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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Four Out of Five Presidents Believe in Setting an Example on COVID-19
      •  Pardon Power Is no Panacea
      •  Graham Could Be in Hot Water
      •  Georgia Republicans Brace for Trump's Arrival
      •  And Now We Know
      •  Projecting the Cabinet Is a Real Crapshoot
      •  The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Four Out of Five Presidents Believe in Setting an Example on COVID-19

During World War II, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration asked civilians to make a number of sacrifices, among them participating in blackouts when there was a possibility of enemy air attacks. It is true that there was some enforcement of blackout decrees, but adherence was mostly achieved voluntarily, by persuading citizens that it was their patriotic duty to their fellow Americans to do their part.

When it comes to COVID-19, by contrast, the waters have been poisoned pretty badly by Donald Trump and other Republicans, such that it will be nearly impossible to achieve widespread, voluntary adherence to things like mask-wearing. However, Joe Biden said on Thursday that he's going to give it his best shot, and that he will call on Americans to wear masks for 100 days as soon as he takes office. One could plausibly condemn this as a half-measure that won't change much of anything, since people who are already wearing masks don't need to be asked, and those who aren't will not likely change their behavior in response to a request. On the other hand, at least Biden will be setting a positive example. Further, if he tried to go further and require mandatory mask-wearing, it would be impractical to enforce and would likely cause some folks who might otherwise mask up to go maskless in order to demonstrate that the guv'mint can't tell them what to do.

In addition to Biden, presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton are also willing to set an example when it comes to COVID-19. On Thursday, each of them announced that as soon as a vaccine has Dr. Anthony Fauci's endorsement, they will get vaccinated in order to demonstrate that it's safe. In fact, all three have agreed to receive their shots on camera, so everyone can see there's no shenanigans going on. That won't stop all the conspiracy theorizing, but it will stop a lot of it.

So, that is presidents 42, 43, 44, and 46. Who seems to be missing in that series? Hmmmm...let us think....ah yes, #45. Donald Trump continues to spend much time and energy insisting that he won the election and everyone knows it (more below). He is investing, by all indications, zero energy in fighting the pandemic. Indeed, the President's primary "advisor" on COVID-19, Scott Atlas, resigned this week. Atlas has not been replaced, nor is there any expectation that he will be.

The total lack of leadership from the White House comes at a rather inopportune time, as the pandemic is as bad as it's ever been. Trump likes to set records, but presumably not this sort, as Wednesday saw a high for COVID-19 hospitalizations in a single day (over 100,000) and COVID-19 deaths in a single day (over 2,800). And all of this is before the expected post-Thanksgiving surge that will surely push the death total above 3,000/day. Or, in other words, a 9/11 attack every single day.

Put bluntly, the President is fiddling (on his iPhone) while America burns. By that standard, a president who is at least willing to say "Hey! Wear a mask!" is a pretty big step in the right direction. (Z)

Pardon Power Is no Panacea

We've already written a bit about the pardon power this week, but Thursday saw the publication of a couple of interesting new pieces about the subject, so let's write a little bit more. The executive summary: Donald Trump is not likely to benefit quite as much from the pardon power as he likely thinks.

We'll start with this piece by Slate's Frank Bowman, who discusses how escaping federal liability could increase Trump's exposure to state liability. First of all, to give himself a true "Get Out of Jail Free" card, the President would not only have to pardon himself (which probably wouldn't stand up to legal scrutiny), but also any of his businesses that could be exposed to federal charges. In so doing, however, Trump would be giving a road map to state prosecutors as to exactly where to look for his and his family's skeletons.

Another issue, which we've noted before, is that anyone who accepts a pardon largely forfeits their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. The exception to this is if their offense could also lead to state-level charges. However, many of the folks in line for a Trump pardon (like, say, Rudy Giuliani) have only run afoul of federal law. So, Rudy could be subpoenaed by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance or New York AG Letitia James and, if he's taken a pardon, be forced to spill his guts. Or not. How many different ways can you say: "I don't remember"? Actually, saying (under oath) that you don't remember when you do remember is perjury, but it is very hard to prove.

Further, Trump may be planning to grant pardons to some corporate entities (like, say, his accounting firm Mazars) to keep them from talking about his dealings with them. While accepting a pardon is not an automatic acknowledgment of guilt, it nonetheless suggests guilt in the eyes of the general public. And so, some of these entities might not want a pardon due to the PR hit, and may prefer to sing like canaries instead.

Meanwhile, Fordham law professor Jed Handelsman Shugerman, writing for Politico, makes the interesting point that a whole bunch of Trump pardons for himself and his family might actually do Joe Biden a favor, giving him cover to not go after Trump, and to instead leave the matter to state-level prosecutors.

Trump, of course, has spent his whole adult life avoiding the consequences of his actions. And maybe he'll deploy his Jedi-like skills, and pull it off again, once he leaves office. But his chances aren't looking too good, given the size and the number of holes he's managed to dig for himself. (Z)

Graham Could Be in Hot Water

Speaking of people who could use a pardon right now, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) may have taken his enthusiasm for kowtowing to Donald Trump a bit too far. Michael J. Moore is currently in private practice, but he served as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia for five years, and so he knows a thing or two about election law. And Moore has now filed a formal complaint with the Georgia State Board of Elections, asking them to look into Graham's mucking around in the Peach State's ballot counting.

Under the terms of Georgia law, it is a criminal offense when someone "solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or otherwise attempts to cause" another person to commit an election-related offense. It is also a criminal offense to interfere with the state secretary of state as they perform their election-related duties. And so, when Graham called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) and leaned on him to toss out multiple thousands of valid ballots, the Senator appears to have committed both offenses. He also unwisely chose to do so while several of Raffensperger's underlings were listening in. Those folks, who have already confirmed what happened, are what is known as "witnesses" (forgive the fancy legal terminology).

It short, Graham certainly appears to have been caught red-handed. His best hope is that Georgia authorities decline to pursue the matter. Failing that, he can shoot for a pardon, but he can't get one from Trump since it's a violation of state, and not federal, law. Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) might be persuaded to grant one, except that in Georgia, he doesn't have that power. Instead, it would be up to the five members of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, who are presumably less susceptible to political influence than a governor who will have to go before voters again in 2 years. Add it up, and the Senator might well need recommendations for a good lawyer. Which is, of course, something else Trump can't help him with. (Z)

Georgia Republicans Brace for Trump's Arrival

This much is certain: Donald Trump will be in Georgia this weekend in an effort to rally support for Trump-loving U.S. Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue (both R-GA). What is unknown is what impact he will have. Georgia Republicans are consuming a lot of Tums and Pepto Bismol right now, as they worry about what damaging things he might say. In particular, they are concerned that he will spend all of his time railing against rigged elections, thus persuading many Republican voters that casting a ballot is a waste of time.

The GOP pooh-bahs are absolutely right to worry. On Wednesday, Team Trump posted to social media a video that the President described as "maybe the most important speech I've ever made." If you haven't seen it, and you would like to:

We are reminded of the old aphorism that if you're rich and crazy, then you're eccentric, but if you're poor and crazy, then you're just crazy. If Trump had delivered that harangue while standing in the middle of Central Park, he probably would have been hauled off to a facility with padded walls. It's only because he's president that he gets away with something so unhinged. And perhaps worst of all is that the video was clearly edited by the White House social media crew. That makes this video the best parts, crafted to make Trump look as good as is possible. One shudders to think about what the raw footage looked like.

In short, the chances that Trump spends the weekend undermining Republican confidence in the elections are approximately 99.99%. And once he leaves, the banner will be taken up by Trump-loving lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell. They keep filing lawsuit after lawsuit trying to overturn the results in Georgia and elsewhere. Their filings are so comically inept—filled with misspellings, gross errors of fact, and serious errors of law—that Team Trump fired them, which is really saying something. Indeed, some folks have even speculated (tongue-in-cheek) that the duo are actually Democratic operatives. In any event, Wood and Powell are doing an excellent job of keeping "you can't trust the elections" in the minds of Republican voters, something that Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and a top election official in Georgia, says is guaranteed to depress GOP turnout. Given that the number of absentee ballot requests for the runoff election is now close to 1 million, and that those are expected to break heavily for the Democratic candidates, it is not an easy time to be a Republican muckety-muck in Georgia. (Z)

And Now We Know

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a supporter of and major donor to, Donald Trump's presidential campaign, certainly tried to put his thumb on the scales for the President, taking steps to gum up the delivery of mail, including absentee ballots. Continuing a theme from other political "activism" in his life, DeJoy went too far, too fast, and in too obvious a fashion. And so, much of his scheming was foiled by uncooperative USPS employees and even more uncooperative federal judges.

That is not to say that all of DeJoy's scheming was countermanded, however. NBCLX has conducted an analysis of the election results, and they believe that USPS delivery delays ultimately nullified between 25,000 and 50,000 votes nationwide. Since states report data in different ways, with different levels of specificity, it's not possible to be more precise than that.

So that's the bad news. The good news is that the lost ballots did not affect the presidential race. Joe Biden won, of course, but beyond that NBCLX believes that no more than 2,000 ballots in any one state were affected. Since no state was decided by fewer than 2,000 votes, that means that DeJoy's chicanery was not decisive anywhere. Well, at least not at the national level. The Iowa would-be Democratic congresswoman who lost by 6 votes certainly might have been affected. (Z)

Projecting the Cabinet Is a Real Crapshoot

In our series on potential Joe Biden cabinet picks, we have tried—and will continue to try—to guess, as best as possible, whom he might pick. However, things can ebb and flow very rapidly, often based on things that are not publicly known.

Take the secretaryship of the Department of Health and Human Services, which we wrote up just 48 hours ago. When we published that item, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) was the favorite to be tapped, with former surgeon general Vivek Murthy the other frontrunner. Since they both check a lot of boxes, it seemed almost certain it would be one of the two.

Well, since then, things have changed. First of all, news broke Wednesday that Lujan Grisham had fallen out of favor because she declined an offer to lead Interior and insisted on HHS instead. That seemingly cleared the way for Murthy, except that insiders said Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI)—someone who made so little sense to us that she didn't even make our top five—was the new favorite, because she performed so impressively when being vetted as a potential VP candidate. Raimondo's tenure at the top of the leaderboard was short-lived, however, as progressives howled about the possibility of someone with such a strong corporate background taking over such an important post. So, by Thursday, Raimondo was out.

That means that Murthy's path is now clear, right? Nope. He's already accepted appointment to a second term as surgeon general. So, in 48 hours, not one, not two, but three candidates went from "frontrunner" to "off the board." At the moment, it looks like it will be a dark horse candidate who gets the HHS gig. On the other hand, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other Latino leaders are furious that Lujan Grisham was cast aside, and are giving Biden an earful. So, perhaps the New Mexico Governor will rise from the ashes, even if Phoenix is actually located in the next state over.

HHS is not the only cabinet job where this is currently happening, either. When we wrote up Agriculture, the leading candidates were former senator Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH). However, Heitkamp is too centrist for some Democrats, and too white for others. Meanwhile Fudge, who was the favorite of progressives, has fallen out of favor with many of them. As a result of this churn, former USDA official and Obama-era deputy Agriculture secretary Kathleen Merrigan, former United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez, and Obama-era Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack have zoomed into contention. None of those folks even made our list a week ago.

And so, it's another reminder that in politics, a week (or even 48 hours) is a long time, and that you should take our cabinet projections with at least a few grains of salt. To a large extent, it's about whoever happens to be at the front of the line when Biden makes his announcement, and can no longer change his mind. (Z)

The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

And speaking of cabinet projections, it's time to take another shot (in the dark?). The positions we've already written up:

And now, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

  • The Job: As we get to the departments that are of more recent vintage (HUD was created in 1965), the names are more instructive, as elements of the bureaucracy became more specialized. And so, Housing and Urban Development does exactly what you think it does, working to get people into housing, to make sure that housing is as good and as safe as is possible, and to protect people from being unfairly evicted or foreclosed upon.

    It is worth noting, however, HUD is one of the most frequently criticized federal agencies. One touchy issue is finding and enforcing the very thin line between acceptable marketing hyperbole and false advertising. Another one is foreclosure policy. On one hand, if people don't pay the bills, eventually they have to pay the piper. On the other hand, pretty much every foreclosure sanctioned or imposed by HUD takes a home out of the hands of working/middle class people, and tends to put it in the hands of business interests or speculators. Some secretaries have been accused of wielding the foreclosure hammer too liberally, in service of their investor friends.

  • Considerations: The HUD secretaryship is often one of the cabinet's "diversity" positions. Whether that is a coincidence, or because some presidents hear "urban" and proceed accordingly, we do not know. In any case, of the 10 men who have served in the job since Ronald Reagan took office (no women have served since Jimmy Carter's administration), 4 were white, 3 were Black, and 3 were Latino. It is probable that Joe Biden will also choose a person of color.

    They haven't gotten much attention, but Biden has some very ambitious housing plans, including billions of dollars of investments in more affordable housing, restoration of Obama-era fair housing rules, and a reduction of (inefficient) single-family zoning. Some of this will require the Senate to play ball, which they will presumably only do if the two Democrats sweep the Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs. Some of this can be done without the Senate. Either way, the next HUD secretary will be very busy doing things beyond picking fancy new furniture for their office.

  • Candidate 1, Keisha Lance Bottoms: The Mayor of Atlanta rose to national prominence in 2020, primarily thanks to her leadership after the killing of George Floyd. This nearly landed her the VP slot, and has many Democrats thinking of her as a rising star. Affordable housing is one of her signature issues, and she has spent her term pushing hard for (but not yet getting) $1 billion to construct affordable housing.

    However, Bottoms has been criticized for speaking much, but achieving little. Further, Atlanta has a population of just over 500,000, which is a wee bit smaller than, you know, the whole country. And Bottoms has no federal experience, and just two years as mayor under her belt. Admittedly, that résumé leaves current secretary Ben Carson in the dust, but it's still pretty thin by the usual standards for the job.

  • Candidate 2, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA): Bass, like Bottoms, was mentioned as a VP candidate. Unlike Bottoms, she is also under consideration to lead Health and Human Services. Clearly, the Representative has impressed a lot of people. And, as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, she has a lot of important people pulling for her. Prior to her political career, she was an affordable housing activist in Los Angeles, so she knows a fair bit about HUD's mission.

    All of this said, there may be a reason that Bass is often the bridesmaid, but never the bride (at least so far). Her time in public office is limited exclusively to legislative offices, which means that taking the reins at one of the federal government's largest bureaucracies (HHS) or one of the bureaucracies most prone to controversy and corruption (HUD) would be a big jump.

  • Candidate 3, Alvin Brown: Brown has a wide and varied résumé; he has been mayor of Jacksonville, FL, a HUD advisor and Commerce Dept. official under Bill Clinton, executive director of the Bush/Clinton Katrina Interfaith Fund, and a faculty member at Jacksonville University's Davis School of Business. Currently, he leads the Willie Gary Classic Foundation, which awards scholarships at HBCUs. If Biden wants someone who is prepared for many different facets of the job, then Brown could be his man.

    On the other hand, outside of fairly limited involvement with HUD two decades ago, Brown's experience does not really speak to the core missions of the Agency. Further, Biden has shown a preference for people he knows well, and Brown is a Clinton guy, and not an Obama or a Biden guy.

  • Candidate 4, Maurice Jones: And speaking of people Biden knows, Jones served as Undersecretary of HUD in the Obama administration and then as the Virginia Secretary of Commerce in the cabinet of Governor Terry McAuliffe. Both of those postings mean that Biden is in Jones' Rolodex and Jones is in Biden's Rolodex (to readers under 30, a Rolodex was a means of keeping track of contact information before cell phones were invented). At the moment, Jones is president and CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, which is a community development bank.

    Jones' biggest problem, beyond being lesser-known than the other candidates on the list, is that he has fewer enthusiastic supporters in the Party than his rivals (particularly Bottoms and Bass). If Biden wants to do some serious political back-scratching, he may have to look elsewhere.

  • Candidate 5, Diane Yentel: Yentel is the leader of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which means she's been doing the same basic work that HUD does for over a decade. She's also been an outspoken Trump critic who made headlines more than once with her pointed commentary. Democrats, as you might have noticed, are fond of outspoken Trump critics.

    Of course, running a medium-sized nonprofit is not quite the same as running a giant-sized federal bureaucracy. Also, Yentel is the only person on this list who is white, which might be fatal to her candidacy in and of itself.

At the moment, these five appear to be the finalists. The only other name floating around is that of Tampa, FL, mayor Joan Castor, but she does not appear to be a serious candidate. That said, things can change quickly (see above).

Up Tuesday, again assuming Biden doesn't beat us to it, is the Secretary of Transportation. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

Our first quality polls of the Georgia U.S. Senate races in a couple of weeks. We will remind you, first of all, that polling special elections is a tricky business. We will also remind you, however, that the problem with the Nov. 3 polls was, more often than not, that Republican voters were inaccurately counted as "undecided." Since these two polls have only 2% and 3% undecided, respectively, there's a decent chance they're on the mark in terms of whom registered voters favor. But everything depends on who actually votes, so unfortunately you have to take these polls with a barrel of salt despite the fact that SurveyUSA is a quality pollster and is keenly aware of all the recent polling problems. That said, 30.5% of Georgians are Black, 8.8% are Latino, and 3.2% are Asian American. Given a chance to replace a corrupt white near-billionaire with the fellow now preaching from Martin Luther King's pulpit at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, minority turnout might just be better than usual. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Georgia Jon Ossoff 50% David Perdue* 48% Nov 27 Nov 30 SurveyUSA
Georgia-special Raphael Warnock 52% Kelly Loeffler* 45% Nov 27 Nov 30 SurveyUSA

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec03 Biden Wins Georgia--Again
Dec03 Biden Is Focusing on Mid- and Lower-Level Appointees
Dec03 What Is Trump Up To?
Dec03 Trump 2024
Dec03 The Case of the Unredacted Apostrophe
Dec03 The Michigander vs. the Michigoose
Dec03 Earmarks Are Back
Dec03 Democrats Are Spending Millions to Hammer Perdue and Loeffler on Insider Trading
Dec03 Democrats Are Fighting over Feinstein's Replacement
Dec02 Pardon Me?
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