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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Allows Transition to Go Forward
      •  Biden Unveils More of His Team
      •  The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Agriculture
      •  Harris Could Hamstring McConnell
      •  California Senate News, Part I
      •  California Senate News, Part II
      •  Now That's a Useful Poll

Trump Allows Transition to Go Forward

It's appropriate that this is Thanksgiving week, because Donald Trump's goose is almost cooked, and he apparently knows it. On Monday, he bowed to reality, and said that while he's not conceding the election, he now supports allowing the transition to move forward.

What changed his mind? Well, to start, Michigan certified its election results yesterday. There was talk that the two Republican commissioners on the state canvassing board might unite in voting "nay," but in the end one voted "yea" and the other abstained, meaning that the Wolverine State's 16 EVs are now officially in Joe Biden's column. With Georgia also having certified, Trump would need to flip the results in Pennsylvania and two of the other remaining close-but-not-yet-certified states (Nevada, Arizona, and Wisconsin). Inasmuch as Team Trump's legal efforts have all but collapsed, the courts aren't going to save his bacon. And three of those four states have Democratic governors, while the fourth (Arizona) has a Democratic secretary of state, so shenanigans aren't going to save his bacon, either.

Taking the lay of the land, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy apparently concluded that enough was enough, and announced that the transition process would commence. She said that she was not currently influenced, and has not been previously influenced, by anyone, and that she's been taking only her own counsel on these matters since Election Day. Each reader may decide for themselves how much they believe that. In any event, Trump was on Twitter within minutes of Murphy's announcement, seconding the decision (while insisting he's still going to win the election, in the end).

Ultimately, the ultra-image-conscious Trump must have been influenced by a number of considerations. The first is that if Murphy is telling the truth (or something close to it), he was at risk of having someone he views as a peon surrender on his behalf. That is unacceptable, and firing Murphy after the fact does not really solve the problem. A second consideration is that even Trump's allies have started to distance themselves from his narrative of events. Inner-circle member Steve Schwarzman told Axios "the outcome is very certain today, and the country should move on." Longtime Trump political ally Chris Christie derided Rudy Giuliani and the legal team, calling them "a national embarrassment." And even Rush Limbaugh said that it's time to put up or shut up when it comes to evidence of voting fraud.

Another important consideration is the timeline. In roughly one week, enough of the close states will certify their results such that a Trump victory will become mathematically impossible. At that point, nearly all of his allies (except Rudy, who is being paid to go down with the ship) would bail out, and Murphy would be compelled to accept Biden as president-elect, if not willingly then at the business end of a writ of mandamus. So, Trump had the choice of controlling events yesterday (or, at least, pretending to control them) or else letting events control him on Monday or Tuesday of next week. Given the four-day holiday weekend, he essentially had only three days left to get out while the gettin' out was good.

Finally, a group of leading business executives and Republican donors gave Trump an ultimatum: If you don't let the transition go forward, we are not donating to Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA) and the Democrats will control the Senate. Trump couldn't care less about which party controls the Senate in January, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) cares a great deal about that. We suspect that McConnell quietly delivered a message to Trump of the form: "Either you let the transition go forward or a resolution asking you to do that will pass the Senate with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats voting for it." That would be an even bigger embarrassment than having a peon surrender on Trump's behalf.

In any event, Team Biden not only gets access to resources and money, but he and his team can now interact with the intelligence community and other federal officials, so as to begin prepping for his presidency and the challenges that await. (Z)

Biden Unveils More of His Team

On Sunday night, three key picks for the Biden White House team—Antony Blinken for Secretary of State, Linda Thomas-Greenfield for U.N. Ambassador, and Jake Sullivan for NSA—leaked. It would seem that the President-elect did not want to get beaten to the punch again, and so on Monday (earlier than previously indicated), he unveiled several more high-profile picks: Janet Yellen for Secretary of the Treasury, Alejandro Mayorkas for Secretary of Homeland Security, Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and John Kerry as special envoy for climate.

In Yellen (74), Biden gets someone who is surely as qualified to lead Treasury as any candidate. She has served in a variety of academic and public-sector financial roles, culminating in four years as Chair of the Fed (2014-18). While she was at the helm, the economy did quite well, so Wall Street is going to be happy with the pick. At the same time, she is not afraid to take on bad corporate citizens, and famously smacked Wells Fargo during her time leading the Fed. So, progressives are reasonably enthusiastic about her too. She shouldn't have much trouble getting confirmed, since she's already passed muster with the Senate twice before.

Mayorkas (61) is a former U.S. Attorney, Director of the INS, and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security; he held the first post under Bill Clinton and the latter two under Barack Obama. He's not well known to the general public, but has a sterling reputation among federal government insiders. A Cuban-American, he would be the first Latino to head DHS if he is confirmed. Clearly, Biden thought it wise to have someone from that demographic oversee the immigration reforms that are coming down the pike.

Haines (51) has an extensive intelligence background, with two years service as Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and another two as Deputy National Security Advisor, all coming during the Obama years. After Donald Trump took office, she helped create consulting firm WestExec Advisors, along with Blinken and probable Secretary of Defense nominee Michèle Flournoy. So, she may have a bit of familiarity with the people she'd be working with as DNI. If confirmed, Haines would be the first woman to hold the post.

Kerry (76) was, of course, a long-serving U.S. Senator, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, and Barack Obama's second Secretary of State. Climate change will be a major concern of the incoming administration but, given how many other issues Biden has to deal with (the pandemic, the economy, healthcare, etc.), he needs trusted lieutenants who can take some things off his plate. It would be hard to think of someone better suited to be the administration's point person on climate unless it's, well, the other Democrat who lost to George W. Bush. Kerry will be given a seat on the National Security Council.

There are some pretty clear (and predictable) themes running through Biden's Cabinet picks so far, among them: (1) familiarity with the President-elect and the other (likely) members of the administration, (2) highly experienced and ready to hit the ground running, (3) not likely to ruffle feathers in the Senate, and (4) diverse. It's certainly a different set of priorities than the current administration had four years ago. (Z)

The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Agriculture

We're going to get through as many of these as we can, though Joe Biden already beat us to the punch on Homeland Security. The positions we've already written up:

And now: Secretary of Agriculture.

  • The Job: There was a time when "keep the Cabinet small" was seen as a desirable goal. And so, there were fewer new cabinet departments created between 1800 and 1900 (2) than between 1965 and 1979 (4). What this meant was that, as the federal government's responsibilities expanded during the era of Cabinet austerity, presidents often stuck tasks with the department that was the best fit, even if it wasn't a great fit.

    We say this because the USDA oversees some things that you might or might not guess. Of course the Secretary is responsible for overseeing farm policy and rural development, and for helping to market U.S. farm products abroad. But also under their purview are school nutrition programs, food safety and purity, the U.S. Forest Service, hazardous materials management, and SNAP (food stamps). The Secretary even commands the Beagle Brigade, the teams of dogs whose keen sense of smell is used to help detect contraband agricultural products in travelers' luggage.

  • Considerations: For several generations, the Secretary of Agriculture has been a political moderate, since they interact with a lot of citizens across the political spectrum. After all, the list of the 10 largest producers of farm products (California, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Indiana, in that order) includes several blue, several purple, and several red states. There will be some pressure on Biden to maintain the tradition.

    The main challenge that Biden's pick will face, beyond the pandemic and the slowing economy, is dealing with the fallout from changes in trade policy. Exactly how far the President-elect will pull back on Donald Trump's trade war, and how fast he'll do it, is not yet known. But change is coming; that you can be sure of.

  • Candidate 1, Heidi Heitkamp: The former North Dakota senator is widely considered the frontrunner for the job. She served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, comes from an agriculture-focused state, and is fairly popular with the rural voters that the Democratic Party would love to win back.

    That said, you don't get elected to the Senate from Michigan if you're not pro-auto industry, you don't get elected from West Virginia if you're not pro-coal, and you don't get elected from North Dakota if you're not pro-agribusiness. And so, many Democrats fear Heitkamp is a little too cozy with big agricultural concerns, and not connected enough with America's small farmers. She's also very centrist on environmental issues; she's a supporter of the KeystoneXL pipeline, for example. So, if the former Senator is chosen, progressives will be cranky about it.

  • Candidate 2, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH): If it's not Heitkamp, Fudge is the likeliest alternative. She serves on the House Agriculture Committee, is lobbying hard for the Secretaryship, has the hearty support of the Congressional Black Caucus, and would be the first Black woman to lead the USDA (and second Black person, after Mike Espy). Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) is reportedly lobbying for Fudge behind the scenes and, as you may have heard, Biden owes him a favor or two. Fudge's district is D+32, so it wouldn't be put at risk if she vacates her seat.

    Fudge does have one rather sizable skeleton in the closet that could be a bridge too far. In 2015, she enthusiastically advocated for leniency for Lance Mason, a former colleague who had been charged with domestic violence. The Representative vouched for Mason's character, and insisted that the incident that got him arrested was an aberration. He got his leniency, and after his release from a brief prison sentence, he stabbed his ex-wife to death.

  • Candidate 3, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL): Bustos' name is being mentioned very often as a possible Ag Secretary. Frankly, we can't figure out why. Yes, she sits on the House Agriculture Committee and she's a moderate, but that's about all that seems to recommend her.

    On the downside, she's not really all that in tune with the needs of farmers, since her district is nearly 75% urban. Many Democrats blame her for the recent disappointing performance in House elections, since she's been leading the DCCC for the last two years. Oh, and picking her might cost the Democrats her seat, since her district is a very purple D+3.

  • Candidate 4, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME): If Biden decides he wants a rare species in his Cabinet, namely a staunch progressive from a majority-rural district, then Pingree is the one. She's served on the House Committee on Agriculture, her district is 53% rural, and she's vice-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

    We are rather skeptical, however, that a lefty from one of the corners of the country is a great fit for this post.

  • Candidate 5, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN): Like Pete Buttigieg, she is a former Biden rival whom the president-elect would like to include in his Cabinet. She's served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and has accomplished much on behalf of her state's farmers, including expansion of disaster-relief programs and federal crop insurance.

    One problem with Klobuchar is that she'd put her Senate seat at risk if she vacated it. Not a lot of risk, but a little. And not immediately, but in 2022, when a special election would be held. Will Biden be OK assuming that risk? And similarly, is he willing to risk angering those Democratic voters who feel Klobuchar helped enable Derek Chauvin (killer of George Floyd) by not being harsher on him, and on other police officers accused of misconduct, during her time as a district attorney? Also worth noting is that Klobuchar is considered a candidate for the Attorney Generalship, as well.

The next entry, if we get to the job before Biden does, is Secretary of Commerce. (Z)

Harris Could Hamstring McConnell

People like items about potentially exploitable loopholes in the system, so let's talk a bit about this piece by Nicolas Carteron that's been circulating. In it, the author points out—quite correctly—that the ceremonial nature of the President of the Senate's (a.k.a. the Vice-President's) job, and the powerful nature of the Senate Majority Leader's job, have no constitutional basis. In fact, the Constitution makes no mention of a majority leader at all (since that would imply an acknowledgment of political parties, which the framers hoped to avoid). It does, however, grant the President of the Senate the right to preside over the Senate, which means that Kamala Harris could assert herself, and could be the one to decide what matters do and do not come up for a vote.

Obviously, this is academic if the Democratic candidates win both of the Georgia Senate races. However, if they do not, then Harris will have a tough decision to make. The Democrats don't generally like to play this sort of hardball, particularly in the Senate, which is governed by longstanding traditions and is supposed to be calm and measured. And neither party particularly likes to undermine the immense power granted to the majority because, even when in the minority, party members dream of the day that they will be in charge again.

With that said, if ever the job of President of the Senate is going to be reinvented, this is the time. McConnell has abused the privileges of his position enough that the all-powerful Majority Leadership, like the filibuster, is surely on the path to extinction sooner or later. Further, assuming a loss in at least one of the Georgia Senate races, it would create the exact circumstance when voting on legislation/judges (or not) really matters. That is to say, one party will control the House and the White House while having a slight minority in the Senate. If legislation and/or nominations get dumped in the Majority Leader's drawer, that would stymie the whole Democratic agenda. If those things get voted on, the Democrats might well peel off the one or two GOP votes they would need. We would also guess that there are some Senate Republicans who aren't particularly happy with an all-obstruction-all-the-time agenda. They may not want to take on the throne themselves., but if Harris does it, they'll be secretly rooting for her.

The rubber will hit the road if McConnell wants to do something (or not do something) and Harris objects. Then presumably the Senate will vote on it. Will a couple of Republican senators who don't especially like McConnell vote to undermine him and effectively strip him of some of his power? McConnell won't be able to say to Harris: "What do you know about how the Senate works?" since she was elected to it and served for 4 years.

In the end, we would guess Harris doesn't pull the trigger. However, she probably will have a chat with McConnell, and will warn him that the option's on the table if he pushes his luck too much. (Z)

California Senate News, Part I

As long as we are on the subject of Kamala Harris, everyone loves a horse race, and the hottest one currently going is the one involving potential appointees to her soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat. The general assumption is that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is going to tap California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), or possibly California AG Xavier Becerra (D). Either pick would curry favor with the state's large Mexican-American community, and would give Newsom a twofer, since he would also pick the new SoS/AG. However, former Speaker of the California Assembly and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown has organized a serious lobbying effort with the goal of putting a(nother) woman of color in the seat. Brown and his allies even have a list of suggestions that includes Reps. Barbara Lee, Karen Bass and Maxine Waters; San Francisco Mayor London Breed; and state Sen. Holly Mitchell. All are Democrats, of course, and all are Black.

Obviously, only Newsom knows what his priorities are. He doesn't have to worry about positioning someone to hold the seat in two years, since there is zero chance California elects a Republican to the Senate. So, he could choose a placeholder, and then let nature take its course. On the other hand, he might like the thought of putting someone in the Senate who could still be there 30 years after he's done being governor. Similarly, it is true that the state has a lot of Black voters. However, it has even more Mexican-American voters. And really, he doesn't need to worry about that either, since California voters always give their governors a second term. In any event, he has about four weeks to decide, since Harris will undoubtedly time her resignation to give the replacement a leg up, seniority-wise, on the new senators who will take their seats Jan. 3. (Z)

California Senate News, Part II

California's other senator, Dianne Feinstein (D), is in some hot water with her party right now. At least, some members of it. Their complaint stems from her handling of the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, during which the Senator mostly handled the future justice with kid gloves. Making things worse was that, when the hearings concluded, she embraced Sen. Lindsey Graham. None of this was popular with the progressive wing of the party, and many moderates were none-too-happy either.

On Monday, apparently in response to the blowback, Feinstein announced she would not seek another two years as the highest-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee (either chair or ranking member, depending on what happens in the special elections in Georgia). As a general rule, senators do not easily give up powerful committee roles that they've spent their careers working toward. Either Feinstein knew that she had little chance of retaining her gavel, or, at the age of 87, she's no longer up to the job, or both. Whatever it is, it suggests that when her current term in the Senate concludes in 2024, she'll be done. In the meantime, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is the odds-on favorite to take Feinstein's place on the Judiciary Committee. (Z)

Now That's a Useful Poll

The pollsters at The Hill-HarrisX, who had a pretty good cycle, must not have much to do these days. So, they decided to run a poll asking respondents if they think Donald Trump should run for president again. Their results: 47% think he should run again, and 53% think he should not.

Perhaps the good people at The Hill-HarrisX were not aware that the U.S. had an election just a few weeks ago in which 47% of people voted for Trump and 53% voted against him. In any event, we're not sure what this new poll tells us that we did not already know. We would suggest that The Hill-HarrisX wait about six months, and once voters have seen how Joe Biden performs, then ask if they are still interested in buying what Trump is selling. That would be much more interesting and instructive than asking right now. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Nov18 Today's Senate Polls
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