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Pennsylvania and Nevada Have Now Certified Their Election Results

Two more the-results-were-pretty-close states have followed Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan in certifying their election results: Pennsylvania and Nevada. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) has signed the certificate of ascertainment, which legally makes Joe Biden's slate of electors the ones who will get to vote for president on Dec. 14. Trump can huff and puff and try to play the big bad wolf, but it's the other Wolf who will win this one, and without Pennsylvania, it's game over for Trump. Biden won the state by over 81,000 votes, so it wasn't even especially close in the end.

In Nevada, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R) certified that Biden won Nevada by 33,000 votes. She didn't bother to mention who lost, but all that matters is the paperwork, and it was correct. With these five states now certified, there is zero chance that Trump can reverse the election. It's all over but the shoutin' (of which there will be plenty, however). (V)

Here's What Biden's Transition Team Will Now Get

Now that GSA Administrator Emily Murphy has signed the letter to authorize the presidential transition, Joe Biden will get some goodies. What goodies, exactly? Here's what he gets under federal law:

  • Money: Transitions are not cheap. Staffers have to be paid. Office space has to be rented. Consultants and experts in various policy areas need to be hired. Folks have to travel to D.C. Computers need to be purchased. IT services have to be set up. All these things cost money. Fortunately, the government will now give the transition team about $6.3 million to spend on these items. In addition, another $1 million is available for orienting people Biden intends to appoint to high government positions.

  • Federal Access: The team also gets access to employees of federal agencies and congressional employees (including members). There is a catch though: Those employees can refuse to cooperate. High-ranking political appointees might do that, but civil service employees—the ones who actually know what is going on and who are generally apolitical—almost always cooperate fully. Their bosses can order them not to cooperate, but there is no penalty if they refuse to obey, since it's hard to fire them under normal conditions and doubly hard now. Just as one example, if people on the transition team want to know what the deal is with the census and Trump's attempt to count only citizens, they can now find out since the lower-level nose counters will undoubtedly give Biden's people whatever data they ask for. Biden is also getting security briefings now.

  • Office Space: The transition team will now have access to 128,000 square feet of federal office space. Normally this could accommodate 500 people, but with coronavirus guidelines, it won't hold anywhere near that number. It will be up to Biden's staff to work out safety protocols to protect the health of the staffers in the new offices. Fortunately, there is also the next item.

  • IT and Mail Support: The team will get IT and mail services from the GSA. The former is important because much of the transition work will be done by staffers working at home due to the virus. They will need secure telecommunications services and equipment, which the government will now provide. Incoming mail and packages will be screened off-site by the U.S. Secret Service for dangerous materials. Staffers will also get training on government rules and procedures for dealing with mail.

The amount of work to be done is enormous. Biden will get to appoint over 4,000 people to run his administration. Of these, about 1,200 require Senate confirmation. For positions as cabinet secretary, deputy secretary, and assistant secretary, don't waste your time applying. Biden and his aides can figure this out on their own. But for maybe 3,800 lower positions, Biden really doesn't know people to fill the slots. Thousands of people are likely to send in résumés and his transition team will look at and triage them, sending the good ones and possibly-good ones higher up the food chain for closer inspection. The U.S. is extremely unusual in the world, having so many political appointees. Usually when there is a change of government elsewhere, the cabinet and subcabinet positions change, but generally there is a permanent Director General in each department who is a civil servant and who reports to a (sub)cabinet official and who is not replaced when a new government is installed. These people are (supposed to be) (1) nonpolitical and (2) knowledgeable about their department and are expected to carry out the orders from their new bosses. (V)

People Are Pissed

Each cabinet department has exactly one secretary and many, many people who want the job. That means 15 people are about to be very happy and dozens who will be very unhappy. It's unavoidable. It also has political overtones, undertones, and regular tones. Lots of groups like to think they played a key role in Biden's victory and should be rewarded. Biden won Georgia by 12,670 votes. Every group with 20,000 or more members is going to claim they were the margin of victory for him. This is going to include progressives, Black women, Latinas, LGBTQ people, Catholics, veterans, veterinarians, vegetarians, rap musicians, shoe salesmen, prostitutes, alternate prostitutes, and heaven knows who else. Everybody wants a piece of the action.

Already, resentment is bubbling up. Some people who worked in the Biden campaign resent the fact that Biden seems to be repurposing many people from the Obama/Biden administration. This is hardly surprising since they are often battle-tested and ready to go. Someone who was a deputy or assistant secretary for Obama is automatically secretary material for Biden. These people know the ropes and can land on their feet on day 1 in a way that loyal and hardworking but inexperienced campaign workers can't. They will also be easy to get through the Senate confirmation process because they have already done it.

Some people remember the 2008 transition all too well. They feel that while Obama won the election, Hillary Clinton won the transition. As a junior senator, Obama had a very small staff and was in no position to figure out who to name to 4,000 positions. Naturally, he listened very carefully to Bill and Hillary Clinton, who both knew hundreds of people who served in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 2001. Obama appointed many of them to top jobs, including Hillary, who became his secretary of state.

Now it is déjà vu all over again. Biden served in the previous Democratic administration and knows hundreds of people from it. So does his old boss, who is also a good friend of his. The top slots are going to people Biden knows well personally, including Ron Klain, Mike Donilon, Steve Ricchetti, Tony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Jen O'Malley Dillon, and Cedric Richmond, all of whom worked for the campaign.

But below that elite top, there is near panic. Many campaign staffers who worked their tails off are afraid they will be passed over for Obama retreads. Also, there is a dividing line between the people who joined the campaign before Dillon was named campaign manager in March and those whom she hired personally. The original ones are thinking: "We won the nomination but the Dillon hires are getting all the cushy jobs." One person who prefers to remain anonymous said: "If you noticed, Jen's people are being taken care of." In particular, young people who were with Biden back before Iowa, when all the cool kids were working for Beto or Bernie or Elizabeth, feel they are being left out in favor of Obama alums and Jen's folks. One of them summed it up as: "People are pissed. I think I'm going to be taken care of, but I have not been taken care of yet." Still, with 4,000 jobs to hand out, some of them may yet get a job, even if it isn't in the cabinet, so maybe it is a bit early to be griping. (V)

Trump is Salting the Earth as He Retreats

Donald Trump wants to make sure that Joe Biden fails, not because he cares about the future of the Republican Party—frankly, my dear, he doesn't give a damn. He just wants to punish the guy who made him a L*O*S*E*R. So what has he done to salt the earth in his retreat? He has taken away two of the most useful tools Biden could use to revive the economy.

Biden will no doubt come up with a multitrillion-dollar plan to rev up the economy and help individuals and businesses. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whether he is majority leader or minority leader, is equally undoubtedly going to scream: "But the deficit!" and block or filibuster Biden's plans.

If McConnell is able to block Biden's plans, it will fall to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to keep the economy afloat. Powell is reasonably nonpartisan and will use all the tools he has available. However, the Fed's biggest tool is interest rates, which are now basically zero. Can they go lower? Theoretically, yes. In parts of Europe rates are negative, so if a company wants to borrow, say, 10 million euros to build a new plant, it would get 10.1 million euros and have to pay back only 10 million. Free money! But that has never been tried in the U.S.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin began winding down most of the key lending programs that were in the CARES Act. These are the programs that lend to midsize businesses and local governments. There is plenty of money left in the pot, but Mnuchin has said "Mission accomplished" and wants to end the programs on Dec. 31. This greatly reduces the Fed's firepower. There are still other tools left, but they are smaller and less effective. Mnuchin knows this very well and knows precisely what he is doing and the effect it will have. If there is a recession next year and Congress refuses to help and the Fed is unable to help, well, that's Biden's problem, not his. Did Mnuchin think of this all by himself or did somebody whisper something in his ear? He's not saying.

This could be one of the main reasons Biden picked Janet Yellen to be Secretary of the Treasury. As a former Fed chair, she knows everything about what the Fed can do. She also knows Powell, her former colleague, very well, and can team up with him to work together to use the tools they still have most effectively. Still, without the proper tools, they may not be able to do much. (V)

Trump Is Also Making Life Difficult for Republicans

Saying that Donald Trump has turned nonpartisan as he prepares to exit stage right is going too far, but it is not just Democrats who are unhappy as he departs and salts the earth on the way out. He is also causing conservatives and Republicans a lot of grief as well. The big split is between Republicans who are personally loyal to Trump and say that he won—or at least that he lost because he was cheated—and those who say he lost fairly and it's time to move on. Although Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Rob Portman (R-OH) now are calling Joe Biden the president-elect, they—and five other senators who have acknowledged that Biden won—are still in a small minority. Nearly all the others either openly support Trump or are silent.

All the Republican senators (and non-senators) are keenly aware that 74 million voters supported Trump and announcing that he lost and should shut up is going to be long remembered. For years to come, Trump will still be the dominant figure in the Republican Party, even in defeat. If he doesn't run in 2024, he could well determine who the GOP nominee is by endorsing someone he likes. Anyone with hopes of being (re)elected in 2022 or 2024 is going to have to kowtow to Trump or receive the tweet of death. So his power will continue long after Jan. 20.

The senators who are cowering under their desks also are aware of the power Trump has over the media. While Fox News has declared Biden the winner, it is not going to suddenly start cheering him on. They are still going to be taking cues from Trump. OANN and Newsmax are still 100% pro-Trump. Rush Limbaugh is not going to become a Democrat. The entire right-wing ecosystem, from politicians to radio blowhards, is surely aware that a recent YouGov poll showed that 84% of Republican voters do not believe that Biden won the election honestly. This makes it extremely difficult for any of them to transition to a Trump-free future. (V)

Trump's Base Strategy Failed

Donald Trump never made the slightest effort to attract anyone outside of his base of angry white blue-collar men nursing grievances. He thought that if he got all of them to vote, he could win. It didn't work. Fundamentally, in an election in which the minor parties got about 2% of the vote, to win you really need to have pretty close to 50% of the voters behind you. In 2016, Trump won six states—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—with less than 50% of the vote. In the absence of major minor parties this time, they were going to be a struggle. Indeed, Trump lost four of them and barely won one other (North Carolina). Only in Florida did he beat 51%.

In Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, he didn't make it to 50% this time and lost. In Georgia, where he hit 50.4% in 2016, he dropped to 49.3% this time and lost.

All the talk about Trump's doing better with Latinos in Florida, Texas, and some other states obscures the fact that Trump ran a base-only strategy and his base is less than half the country. It would have required enormously good luck to hit 50.1% in the key states when nationally he got about 47.1%. Trump's problem is that he never even considered reaching out seriously to other groups and it is doubtful that it would have worked had he tried. After all, after he spent 4 years openly supporting white supremacists, was it ever plausible that he could make inroads in the Black vote? Given his ignorance and view that his gut knows more than scientists, could he have won big among college-educated professionals? Was his constant denial that the coronavirus was a problem going to be a winner among the seniors it was mowing down? Future Republican presidential candidates are probably going to have to take the lesson that you can't win with only Trump's base, and will do something about it. (V)

Charles Koch Has an Admission: I Screwed Up

It's not often that you hear anyone in politics—let alone a billionaire donor—go on the record saying that he screwed up badly. But that what Charles Koch has just done. In an interview with Axios' Mike Allen, Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, America's largest private company, said he "screwed up by being partisan." He also said he is disillusioned with the results. He hopes to have a less divisive strategy going forward, but he is 85 and his brother and political partner, David Koch, is dead, so he may not have so much time to try it out.

In a recent book he co-wrote, Koch said: "Boy, did we screw up. What a mess. Partisan politics prevented us from achieving the thing that motivated us to get involved in politics in the first place—helping people by removing barriers." He also admitted to going down the wrong road for a decade. When Allen asked him why he didn't course correct, he noted that business is easier than politics because its basic nature is not conflict. It is possible in business to make deals that benefit you and also your negotiating partner, so it can be win/win. Politics is usually win/lose.

On the other hand, old habits die hard. Koch is pouring money into the two Georgia Senate races to help the Republicans, especially Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). So meet the new Charles Koch, same as the old Charles Koch. (V)

Loeffler is Attacking Warnock's Sermons

Raphael Warnock doesn't have a voting record that can be attacked, but he's given lots of sermons that Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) sees as fair game, so she is going after him for them, generally by taking his words out of context. For example, when he gave a sermon on the gospel of Matthew, which teaches that no one can serve two masters, and said nobody can serve God and the military, she pounced.

She claims he is the "The most radical and dangerous candidate in America." Really? More radical than Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)? What does she have to back that up? Loeffler says Warnock "celebrated" Fidel Castro when the Cuban dictator visited a famous Harlem church that Warnock worked at in 1995. She claims Warnock is anti-Semitic because he once critiqued Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. She claims he is a Marxist because he once wrote a book on Black theology, which emphasizes social justice. In reality, all of these things are gross distortions. They could easily backfire by revving up Black turnout in the Jan. 5 runoff. Here is her depiction of Warnock:

Kelly Loeffler's depiction of Raphael Warnock as a dangerous radical

This style of campaigning is opening her up to attacks on her past. She accepted the endorsement of Rep.-elect Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a QAnon supporter. She has done interviews for right-wing media hosts who are connected to white supremacist, misogynist, and homophobic groups. She asked for donations in an interview in the Capitol, which is a federal felony. And, of course, when she got a confidential briefing on the coronavirus in January, she sold her stock in hotels and airlines and bought stock in medical supply companies and companies that make teleworking software.

Loeffler's whole strategy is based on the idea that Black voters will not show up in large numbers for the runoff. This frees her to make clear appeals to white voters. It's a bet that the hundreds of thousands of new Black voters who Stacey Abrams registered won't show up at the polls or vote early. On Jan. 5, we'll know if she guessed right. Of course, if Black voters do show up, they are likely to break heavily for Jon Ossoff in the other race, so Loeffler is gambling with David Perdue's career in addition to her own. (V)

Democrats Are Going to Have to Deal with a Much Smaller House Majority

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is about to be tested. How well can she herd a smaller number of cats? When the dust settles, the House Democratic caucus may not have more than 222 members, and one of them, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), is about to resign to become a senior adviser to the president. A Democrat will eventually fill the D+25 seat, but that will take months. Meanwhile Pelosi will have to maneuver carefully to keep progressives and moderates on the same page to get anything passed. It won't be easy.

Pushing any kind of partisan measure through the House will require almost total party unity. In particular, progressives aren't going to get anything, because they are nowhere near a majority of the caucus, and yet they are going to be expected to toe the party line all the time. This is going to give Pelosi endless headaches.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has instructed committee chairs to make sure that all legislation can win the support of nearly all the Democrats or lacking that, has substantial Republican support. Things like a Green New Deal have no chance whatsoever to make it through the House for at least 2 years. He is also in favor of changing the rules to give the minority even less power than it already has, in order to get anything done. He also wants to change the rule about earmarks, to effectively buy off Republican votes with a road here and an airport upgrade there. Finally, he has told the transition team that none of his caucus members other than Richmond are available for jobs in the Executive Branch because his margin is already so small.

A tiny margin in the House is not unprecedented. For most of George W. Bush's first 2 years, the Republicans never had more than 222 seats in the House. Yet they stuck together and were able to pass bills like No Child Left Behind, the Sarbanes-Oxley financial accountability law, and a renewal of fast-track negotiating authority for the president. But the landscape was far less polarized then, and many moderate Democrats voted for Bush's bills. Getting Republicans to support Biden's bills is going to be a great deal more difficult. In addition, Donald Trump is going to be screaming from the sidelines, warning House Republicans that a vote for any Biden bill means a primary challenge.

One advantage that Pelosi and Hoyer will have in January (even with a smaller majority), that they don't have now, is that a bill that the House passes at least has a theoretical possibility of getting the president's signature. This is especially true if Democrats can win at least one of the Georgia runoffs. Now, Democrats can pass all kinds of pie-in-the sky legislation and none of it matters because even if it miraculously got through the Senate, Donald Trump would veto it. By playing small ball and putting in specific provisions that one or two Republican senators (like, you know, the odd bridge to nowhere), it may be possible to pass a few laws, something that is impossible for the House now. (V)

Virginia Gubernatorial Race Is On

Virginia is a bit of an oddity when it comes to its governor. Not only is the gubernatorial election in an odd year (the one after the presidential election), but governors may not serve consecutive terms. Consequently Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) can't run for reelection next year, although former governor Terry McAuliffe, who served from 2014 to 2018, is eligible and is considering trying to pulling off a Grover Cleveland at the state level.

Although McAuliffe is popular in the state, not everyone is equally happy with another white male governor, like 72 of the 73 people elected to the job so far. The only exception is Doug Wilder, who is Black and who served from 1990 to 1994. In particular, some of those fabled suburban housewives think maybe it is time for a change. Like, how about a Black woman?

Two Black women think that is such a good idea, they are already running for the Democratic nomination, which will be decided by a primary in June 2021. One is state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who has been in the Virginia legislature for 15 years. The other is Jennifer Carroll Foy, a two-term member of the House of Delegates. And to make it even more fun, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-VA), who is also Black, is running as well. Now throw in the only Democratic Socialist in the state legislature, Lee Carter (who is white), and you have a real free-for-all. What's a Black female socialist to do?

A problem for all Virginia voters who want to see the first female governor is that there is a real danger that the two Jennifers will split the vote and allow McAuliffe, who is capable of shaking the money tree and having millions of dollars shower upon him, to win. It is possible that by April or May, one of them will see that she has no chance and drop out, but barring that, McAuliffe could get another term.

Virginia has become a blue state, just like Maryland. Joe Biden won it by 10 points. Four of the past five governors have been Democrats. While a couple of Republicans have filed for their primary (Kirk Cox and Amanda Chase), virtually everyone who knows Virginia politics expects that the winner of the Democratic primary will coast to election in Nov. 2021. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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