• Biden Is Focusing on Mid- and Lower-Level Appointees
• What Is Trump Up To?
• Trump 2024
• The Case of the Unredacted Apostrophe
• The Michigander vs. the Michigoose
• Earmarks Are Back
• Democrats Are Spending Millions to Hammer Perdue and Loeffler on Insider Trading
• Democrats Are Fighting over Feinstein's Replacement
"Biden Wins Georgia" is getting to be a little old, headline-wise, but once again, Joe Biden has won Georgia. Yesterday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) announced that the second recount of the entire state didn't change much of anything. Biden still won Georgia. Note the Secretary's exact words: "It looks like Vice President Biden will be carrying Georgia, and he is our president-elect." Not much fuzzy language here. Raffensperger is a statewide Republican elected official, who has now said point blank that Biden is the president-elect.
Donald Trump will no doubt continue bellowing that he won Georgia, but Raffensperger is clearly going to push back hard on that. And no, Trump is not entitled to a third recount. Georgia has already certified the vote, but a recount is allowed after certification. That has now occurred, so as far as Raffensperger and Georgia are concerned, it is really over now. (V)
Joe Biden knows that the Senate could slow-walk or even reject many of his cabinet and other high-level appointees. There is not a lot he can do about that, unless the Democrats win both Georgia runoffs. However, there are also many slots he gets to fill that do not require Senate confirmation. For example, deputy assistant secretaries don't need it. Those people can be hired on Jan. 20 and start work the same day. If a deputy assistant secretary is the highest-ranking official in a department, that person can run the department until someone higher up the food chain is confirmed.
Under these circumstances, then, Biden is reversing the normal pattern of first hiring the secretaries and deputies, then worrying about the assistants and deputy assistants. In particular, Biden is hiring many former government officials, such as retired diplomats, since they know the ropes and can start real work on Day 1. He is also considering hiring acting officials for positions requiring Senate confirmation, a practice Donald Trump turned into a fine art. One high-priority goal is replacing every single Trump political appointee immediately.
One promise Biden made that is complicating his search is the one saying he would make the government look more like America. This requires hiring large numbers of female, Black, Latino, Asian, and LBGTQ+ candidates, including younger ones. The pool of people from these demographics who also have lots of government experience is a lot smaller than the pool of experienced older white men. Therein lies the rub. Biden doesn't have the luxury of spending months hunting down qualified minority candidates. He needs to get going on Jan. 20.
Another problem related to Biden's promise is getting his people confirmed. Getting a young Black person who has never held a government position approved by the Senate may be tough because Republican senators can say: "I have nothing against Black people, but this particular Black person does not have the experience to be (deputy) secretary." In contrast, if Biden picks a (white) person who was a deputy secretary in the Obama administration and who has already been confirmed by the Senate at least once, the response is going to be: "Well, in 2009, the Senate thought he or she was good enough." Of course, Biden can pick Black people from the Obama administration, but the pool of them is somewhat small and not all of them want to go back into government service, especially if they currently have better-paying jobs in the private sector.
Some Republican senators (but not all) are actually acting like senators first and partisans second. For example, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said that he has "philosophical problems" with Janet Yellen as secretary of the treasury, but he could see no reason to oppose her nomination. Specifically he said: "My attitude is that, absent conflicts of interest or other—lack of temperament, and uber-partisanship—beyond those, that [Biden] should get the people who he wants to serve him." Note that this statement kind of implies that Biden, and not Trump, is going to be sworn in on Jan. 20. Other senators have also expressed the view that unless a nominee is far outside the mainstream, they should be confirmed quickly.
So far, the only nominee who might face a real fight is Neera Tanden, who is very close to Hillary Clinton and is Biden's pick to run the Office of Management and Budget. The federal budget is big. No, we don't mean the $5-trillion price tag part. We mean the thousands of pages part. While Biden may get the occasional pie chart in his in-box from the director of OMB, that person is expected to know what is actually in the budget request the White House sends to Congress every year. He or she has vast power to change how the government spends its money. Obviously, the OMB director is not going to cut the Pentagon's budget by 20% or increase HUD's budget by 30% without notifying the president, but that still leaves a massive amount of room for the director to de facto make policy. Sometimes it is said that "personnel is policy," but it is also true that "budget is policy." Tanden is a progressive, is (as noted) tight with Hillary Clinton, and has worked in government before, so she knows how to get stuff done. All of these things are giant red flags to Senate Republicans. (V)
Since we are professors, we just love giving pop quizzes. Here you go: Please explain in 500 words or fewer why anyone thought to put these two men in the same image. You have 5 minutes. Go.
If you are having a lot of trouble, please turn your computer upside down for a hint:
Answer: After Andrew Jackson's veep, Martin van Buren, served a term as president from 1837-1841, Van Buren ran again in 1840 but he was up against the Whig William Henry Harrison whose platform was summed up by the brilliant slogan: "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!" Some ad agency was no doubt paid big bucks to think of that one. It saved the day and turnout was 80%. Those were the days! Harrison won 234 EVs to Van Buren's 60 EVs. Van Buren got his revenge, though: Harrison died 31 days into his term and John Tyler took over.
In 1848, the defeated Van Buren ran again, this time not as a Democrat but on the Free Soil ticket. This party wanted to give anybody who planned to settle in the West 40 acres, a mule, and a wagonload of free dirt. Well, not really. It wanted to prevent slavery from expanding into the Western territories. It was dissolved in 1854 and later merged into the newly formed Republican party. The point about Van Buren is that after he lost an election, he ran again later, something Grover Cleveland also did. Van Buren lost but Cleveland won. Do you see where we are heading?
Yup, sources have told Axios' Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen (who are usually pretty well plugged in) that Donald Trump will probably soon announce his 2024 run. That doesn't mean he will run, but he is strongly suggesting it, as we mentioned yesterday, and as this tweet from Kaitlan Collins indicates:
At a White House Christmas party tonight, President Trump told guests, "It's been an amazing four years."We are trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I'll see you in four years."— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 2, 2020
There are a few reasons why Trump might announce a run now, even if he isn't absolutely determined to do it:
- He can continue to raise money in order to build up a war chest should he decide to do it.
- He can continue to trick his supporters into effectively donating to his super PAC, which can pay him a fat salary.
- He can stay in the limelight and get media attention, which he loves.
- An announcement makes it harder for Republican rivals to begin a campaign.
Several of Axios' sources said that they think Trump is bluffing and won't actually make the plunge come 2024. One of them said: "No one is going to let him have a free pass in the primary." One or more of Trump's rivals may adopt the slogan: "Don't vote for Donald the Loser." Also, some insiders expect that Trump may experience "hurdles he has never before experienced." Like being put on trial by both Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance and New York AG Letitia James, both of whom want to be governor of New York when Andrew Cuomo calls it a day and both of whom understand that either putting Trump behind bars or hitting him with a massive fine would impress New York Democrats.
Nevertheless, an announcement in a few weeks or months would make it harder for other Republicans to run in the "Trump lane." This certainly applies to Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), among others. It applies less to anti-Trump Republicans like Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) and former Ohio governor John Kasich. Still, it complicates the situation for all Republican wannabees. It helps veep-elect Kamala Harris and other Democratic wannabees simply by making it harder for potential general-election opponents to get started early raising money and signing up staff. (V)
There may also be another reason Donald Trump wants to start collecting money and scaring off possible rivals early. Maybe one of his kids is going to run. In fact, there could be a Trump vs. Trump primary if Donald Jr. and Ivanka go well-clad toe to well-clad toe. That won't happen in public, of course, but if Donald Sr. sees early on that he has no "Get Out of Jail Free" card (literally), he may encourage Ivanka and Junior to think about it. A Trump/Trump ticket would be possible if Ivanka moves back to New York (or maybe New Jersey) and Junior moves to Florida, but we don't think that is likely. Junior is the Trumpier of the two, but Ivanka clearly has political ambitions and would love to be the first female president:
Over a dozen sources have told the Washington Post that Ivanka wants to stay involved with politics. She could run for Carolyn Maloney's seat in NY-12 in 2022, but running for the House is a step down when you think of yourself as presidential material. She could challenge Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in 2022, but the chance of her winning that is pretty close to zero, so it is POTUS or bust for her. Besides, when you are born into great wealth, you start at the top. And if ever there was a family that embodied the old line about "born on third base and thinks they hit a triple," it's the Trumps.
Obviously a lot (maybe everything) depends on whom Donald Sr. chooses as his heir. Junior is like him in that he is a noisy, angry, resentful white man who hates the same people Dad hates. This makes him the natural heir. But Junior is not as smart as his dad and has little of his charisma. Being angry isn't enough. More important, Donald Sr. is obviously in love with his beautiful daughter and she is his favorite child. He is also probably savvy enough to realize that Ivanka would do much better with women voters than he did or Don Jr. would, especially if the Democrats run Kamala Harris in 2024.
Then again, Ivanka has never really been under the microscope. Michael Cohen said of her: "There's too much potential dirt that she doesn't want released" and Cohen knows where some of the soil is. Just as one example, Donald Trump's 2017 inaugural committee raised $107 million. It spent only a fraction of that. What happened to the surplus? Was Ivanka involved in some way? Inquiring minds want to know. In fact, inquiring minds are already looking into the matter; Ivanka was deposed yesterday by D.C. AG Karl Racine. And you can bet that if Ivanka or Junior announces a run in 2023, 100 investigative reporters will be working on that story. There are also many other sordid areas where Ivanka could be involved. Still, combining a woman and a Trump could be interesting, especially if it is in the same person. (V)
It sounds like something for Sherlock Holmes, but it is actually the work of U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell. The Justice Dept. is working on a case that looks like someone paid a bribe to get a pardon. But who? Howell released some of the paperwork yesterday, which she referred to as a "bribery-for-pardon scheme," but it was very heavily redacted to remove clues about who the briber and bribee were and how far along the case is. It appears that someone was using political connections (and money) to get a pardon for a crime for which someone has already been convicted. But who? The name of the person was blacked out everywhere in the document. However, in several places, there is a lone unredacted apostrophe following a redacted name that was not blacked out. Imagine, in turn, that the criminal seeking the pardon was either Smith or Jones. Then sentences like these might have appeared:Smith's appeal is based on ...
Jones' appeal is based on ...
But after redaction, if all we got was:xxxxx's appeal is based on ...
xxxxx' appeal is based on ...
we would have a clue. Since there is a dangling apostrophe after the blacked-out name of the criminal, we can probably conclude that his last name ends in "s." But who? The document suggests that the person requesting the pardon has made substantial political donations and that the request reached the White House Counsel's office. There is no clear-cut, obvious suspect as yet, though it's worth noting that the DeVos family fits the profile pretty well, and has a few felonious friends they might want to help out. In any event, this case is going to make a splash if the Justice Dept. brings formal charges of bribery, but we are not there yet. This administration may go down in history as the one that tested the limits of the Constitution's emoluments clause and its pardon clause. (V)
Sparks are flying. It is relatively rare for a very high-profile journalist to say that a very high-profile party official is so dishonest and untrustworthy that reporting his or her take on an article would be deceiving the public. And no, it's not Maggie Haberman vs. Donald Trump. It's about two Michigan natives, Politico's chief political correspondent Tim Alberta and RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.
On Nov. 24, Alberta published an article entitled "The Inside Story of Michigan's Fake Voter Fraud Scandal" about how McDaniel strongly supported Donald Trump's claim that there was fraud in the Michigan election even though she knew absolutely perfectly well that it was a complete lie. According to Alberta, she lied through her teeth about this in order to please Trump, so he would support renewing her contract as RNC chair in January. To Alberta, this is corruption of the first rank and he feels that it is the job of political reporters to expose this kind of stuff.
One unusual thing about Alberta's piece was that he didn't ask McDaniel for her take on it. When writing an item on someone, especially when you are calling them a hypocrite and a liar, it is normal to ask them for a reaction. Alberta didn't do that this time. After it went up, RNC Communications Director Michael Ahrens sent this email to Alberta: "Is there a lot more editorial leeway granted with magazine pieces that allows you to write at length about someone and not reach out to them at all before publishing? Haven't run into this before with Politico or many other mainstream outlets to be honest, but wanted to check." Perfectly reasonable reaction from the RNC. Then came Alberta's reaction, which the Washington Post got a hold of (presumably from Alberta) and published:
Thanks for reaching out.
To answer your question: Our editorial standards are fairly uniform across mediums/verticals. 99.9% of the time, I will request comment from a principal or organization I'm writing about. However, there are extremely rare instances when the person/entity has proven so dishonest and so untrustworthy that I feel no obligation to provide them a platform from which to deceive the public. Sadly, that is the case with Chairwoman McDaniel and her staff at the RNC.
If you'd like to pass along comment from her in response to the piece, I'd be happy to review it.
Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving,
So Alberta believes McDaniel has proven herself so dishonest and untrustworthy that it's not worth even asking her about anything any more. Whew! And Alberta is not some dirty smelly hippie reporter. He used to work for the National Review, which is hardly a Democratic bastion.
In a nutshell—and now in public on account of the WaPo story—it is clear that at least some (and probably many) reporters think that the institutional Republican Party is not worth talking to, because it is so corrupt and willing to claim that an election was rigged even though it knows perfectly well that it is lying.
This incident reveals a serious problem for the media. How should a publication handle a story when it is writing about some public figure and it knows for sure that the person being written about is simply lying all the time? This has come up in the context of Donald Trump already, with some publications gently chiding him with lines like: "President Trump falsely claimed today that..." But now Alberta has raised the ante quite a bit by not only calling McDaniel a dishonest person who is lying to the country to keep her job but saying that letting her respond to an article would be worse than just not getting her take at all. We wonder how many more stories like this are going to get written after Jan. 20. (V)
Senators dream big, as in words in a federal appropriations bill stating: "$50 million is hereby appropriated for the construction of a new terminal building at the East Cupcake International Airport." Representatives dream small, as in words in an appropriations bill stating: "$800,000 is hereby appropriated for upgrading the playground at the Millard Fillmore Elementary School in West Cupcake." Budget provisions that specify that a specific amount of money goes for a specific project are called earmarks (or just "pork") and are currently banned. House Democrats want to bring them back. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will be the new chair of the House Appropriations Committee, succeeding the retiring Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), and DeLauro is a big fan of earmarks. Good government it's not, but who cares about good government when you can get new swings and maybe a trampoline at a school playground in your district?
The House's plan puts (current) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a bind. It's not that he is a goody-goody senator who opposes loading up the budget with more ornaments than the White House Christmas tree. In fact, he rather likes the idea, and fought with then-senators John McCain and Jim DeMint, who wanted to kill them as a way to reduce government spending. But one of them is dead and the other is gone, so McConnell might be able to have the Senate approve them again if he wanted to. The problem is that the tea party Republican deficit hawks would object and he doesn't want to spark an internal fight within his caucus, some of whose members still hate earmarks. McConnell's home state junior colleague, Sen. Rand Paul (R), recently said: "The days when we had 6,000 earmarks on transportation bills was a bad idea." On the other hand, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said: "I'm interested in it. We've lost touch with the ability to really help our communities and our states in really specific ways." English translation: "All West Virginia has is a bunch of dilapidated old coal mines that Joe Biden is going to try to shut down, so I'm all for pumping lots of federal money into West Virginia, thank you."
Interestingly enough, pork can bring together senators representing pig producers in Iowa and senators sensitive to the concerns of Chinese restaurant owners who love twice-cooked pork in New York. When a senator or representative has inserted a specific provision in a bill that helps his or her state or district, there is a strong motivation to support the bill, even if that person has ideological problems with the bill. More bluntly, a senator who strongly opposes the Green New Deal as a matter of principle may suddenly change his tune if there is a specific provision in a bill that requires the government to build a $100-million wind-turbine park in his state, with all the construction, maintenance, and operational jobs that entails.
In other words, bringing back earmarks may actually make it easier for Joe Biden to govern because he can then try to buy off recalcitrant senators with earmarks that pour federal money into their states, especially if Biden does this openly. No senator wants to face a primary opponent whose first ad says: "Sen. X voted against a bill that would have spent $50 million to build a new terminal right here at the East Cupcake International Airport." Is spending the taxpayers' money effectively bribing senators and representatives the best use of federal funds? Absolutely not, but it could grease the wheels of government and make them actually turn. (V)
The Democrats don't want to nationalize the two Georgia runoffs and make it "Democrats vs. Republicans," because the elections showed that there are still a lot of Republicans in Georgia, even if some of them were unwilling to vote for Donald Trump. Instead, the Democrats are avoiding saying "Republicans are evil," and are spending millions to promote the message that the two Georgia Republicans actually running, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, are corrupt politicians. The ads attack both for using inside information they got in January at a confidential Senate briefing on the coronavirus and its possible effects on the economy to sell stock in companies that were likely to be negatively affected by a pandemic (e.g., airlines and hotels) and buy stock in companies that could profit from it (e.g., medical supply companies and companies that make teleworking software).
Since Nov. 3, the Democrats have already spent $10 million hammering the pair and are about to spend another $6 million on two new ads beating them over the head some more on the issue. The theme is: "Georgians simply can't trust David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler when they're knee-deep in the swamp and profiting at their expense." As you probably know, Georgia is the Peach State. So an ad about rotten peaches is a natural. Watch:
The second ad focuses on a New York Times report on other stock trades Perdue made that look a lot like he used insider information in a company on whose board he once sat to sell stock at just the right moment and then buy it back at just the right moment. Coincidences happen, right? Perdue's opponent, Jon Ossoff (D), said: "The standard for conduct for a U.S. Senator needs to be higher than that he wasn't criminally prosecuted. This conduct is obviously deeply unethical and his lies all year that he doesn't personally direct his stock trades have been exposed as lies." Raphael Warnock, who is running against Loeffler, made the same point: "The people of Georgia deserve to know that when we send someone to the Senate, that person is not focused on their business, they're focused on the people's business."
Both senators have said that they are innocent and that the real issue is preventing the Democrats from controlling the Senate and carrying out their radical policies. In truth, what matters more than either of these themes is which party is better at turning out its base, either in the run-up to the runoff or on Jan. 5 itself. (V)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) resigned her status as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee under pressure from Democrats who were disgusted with her somewhat kid-gloves approach to the Amy Coney Barrett hearing, which culminated in Feinstein giving Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) a hug. Next in seniority on the Committee is Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), but he is ranking member of the Appropriations Committee and is not eligible to also be ranking member or chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The #3 is Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), but he is whip and many Democrats feel that being the top Democrat on a major committee and also being whip is too much power for one person. The #4 is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who is an outspoken progressive. Both Durbin and Whitehouse want to be ranking member or chairman of Judiciary, depending on which party is in the majority. This battle is not only between a moderately liberal senator and a more progressive one, but also an attack on the seniority system itself.
Many younger senators don't like the idea of having to serve 18 years before you get any real power in the Senate. They want to reform or abolish the seniority system. The old guard is less keen on reform. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has stayed neutral in the Durbin-Whitehouse fight, saying the caucus should decide. Some members are now talking about broad changes to the rules, not just the top slot in one committee. If the rules are changed, for example, to allow the Democrats on each committee to elect their own leader, that would be a historic change and would allow younger senators to move up much faster in the hierarchy.
The position of ranking member/chair of the Judiciary Committee is critical, as all of Joe Biden's judicial nominations (and some other nominations) will pass through the Committee. The candidates' chances could depend on how well the top Democrat leads the fight. Feinstein didn't have much fight left in her, which is why the caucus forced her to give up her position as ranking member.
Durbin has made clear that he wants the job and also wants to stay on as whip. Whitehouse has said the caucus should decide. If the Democrats win both runoffs in Georgia, then the position will be extremely important, since then there will be a real chance of filling many judicial vacancies. If the Republicans control the Senate, then Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will be chairman and Biden may have a tough time filling them. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec02 Don Trixote Continues to Tilt at Electoral Windmills
Dec02 Trump Inches Closer to Making it Official
Dec02 Trump About to Suffer One Last Foreign Policy Loss on His Way Out the Door
Dec02 What Ails the Democrats, Part 647
Dec02 Biden Pressured to Make Cabinet More Diverse
Dec02 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Health and Human Services
Dec01 Certifiable Loser
Dec01 Cold Turkey
Dec01 940,000 Absentee Ballots Have Been Requested for Georgia Runoff So Far
Dec01 Can the Democrats Win Back the Cuban Vote?
Dec01 Voters Apparently Like What They Are Seeing from Biden
Dec01 Five Things That Saved Democracy
Dec01 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Labor
Nov30 Appeals Court Slaps Down Trump
Nov30 Biden's Lead in Wisconsin Grows by 87 Votes
Nov30 Biden Breaks a Record
Nov30 Biden's Top Five Challenges
Nov30 Supreme Court to Hear Census Case Today
Nov30 House Results Are Nearly Complete Now
Nov30 Republicans Came Back to Life in California
Nov30 Why Did the Democrats Do So Badly in House Races?
Nov30 The Senate Will Be Plunged into Uncertainty for Weeks Next Year
Nov30 Is Democracy Safe Now?
Nov30 Can the Democrats Win Again in 2024?
Nov30 Build That Wall!
Nov29 Sunday Mailbag
Nov28 Saturday Q&A
Nov27 Trump Says He'll Leave if He Loses the Electoral College
Nov27 How Long to Go from the White House to the Big House?
Nov27 Trump Complicates Things in Georgia
Nov27 Trump Foreign Policy More a Wrong Turn Than a Real Change in Direction
Nov27 The Last Gasp of Anti-Trans Politics?
Nov27 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Commerce
Nov27 The Thanksgiving Angle
Nov26 Biden Hits 80 Million Votes
Nov26 Biden Rules Out Having Sanders and Warren in the Cabinet
Nov26 Jaime Harrison Is the Frontrunner for DNC Chairman
Nov26 Trump Pardons Michael Flynn
Nov26 Should Trump Be Prosecuted?
Nov26 Another Theory about Why the Polls Were Wrong
Nov26 Money Can Buy Ads, but Not Love
Nov26 How to Run a Proper Election
Nov26 All Hail to the Gerrymander
Nov25 Pennsylvania and Nevada Have Now Certified Their Election Results
Nov25 Here's What Biden's Transition Team Will Now Get
Nov25 People Are Pissed
Nov25 Trump is Salting the Earth as He Retreats
Nov25 Trump Is Also Making Life Difficult for Republicans
Nov25 Trump's Base Strategy Failed