Needed 1991
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Sanders 860
Warren 78
Buttigieg 26
Bloomberg 51
Klobuchar 7
Gabbard 2
Remaining 1786
Political Wire logo Trump Loyalty Purge Continues
Infighting Erupts as Trump Attacked for Virus Response
U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Top 1,000
Relief Bill Won’t Prevent Recession
Senate Unanimously Passes $2.2 Trillion Relief Bill
Bernie Could Remain In Race Until June
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  We Have a Deal
      •  The 2020 Congressional Elections Are a Whole New Ballgame
      •  Trump Wants This Thing Done By Easter
      •  New Jersey Blazes an E-Trail
      •  Pennsylvania Will Postpone Its Primary
      •  Sanders Will Keep Going
      •  The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part II: The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)

We Have a Deal

On one hand, Congressional Republicans and Congressional Democrats have very different priorities, and largely hate each other these days. These circumstances are not amenable to reaching agreement on the best way to spend $2 trillion of the people's money. On the other hand, the number of people who are infected with COVID-19, or who have succumbed to the disease (at least 163 more on Tuesday) keeps rising precipitously, and the stock market continues its roller-coaster ride (the Dow Jones was up a record 2112.98 points at close on Tuesday). That exerted enormous pressure on Congress to put their differences aside and figure something out. And after multiple days of sniping at one another, and posturing for the cameras, the House, Senate, and White House reached agreement on COVID-19 relief package v3.0 a little after midnight ET on Tuesday.

The bill is reportedly about 1,500 pages long, or about one page for every $1,333,333,333.33 being spent. Since it's not yet 100% complete, it hasn't been made public, but some key details have leaked out. The Republicans will get their $500 billion slush fund, but there will be an oversight board and an inspector general overseeing disbursement of the money. Further, there is a prohibition against any elected official, or any company owned by an elected official, receiving funds. So if, for example, some federal officeholder owned a number of hotels and golf courses, they would be forbidden from getting any of that $500 billion. One wonders if the Democrats had anyone specific in mind when they insisted on that provision. We'll have to look into that.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) appears to have delivered on his promise of "unemployment on steroids," at least for most workers. Barring last-minute changes, more people would qualify for unemployment payments, those payments would be made for 13 weeks beyond the normal cutoff, and for the first four months of unemployment, the regular benefit would be supplemented by an additional $600 a week. For a sizable majority of wage-earners, regular unemployment plus $600/week would either equal their regular pay, or would exceed it.

Yesterday, we guessed that Republicans would end up giving more ground than Democrats, due to lack of unity in the Republican caucus, and because their priorities are less melodious to voters' ears than Democrats' priorities are. Assuming that the final deal shakes out in a manner consistent with preliminary reports, this looks to be the case. That is to say, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Schumer, & Co. held the line, once again, and were rewarded for doing so, once again. Pelosi and Schumer had an advantage over the Republican negotiators because they knew all Trump wants is a "win." He doesn't actually care what is in bills or treaties. This allowed them to hold out until the pressure on the other side increased enough for them to bow to the Democrats' wishes on the content.

Assuming no roadblocks present themselves, the final bill will be hammered out this morning, the Senate and House will approve it this afternoon, Donald Trump will sign it sometime late afternoon or early evening, and then just about everyone is going to flee town. (Z)

The 2020 Congressional Elections Are a Whole New Ballgame

One month ago, it was likely that the impeachment trial would be the dominant issue of the 2020 congressional elections, with healthcare and the Supreme Court also making appearances. Now, it's hard to see how COVID-19 is not the dominant issue. There are at least four ways that will be the case:

  • Votes on the Relief Bills: Perhaps some readers are familiar with former Montana representative Jeannette Rankin, who was the first woman to hold federal office in the United States. One of the keys to her political success was that her constituents approved of her pacifism and her preference for isolationism. She stuck to her guns on that (no pun intended), when she voted "nay" on declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. That made her the only member of Congress to vote against World War II, and was the effective end of her political career (she didn't bother to stand for reelection). We cannot know how the various members of Congress will vote on today's COVID-19 relief bill, but if votes on the past two relief bills are any indication, some of them will vote "nay" because of their objections to excessive federal spending, or the welfare state, or corporate welfare, or whatever it may be. Those are positions that have undoubtedly served those members well up to this point, or they wouldn't be in office. However, those who stick to their guns today could very well find themselves Rankined on November 3.

  • Bad Behavior by Individual Members: There are some members whose behavior in the past month or so has raised some eyebrows. Most obvious are the folks who made rather convenient stock market transactions right before COVID-19 hit, a list that now includes at least five senators (Loeffler, R-GA; Burr, R-NC; Feinstein, D-CA; Inhofe, R-OK; and Johnson, R-WI), as well as at least three representatives (Davis, D-CA; Wittman, R-VA; and Peters, D-CA). There are also incidents of staffers making such transactions, most obviously Scott Sloofman, a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

    The other sort of behavior that could prove troublesome at the polls is general carelessness in taking COVID-19 precautions. Here the poster child is Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who was the first senator to test positive for the disease. It turns out that Paul, who is a physician, adhered to his normal schedule, including workouts in the Congressional gym, for several days after he had reason to suspect he was infected, and while he was awaiting test results. He has defended himself, pointing out that he was asymptomatic, but boy is this bad optics.

    Obviously, not all of these folks are up this year, but many of them are. In particular, it is inconceivable that Loeffler can avoid taking serious damage from her stock trades. Given that she wasn't elected in the first place, that damage will likely be fatal to her reelection chances.

  • "Winning" the Relief Bill(s): The federal government is about to dump $2 trillion into the economy. Republicans will take credit for that, and will brag that they took decisive steps to keep Wall Street from collapsing. Democrats will also take credit, and will brag that they took decisive steps to keep millions of Americans from losing everything. Which side gets the better of this debate will likely vary by state and district, but as we've noted, our general sense is that the blue team has the stronger position here, on the whole.

  • The Political Programs: We'll have a longer item on this subject in the near future, but the COVID-19 epidemic is a win for certain elements of each party's political program. Republicans will point, for example, to how over-regulation worsened the crisis. Democrats will argue this is a case-study in the need for a better public healthcare system. Again, which side gets the better of this will vary by state and district, but this is also an area where the blue team appears to have the stronger position, on the whole.

Nobody is really campaigning right now, of course, but once they get started, it's going to be very interesting, indeed. (Z)

Trump Wants This Thing Done By Easter

There are a pair of complementary arguments about the COVID-19 epidemic that are currently circulating in conservative circles. The first is that it is not wise to implement a "cure" that is worse than the disease, and that maybe the disruptions being inflicted upon the American economy by shelter-in-place orders and other such measures are doing more harm than good. This is a popular talking point on Fox News right now. The second is that older Americans are willing to risk their very lives in order to "save" the country and the economy for their grandchildren. This one is the brainchild of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX), who shared his views while appearing on...Fox News, naturally.

Inasmuch as Fox is the source of approximately 90% of what Donald Trump thinks on any given day, and inasmuch as he's concerned exclusively with the politics/PR of this whole thing, it is no surprise that he is absolutely set on returning things to "normal" as soon as is possible. On Tuesday, he went so far as to declare that he wants quarantining and sheltering-in-place and other such measures to reach their conclusion by Easter (which is April 12 this year). Undoubtedly, the fact that this would allow his evangelical supporters to attend one of the most important religious services of the year is just a coincidence.

You can never know what Trump will do until he does it, but our guess is that he ultimately backs down on such plans. The first problem is that people are still so frightened right now that they're stockpiling toilet paper, water, and guns. You can't just flip a switch on that. Further, many state governors continue to take COVID-19 very seriously, and would surely ignore any orders from the President that they deem unwise. And so, if Trump were to try and declare "all is well" on April 12, then there's every chance that he fails to re-activate the economy, while at the same time losing face when citizens and governors ignore him. There are few things he hates more than losing face.

The second, and more obvious, political problem is what happens if Trump encourages people to resume their daily lives, some of them do so, and then the epidemic gets noticeably worse. This is, in essence, what happened in Hong Kong. Indeed, one can very well envision a scenario where Trump gives the "all clear!" order, (some) red states play along while blue states ignore him, and all of a sudden there is a spike in infections in Dallas, Tampa, and Nashville, with no spikes in Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston. It would be as close to a scientifically controlled experiment as you can get in politics. Those spikes would be (with good reason) laid at the President's doorstep.

There's little question that returning to normal too fast is dangerous from a public health perspective. India, for example, just became the latest nation to order a total lockdown, to last 21 days (i.e., until after Easter). The President has shown very little interest in the public health angle, but our guess is that someone convinces him, or he convinces himself, that Easter just does not work from the political angle. (Z)

New Jersey Blazes an E-Trail

As we all know, COVID-19 has made large gatherings, particularly large gatherings of people who are largely 50-plus, problematic. On the other hand, the business of government must go on. And today, the New Jersey legislature will leap into the 21st century, and become the first to hold votes on legislation remotely. The members will consider five bills, and will record their preferences via a conference phone call.

Assuming that it's not a total disaster—like the members somehow end up mysteriously voting to send 1 million pounds of Campbell's (headquarters in Camden, NJ) borscht to Moscow, free of charge—then other states will presumably follow their lead. The Congress may follow, too, though Mitch McConnell reportedly hates the idea. In the long term, one wonders if this is not an innovation that will long outlast COVID-19, given how busy politicians are, and how it's often difficult for them to be in the capital city to vote. That's actually going to be one of the most interesting stories that come out of this epidemic—all the things that got their trial by fire, passed the test, and will become much more the norm. (Z)

Pennsylvania Will Postpone Its Primary

Mid-Atlantic states continue to yield to the reality of COVID-19, as Pennsylvania has now moved its primary to June 2, and so too has Delaware. That brings the total number of rescheduled primaries to 11; here's the updated list:

State/Territory Original Date New Date
Georgia March 24 May 19
Ohio March 17 June 2
Connecticut April 28 June 2
Delaware April 28 June 2
Maryland April 28 June 2
Pennsylvania April 28 June 2
Rhode Island April 28 June 2
Indiana May 5 June 2
Louisiana April 4 June 20
Kentucky May 19 June 23
Puerto Rico March 29 Sometime after April 26

That leaves New York currently sticking out like a big, sore thumb. It would appear that the issue in the Empire State is not whether to postpone or not, but instead whether or not to cancel the thing outright. It's unlikely that they actually do that, but it's also unlikely that they try for an in-person primary, so presumably we'll be switching them from green to purple (lime to fuchsia?) on our map sometime later this week. (Z)

Sanders Will Keep Going

This is barely news, since everyone knew this was coming. Nonetheless, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) made it official on Tuesday: He's not dropping out of the presidential race. He also said he looks forward to the next Democratic debate, whenever it might happen.

There is one potential fly in the ointment, however. Sanders' campaign said that he simply couldn't bear to leave the race before New York votes, since he has many supporters there, and since it is the state of his birth, and since their primary is only a few weeks away, anyhow. However, New York is very likely to kick their primary to June 2 (see above). In that eventuality, will Sanders change his story and declare he'd hate to get out of the race before Nebraskans have had their say? Or is he willing to commit to sticking with the race for another nine weeks, until June 2? Presumably we will find out after Wisconsin holds its primary on Apr. 7, and—if the polls are right—the Vermont Senator takes another Upper Midwest pasting. (Z)

The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part II: The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)

As we announced yesterday, we're doing a series on some of the great crises of American history. Recall that in developing our list, we had a few ground rules. Specifically:

  1. The crisis in question had to unfold over one year or less.
  2. The crisis had to divide the nation in a truly substantive manner at the time it happened.
  3. The effects had to be substantial and long-lasting.

If you care to read (or re-read) the first entry:

  1. The Intolerable Acts (1774)

And now, entry number two, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798:

Background: The fellows who led America in rebellion did not much care for the King or his Parliament, of course. And they did not care for the idea of a hereditary aristocracy. On the other hand, most of them (particularly the ones who wrote the Constitution) also feared the teeming masses. When the Articles of Confederation (which governed the country for about a decade) failed, the Founding Parents essentially tried to re-create the best elements of the British system while avoiding its pitfalls. That meant a powerful elected president, but one with a limited term of service, as opposed to a hereditary monarch with life tenure. It meant a "natural" aristocracy made up of men who had proven themselves worthy to lead, as opposed to a bunch of dukes and earls who inherited their titles. It meant no political parties (they blamed the Whigs for many of the decisions that led to the Revolution). And it meant keeping the franchise in the hands of a small number of people, and taking steps to make sure that even those folks couldn't do too much damage (e.g., members of the House were directly elected, but not presidents or senators).

Because George Washington was highly respected, and also kind of intimidating to most of his peers, he was largely able to maintain this original vision during his time in office. However, during his second term, and particularly after he left the presidency, two very significant changes got underway. The first of these was that most of the movers and shakers of the early republic years came to realize that maybe parties do have some value. As a consequence, America's first party system, which pitted the Federalists vs. the Democratic-Republicans, began to coalesce. The second was that more and more white men demanded (and got) the right to vote.

The Federalists were the "elite" party; they drew their support from wealthy folks, and manufacturing/trading concerns, and from New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Most of them still held British culture in very high regard, and while they did not want to rejoin their former colonial masters, they did see that nation as America's natural friend and ally in the world, given the cultural and linguistic commonalities. The Democratic-Republicans were the "workers'" party; they drew their support from the masses, and agricultural concerns, and from the South and the West (keeping in mind that "the West" back then was Ohio and Indiana and Kentucky). They were suspicious of the British, believing (correctly) that nation might eventually try to reclaim her former colonies. Instead, they saw the French as America's natural friend and ally, as both nations had overthrown monarchial regimes in favor of democratic ones.

George Washington's vice-president, John Adams (F-MA), was chosen as the second president of the U.S. in 1796, defeating Thomas Jefferson 35,726 votes to 31,115. That's right, considerably fewer than 70,000 people voted in a presidential election. As you can imagine, there were quite a few members elected to the House that year on the strength of just hundreds of votes. Once all of those thousands of ballots were counted (there was no Iowa yet, so no real chance to botch it), the Federalists had control of both houses of Congress and all three branches of the federal government. Given how heavily the party's agenda was tipped in favor of rich and property-owning people, that sort of dominance was only possible when a very small number of people (all of them property owners) could vote.

In that era and for many years after, foreign relations had much more of a "survival of the fittest" flavor to them than is the case today. If a nation could not protect itself, it was a worthy target for invasion and conversion into a colony. And even if invasion was not in the cards, if a country's merchant ships were not properly guarded by a merchant marine, then those ships were fair game. The rivalry between Britain and France that emerged in the mid-18th century (which we discussed in the previous entry), was still in full effect in the 1790s. France, not surprisingly, did not much care for the anti-French Adams and his Federalist administration. They also did not appreciate America engaging in extensive trade with the evil British. And so, the French navy got in the habit of attacking, boarding, and sometimes plundering American ships. The Adams administration took exception to this, and sent a group of diplomats to Paris to address the situation. The French Foreign Minister (Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord) demanded a bribe before he would even consent to talks, the Americans were furious, and this became known as the XYZ Affair (we wrote about this back in November). Americans, and in particular the Federalists, decided that time had come to stand up for themselves. Thus began the undeclared Quasi-War between the French and American navies, which lasted for the better part of two years, from 1798-99.

The Incident: To the extent that the France-loving Democratic-Republicans supported the Quasi-War, their enthusiasm faded quickly. They didn't much care for Adams or his Federalist Party, and they were—given their demographics—the party of immigrants, including a sizable number of French immigrants. So, with Vice President Thomas Jefferson and former congressman/future president James Madison taking the lead, the Democratic-Republicans became the anti-war party.

In that time, the dominant medium for the promulgation of political ideas was newspapers, and it was understood and accepted that every newspaper was a mouthpiece for one political party or the other. In fact, the political parties generally paid the operating costs of newspapers, either directly, or else by granting them generous government printing contracts. You thought it was a coincidence that Benjamin Franklin was one of the 18th century's most prominent politicians and its wealthiest media tycoon? Hah! Anyhow, given that Jefferson and Madison had dozens of loyal Democratic-Republican newspapers at their disposal, it was very easy for them and their allies to register their anti-Quasi-War views. As a bonus, because newspapers used pseudonyms (e.g., Publius, "author" of the Federalist Papers) or skipped bylines altogether, it was possible for Vice President Jefferson to publicly poke President Adams in the eye, and to claim ignorance.

All of this made Adams and his allies in Congress very unhappy. And so, they responded by passing the series of four laws that came to be known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These were:

  1. The Alien Enemies Act, which allowed the government to arrest and deport all male citizens of an enemy nation during a war

  2. The Alien Friends Act, which allowed the government to deport a non-citizen suspected of conspiring against the government, war or not

  3. The Sedition Act, which made it illegal to criticize the Quasi-War, the Adams administration, or the Federalist Party

  4. The Naturalization Act, which extended the length of residency needed to qualify for citizenship (and thus the vote) from 5 years to 14

What was going on here? Were these necessary actions undertaken in service of winning a(n undeclared) war? Or was it a basically monarchist political party trying to remind everyone who is elite, and who is a peasant? Or was it a minority political party desperately trying to hold onto power, knowing full well that their rival party was growing much more quickly as the franchise was liberalized? All of these theses have been put forward; there's probably some truth in all of them.

Three of the four laws had relatively little impact at that time. The Adams administration did not make use of either of the Alien Acts, in part because they would have been hard to implement, and in part because most French immigrants left voluntarily out of fear for their safety. The Naturalization Act was superseded fairly quickly by the more liberal Naturalization Law of 1802, which reduced the residency requirement back to five years.

On the other hand, the Sedition Act was quite momentous in its time. Before the bill had even formally passed Congress, the Adams administration eagerly got to work arresting newspaper publishers. They couldn't be sure who wrote the nasty op-eds, but they could certainly be sure who printed them. Ultimately, more than two dozen newspapermen were arrested and charged, perhaps most notably Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of his namesake. He died while awaiting trial.

In view of these arrests, Democratic-Republican leadership could not turn to newspapers to register their outrage. Nor could they go to court; though the Sedition Act pretty obviously violates the First Amendment, the Supreme Court would not grant itself the power to overturn unconstitutional laws until 1803. Further, SCOTUS was, at that time, made up entirely of Federalist judges who would have tossed the suit. Anyone who thinks that Mitch McConnell invented the idea of stacking the Court is off by about 200 years.

In view of these things, the avenue that Jefferson and Madison chose for their response was the state legislatures. Observing that the United States is a federal system (it's right there in the name of Adams' party!), they arranged for Virginia and Kentucky to adopt resolutions that denounced the Sedition Act, declared it to be null and void within those states' borders, and dared the Adams administration to do something about it. The President did not respond to that provocation, and besides, his and his party's overreach had turned public sentiment against them. Even some Federalist newspaper editors did not much care for the idea of putting newspaper editors in prison for expressing their opinions, and spoke out against the administration. Adams was swept out of office in 1800 by his vice president.

Aftermath: The Alien and Sedition Acts fully established the first party system, while hardening the divisions between their parties and their supporters. At the same time, the Federalists' huge blunder, coupled with the slow but steady expansion of the franchise, set them on the path to extinction. The final blow would come about a decade later, and will be a significant part of the next entry in this series.

Meanwhile, by 1802, three of the four laws had either expired or had been explicitly repealed. The exception is the Alien Enemies Act, which remained on the books until...well, today. It's been updated a couple of times over the years, most obviously in 1918 to include women as well as men, but it lives on as U.S. Code 50. Over the years, it's been used to justify the expulsion of Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and even the banning of...wait for it...Muslim visitors from some nations, as part of the ongoing (and most certainly undeclared) "war on terror."

Next Up (on Thursday): The Chesapeake Affair (1807). (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar24 Congress Flails Around...
Mar24 ...And So Does Trump
Mar24 Is It Time to Take Away Trump's Platform?
Mar24 DNC Says They Are Moving Forward with Their Convention
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Mar24 Sanders Wins Another Primary
Mar24 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part I: The Intolerable Acts (1774)
Mar23 Democrats and Republicans Are Far Apart on the Relief Bill
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Mar22 Sunday Mailbag
Mar21 Saturday Q&A
Mar20 Senate Unveils Relief Package v3.0
Mar20 Republicans in Denial
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Mar20 An Asymmetric Presidential Campaign
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Mar18 What's Next for Sanders?
Mar18 Fox Shifts Gears
Mar18 Down Goes Lipinski
Mar18 From the House to the Big House
Mar17 Trump Says Virus Outbreak Could Last for Months
Mar17 What Should Be Done?
Mar17 Ohio Governor Has Postponed Today's Primary
Mar17 Today Is MiniTuesday
Mar17 Wall Street Did Not Have a Good Day
Mar17 Takeaways from the Debate
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Mar16 Sunday's COVID-19 News