Mar. 13

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Biden Keeps Teasing 2020 Run

Joe Biden gave a speech to a crowd of firefighters on Tuesday, and was greeted with chants of "Run, Joe, Run!" He responded thusly:

Be careful what you wish for. You know, I'd like you all to know I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here. Save it a little longer. I might need it in a few weeks.

Just in case anyone did not grasp the implication, a Biden friend in Congress—speaking on condition of anonymity—told The Hill that he has spoken to the former senator and VP, and that a presidential announcement is imminent.

It's a bit unclear why Biden is playing his hand in this way, aggressively hinting at a run for weeks, but not quite pulling the trigger. Under some circumstances, that's a good posture to adopt, but with the field already so full of declared candidates, it's not a great stance right now. According to the anonymous friend in Congress, Biden is just taking meetings, raising money, and lining up endorsements. However, given that those are also the things that a declared candidate spends their time doing, that explanation doesn't quite get it done.

Here are three alternate theories:

On the latter point, there will certainly be many Democrats who will be thrilled if and when Biden does decide to run. For example, longtime Democratic strategist Peter Fenn wrote a very effusive op-ed on Tuesday listing the reasons Biden should run:

Some of this is empty pundit-speak. Like, is there really any nationally prominent politician who is not "a fighter"? Still, there is much that makes Biden a very interesting matchup for Donald Trump, particularly if the Democrats want to try to rebuild the Obama coalition.

At the same time, it is also clear that Biden—because of his age, his general preference for centrist policy stances, and some elements of his record—will also encounter some fierce opposition when and if he declares. Sally Kohn, as a progressive and a woman, is not enthused, for example. Kohn writes that she likes Biden personally, but she's uncomfortable about his long and cozy relationship with big business interests (a relationship that is very much a product of the fact that he represented Delaware, the state where 60% of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated due to favorable tax and other laws).

Similarly, Biden is pretty popular with black voters in early polling, but New York magazine's Eric Levitz is not so sure that will remain the case once they are reminded of his record on busing (he was strongly opposed), three strikes (he was a big fan), and other issues. In particular, Biden's handling of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings is likely to rub both black and female voters the wrong way, once it gets brought up (and it will). In short, a Biden candidacy is a complicated thing, indeed. (Z)

So Does Larry Hogan

Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) is the candidate of traditional Republicans' dreams. He's a pretty conventional Rockefeller Republican, an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, and he has had electoral success in a deep blue state. If the George Wills and Bill Bennetts of the world could design the ideal candidate to challenge Trump in 2020, he would look an awful lot like Hogan (or Gov. Charlie Baker, R-MA).

Hogan, like all of the potential Trump primary challengers, denies he is running. However, like many of them, he keeps doing the things that would-be candidates do. On Tuesday, for example, he accepted an invitation to appear at a Politics and Eggs breakfast at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on April 23. Unless he's busy at work on a crabs for lobsters trade pact, this looks an awful lot like someone who is trying to curry favor in an early primary state. Of course, Hogan will continue to be a non-candidate for president as long as Trump's approval rating among Republicans is in the 80s. But if the President craters, the stage is set for nearly as big a free-for-all as we're already seeing on the Democratic side of the contest. (Z)

A Party Divided?

The media does love a good storyline, particularly if it involves conflict. And a major storyline of the past few weeks in particular, and of the last four or five years in general, has been the divisions within the Democratic Party. The broad division that's gotten all of the attention has been the Clinton/centrist vs. Sanders/progressive divide. Recently, that divide has shown itself in intraparty disputes over Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' Green New Deal, and Rep. Ilhan Omar's (DFL-MN) remarks about Israel and AIPAC.

Politico's Jack Shafer has been watching politics for a long time, however, and he's not sold on the idea that the Democrats are all that divided. The anti-hate resolution last week appears to have calmed tensions over Israel, while most members of the blue team have decided that the Green New Deal does not justify having an existential crisis. Meanwhile, the desire to stymie and ultimately defeat Donald Trump is so strong, everyone appears to be making an extra effort to play nice.

In fact, if one wants to talk about a party whose cracks are showing, Tuesday's news suggests it's actually the one on the other side of the aisle. There aren't too many days left until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have to hold a vote on whether to cancel Donald Trump's national emergency declaration. In fact, the vote is scheduled for tomorrow (though it could theoretically be pushed a few days). Anyhow, in an effort to thread the needle, Senate Republicans wanted to amend the resolution to—for lack of a better term—incorporate some kowtowing to Donald Trump. In effect, the new text would read, "We're canceling the emergency, but we still totally support you and the wall." Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough is expected to rule that such amendments are not ok, which leaves the senators with the choice to poke either Trump or the Constitution in the eye. Meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to forestall this from happening again, a dozen GOP senators have introduced a bill that would change the rules for declaring national emergencies, such that an emergency can last only 30 days before it must be extended by Congressional resolution; otherwise it expires. McConnell, who controls the entire country's legislative agenda, has said he's open to bringing the bill up for a vote.

That wasn't the only tension in the GOP on Tuesday. Former speaker Paul Ryan emerged from hiding to share his view that Trump is eminently beatable in 2020, particularly if the election focuses on his personality, as opposed to his policies. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) promptly responded to his former colleague's remarks, announcing that "I believe this President will win re-election." Of course, only one of these two folks has an ongoing need to curry favor with Trump, so judge accordingly.

And finally, in a blast from the past, former VP Dick Cheney is cranky. Specifically, at a meeting of Republican muckety-mucks, Cheney and current VP Mike Pence were supposed to have a friendly conversation about politics for the audience to enjoy. However, it turned quite testy, with Cheney slamming Pence for the administration's handling of NATO and North Korea, and its interactions with America's allies.

This, of course, is a common dynamic in politics. The more power a party has, and the longer they have it, the harder it is to keep things together (see the Brexit item below for another example). This is not to say that the Democrats don't have some substantive differences between members of their caucus, but when trying to read the 2020 tea leaves, it is worth keeping in mind that they certainly don't have a monopoly on internal tensions. (Z)

House Democrats Looking into Voter Suppression

We know for certain that there were ballot shenanigans in NC-09; hence the new election that will be held there sans "winner" Mark Harris. The Justice Dept. has now taken an interest in the matter, and a grand jury has subpoenaed Harris and several other members of his campaign team. He's already lost the seat in Congress he thought he had won, and now he'll be lucky if he stays out of prison.

The story may not end there, either. Beyond whatever additional investigations the folks at Justice might be working on, House Oversight Committee chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said on Tuesday that he and his committee will be taking a close look at what happened in "four or five" states in 2018. North Carolina is an obvious target, and not far behind are Georgia and Kansas, both of them with secretaries of state who were running elections that just happened to feature their own gubernatorial bids (with Brian Kemp, R, in Georgia winning and Kris Kobach, R, in Kansas losing). It's not clear what Cummings' endgame might be, whether to punish wrongdoers from 2018, or to create more justification for federal oversight of elections in 2020. (Z)

A Workable Border Proposal?

One does not generally turn to scientific publications for political coverage, any more than one would turn to political publications for scientific information, or Fox News for fair and balanced news coverage. However, there are always exceptions. Mark Fischetti, writing for Scientific American, has a very interesting piece about the border that potentially marries the goals of all factions. The proposal, in a nutshell:

Instead of an endless, inert wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, line the boundary with 2,000 miles of natural gas, solar and wind power plants. Use some of the energy to desalinate water from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean and ship it through pipelines to thirsty towns, businesses and new farms along the entire border zone. Hire hundreds of thousands of people from both countries to build and run it all. Companies would make money and provide security to safeguard their assets. A contentious, costly no-man's-land would be transformed into a corridor of opportunity.

Fischetti's article is actually a summation of a paper written by 27 academics who specialize in engineering and environmental issues, so it's not just one guy at one magazine spitballing.

There are, of course, some serious obstacles that will make it hard for such an idea to become reality. There would be security concerns, of course, and the eminent domain issues that exist with Donald Trump's current plans would remain. Most significantly, perhaps, one party currently wants to do everything possible to deny the President even the slightest bit of wall, or wall-like structure. And the other party has shown a notable disdain in the last decade for solutions that try to incorporate both sides' philosophies (see Obamacare). Still, it's a reminder that even the trickiest issues could have bipartisan solutions. (Z)

Trouble Across the Ocean: Brexit a Mess

Prime Minister Theresa May brought her latest Brexit proposal up for a vote on Tuesday. And, like the last one, it was soundly defeated. The vote was 391 to 242, with May getting the votes of 235 members of her Conservative Party, as well as 4 votes from independents, and 3 from Labour MPs. Voting against were the other 238 Labour members, 75 Conservatives, the other 6 Independents, and all of the MPs from the Scottish National Party (35), the Lib Dems (11), The Independent Group (11), the Democratic Unionist Party (10), Plaid Cymru (4), and the Green Party (1).

As things currently stand, the UK will leave the EU on March 29 with no deal in place. May, for her part, is left with a number of options, all of them problematic:

If the Brits do not figure this out, and they make a hard Brexit, their economy is almost certain to go into recession. And the repercussions could go far beyond that. As David Faris writes for The Week, the entire UK could collapse, with Scotland, Northern Ireland, and possibly even Wales reclaiming independent status.

Meanwhile, this story also has worldwide significance. If the British economy goes in the tank, it will probably take Europe with it, and may take the rest of the world. The Brexit is also a reminder that even a seasoned political veteran like May has trouble managing the shocks and tremors of modern foreign policy. If a country were to elect a total amateur, what chance would that person have? (Z)

Trouble Up North: Trudeau Administration Under Fire

Who knew that they have swamps up in Canada? But, despite the cold weather, it would seem they do. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, in large part, because he was young and forward-looking and promised hope to voters. There was much in common between him in 2015 and Barack Obama in 2008.

Now, however, the party appears to be over. At the heart of the current political crisis is SNC Lavalin, a Quebec-based engineering and construction company that is accused of giving more than $36 million US ($48.1 million Canadian) in bribes to Libya's Gaddafi family in exchange for construction contracts. If the company is convicted in court, they would be barred from bidding on federal contracts for 10 years, and the economy of Quebec would take a big hit. So, Trudeau tried to intervene on SNC Lavalin's behalf, putting pressure on Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to arrange for a much less severe penalty. She quit instead, and went public with her displeasure. As she is not only female but also indigenous, and as she took another female cabinet member (Jane Philpott) with her, the Trudeau administration just got much less diverse. The whole mess is being called "Lav-Scam," as the Canadians apparently don't know that all scandal names are required to end in "-gate."

Because of the scandal, previous errors by Trudeau, which were seen as charming or harmless, are getting new, and far less positive, attention. So too is his relative lack of substantive accomplishments. In view of this, there is a very good chance that Trudeau and his party will be swept out of power at the next general election (scheduled for October). From a vantage point down south, this significantly complicates Donald Trump's efforts to replace NAFTA. The decline (and fall?) of Trudeau would also appear to be a useful illustration of the "tipping point," namely that once a political leader's base starts to doubt him, his support can crater very quickly. (Z)

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