• Michigan Sent Absentee Ballot Applications to All Voters
• Senate Will Subpoena Company that Did Work for Burisma
• Local Officials Are Now Battling Governors about Reopening the Economy
• House Will Allow Proxy Voting
• Supreme Court Blocks House from Accessing Mueller Documents
• Florida Health Data Specialist Fired for Refusing to Alter Data Website
• Arpaio Is Back
• Firm That Lobbied Trump Got a $1.3 Billion Contract to Build Some Fencing
• Today's Presidential Polls
A new Quinnipiac University national poll released yesterday has Joe Biden at 50% and Donald Trump at 39% with registered voters. Biden's lead is now 3 points more than it was in the Q-poll a month ago. It looks like all Biden has to do to win is refuse to leave his basement in Delaware until Election Day.
Part of Trump's decline from 45% last month is surely due to his (mis)handling of the pandemic. Now only 41% approve, down from 46% last month. Disapproval has risen from 51% to 56%. It seems increasingly clear that he will win or lose in November based on how people perceive his leadership on dealing with the pandemic.
Quinnipiac also asked about Tara Reade. On that issue, 28% believe Biden, 28% believe Reade, and 38% don't know who to believe. That breaks largely along partisan lines, with 10% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans believing Reade while 50% of Democrats and only 8% of Republicans believe Biden.
Even the use of masks is partisan, with 90% of Democrats and 38% of Republicans saying Trump should wear a mask in public.
Another question was about various activities (and how many think they are safe). These include getting on an airplane (23% say it is safe), going to a restaurant (37%), going to get your hair cut (48%), buying clothes in a store (49%), and returning to work (55%).
On the economy, supposedly Trump's ace in the hole, 23% say it is "excellent" or "good" vs. 74% who said that in December. (V)
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) sent applications for absentee ballots (not the absentee ballots themselves, as in California) to all of Michigan's 7.7 million eligible voters. Voters will be free to throw out the applications if they wish and then go vote in person. However, Republicans are scared silly that many will fill out the applications and indeed vote by absentee ballot. Historically, larger turnouts have helped the Democrats, but this year it could help the Republicans because older voters (who skew Republican) are certainly going to take advantage of absentee voting and thus may end up voting in larger numbers than they would otherwise do.
Still, as soon as Donald Trump got wind of this action, he had a fit and grabbed his iPhone to respond. Here is his initial tweet, since-deleted:
He quickly replaced the tweet with this (note correction):
Michigan sends absentee ballot applications to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election. This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2020
Benson didn't wait long to respond to the original tweet:
Hi! I also have a name, it’s Jocelyn Benson. And we sent applications, not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia. https://t.co/kBsu4nHvOy— Jocelyn Benson (@JocelynBenson) May 20, 2020
Of course, Trump has absolutely no legal basis for withholding funds from Michigan just because he doesn't like what Benson did. If she had sent out absentee ballots, maybe there would be a case (although that would depend on the details of Michigan's election laws and precisely how much authority she has). But even then, the remedy would be to go to court and get a judge to rule on it.
But we have now gotten to the point where asking if something is legal for Trump to do (like withholding funds) is beside the point. He doesn't care whether an action is legal because he has discovered the only check Congress really has on him is impeachment and conviction, and that won't happen as long as there are 34 Republican senators. The power of the purse doesn't exist anymore since he just re-allocates money from pot A to pot B at will. The Senate's confirmation power has been nullified by his just appointing acting secretaries and other officials. On the other hand, his bark is worse than his bite, and often things he threatens don't happen because someone lower down on the totem pole is worried about being held responsible by the next administration, and so, without telling anyone, doesn't carry out his orders.
The ironic thing about the Republicans' sudden discovery of "fraud" with absentee ballots is that for decades, a major push of the Republican Party has been photo ID for in-person voting—with nary a problem about absentee ballots. Most likely, the previous lack of interest in blocking absentee voting is that it was used largely by business executives who were traveling on Election Day, by the military, and by seniors, all groups that skew Republican. Now that many groups that don't skew Republican might get absentee ballots, suddenly "fraud" is a big problem.
Another factor to consider here is how Trump's tweet is going to play with Michigan voters. If you were a Michigan voter, is Trump's threat to withhold funds for, say, critical medical supplies—which may result in more deaths in Michigan—going to make you more likely or less likely to vote for him? Once again, most politicians who want the votes of some group of voters promise them pie in the sky, not death, but that is not how Trump operates. When someone does something he doesn't like, his gut tells him to punish that person or entity instantly, without regard to the long-term consequences for himself or anyone else. (V)
The Senate Homeland Security Committee has voted to subpoena Blue Star Strategies, a PR firm that did some work for Burisma, the Ukrainian company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. After all, working for a company vaguely connected to Joe Biden is clearly an issue of national security, and the Committee wants to make sure no stone is unturned in its efforts to secure America. If you haven't already guessed, the vote was strictly along party lines.
Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is one of the Trumpiest members of the Senate, said: "If there's nothing there, we'll find out there's nothing there. But if there's something there, the American people need to know that." The Committee seeks testimony from CEO Karen Tramontano, who said she will comply with the subpoena. Democrats on the Committee said the investigation into Hunter Biden is what threatens national security and helps Russia's disinformation efforts. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went further and said Senate Republicans "want to dive into the deepest muck of right-wing conspiracy to invent scapegoats for the president to use in his re-election campaign." It should be an interesting and informative hearing. Or as William Shakespeare put it: "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." (V)
Governors in many states are hesitant to completely reopen their states' economies, because public health officials have warned them that doing so will cause the coronavirus to spread like wildfire, forcing a new shutdown later this year. Local officials in rural areas that haven't seen many cases of COVID-19 want to ramp up as fast as possible. On the other hand, big city mayors want to impose even stricter conditions on reopening than governors. Thus state and local officials are on a collision course.
For example, Texas AG Ken Paxton is scolding big city mayors for imposing tighter curbs on personal behavior than the state has. In Madison, WI, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway (D) is keeping the stay-at-home measures in place for her city, despite the Wisconsin Supreme Court striking down the statewide lockdown. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) is threatening counties that have indicated an intent to ignore his statewide lockdown orders. Thus there are battles with states opposing local officials who want to open up and at the same time opposing local officials who want to keep locked down. Some of the battles are about details, such as what exactly is an essential business that can be open. Are banks, libraries, hairdressers, car dealers, gyms, sporting goods stores, gun shops, ice cream shops, tattoo parlors, tanning beds, nail salons, and massage parlors essential?
Some epidemiologists, such as Harvard's Caroline Buckee, agree that there isn't a single big epidemic but a number of smaller ones, so a one-size-fits-all plan is not a good idea. The consequences of these battles is that the second wave of COVID-19, which is expected in the fall, will be localized. Some areas of a state will be hit hard and others will be spared it.
Needless to say, all of this will soon turn political. Everything is political. It is easy to imagine a situation in which the President (R), a governor (D), and a county executive (R) all have very different ideas about what can be open and who has the authority to do what. Lawsuits will abound, but what matters more, politically, is whom the public blames when things go wrong. (V)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced yesterday that for the next 45 days, House members can vote remotely by giving a written proxy to a member of their choosing. This means that only a few dozen members need be present for any vote since a member may hold up to 10 proxies. This will allow the House to pass bills without endangering the health of the members. Something like this has never been done before. To Pelosi's credit, allowing members to give proxies to other members to vote for them is a lot safer than some hackable Internet voting scheme.
Republicans immediately attacked the very idea of remote voting. They said that the Constitution requires members to be physically present for a quorum. However, that is just an interpretation, while it is definitely the case that the Constitution explicitly states that each chamber of Congress can set its own rules. If the House were to vote that members could vote only if they remove their shoes prior to voting, there is probably nothing the courts could do to invalidate such a rule. And there is certainly no way even the Supreme Court could enforce a ban on any House voting procedure, so it is hard to imagine it trying.
Members in safe districts will probably avail themselves more of proxy voting than members in competitive districts. Nobody wants to deal with a campaign ad that screams: "Rep. Jones missed 78% of all House votes this year." Older members, those with health conditions, and those whose districts are far from D.C. are also more likely to take advantage of proxy voting. (V)
The House of Representatives sued the Justice Dept. to get access to the unredacted report produced by Robert Mueller on the subject of whether the Russians interfered with the 2016 presidential election. They also want all the underlying testimonies and documents Mueller used. The Dept. of Justice refused to turn over anything. A U.S. district court and an appeals court ruled for the House. Now the Supreme Court has blocked the House for the time being, until it can decide if it wants to take the case. In an unsigned order, it asked for briefs by June 1.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued that the House wants to unseal secret grand jury materials and doing so would harm the grand jury system. House Democrats want to know if Trump obstructed justice and say they need the full report and the underlying documents to see if he should be impeached again. If the Court decides to take the case, oral arguments are likely in the fall and a decision would probably come after the election. (V)
It was inevitable and has now happened. As states grapple with increasing numbers of deaths and the resultant bad publicity for their governors, the temptation to fiddle with the data one way or another becomes overwhelming. The poster girl for refusing to give in to political pressure is now Rebekah Jones, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has fired for not following his instructions on maintaining Florida's COVID-19 dashboard.
Jones, a data specialist working for the Florida Dept. of Health, devised a COVID-19 dashboard that gives a large amount of information about how the disease is progressing throughout the state, with detailed information by age, gender, race, and ethnicity for each of Florida's 67 counties. The dashboard has been widely praised nationally, including by Deborah Birx, for providing Florida residents detailed, accurate, and up-to-the minute information.
Jones says she was fired because she was ordered to censor certain data and was told to manually change data to increase support for reopening the Florida economy and she refused. She is a data scientist with degrees in geography and journalism. She claims that she worked for 16 hours a day for 2 months to produce the website, mostly on her own time, for which she was not paid. She also noted that other officials have already started to change the data. Among other things that the governor wanted changed was when the first cases were reported in Florida. If people can find out that the first case showed up months ago and the governor did nothing afterwards for weeks, it makes him look bad. So naturally, he wants that data expunged.
After being terminated, Jones warned people what is going to happen to her dashboard: "As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it." (V)
Arizona is a red state, the former home to Barry Goldwater and John McCain. Everything looks rosy for the Republicans there. Except that Joe Biden is leading Donald Trump by 7 points and Mark Kelly is leading Sen. Martha McSally by 13 points. What else could go wrong?
Well, in 2016, while voting for Trump, Arizona voters also booted Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio out of office for his polarizing views and behavior, such as his racial profiling of prisoners, his misallocation of $100 million in taxpayer money, and his habit of getting the County sued. Also in 2016, a federal judge held Arpaio in contempt of court on three counts. In 2017, he was found guilty of criminal contempt of court, but Trump pardoned him shortly thereafter. In 2018, the former sheriff ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate and lost.
Republican leaders thought they were done with the 87-year-old Arpaio. Nope. He's back and running for the Republican nomination for his old job, Maricopa County sheriff. The primary is in August.
Republican leaders really do not want him on the ticket in November, fearing that his incendiary and racist views will bring out a flood of young Latino voters in Maricopa County to defeat him, and that while they are in the voting booth, they will also sound the death knell for Trump's chances and those of McSally as well. The leaders are especially worried about McSally. One consultant said: "Each side is going to piss away $50-60 million and she's going to lose. I've already heard people talk about who's going to run next cycle for Senate." (V)
Tommy Fisher, the CEO of North Dakota's Fisher Sand and Gravel, badly wanted a contract to build part of the Great Wall of Trump. So naturally, he prepared a very careful bid, explaining why his firm could build an unbreachable, maintenance-free wall in record time for a low cost, right? Well, no. Not exactly. What he did instead was get on cable TV to praise Trump, donate money to Republican candidates, and cozy up to Stephen Bannon, Kansas Senate candidate Kris Kobach, and other Trump influencers. For example, Fisher was the personal guest of Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) at last year's State of the Union address. This gesture of good will toward a local company was no doubt stimulated in part by Fisher's donations to Cramer's campaigns. Fisher also spent over $100,000 on a lobbying firm, Odney, in an attempt to get the contract.
Fisher's initial bid, when it tried to get a contract to build one of the prototypes last year, was rejected. The Army Corps of Engineers said the proposal did not meet its standards, was over budget, was late, and did not meet the aesthetic requirements for such a beautiful wall. Naturally, Fisher sued the Corps. However, that wasn't really necessary once Cramer held up the Senate confirmation of a Trump appointee until Fisher's company was added to the list of approved vendors.
And now, Fisher's efforts have paid off. The company got a $1.3 billion deal to build 42 miles of fencing (not a wall) between the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and Nogales, AZ, about 65 miles south of Tucson, AZ. It is the biggest border contract to date. The steel fence will be on extremely difficult mountainous terrain that is subject to flash floods from the Santa Cruz River, which crosses the border. Due to the potential of flash floods, the fence will require the installation of complex storm gates to prevent the barrier from being swept away during one. Here is the location of the fence on this satellite photo:
On Trump's specific orders, it will be painted black (which the company was pleased to accept as a requirement, for an extra $500 million) because his gut told him that in the mountains, a black fence would get so hot that it would burn the hands of any person trying to climb it. Engineers' guts, not to mention their degrees, told them that painting it black will increase the metal's ability to retain heat by less than 10%, but it will definitely increase maintenance costs for decades to come.
So what kind of a company will be building the black fence? Over the past 20 years, Fisher Sand and Gravel has been cited 16 times for environmental violations and has paid $450,000 in fines. It has also been cited 7 times for safety violations, and fined for subjecting female employees to verbal sexual harassment. Michael Fisher, the former head of the company, pled guilty to nine counts of felony tax fraud and got 37 months of free room and board at a government facility for that. The company itself escaped prosecution by agreeing to pay $1 million in restitution and fines and promising to behave better in the future. So now with no barriers to building the barrier, it's full steam ahead. (V)
Here are some polls confirming what we already knew: California and Washington are blue states and Kentucky is a red state. The Kentucky result is actually important though, because a huge win there for Trump might be enough to save the hide of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from a serious challenge by Amy McGrath. (V)
|California||58%||30%||May 18||May 19||SurveyUSA|
|Kentucky||39%||55%||May 14||May 15||PPP|
|Washington||57%||31%||May 16||May 19||SurveyUSA|
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May20 Will Trump Really Try to Hold Rallies This Year?
May20 Donald Trump, Military President
May20 The Legal Blotter, Part I: Voting Wars Continue in Texas
May20 The Legal Blotter, Part II: Oregon Stay-at-Home Orders Are Back on, for Now
May20 The Legal Blotter, Part III: Another Trump Family Lawsuit
May20 Loeffler is Toast
May20 The COVID Diaries
May20 Today's Presidential Polls
May20 Today's Senate Polls
May19 Pompeo Plot Thickens
May19 Burr Plot Thickens, Too
May19 Trump Is Taking Hydroxychloroquine
May19 The One-Two Punch: Eric Trump...
May19 ...and Donald Trump Jr.
May19 Trump Is Doing Well in Swing States...or Not
May19 Oregon Stay-at-Home Order Is Struck Down
May19 Biden Will Cancel Keystone Pipeline
May19 Val Demings' Star Is Rising
May19 Today's Presidential Polls
May18 Bloomberg Is Planning to Support Democrats
May18 COVID-19 Deaths Will Pass 100,000 by June 1
May18 Democratic Governors Hit with Lawsuits
May18 Behind the Scenes It Is Birx, not Fauci, Who Is the Real Power
May18 We Need to Move on to Stage Five
May18 The Response to COVID-19 Is Just Class Warfare in a New Form
May18 Texas Supreme Court Halts Expansion of Mail-in Voting
May18 Trump's Opposition to Absentee Ballots May Backfire
May18 Trump Supporter Chosen as Postmaster General
May17 Amash Bows Out
May17 Sunday Mailbag
May16 Trump Fires State Department Inspector General
May16 Saturday Q&A
May16 Today's Presidential Polls
May16 Today's Senate Polls
May15 Burr in Hot Water
May15 House Democrats Expected to Vote on $3 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Bill Today
May15 Bright Testifies Before Congress
May15 "Obamagate" Roars Back to Life
May15 Unpleasant Surprise May Be Coming for Seniors
May15 Democratic Activists Form Anti-Graham PAC
May15 Emoluments Lawsuit Is Back On
May15 Today's Presidential Polls
May14 Partisan Divide on Opening the Economy
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