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Political Wire logo Biden Will Freeze Trump’s Midnight Regulations
Ossoff Slams Loeffler for ‘Campaigning with a Klansman’
America’s Vaccine Rollout Is Already a Disaster
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Census To Miss Year-End Deadline for Redistricting

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Let the Chess Game Begin...
      •  Pelosi Walks a Fine Line
      •  Congressman-elect Dies of COVID-19
      •  U.S. Way Behind Schedule on Vaccination
      •  Pence Distances Himself from Gohmert Lawsuit
      •  Vance Brings in the Big Guns
      •  Trump Is Finally America's Most Admired Man
      •  Newsom Recall Effort Gets $500K from...Someone
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Let the Chess Game Begin...

With the House having passed a bill that would increase the COVID-19 relief payments from $600 to $2,000, all eyes are now on the Senate. And the maneuvering there began in full force on Tuesday. To wit:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) didn't get to where he is by being stupid. Early in the day on Tuesday, he opposed Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) request for unanimous consent of the House bill, which means there will be no vote for now. Then, in a bit of counter-programming, McConnell put forth his own bill that would increase the payments to $2,000, but would also repeal the online liability protections known as Section 230, and would create a commission to study voter fraud in the 2020 election. Call it the "Everything Trump Wants" bill. Or, if you prefer, the "Democratic Poison Pill" bill, since they are never going to assent to anything that legitimizes claims the presidential election was stolen. The McConnell bill probably won't come up for a vote, and if it does it won't pass, but it does give Republicans something to point to and say "I supported a $2,000 payment, but the Democrats wouldn't go along with it."

  • Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ron Johnson (R-WI) all made it known that they oppose $2,000 payments under any circumstances, and that they will do whatever necessary to stop such a bill from becoming law. That means filibuster, should it come to that.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also didn't get to where he is by being stupid. And speaking of filibusters, he announced on Tuesday that he will filibuster any attempt to override Donald Trump's veto of the defense bill until the House's $2,000 payment bill is brought up for a vote. If the Vermont Senator sticks to his guns (and there's no reason to think he won't, especially since Vermonters quite like their guns) then either McConnell will have to find at least 7 Democratic votes to break the filibuster, or else the Senate GOP caucus will have to make a decision about what matters more to them—giving money to the military, or keeping it from poor/middle-class Americans.

  • Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) came out in favor of the $2,000 payment. That's not too big a surprise, since it allows her to be Santa Claus and also puts her on the same side of the issue as Donald Trump. Much trickier is the potential override of Trump's veto, which forces Loeffler to choose between the military and the Donald. She declined to give her position on that question when asked on Tuesday.

  • Donald Trump, whose political capital is dwindling, and who has never shown an ability to use whatever political capital he does have, spent Tuesday moaning and whining about the override of his veto. Since that battle is all but lost, while the $2,000 payments battle might still be won, he really should be focusing his energies on the latter. But again, he doesn't know how to invest political capital (or much of anything else, if we are to judge by his tax returns).

Who knows what will happen? The only certainty appears to be that the Trump soap opera will continue right up to the moment that Joe Biden is inaugurated. (Z)

Pelosi Walks a Fine Line

As long as we're talking about congressional maneuvering, there's also some going on at the other end of the Capitol Building, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—like Santa Claus—is making a list and checking it twice. That is because the House will be voting Sunday on who will serve as Speaker for the next two years, and she wants to make sure she's got the votes to keep her job.

The good news for Pelosi is that she is running unopposed for the job. The bad news is that, since the speakership is voted on by the entire House, she needs the votes of nearly her entire caucus in order to secure the roughly 218 votes needed for election. With a reduced majority, the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, a few moderates (e.g., Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-MI) who are already "no" votes, and a few progressives (e.g., Rep.-elect Cori Bush, D-MO) who aren't yet sure, the Speaker is working with a margin of fewer than 10 votes, and perhaps fewer than 5.

That said, it is not plausible that any other Democrat can command a larger percentage of the caucus' votes than Pelosi can, so some skeptics may have to hold their noses and vote for her at risk of starting the term with a huge embarrassment for the Party. Also, the Speaker will undoubtedly make liberal use of carrots and sticks as she whips votes this week. Those representatives who get on board can expect a bit of patronage for their district, or a juicy committee assignment, or both. Those who withhold their votes are going to find themselves assigned to the House Select Committee on Shoving It Where the Sun Doesn't Shine. (Z)

Congressman-elect Dies of COVID-19

One last bit of Congressional business. Roughly 1 American in 1,000 has died of COVID-19 this year (1 in 947, if you prefer to be more precise). There are 541 members of Congress (including non-voting delegates), and nearly all of them are in at least one high-risk group when it comes to COVID. It therefore stood to reason that at least one of them would be felled by the disease, sooner or later. On the other hand, one likely would not have predicted that the first death would be an otherwise healthy 41-year-old. And yet, that is what has come to pass, as Representative-elect Luke Letlow (R-LA) died on Tuesday, just days before he was set to take his seat.

During his campaign, more than one observer commented on Letlow's casual disregard for wearing a mask. It is unlikely he actually contracted the disease on the campaign trail, since he was not diagnosed until mid-December, but it is also improbable that the behavior changed just because Election Day had passed. It will be up to Gov. John Bel Edwards to schedule a special election so that the voters of deep red LA-05 (R+15) can pick another Republican to represent them. (Z)

U.S. Way Behind Schedule on Vaccination

As part of the Trump Administration's "Operation Warp Speed," White House officials promised that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by Jan. 1, 2021. Of course, Team Trump is known for overpromising and underdelivering. Further they are not especially interested in governance these days. And so, it is both regrettable and entirely predictable that they have fallen way short of the stated goal. Specifically, only 11 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed, and only 2.1 million have been administered.

The White House claims that they are 100% on schedule, and that the less-than-inspiring numbers being reported by the CDC are due to a lag in reporting by the nation's hospitals and healthcare professionals. Anyone who believes that, please contact us, because we have a Mexican border wall for sale at a bargain-basement price. Undoubtedly, there is some lag, and maybe the real number of doses administered is 3 million, or 4 million, or even 5 million. But there is no chance that 18 million doses are unreported, since for that to be true, they would all have to have been administered in the last 5 days, a period that just so happens to include both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In response to this news, the incoming Biden administration announced the appointment of three new vaccine czars (vaccine pharaohs?) whose job it will be to coordinate vaccine, testing and supply chain strategy. They are Bechara Choucair, senior vice president and chief health officer for the Kaiser Foundation; Carole Johnson, commissioner for New Jersey Department of Human Services; and Tim Manning, director of Washington operations and senior adviser at the Pacific Disaster Center. Hopefully they will do better than their Trump administration counterparts. Certainly, it would be hard for them to do worse. (Z)

Pence Distances Himself from Gohmert Lawsuit

As we noted yesterday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX)—in concert with a group of Arizona "electors"—has filed a lawsuit in which VP Mike Pence is the defendant. The basic idea behind the silly, legally meritless suit, is that a judge will throw out the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and bestow upon the VP the power to unilaterally decide which electoral votes count and which ones don't when Congress meets to count them on Jan. 6. This would thus give the VP power to pick a president all by themselves.

On Tuesday, it was reported that Pence was asked to join the suit, and that he said he was not interested. Exactly how that would work—with Pence as one of the people who is suing Mike Pence—was not clear. In any event it means that, at least in this small way, the VP has broken with Donald Trump and the most fanatical members of his base. Ultimately, Pence had very little choice here. He does not particularly want to be on board when this lawsuit goes down in flames—embarrassing legal defeats are never a good look for an ambitious politician. Further, he does not want to be seen as trying to undermine the American electoral process, especially since he hopes to benefit from that very same process four years from now. (Z)

Vance Brings in the Big Guns

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. has been taking a long look at Donald Trump's finances for the past two years. It started with a probe into the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and broadened into an examination of the bookkeeping practices of the Trump Organization. Given that fancy-pants accounting trickery is hardly the province of Vance or his staff, the DA has now called upon private consulting firm FTI Consulting to do some heavy-duty forensic accounting, and to figure out if any laws were broken.

Of course, the timing here is interesting. Perhaps Vance had just arrived at the point in his investigation where the pros were needed. On the other hand, perhaps he's noticed that Jan. 20 is just three weeks away, and that it's about to get a heck of a lot easier to go after Trump. In any event, big-city DAs are not known for chasing unicorns, so this is very unhappy news for Trump. The odds are pretty good that Vance knows not only that there's smoke, but also that there's a bunch of fire, and he just needs FTI to put the pieces together. (Z)

Trump Is Finally America's Most Admired Man

Each year since 1946, the Gallup Poll has asked Americans to name the man and woman they admire the most. And this year, Donald Trump finally came out on top, capturing 18% of the "most admired man" vote. The most admired woman, for the third year in a row, was Michelle Obama, who collected 10% of the vote, followed by Kamala Harris (6%), and Melania Trump (4%).

The reason that we write that Trump "finally" won is that the distinction usually goes to the incumbent president. Last year, Trump tied with Barack Obama, but this year the cheese stands alone, ending a 12-year run for the Democrat. The only other 12-time most admired man was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who—like Obama—was recognized for each of the 9 years he was running for the White House/in the White House, and who stole another 3 years from an unpopular incumbent (in Ike's case, Harry S. Truman once and Lyndon B. Johnson twice).

Looking at the cross-tabs, however, the news is not quite so good as it seems for Trump, and it's positively concerning for his party. The Donald did not pick up any support in the last year (when he also claimed 18% of the vote); he only outpaced Obama because some Democrats switched their votes to Joe Biden or to Anthony Fauci. Meanwhile, only 48% of Republicans favored Trump, while at the same time no other member of the GOP polled above 1%. Put another way, half the Party is not in love with the President, but there's also no clear successor to challenge his claim to the Red Throne. That's a recipe for internecine war if we've ever seen one.

And speaking of Biden, he managed to collect 6% of the vote, placing him in third behind Trump and Obama. It's not common for presidents-elect to come out on top; Obama and Eisenhower were the exceptions. At the same time, it's also uncommon for a sitting president to come up short. In fact, nearly all of them have eventually risen to #1, though it took a couple of years for Trump, while Jerry Ford never pulled it off, at least in part because Gallup skipped 1976. So, if Uncle Joe does not eventually improve on that 6%, it's a little worrisome for him, though perhaps less so if it's Obama keeping him from the top slot, since Biden is widely seen as an avatar of Obama. Certainly, that's less bad than losing out to the popular general who won a world war, and who is likely to challenge your party in the next presidential election. (Z)

Newsom Recall Effort Gets $500K from...Someone

The effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) just got its biggest infusion of cash so far, a $500,000 donation unknown person or entity. The donation was structured such that it can be traced to consulting firm Prov 3:9, LLC, which appears to be connected to Irvine-based CPA firm White Nelson Diehl Evans. Beyond that, the trail goes cold. Proverbs 3:9, incidentally, reads "Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce." Undoubtedly, the Lord specifically meant that folks should use their wealth for dark-money political lobbying. Reportedly, He's a huge fan of Citizens United.

Beyond the half million from a group named for a Bible verse, the recall effort has received vocal support from the California Republican Party, former Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Put another way, there is no evidence of widespread Democratic dissatisfaction with the governor (in contrast to 2003, when many Democrats were furious with Gray Davis before he was recalled).

This is quite clearly a partisan attempt to take advantage of loopholes in the hippy-dippy California system of government, which, in the name of democracy, sets a fairly low bar for things like recalls and ballot propositions. The problem is that even a low bar is pretty high when a state has 40 million people. Getting the required 1% of the populace to sign a petition for a ballot initiative still means collecting nearly half a million signatures. And so, almost without fail, these "populist" political efforts—whether a recall or a ballot proposition—are actually the product of one or more deep-pocketed entities who are trying to use their money to bend the Golden State to their will. In short, don't write Newsom's political obituary quite yet; a few cranky Republicans—many of them from out of state—do not a successful recall make. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

The Open Model Project is a brand-new pollster. How new? Well, their Twitter account was launched yesterday, with this tweet: "We don't pretend to have a recipe for the perfect election forecast. But we do recognize that the current state of the art is sorely lacking." And their Twitter bio/mission statement is "Crowd-based wisdom * traditional election modeling = better forecasting? We'll see."

We applaud their efforts to try to build a better mousetrap. However, we would also counsel against putting too much weight on the first polls they've ever conducted, particularly given that they are clearly at the "throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks" stage of the process. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Georgia Jon Ossoff 46% David Perdue* 50% Dec 21 Dec 27 Open Model Project
Georgia-special Raphael Warnock 46% Kelly Loeffler* 50% Dec 21 Dec 27 Open Model Project

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec29 It Just Keeps Getting Dumber
Dec29 House Passes Bill to Increase Payments to $2,000...
Dec29 ...And Also Overrides Trump's Veto of the Defense Bill
Dec29 Biden: Department of Defense Is Dragging Its Feet
Dec29 What the President-elect Can Do To Improve Elections
Dec29 Sanders Is Unhappy About Biden's Cabinet
Dec29 They Were Trump Before Trump, Part II: Andrew Jackson
Dec28 Trump Signs on the Dotted Line
Dec28 House Will Vote on Upping the Checks to $2,000 Today
Dec28 Putin Is Setting Biden's Foreign Policy
Dec28 Biden Will Focus on Regulations
Dec28 Why Fox Loyalists Are Changing the Channel
Dec28 Five Myths about Voting Machines
Dec28 Voting Machines Weren't Hacked, But There Are Still Security Lessons to Be Learned
Dec28 Vaccine Hesitancy Is Fading Away, Just Like Donald Trump
Dec27 Sunday Mailbag
Dec26 Saturday Q&A
Dec25 Trump Creating Chaos in Washington...
Dec25 ...But He's Having Zero Luck with Overturning the Election Results
Dec25 Georgia Senate Candidates Are Awash in Cash
Dec25 "Trickle Down" Tax Cuts...Don't
Dec25 U.K., E.U. Have a Brexit Deal
Dec25 Holiday Quiz: The Sequel
Dec25 Fox News Is Now in the Christmas Movie Business
Dec25 Today's Senate Polls
Dec24 Trump Vetoes the Defense Bill
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Dec24 Trump Repeats Demand for $2,000 Checks instead of $600 Checks
Dec24 Ted Cruz and AOC Agree on the Corona Relief Bill
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Dec24 Today's Senate Polls
Dec23 A Tale of Two Pandemic Responses
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Dec23 Twitter Has Bad News for #45, #46
Dec23 California Gets Its First Latino U.S. Senator
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Dec23 They Were Trump Before Trump, Part I: Samuel Adams
Dec23 Today's Senate Polls
Dec22 Stimulus Bill Just Needs Trump's Signature
Dec22 Biden Gets Vaccinated
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Dec22 Trump's Endgame Comes into Focus
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Dec22 Today's Senate Polls