Wisconsin a Hotbed of Virus Politics
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Engel Says Inspector General Was Probing Pompeo
Back to Business as Usual
Quote of the Day
Trump Is Putting Himself at Risk for Coronavirus
• House Democrats Expected to Vote on $3 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Bill Today
• Bright Testifies Before Congress
• "Obamagate" Roars Back to Life
• Unpleasant Surprise May Be Coming for Seniors
• Democratic Activists Form Anti-Graham PAC
• Emoluments Lawsuit Is Back On
• Today's Presidential Polls
The scandal surrounding Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) deepened substantially on Thursday, with the result that he stepped down from his role as Senate Intelligence Committee Chair on Thursday. The move is being described as "temporary," but it's not likely he'll be back in the saddle. Ever.
The underlying problem is that Burr—in his capacity as chair—was privy to briefings about COVID-19 well before the public was aware of the looming pandemic. And just hours after receiving a particularly substantive update, the Senator (and his brother-in-law) both made huge stock transactions, getting their money out of companies in the tourist and airline business, and putting it in companies that make medical supplies. Either he and his brother-in-law are clairvoyant, or else Burr was trading on inside information, and thus violated the STOCK Act.
It would seem that the folks in law enforcement who do this for a living favor the latter explanation. On Wednesday night, they served a warrant on Burr and seized his phone for examination. That means that the feds think there is a significant chance of misconduct, and also that the investigation of the Senator is pretty far along and has already involved judges (and possibly grand juries). Undoubtedly, there is more to it that is not publicly known; for example, it would be somewhat unusual for Burr's phone to be seized, but not his computer.
Given that the Republican Party is already concerned about losing control of the Senate (with good reason), this was not happy news for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) & Co. To start, although Burr is not up this year, his junior colleague Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) certainly is. The pungent odor of scandal certainly could spill over into Tillis' race, especially since that contest is going to be very close.
Not all voters follow politics in detail so if the Democrats want to get edgy, they could run an ad saying: "The people of North Carolina don't deserve a crooked senator. Vote for Cal Cunningham." The two sentences are basically unrelated, but not everyone might realize that. Of course, Tillis would have a fit since he hasn't been accused of anything, but does he really want to run an ad saying: "I'm not a crook. It's the other senator"? Probably not.
And then there is Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA). Several members of Congress have been put under the microscope for their possibly fishy stock transactions, including Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Ron Johnson (R-WI). However, Loeffler is the only one who is running in a competitive Senate race this year, and her transactions are the fishiest-looking. At very least, anything that happens with Burr is going to undermine her, too, since they both have the same "it was just a coincidence" explanation. At most, she's also under investigation, and that shoe will fall sometime in the near future.
So, that is at least two Senate races that just inched a little bit in the Democrats' direction in the last day or so. But what about Burr's seat? Undoubtedly, many folks are wondering what will happen if he resigns. And the answer to that is that his replacement would be chosen by a Democrat, Gov. Roy Cooper, but that state law requires Cooper to pick the replacement from a list of three candidates selected by the Republican Party. So, no quick flip of that seat is coming.
That said, if Burr did resign, the timing would be important. If he steps down on or before Sept. 3 of this year, then his replacement would have to win reelection in November. That could be a tall order, as an appointee with only months of service under their belt, and in a year where North Carolina appears to be trending blue. If Burr holds on until Sept. 4, on the other hand, then the replacement would serve until 2022. So, even if the Senator plans to resign, he is likely to do everything he can to delay that outcome until September.
That said, if Burr gets arrested and/or indicted, it could get dicey. Further, it is at least possible that Republican pooh bahs think the stench emanating from the Senator is so bad that it is best for him to get lost now, so as to clear the air, and then they can take their chances at the polls in November. Recall what happened with Al Franken, whose sexual misconduct issues came up just as Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) was running against an opponent with considerably more serious sexual misconduct issues. The Democrats wanted to make sure they had the moral high ground on the subject, and that was part of the reason Franken was run out of the Senate. It's at least possible that something similar could happen with Burr, especially since he planned to retire at the end of his term anyhow. (Z)
There is a book by the historian Alexander P. Saxton, entitled The Indispensable Enemy, that is one of the foundational texts in the study of Asian-American history. The basic argument is that Chinese-American immigrants were asked to do difficult, dangerous, indispensable work in the development of California (in particular, building the transcontinental railroad), and their reward for this was to be treated as an enemy. Their civil rights were taken away, they were targeted for acts of violence and, finally, they were banned altogether by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
What does that have to do with COVID-19? We'll get to that. For now, we will say that COVID-19 Relief Bill v5.0 was an inevitability, and the only question was exactly when it would come to fruition. The answer, it would appear, is: Friday, May 15. Well, the first volley, at least. Barring the unexpected, the House will vote late today to approve $3 trillion in funds for businesses, workers, unemployed people, virus detection and tracing, and a host of other things.
The most lefty elements, and the most centrist elements, of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) caucus are both griping about the bill, with the latter claiming it's too much money, and the former claiming it's not enough. As they say, a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy, so this is evidence that the Speaker is doing a pretty good job of steering a middle course. In the end, she and her whips are expected to get the votes they need, in part because the Speaker has laid down the law. "If you vote against this and all this funding for your state, then you have to go home and defend it. And if you can defend that no vote, then you're a better politician than me," she told members of her caucus on Thursday.
Undoubtedly, Pelosi also wanted that message to get back to Republicans in Congress, particularly those in the Senate. Mitch McConnell is now openly conceding that another bill is needed, and Pelosi has gotten the drop on him in terms of dragging the Overton window leftward. Do Republican members of the House and the Senate, particularly the senators up for reelection this year, really want to go back to their constituents and say "You know, I just couldn't get behind money for all of you folks who are out of work right now"?
Indeed, in a pretty clear sign of desperation, some Republicans have dusted off an oldie but a goodie, and declared that Pelosi & Co. are using the bill to surreptitiously allow undocumented immigrants into the country through the back door. Here, for example, is an angry tweet from Trump administration official Ken Cuccinelli:
Is it really a good idea to not only grant an amnesty to illegal aliens but to absolve employers who have been breaking the law in the last few months? I don't think so! pic.twitter.com/mak6nHzwiV— Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli (@HomelandKen) May 13, 2020
The truth is, of course, much more nuanced. The major immigration-related things the bill would do are:
- Expedite the green-card process for immigrants who are healthcare professionals
- Extend paperwork deadlines for immigrants already in the country legally, since many federal offices are closed
- Forbid the Trump administration from withholding relief money for "sanctuary cities"
- Temporarily protect undocumented immigrants in essential fields where labor is in short supply from being deported. In other words, basically the DREAM Act, except for people who are first responders, health workers, and farm and food processing employees.
In short, only one element of the bill deals directly with undocumented immigrants, and that element is essentially saying "if we don't have enough American citizens to keep the country running in this time of crisis, then we are willing to utilize whatever labor we do have."
This seems a commonsense and entirely reasonable move. One might even argue that Americans should be grateful these folks are willing to do jobs that have become both more essential and more dangerous due to COVID-19, as opposed to railing against them. You might even describe these individuals, given the way they are being treated in some quarters, as an indispensable enemy. And that, of course, is where the Chinese-Americans who built California all those years ago come in. It seems that no matter how much things change, they also stay the same. (Z)
Dr. Rick Bright, recently pushed out of his high-ranking position by Donald Trump, went before Congress yesterday and unburdened himself. The Washington Post had takeaways, as did CNN. Basically, Bright confirmed a bunch of things everyone already knew, or strongly suspected, including:
- The administration was completely unprepared for the pandemic
- In fact, the administration was willfully unprepared, as multiple warnings were ignored
- Donald Trump tried to bypass the testing process for hydroxychloroquine and other unproven drugs
- There may not be a vaccine in the next 12-to-18 months
- Nobody is really "leading" right now, as authority is dispersed among many people
Republicans attacked both Bright, as a shiftless malcontent, and Congressional Democrats, for presuming to hold the hearings in the first place. Of course, when someone spends all their time attacking the messenger, that usually suggests they have little rebuttal to the actual message. (Z)
Forgive our unvarnished language, but there are few things we are less excited to write about than an utterly stupid and entirely ridiculous conspiracy theory. Still, our focus is presidential politics, and this has become a part of that, at least for now.
Anyhow, "Blame immigrants!" isn't the only oldie-but-goodie (see above) that Republicans have gotten out of mothballs in recent days. Donald Trump went on a Twitter rampage this weekend, including a 126-tweet Mother's Day, which is third-best for his presidency. And a major theme of those 126 tweets was Barack Obama, and that the time has come to get to the bottom of "Obamagate," which the president described as the "biggest political crime in American history."
What crime, exactly, are we talking about here? That wasn't clear from the tweets, so Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker asked for clarification on Monday:
The whole clip is only 51 seconds, so you should consider watching it. However, if you don't want to, the executive summary is that Trump doesn't really know what the crime is. The money quote from the President is: "You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours."
It's not surprising that Trump can't explain it, because it's complicated, and Trump doesn't do complicated. In fact, it's so complicated that if you asked 10 different Trump supporters, you would get 10 different explanations. But the general idea is that there was no Russian interference in the 2016 election. Instead, that was a lie cooked up by the Obama administration, and used to discredit Trump and to justify spying on Trump. In its current iteration, the focus of the conspiracy theory is on Michael Flynn in particular, and the idea that the Obama administration either foisted the general on Trump, or else spread false information about the general in order to force his firing and to embarrass Trump.
If this barely makes sense, good, because that means you're understanding perfectly. If you want a more detailed rundown from a left-leaning commentator, here is one from Slate's Jeremy Stahl. And if you want one from a right-learning commentator, here is one from former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum. Frum, for his part, describes the whole thing as a "twisting ghetto of craziness that is impenetrable to outsiders."
That Trump should take this turn, at this moment, is not a surprise. There are a few factors that explain his response:
- AG Bill Barr has almost completely undone the Mueller investigation, and appears ready to strike out against those who facilitated it
- COVID-19 has been a disaster for the President, and he needs to change the narrative
- None of Trump's attacks on Joe Biden have been landing
- Anything and everything Obama-related is bad, as far as the base is concerned. If there were such things as Obama puppies, Obama world peace, the Obama cure for cancer, and Obama calorie-free delicious pizza, the base would oppose it all.
Anyhow, the Trump-friendly media has taken the President's cue, and run with it. On Wednesday, for example, Fox News' primetime lineup ignored such minor subjects as COVID-19 so that Obamagate could be fully explored.
In the end, the whole story reminds us that whenever the cards are down, Trump tries to change the channel, and that his instinct is always geared toward a base-only strategy. Undoubtedly, the base will eat up the Obamagate talk, even if it makes no sense. But will anyone else, particularly given that Obama's ex-president approval rating is around 60%? Doubtful. (Z)
As we have noted many times, older voters broke strongly for Donald Trump in 2016. To be more specific, voters 65+ made up 27% of the electorate, and went 53% to 44% for The Donald. Voters 50-64 made up 29% of the electorate, and went 51% to 45% for The Donald. That is roughly 40 million AARP-eligible votes for Trump, 34 million for Clinton. In an election where flipping less than 100,000 votes in three key states would have changed the outcome, that is quite a lot.
Inasmuch as older folks are being affected most heavily by COVID-19, it seems likely that some of them will defect from Team Trump. As we've also pointed out, surely some of them will be less-than-thrilled by the Republican argument that sacrificing tens of thousands of grandparents is worth it in order to get the economy restarted. And Business Insider notes something else COVID-19 related that may make a few seniors cranky: social security payments are likely to be flat this year.
Several years back, Congress decided that it would be wise to index Social Security payments to the Consumer Price Index. And so, each year, recipients' monthly amount is increased based on the previous fiscal year's CPI. Already, this has left retirees with the short end of the stick, as the CPI has gone up roughly 50% since that change was made, but the cost of things that seniors buy most has gone up nearly 100%. And this year, due to the lousy economy, the CPI is likely to be flat, meaning no increase at all.
As chance would have it, the month in which increases are calculated, since it's the start of the fiscal year, is...October. If the lack of a raise makes some seniors angry, what are the odds that the matter is still on their minds when they cast their ballots...just four weeks later? (Z)
Earlier this week, we presented some of the evidence that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) could be in a little bit of danger, thanks primarily to his flip-floppery. Today, there is another piece of evidence, namely the formation of an anti-Graham super PAC called "Lindsey Must Go."
The group says they've already raised $1 million, and that they think that another $4 million will be no sweat. Given that Graham challenger Jaime Harrison is already leading in the money race, and that a million bucks goes a long way in the Palmetto State, that's no small thing. This does not mean that the race is actually competitive yet, but it does mean that Democratic activists smell some blood in the water. There's no "Tom Cotton Must Go" or "Jim Risch must go" super PAC. (Z)
There are so many emoluments lawsuits pending against Donald Trump that it's hard to keep them all straight. And the list just had another entry (re-)added to it. The suit filed by Maryland and Washington, D.C., which demanded that Trump stop taking money from foreign and state governments at his D.C. hotel, was dismissed at the district level. On Thursday, it was reinstated by a fifteen-judge panel of the federal appeals court. The vote was 9-6; we bet you can guess the party of the presidents who appointed every one of the 9, and the party of the presidents who appointed every one of the 6.
This one is going to end up on the Supreme Court's docket, though probably not in enough time to be resolved before the election. That means that if Donald Trump loses in November, federal dockets are going to get noticeably clearer overnight. And if he wins, well, there's gotta be something like 30 cases where a final ruling is still pending. (Z)
We are not sure what Joe Biden would have to do to lose New Jersey. Badmouth Bruce Springsteen? Declare that Trenton Tomato Pie can't hold a candle to New York pizza? Close down four major bridges during rush hour? Bankrupt four Atlantic City casinos? Whatever it is, he certainly hasn't done it. (Z)
|New Jersey||56%||33%||Apr 22||May 02||Rutgers-Eagleton|
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May14 Wisconsin to Reopen...Today?
May14 Trump May Close the Borders Indefinitely
May14 Supreme Court Hears Case about Faithless Electors
May14 Bright Has a Dim View of Trump
May14 If a Vaccine Is Available, Will People Get It?
May14 Biden Wins the Nebraska Primary
May14 Smith Concedes in CA-25
May14 Can We Trust the State Polls?
May14 Florida Is Not Hot to Improve Election Security
May14 Will Young Progressives Back Biden?
May13 Flynn Not in the Clear Yet
May13 Trump Has to Be Pleased with What He Heard from SCOTUS on Tuesday
May13 AOC to Co-Chair Biden Climate Change Task Force
May13 Republican Voters to Trump: Put Some Clothes On
May13 The World of Sports Is about to Become the Next Major Front in COVID-19 Politics
May13 Betting Markets Like Trump
May13 This Year, the Haters Hate Trump More
May13 Now We're Talking Apples to Apples
May13 Could the South Carolina Senate Race Become Competitive?
May13 Republican Leads in California Special Election
May13 The COVID-19 Diaries
May13 Today's Presidential Polls
May12 If the Election Were Held Today, Democrats Would Capture the Senate
May12 Apparently, the Crisis Is Over
May12 Farmers Are Really Getting Plowed
May12 Pelosi and Co. Are Getting Ready to Shoot for the Moon
May12 Biden Campaign Working on Republican Outreach
May12 Harris Is Reportedly in the Lead for VP Slot
May12 Sanders Is Done Running for President
May12 An Ace in the Hole for House Democrats?
May12 Missouri Republicans Decide that Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
May12 Today's Presidential Polls
May11 Fauci Is Self-Quarantined...
May11 ...And Mike Pence Isn't
May11 The Worst Is Yet to Come
May11 Job Losses Have Been the Worst in the South
May11 Supreme Court to Hear a Case Tomorrow about Whether the President is Like a King
May11 California Will Mail Every Registered Voter a General-Election Ballot
May11 Two Democrats Can Cancel the Republican National Convention
May11 Republicans Might Win a Special Election in California Tomorrow
May11 Trump's Move to Florida May Not Be So Easy
May10 Sunday Mailbag
May09 Saturday Q&A
May08 In Like Flynn
May08 Trump Is Just Making It Up As He Goes
May08 Lincoln Project Getting Plenty of Oxygen
May08 Trump Campaign Prepares to Launch "Death Star"
May08 Trump Campaign Also Investing in Suits over Voting Laws
May08 A Somewhat Good Poll for Trump