• Cabinet Nominees Mount a Charm Offensive
• Six Trump Cabinet Officials Avoided the Ax
• Trump Won't Announce a 2024 Run before Jan. 20
• Biden Vows to Punish Russia for Cyber Attack
• Poll: Trump Is One of the Worst Presidents Ever
• Early Voting Turnout Is High in Georgia
• Parties Have Different Strategies in Georgia
Christmas is getting closer and Congress wants to put a relief bill under the tree. Actually, they wanted to put it under the Easter tree, then under the Memorial Day tree, then under the Independence Day tree, then under the Labor Day tree, then under the Election Day tree. None of that happened. This was the last chance for 2020. A vote is expected this morning, and a final bill may land on Donald Trump's desk today.
The parties have different motivations for finally getting their acts together. Democrats know that a lot of people are hurting badly and want to get them some aid. Republicans are worried that if Congress does nothing, then Democrats will campaign in the Georgia runoffs under the motto: "This is what divided government gets you: Nothing. You like it?" Members of both parties definitely do not want to be stuck in D.C. over the holidays, so they want to get a bill and go home.
The problem all year was that neither party was willing to compromise, because compromise means giving up things they really, really care about. Democrats want aid for state and local governments. Republicans want to prevent businesses from being sued if their workers get COVID-19. Actually, Democrats were kind of dumb here. Successful suits against employers are extremely rare because in court the defendant's lawyer is going to ask: "Can you prove that you got COVID-19 from work and not from some other source?" How can anyone prove that? Democrats should have agreed to the liability protection if the Republicans agreed to the aid to state and local governments. But they didn't.
The package will send out $600 relief checks to (almost) everyone, which Paul Krugman has argued is a waste of money since the economy is not suffering from a lack of demand and many recipients don't need the money. It will also boost unemployment benefits by $300, which is much better targeted at people who need help.
Other features of the bill are a simplified FAFSA form for students applying for Pell grants, an extension of the eviction moratorium for renters, mortgage forbearance, and some other smaller items.
One sticking point was whether the Fed should continue to have authority to lend to businesses and local governments after Dec. 31. Republicans wanted to turn the faucet to "off." Democrats wanted the Fed to continue lending. Late Saturday, a vague compromise was found in which the Fed would not be allowed to continue the exact lending programs in the CARES Act without congressional approval, but would be able to lend using its other powers. Nobody knows what that actually means and, at this point, nobody cares either. So we finally have a bill, after 6 months of trying.
How will Trump respond to it? He hasn't been involved and he doesn't appear to be interested. That alone sums up his presidency. The country is facing a health crisis and an economic crisis at the same time and the president isn't interested. When Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans and then-president George W. Bush responded by going out to sunny Arizona to wish John McCain a happy birthday, he took a lot of flak for that. But this is 1000 times worse. Most likely, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will tell Trump that this is the best bill the Republicans could get, so please sign here on the dotted line, and Trump will do so. Ending his presidency with a giant middle finger to the country probably wouldn't play well in Georgia, where the voters can still chime in on how they feel about things. (V)
Joe Biden has picked most of his cabinet. Now comes the hard part: getting them approved by the Senate. If Republicans win one or both of the Georgia runoffs, the GOP will control the Senate and there could be close votes on some of the nominees Republicans don't like. The nominees themselves understand this, and are already actively campaigning to win the hearts and minds of powerful lobbying groups and individual senators.
The confirmation wars will test out a number of new themes. What will post-Trumpian politics be like? Will Republican senators consider Biden the legitimate president? Will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) start to stymie Biden on day 1? How will Republican senators who are planning to run in 2024 play it? The nominees have to consider all these factors when planning their confirmation campaigns, although some will get an easier ride than others, either because they are not controversial or because nobody cares about the position.
The nominees collectively have already held 100 Zoom meetings with senators in the past week alone. They have also spoken to various advocacy groups and appeared on podcasts. Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that there will be more of these in the coming weeks, to convince the American public that the nominees should be confirmed, thus putting pressure on the Senate. No senator wants to vote "no" on a nominee if the voters in his or her state strongly support the nominee. Hence the push by the nominees to become better known and popular.
Two nominees who will need to be especially charming are Gen. Lloyd Austin (ret.), whose recent departure from the military rankles senators who want clear civilian control of the armed forces, and Tom Vilsack, who served as Secretary of Agriculture for 8 years, and who is not popular with Black leaders. Many of them want to refocus the job from helping farmers grow crops to helping poor people get enough food. But the person with the steepest hill to climb is Neera Tanden, who is Biden's choice to run the Budget Office. She is far too progressive for many Republicans and will probably get more "no" votes than anyone else. Part of her charm offensive is to emphasize her childhood. After her parents divorced, her mother had to rely on public housing and food programs, so she can testify to what government programs can do to help people.
One strategy that some nominees are using is to reach out to home-state Republican senators. After all, all cabinet officials have massive budgets to spend, and if one of them comes from your state, that could mean money and jobs for your state. Pete Buttigieg, Biden's choice for Secretary of Transportation, has already lobbied Sen. Todd Young (R-IN). The result? Young issued a statement reading, in part: "Pete understands how critical infrastructure is to growth and opportunity. It will be good to have a Hoosier serving in this capacity." In other words, when it comes time to decide which Interstate Highways need an upgrade, Pete, don't forget the I-74, which cuts across Indiana from Illinois to Ohio.
One question mark is the AG. During the confirmation hearings, Republicans are surely going to demand a promise not to prosecute Donald Trump or members of his administration, something the nominee may not want to give. No matter whom Biden picks, the person is going to get a hard time from Republican senators (OK, if he picks Rudy Giuliani, they might give him a pass; otherwise, not so much). (V)
While the confirmation of the new cabinet officials will soon take the spotlight, and Donald Trump's firing of numerous cabinet officials took the spotlight many times, there were actually a few who held on tight. In fact, six of the original Trump cabinet officials are still at their jobs. Does that give a hint what it takes to make it all the way to the end? Let's look at the Surviving Six.
- Steven Mnuchin (Treasury): Mnuchin was an early supporter of Trump and has been loyal
ever since. That explains a lot about his longevity. Also, he is a multimillionaire who worked at Goldman Sachs for 17
years, once owned a bank that foreclosed on 36,000 homes in California, and is on his third wife (a pretty actress who
is almost 20 years his junior). What's not to like? If one of Trump's adult sons had a track record like that, Trump
might actually respect him. Mnuchin also helped get the tax cut bill through Congress, so on the policy front, he checks
the biggest box.
- Sonny Perdue (Agriculture): Unlike Mnuchin, who had never been in politics or held a
government job before joining the cabinet, Perdue was the first Republican to be elected governor of Georgia since
Reconstruction. While Trump knows nothing of farms or farming, Perdue quickly figured out the way to get Trump's
(limited) attention was to tell him what rural voters wanted. That worked. His toughest moment was selling the tariffs
on Chinese goods (and the blowback) to farmers. But he managed to convince them that in the long run they were good for
agriculture. That worked, too. Farmers voted for Trump in 2020 in unprecedented numbers. Mission accomplished.
The Secretary is the first cousin of the Georgia senator, David Perdue, but is not related to the guys who raise
chickens in Maryland.
- Wilbur Ross (Commerce): Ross was the biggest advocate in the cabinet for Trump's
protectionist trade policies, beating back free traders like Gary Cohn, who resigned as national economic adviser in
March 2018. He implemented tariffs without hesitation, even on products from Canada and the EU. He also tried to rig the
census to count only citizens, which Trump loved. The Supreme Court hasn't weighed in on that yet, so it might yet work.
- Ben Carson (HUD): Trump didn't exactly rival Abraham Lincoln in building a team of
rivals, but he did pick two of his 2016 rivals to be in the cabinet. Rick Perry at Energy had 14 years' experience as
governor of a state full of oil wells and refineries. He didn't last. Ben Carson is a talented doctor who once lived in
public housing, so he got HUD. He's still there. Did his (illegal) purchase of a $31,000 dining room table for his office
impress Trump with his guts, standing up to a law he didn't like? Who knows? On the other hand, Trump has no interest in
housing issues, so maybe he didn't notice or care what newbie Carson was doing over there at HUD. However, when Carson
got COVID-19 and was desperately ill, Trump did make sure Carson got the same treatment he did.
- Elaine Chao (Transportation): Chao is the only Trump cabinet member who was a cabinet
member in a previous administration (George W. Bush's Secretary of Labor). When Trump attacked Mitch McConnell (her
husband) for daring to suggest that maybe both sides in Charlottesville didn't have such fine people, she said: "I stand
by my man—both of them." That loyalty, coupled with Trump's complete lack of interest in transportation, gave her
a free ride, despite some conflicts of interest (her family owns a large shipping firm in China).
- Betsy DeVos (Education): DeVos is a billionaire, a strong advocate of charter schools,
and a staunch critic of public schools. While Trump obviously likes billionaires (even though she became one by being
born into a rich family, then marrying into another, rather than creating a company), he doesn't care about education
much. DeVos' strength is that she is one of the most dedicated and competent members of the cabinet (in the sense of
being effective at carrying out her goals). She was hell-bent on destroying the public school system and she
really gave it her all. Conservatives gave her five stars from the beginning and never lost faith in her. No doubt Trump
got lots of rave reviews from conservatives about how great she was, and so he kept her on.
So, it appears the keys to holding on in the Trump administration were: (1) personal loyalty to Trump himself, (2) holding a job he didn't care about, and (3) pushing policies that conservatives liked. (V)
Donald Trump's original plan was to formally announce his 2024 run late this year or early next year. But insiders have told Axios that he changed his mind. The main reason is that announcing in December that he is going to run again 2024 implicitly concedes that he lost in 2020. If he won in 2020, he wouldn't be eligible for a third term in 2024, so announcing a 2024 run undercuts all of his arguments that he won and will be inaugurated again on Jan 20.
Does Trump still think he can win? He might. Yesterday, he spoke with Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). The only way left for Trump to win would be for one representative and one senator to object to the electoral votes from four or five states and then somehow make that stick. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) will be happy to object to all the states that Joe Biden won. Tuberville has said he might join Brooks. No doubt Trump egged him on during the phone call. On the other hand, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he does not want any senators to object to any of the electoral votes. Tuberville, who is very Trumpy, is thus in a bind and Trump thinks he can exploit this. However, McConnell will no doubt very carefully and slowly explain to Tuberville that if he objects to any state's electoral votes, he can expect an appointment to the Senate Committee on Choosing the Color of the Senate Christmas Tree—and nothing else. Even to a guy who doesn't know anything except football, the message will probably get through.
Keeping up the complete fiction that he won is important for Trump's ego. But even more important, it allows him to send out e-mails 10 times a day offering incredible matching deals so that his supporters keep sending him money. Very few of them know that for donations up to $6,000, none of it goes to his legal campaign to win the election. Most of it goes to his giant slush fund that he can use as he wishes, including hiring himself and his family at bloated salaries. Only when a donation is larger than $6,000 does some of it go to his legal campaign. When he announces his 2024 run, new rules cut in and he can't do this any more. And since he wants to keep up the grift as long as he can, there won't be any announcement until at least Jan. 20. (V)
Donald Trump didn't respond to (or even discuss) one of the biggest cyber attacks on the U.S. ever, perpetrated by Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin can sleep well for the next 30 days. After that, not so much, as Joe Biden and his team are working on a "cost-imposition strategy" to punish Russia for the cyber attack and also earlier hostile actions, like interfering in the 2016 election. Biden said: "We need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyberattacks in the first place."
Biden didn't say what he was going to do, but did say it would go beyond sanctions. Once he is inaugurated, the intelligence community will tell him what it actually knows, which may be (much) more than is publicly available now. Then he will coordinate with U.S. allies on what to do.
Sanctions are almost certain, but other things are likely as well. What exactly Biden will do depends on what Biden can do and what reaction he thinks he will get for each potential action. A lot depends on U.S. capabilities, which Biden may not know now but will once he takes office. Just as Russia penetrated many U.S. systems, the CIA has probably penetrated many Russian systems. Suppose the U.S. has the capability to shut down Moscow's electrical grid. Biden could make a decision to wait until there is a major snowstorm in Moscow and then order the CIA to turn off all of Moscow's electricity. That would absolutely and certainly get Putin's attention and alert him to the fact that there's a new sheriff in town and he has a chip on his shoulder.
Other punishments also depend on what the CIA is actually capable of. If the CIA has compromised banks where Putin has his billions stored, Biden could order it to reset his account balance to zero and spread the money over other account holders in a kind of Robin Hood action, so the books balance. Putin would surely notice this as well.
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are all members of NATO. If Latvia were to ask Biden to build a large military base a few miles from the Russian border, complete with nuclear missiles that could quickly reach Moscow, which is only 400 miles away, Biden could say: "Great idea. Why didn't I think of it?" Putin would not be amused. There's all kinds of stuff, some public and some not, that Biden could do. If Biden is not tough enough, Putin will laugh it off and continue with business as usual. If he is too tough, he could risk another Cold War, or maybe even World War III.
Biden also has to consider how Republicans in Congress would react to any severe action. In general, Republicans don't like godless Commies so it would be tough for them to say: "Hey, the Russkies are our buddies. Go easy on them." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has a special bone to pick with Communism since many of his strongest supporters fled from it, has already gone on record saying that the cyber attack comes close to an act of war. He said it wasn't two guys in a basement in North Korea looking to steal some cryptocurrency. And Rubio is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, so he probably knows more than the public knows. It is hard to imagine any action that Biden could take that Rubio would call too tough. Rubio is probably going to run for president in 2024 and does not want to be accused of being "soft on Communism" in the primaries. In fact, none of the senators aiming at a run will dare take that risk. Still, before taking any major action against Russia, Biden would have to discuss it with Mitch McConnell.
Biden also has to consider how the voters would react to major action that he takes. So Biden has to balance Putin's likely reaction with how Congress and the voters would take it, and how much risk he is willing to take. There's a reason people say the U.S. presidency is the toughest job in the world. (V)
A new Fox News poll shows that 42% of the voters think history will remember Donald Trump as one of the worst presidents ever. An additional 8% say he is below average and 10% think he is average. However, 16% think he is above average and 22% think he is one of the greatest presidents ever. In contrast, in a 2013 poll, 28% thought Barack Obama to be one of the worst presidents ever and only 6% thought him to be one of the greatest.
The public is extremely ill-informed about presidents prior to FDR with only a few exceptions, like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. If you asked the average man or woman in the street to rank, say, James Polk and Millard Fillmore, you'd probably get a blank stare, even though historians are clear that Polk was far better.
With only a few exceptions, most presidents are known for maybe one thing they did. Quick, name two things James Monroe did while president. The first one is easy. What else did he do? If you are really sharp, you might be able to name one thing Chester A. Arthur did (reform the civil service), but did he do anything else? Our guess is that in 50 years, history books will describe Trump's presidency by saying that a terrible pandemic hit the country and killed more Americans than all of World War II and Trump had his head in the sand and denied there was a pandemic going on. Sort of like this:
For all of our ostrich-loving readers, yes we know that ostriches don't do this and that their kick can kill a lion dreaming of a big chicken dinner, but the cartoons are still on point.
Sometimes presidents who were unpopular in real time rise in the ratings over the years. Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson are two examples. Truman ended World War II, guided the economy to a peacetime footing, and fought for civil rights. Johnson pushed for and got the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act passed. It's hard to think of anything Trump has done that future historians will recognize as a truly important achievement that wasn't recognized in his day. How about: He made racism respectable again? Probably not.
The poll also asked whether the 2020 election was stolen. On this, 58% said it wasn't and 36% said it was. (V)
People in Georgia are aware of what is riding on their two runoffs and are voting in droves. More than 1.3 million Georgians have already voted in the runoffs between Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and Jon Ossoff (D) and between Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Raphael Warnock (D). Early in-person voting starting a week ago today. Absentee voting started 4 weeks ago.
Prof. Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, who gets a new 15 minutes of fame every 4 years for tracking the early voting, said: "This is going to be a really close election." One factor to consider is that voters may be voting early to avoid doing it during the holidays, so early voting may slow down in a week or so as thoughts turn to plum puddings instead of plum committee assignments. But McDonald expects turnout to be higher than for a typical runoff. The turnout for the November election was 67% of the voting-eligible population, the highest since 1900. McDonald thinks that could happen again.
The last runoff for a Senate seat in Georgia was in 2008, when 3.7 million people voted in the general election but only 2.1 million voted in the runoff. This year the runoff total is expected to be closer to the general-election total due to the crucial importance of the two runoffs for whether Joe Biden will be able to do anything. (V)
One difference between how the Democrats and Republicans are approaching the Georgia runoffs is that Democrats tend to prioritize early voting (see above), especially by mail, and Republicans emphasize voting in person on Election Day. But that is not the only difference. Republicans are now putting more effort into the air war and Democrats are focusing on the ground war. Part of the difference is being forced upon the candidates. Republican megadonors are pouring money into the two races, and all of that goes into (negative) TV ads. Small Democratic donors are worn out, so less money is coming in and they are simply not able to match the Republicans negative ad for negative ad. On the other hand, Jon Ossoff is planning to spend $95 million (vs. $44 million for David Perdue) and Raphael Warnock is going to spend $65 million (vs. $44 million for Kelly Loeffler). Since candidates get a lower ad rate than outside groups do, the effect of the large amount of money from the Republican megadonors won't mean Democrats are frozen out from advertising. Democratic ads are running in volume in the Atlanta area, where two-thirds of Georgians live, but Republican ads dominate elsewhere in the state.
There is also another factor at play. Democrats are skeptical that the side with the most ads wins. If that were the case, Steve Bullock, Theresa Greenfield, Jaime Harrison, and Sara Gideon would all be preparing to be sworn in as new senators on Jan. 3. They are not. Instead, Democrats are trying to learn from their losses and focus on getting out the vote. Many Democratic donors have switched from giving money to the candidates (which just means more ads) and are giving it to organizations like Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight, which works on registering voters and turning out the vote. That may actually be a good idea. Probably nobody in Georgia is on the fence any more and certainly nobody is going to switch sides at this point. So the races will come down to which team is better at getting its base to the polls.
One unknown is how Donald Trump's scheduled visit to Georgia on Jan. 4, the day before Election Day, will affect the outcome. Will it drive up Republican turnout more than it will drive up Democratic turnout? It might matter what he says. If he makes it all about how he needs a Republican Senate during his second term, it might turn off voters who don't expect him to have a second term, certainly not starting in January 2021.
Republicans are going to focus on getting rural voters to the polls. Democrats are going to focus on Black and brown voters, many of whom are marginal voters. However, suburban voters, who are fast becoming part of the Democratic base, are usually pretty good about voting without having to be prodded. And as we have said often before, it's all about turnout. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec19 Saturday Q&A
Dec18 Biden Picks Haaland for Interior, Regan for EPA
Dec18 U.S. Government Hacked
Dec18 Republican Party: All Is Well
Dec18 Georgia on Everyone's Mind
Dec18 It's a Pardon Frenzy
Dec18 Mike Pence: MIA
Dec18 Jill Biden: Ed.D.
Dec18 About the Betting Markets
Dec18 What to Get for the Person Who Has it All?
Dec17 Congress Is Getting Close to a New COVID-19 Relief Bill
Dec17 Pelosi Greenlights Haaland
Dec17 McCarthy Still Silent about Biden's Win
Dec17 Democrats Are Thinking about Reining in the President
Dec17 Ron Johnson Is Betting the Farm on Trump
Dec17 Trump Is Not Welcome in Florida
Dec17 Three-Quarters of the States Will Elect Governors in 2021 or 2022
Dec17 Today's Senate Polls
Dec16 McConnell Concedes Presidential Race
Dec16 The Grift Is Getting on Republicans' Nerves
Dec16 It's a Matter of Economy
Dec16 Iran Nuclear Deal Looks Likely to Come Back to Life
Dec16 It's Buttigieg for Transportation...
Dec16 ...and Granholm for Energy
Dec16 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Education
Dec16 Today's Senate Polls
Dec15 Biden Is Elected President
Dec15 Trump Is Already Waffling on 2024
Dec15 Over 1 Million Absentee Ballots Have Been Requested in Georgia
Dec15 Newsom May Get to Appoint Two Senators
Dec15 Curtain Pulled Back on The Federalist's Funding
Dec15 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Transportation
Dec14 Today Is Election Day
Dec14 Trump: Election Challenges Are Not over
Dec14 Trump Is Cementing His Control over the Republican Party
Dec14 The Virus Is Spreading
Dec14 Trump Vows to Veto the Defense Spending Bill
Dec14 Democrats Have to Decide Who Their Nemesis Is
Dec14 Biden Has a Secret Weapon: His Faith
Dec14 Twenty Americans Who Explain the Election
Dec13 Sunday Mailbag
Dec12 SCOTUS to Texas: Mind Your Own Business
Dec12 Trump Orders Hahn to Approve Vaccine, Hahn Complies
Dec12 Saturday Q&A
Dec11 Party Above Country
Dec11 Trump Announces Moroccan Recognition of Israel (But Check the Fine Print)
Dec11 Biden Picks McDonough to Lead the VA
Dec11 Biden, Harris Are Time's "Persons of the Year"