone issues, so Guthrie's and Holt's weekend plans remain unknown to the rest of the world. Also, Todd was clearly advised that he spoke more words on Wednesday than all but two of the candidates, and so reined it in a bit. However, all five moderators struggled to maintain order on Thursday, much more so than on Wednesday, such that there was a lot more of candidates talking over one another, and a many more cases of candidates stealing time that was not their due. The result, as already noted, is that the imbalance between "main" candidates' speaking time and "fringe" candidates' speaking time was even larger than on Wednesday night.
Issue of the night: Donald Trump. He was mentioned early (three times in the first five minutes) and he was mentioned often (38 times overall), popping up in every segment of the debate. Gillibrand and Sanders hit him the most frequently (six times each), with Sanders offering this scorching hot take: "[T]he American people understand that Trump is a phony, that Trump is a pathological liar and a racist, and that he lied to the American people during his campaign. That's how we beat Trump: We expose him for the fraud that he is." The Senator should probably not expect a White House Christmas card this year.
Snarky line of the night: During one of the many cases of candidates talking over one another, Harris announced: "Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their table."
Runner up: All of the candidates were asked which foreign leader they would call first after their inauguration, with an eye toward repairing damaged relationships. Buttigieg said he could not answer the question, because: "We have no idea which of our most important allies [Trump] will have pissed off worst between now and then."
Non-snarky line of the night: Early in the debate, the moderators had a series of questions about exactly how the candidates are going to pay for their very bold and very expensive proposals. Harris replied: "I hear that question, but where was that question when the Republicans and Donald Trump passed a tax bill that benefits the top 1 percent and the biggest corporations in this country?"
Reddest meat of the night: Red meat is Sanders' stock in trade, and he led with one of his reddest and meatiest proposals: "I believe that education is the future for this country. And that is why I believe that we must make public colleges and universities tuition-free and eliminate student debt. And we do that by placing a tax on Wall Street."
Blunder of the night: There were a couple of real head-scratchers on Thursday night. John Hickenlooper, who is on a crusade to make the Party more centrist, declared: "I think that the bottom line is, if we don't clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can and call us socialists." We have news for you, John: The Republicans are going to say that regardless of what the Democrats do, say, deny, or clarify. If you don't know that by now, maybe you don't belong on that stage.
And then there was Williamson, who pronounced thusly:The fact that somebody has a younger body doesn't mean you don't have old ideas. John Kennedy...John Kennedy...did not say...John Kennedy did not say...I have a plan to get a man to the moon and so we're going to do it and I think we can all work and maybe we can get a man on the moon. John Kennedy said, by the end of this decade, we are going to put a man on the moon.
A little meandering, as we said. And using the second-youngest president ever, who had one of the most forward-looking ideas ever, as an illustration that young people can sometimes have outdated ideas doesn't exactly work, does it?
A little historical perspective: Among the things that Biden said to defend himself during his spat with Harris was that he opposed federally mandated busing because he felt such things should be local decisions.:
There are some legitimate criticisms to be made of busing (for those who would like to read more, consider picking up a copy of this book). However, the argument that Biden made was the exact same argument that segregationists made in opposing Brown v. Board of education, and in opposing virtually every other government effort to heighten racial equality. In short, if you're trying to make the case that you have nothing in common with segregationists, this was not a good answer.
A detail that may fly under the radar: Let's talk about neckties for a moment. Customarily, debate candidates wear either red or blue ties. Psychologically, red projects "power," blue projects "confidence," and both colors are also very traditional and are patriotic. Barack Obama alternated red-blue-red for the entirety of his first month in office.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) clearly has some knowledge in this area, because he bucked custom and wore an orange tie. Orange is eye-catching, and suggests creativity and unpredictability. There's no great way to check this, but it's probable that orange ties are worn by less than 1% of presidential debaters. There's zero chance Swalwell chose that color by accident.
Do we have any other tie comments? Why yes, we do, thanks for asking. Sanders wore a British regimental striped tie (stripes sloping right to left) and Biden wore an American regimental striped tie (stripes sloping left to right). The former was popularized by upper-class British students in the 1800s, the latter by the upper-crust men's clothier Brooks Brothers in the 1920s. What those styles of ties communicate, then, is "old-fashioned" and "wealthy." Biden and Sanders are probably unaware of this, but it does run contrary to their "we're not too old" and "we're regular guys" messaging.
Also, Andrew Yang wore no tie, and an open collar. That is either youthful and rebellious, or it's tacky and inappropriate. We report, you decide.
On a scale of 1-10, how contentious was it? In terms of other Democrats, a 6. It wasn't constant mudslinging, but there was quite a bit of sniping and, as noted, Biden clearly had a target on his back. In terms of non-Democrats, it was a 7.5. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) didn't come in for quite as much criticism on Thursday as he did on Wednesday, but Donald Trump took a pretty good thrashing, which he was complaining about on Twitter in real time.
On a scale of 1-10, how much will this debate move the needle? We'll give it a 5. The generally higher quality of the debate will offset the fact that not everyone can stomach two two-hour debates in two days, such that ratings are sure to tick down a bit.
The bottom line: It's going to be very interesting to see what happens in the polls while we wait for the next two debates, a month from now. There are several candidates that could get a boost, with Harris, Warren, and Julián Castro leading the list. On the other hand, maybe not too many people are paying attention yet. (Z)
Yesterday, Republicans' prayers were answered when newly seated Justice Brett Kavanaugh provided the deciding vote in a 5-4 decision that allows the states to gerrymander congressional and state districts in a partisan way, so as to maximize the majority party's advantage. The last time the subject came up, Anthony Kennedy left the door open to the possibility that some gerrymandering might be too extreme. That door is now locked shut. That means that a district like TX-02 (below) is fine with the justices.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, with the four other Republican appointees on board with him. His argument was that the Constitution gives the power to draw the districts to the state legislatures and that the federal courts have no role to play. If the voters don't like what the legislatures are doing, they have the power to replace all the members. End of discussion.
The four Democratic appointees wrote a dissent, penned by Justice Elena Kagan. She read part of it aloud when the decision was announced, something justices do only in major cases. Among other things, she said that the gerrymandered maps that the case was based on "debased and dishonored democracy."
On paper, the ruling was nonpartisan, since it upheld a Republican gerrymander in North Carolina and a Democratic gerrymander in Maryland. In practice, the Republicans have the trifecta in 22 states and the Democrats have it in 14. Worse yet for the blue team, the state with the most congressional districts and most electoral votes, where the legislature could reduce the Republicans to a few crumbs in California's Central Valley, has handed redistricting over to a nonpartisan panel, so although the Democrats have all the marbles in the Golden State, they can't use it to gerrymander the maps.
If the Supreme Court ultimately rules that the Commerce Dept. can add a citizenship question to the census (see below), the Democrats will absorb a one-two punch that could send them reeling for years to come: Fewer House seats in blue states and gerrymandered districts in red states. Nevertheless, there are two ways they can fight back. First, they can claim that some of the GOP gerrymanders are racially motivated, something the Supreme Court outlawed in the past. Second, they can try to put initiatives on the ballot in red states to take the power to draw the districts away from the legislatures and hand them to nonpartisan commissions. If they could pull that off in Texas and Florida, for example, it could shift a significant number of House seats from "lean Republican" to "toss-up." On the other hand, in a 2015 case, four of the justices ruled that nonpartisan commissions are unconstitutional because the Constitution gives the power to draw the districts to the state legislatures, not other bodies. Anthony Kennedy voted to uphold the nonpartisan commissions, but now that he has been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, the Court could look for a case where it can overturn that ruling. (V)
In another key decision, the Supreme Court put the census question about citizenship on hold for the time being. The Chief wrote this 5-4 one, too, sending the case back to a lower court. Technically, the case was about an administrative law that says government officials cannot make capricious decisions; they have to explain why they are making their decisions. The four liberals and the Chief didn't like the administration's reasoning for adding a citizenship question to the census. They basically instructed the administration to think of a better reason, then they will take a look and see if they like it better.
The reason the administration gave was that it needed the information to better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Three federal judges have already questioned that. After the case was heard by the Supreme Court, evidence came out that the real reason for the question is that a Republican gerrymandering expert, Thomas Hofeller, now deceased, had concluded that it would discourage immigrants from filling out the form. This would thus reduce the enumerated population in states with many immigrants, almost all of which are blue (Texas and Florida being the only major exceptions).
A related issue is that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in sworn testimony before Congress, repeated the line that the sole reason for the question was to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. This was basically an out-and-out lie, since he discussed it earlier with Steve Bannon, who knew all about Hofeller's work. Ross even used the cover story that Hofeller had suggested. Lying to Congress is a felony.
Even if the administration ultimately triumphs here, they have a scheduling problem. Printing over 100 million census forms takes time and the administration wants to start very soon. If the case is hung up in the lower court for months, there might not be enough time to print the forms, even if the High Court likes the new reason better than it liked the old one.
Getting the citizenship question on the census is a high priority for Trump, so he responded to the Supreme Court decision by sending out these tweets at 2:30 a.m. from Japan:
Seems totally ridiculous that our government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census, in this case for 2020. I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2019
.....United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter. Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2019
The Constitution doesn't specify the date the census must be completed, only that it be done once every 10 years. So Trump may have some leeway on the date. What is going to be a bigger problem is coming up with a reason for the census question and explaining away Hofeller's work. Occam's razor always favors the simplest explanation, and in this case, the simple explanation is that the citizenship question helps the Republicans, so they put it in.
This case is the first really major (albeit possibly temporary) setback for the administration. It also shows how sensitive John Roberts is to public opinion. In two major cases announced today, he split, once siding with the conservatives and once siding with the liberals. If he had sided with the conservatives both times, it is very likely that in the next Democratic debate there would be questions about "packing the court" (a subject that only got a brief mention on Thursday night, and no mention on Wednesday). By not coming down solidly with the conservatives all the time, Roberts may have delayed that discussion for the time being. But if the census case comes back to the Supreme Court soon enough, he could still write a 5-4 decision for the conservative wing ruling that the question can go in. (V)
Donald Trump arrived at the G-20 summit in Japan. He brought with him a bag of grievances. When he gets home, he will feel relief that he has to deal with only one person who won't bend to his will, speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). In Japan he will have meetings with nine world leaders, none of whom are going to take orders from him. Voters often say that they want government to run like a business, so they vote for business leaders. But in reality, the model of a business is that the boss gets to say "jump" and everyone else is expected to say "how high?" Government doesn't work like that, and especially not in foreign affairs. And that goes double or triple when dealing with leaders of powerful countries, like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
To start, the leaders of the European Union—European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker—made it clear that climate change is #1 on their agenda. They reiterated their support of the Paris climate agreement, from which Donald Trump is trying to withdraw. French President Emmanuel Macron even said that if the joint statement at the end of the meeting does not strongly support dealing with climate change, he might not sign it. Maybe Trump can convince all of them that coal is the answer to all their problems, but don't bet on it.
Another hot topic is trade. The escalating trade war between the U.S. and China is sure to come up when Trump talks to Xi. Xi has plenty of patience and can wait 2 years to resolve matters if need be. Trump wants capitulation now and is unlikely to get it. If he doesn't, he has threatened to put tariffs on another $300 billion in Chinese exports to the U.S. Unfortunately for him, Xi understands the concept of "paper tiger" very well, since it is an ancient Chinese expression. Trump also picked a fight with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose country recently retaliated for Trump's decision to revoke India's preferential trade status.
As to Japan, just before getting on the plane to that country, Trump said that if Japan is attacked, the U.S. will fight for it, but if the U.S. is attacked, Japan can "just watch on the Sony television." He also hinted about withdrawing from a U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty signed in 1951. He also attacked NATO and called it "obsolete."
Trump will undoubtedly meet with Putin, but it is very unlikely that anything about that meeting will become public. Putin speaks a little bit of English, but not very much, so at least one translator will have to be present, unless Trump brings some neat Japanese gizmo that does real time simultaneous translation, thus eliminating the only potential leak of their conversation.
But the 363-kg gorilla in the room is Iran, whose supreme leader won't be present in Osaka. Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran is not popular with any of the other leaders. Trump is not going to back down on that and neither will any of the others. So, the chances of any breakthroughs are pretty small. (V)
After Wednesday's debate, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was asked about being Joe Biden's running mate. He said he wouldn't accept the bucket of warm piss—not because he dislikes the beverage, but because he thinks the ticket should have one man and one woman on it. Naturally, this leaves open the possibility of Warren/Booker and combinations with the other women running for president. Presumably this also means that if he gets the big prize, he will offer the bucket to a woman. It is inconceivable that he would offer it to a woman of color, since having no white people on the ticket would be political suicide, but Sens. Warren, Gillibrand, and Klobuchar are all possibilities.
Booker also said that he might accept Joe Biden as his veep (presumably on the grounds that Biden knows more about veeping than anyone else currently in the mix), but then took it back, saying it was a joke. Nevertheless, Booker made a point that probably all the Democrats are thinking about, namely that the party should have a ticket with one man and one woman on it. (V)
In a rare defeat, speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) lost a battle with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) yesterday when the House passed the Senate's humanitarian package, but without the safeguards that were in the House's bill. Pelosi lost because the moderates in her caucus refused to accept the House bill's reduction in ICE funding, fearing that would be used against them in 2020.
Normally, Pelosi rules with enough carrots to make Bugs Bunny explode and enough sticks to make Teddy Roosevelt start grinning in his grave. But she lost this one. The House bill had a lot of specific language in it that the Senate bill does not, including requirements that every person should have at least 2 square meters, that the temperature must be humane, and that the lights should be turned off between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. so that people can sleep.
While the more liberal members of the House are furious, Pelosi probably realized that even if the Senate had passed the House bill, Trump would not have signed it, since he wants the kids to suffer in order to deter future immigration. By going along with the Senate bill, the kids may get some help. This bill is a kind of asymmetric warfare. The Democrats really want to pass something, but the Republicans don't really need the bill and would have been happy to have it die as long as they could place the blame on the Democrats. So Pelosi caved in order that the children got some help. In any negotiation about anything, if one side really wants a deal and the other doesn't care one way or the other, the side that wants a deal is at the mercy of the other one. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun27 Trump Attacks Mueller
Jun27 Mueller's Staff Will Also Testify
Jun27 House Committee Subpoenas Kellyanne Conway
Jun27 Warren Has Passed Sanders as the Choice of Progressive Activists
Jun26 Mueller Will Speak With Congress
Jun26 Debate Day Is Here
Jun26 House Democrats Pass Border Aid Bill
Jun26 Judge Hands Trump a Setback on Emoluments Case
Jun26 Trump Is Tiring of Mulvaney
Jun26 Mike's Choice
Jun26 Border Protection Chief Has Resigned
Jun26 Stephanie Grisham Will Replace Sarah Sanders
Jun26 Biden Earned $200,000 a Pop for Speeches after Leaving Office
Jun26 Another Swing-District Representative Has Called for Trump's Impeachment
Jun26 Duncan Hunter Is in Deep Trouble
Jun25 Iran: The Plot Thickens
Jun25 White House: No Way Cummings Gets His Way on Conway
Jun25 Economic Trade Wind May Soon Become a Head Wind for Trump
Jun25 Sanders Unveils Student Debt Plan
Jun25 And Then There Were Two...Dozen
Jun25 Tuesday Q&A
Jun24 Trump Aggressively Shifts Gears, Twice in Two Days
Jun24 The Subpoenas May Fly This Week
Jun24 Poll: There Are Too Many Candidates
Jun24 Why Isn't Trump Benefiting More from a Good Economy?
Jun24 What If Trump Loses But Won't Concede?
Jun24 Conway Is at It Again
Jun24 Democrats Are Divided on Health Care
Jun24 Republican Senators Are Divided over Election Security
Jun24 Early Democratic Primaries May Influence the Senate Races
Jun24 Withdrawal from the Postal Union May Help Trump
Jun24 Nadler and Donaldson Reach a Deal
Jun21 Iran Pokes Trump in the Eye; Trump Blinks
Jun21 Senate Pushes Back on Saudi Arms Deal
Jun21 Hicks Transcript Is Out
Jun21 Roy Moore Is In
Jun21 Biden Steps In It, Again
Jun21 It's Summer, and That Means Fish Fry Day
Jun21 RNC Raises $14.6 Million in May
Jun21 DCCC Outraises NRCC in May
Jun21 Democratic Presidential Candidate Update: Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend)
Jun20 Hicks Refuses to Answer Questions
Jun20 Sanders Takes a Potshot at Warren
Jun20 New National Poll: Biden First, Warren Second, Sanders Third
Jun20 Trump Raises $25 Million in 24 Hours
Jun20 Judge May Reopen Census Case
Jun20 Fed Believes Trump Cannot Remove Powell
Jun20 The Past is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past
Jun20 Senate Bipartisanship Is Coming Up Roses