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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Unveils His Big Plan
      •  Biden Won't Ask for a Wealth Tax
      •  No Gas Tax or Mileage Tax, Either
      •  Democrats Are Arguing about H.R. 1
      •  EPA Starts the DeTrumpification of Its Scientific Panels
      •  The 2020 Election Is Over
      •  Rick Scott Heads to Iowa
      •  House Freedom Caucus Is Split
      •  Summer Zervos' Case Can Resume
      •  New York Legalizes Pot

Biden Unveils His Big Plan

Yesterday in Pittsburgh, Joe Biden released his plan for fixing the United States' broken infrastructure (and more). He called it the "American Jobs Plan," because that makes it tougher for the Republicans, who will certainly oppose it. Then he can say: "I just don't understand why they oppose a plan to create millions of good-paying jobs for working people." The plan might just become popular and help the Democrats in 2022.

Some of the major items in Biden's plan are:

Infrastructure at home ($650 billion)
  • $213 billion to build and retrofit 2 million homes, including public housing
  • $111 billion for clean drinking water (including removing lead pipes)
  • $100 billion to build and upgrade public schools
  • $100 billion for broadband Internet to the 35% of rural Americans who don't have it
  • $25 billion to upgrade child-care facilities
  • $12 billion for community colleges
  • $18 billion for veterans' hospitals
  • $10 billion for upgrading federal buildings
National infrastructure ($621 billion)
  • $174 billion for a network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers
  • $115 billion for fixing up roads and bridges, as well as improving safety for drivers and cyclists
  • $85 billion for modernizing mass transit systems
  • $80 billion to fix Amtrak's maintenance backlog
  • $50 billion for disaster resilience
  • $25 billion to improve airports, including terminal renovation and improving car-free access to airports
  • $17 billion for inland waterways, ports, and ferries
  • A proposal to replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and to electrify 20% of school buses
Research and development, manufacturing, and training ($580 billion)
  • $180 billion for R&D, especially related to clean energy
  • $50 billion for domestic semiconductor manufacturing
  • Incentives for companies to relocate to the "industrial heartland"
  • A million apprenticeships and a more inclusive science and technology workforce
Care economy ($400 billion)
  • Help move people out of nursing homes and back to their own home with support
  • Benefits for caretakers, who are disproportionately women of color

There is a lot more and there are various ways to break it down. Biden is liberally deploying the words "jobs" and "infrastructure" here, because those things are popular, but he's really stretching the meaning of those two words in some places. All in all, it is going to be expensive and the President doesn't want to give the Republicans any talking points about how it will increase the national debt and drive inflation through the roof. So it will require new taxes to pay for the $2 trillion in new spending. Biden wants to increase the corporate tax from 21% to 28%, which is still lower than it was in 2016. He also wants to raise the global minimum tax corporations pay. To do this, it will be necessary to ramp up enforcement of inversions, as we discussed on Monday. He will also end federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies.

A substantial part of the package is kind of Green New Deal Lite. Many of the proposals are about saving energy, making infrastructure more resilient to climate change, and developing and implementing planet-friendly technologies. It would also set specific targets for electricity companies for reducing their use of fossil fuels.

Republicans are already panning the plan. They can't attack most of the items in the plan because they are all very popular. And they can't attack it for increasing the deficit because it is paid for. This leaves only two approaches: The Inflation Monster and the tax increases. In the first 24 hours, we haven't seen anyone compare America in 2022 to the Weimar Republic in 1922. But that's simply because not many Republicans know their world history. Give them time.

The other attack will be that raising taxes will hurt the economy as it rises from the ashes. This is patent nonsense. The economy is not in crisis due to a recession caused by the business cycle or some bubble that exploded, as in 2008. The economy is in trouble because the government ordered stores, sports, concerts, and many other organizations from aquaria to zoos to shut down on account of the pandemic. As soon as 70% of the population is vaccinated, most of those will be allowed to reopen and the economy will take off. Furthermore, Biden's plan will create millions of blue-collar and pink-collar jobs, which will reduce unemployment, not increase it. But there is little else the Republicans really have to make a rational case. "Fixing potholes in roads leads immediately to socialism" is probably not a winning slogan in 2022. The true reason for the GOP opposition is that their donors in big business, especially the fossil fuel industry, don't like it at all, but most Republicans are smart enough not to say the quiet part out loud. (V)

Biden Won't Ask for a Wealth Tax

Joe Biden wants to spend $2-$3 trillion on infrastructure, but some senators won't vote for it unless it is (mostly) paid for. That means raising taxes. A lot. One proposal for raising money, championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), is imposing a tax on net wealth, as many European countries do. A tax like that, especially if it is progressive and gets up to, say, 2-3% per year on assets over a billion dollars, could raise a fair amount of money. The total assets of the country's 651 billionaires are estimated to be $4 trillion. A 2% annual tax would raise $80 billion a year or $1.2 trillion over the 15-year time frame Biden is talking about.

It could also raise a pretty penny from "ordinary" millionaires, at lower rates. Here is an estimate of how many households would be hit, depending on the threshold where the tax kicks in, and how much revenue that would raise annually at a 1% tax rate.

Threshold Number of households Annual tax Government revenue/year
$1 million 7,252,000 $10,000 $73 billion
$2 million 2,375,000 $20,000 $48 billion
$3 million 1,197,000 $30,000 $36 billion
$4 million 882,000 $40,000 $35 billion
$5 million 2,136,000 $50,000 $107 billion
$10 million 1,369,000 $100,000 $137 billion
$50 million 62,000 $500,000 $31 billion
$100 million 35,000 $1,000,000 $35 billion
Total 15,308,000   $501 billion

The first column is the threshold for the bin. The second column is the number of households in that bin. The third column is the annual tax per household for that group. The last one is the product of the annual tax and the number of people it would apply to. It raises $500 billion a year or $7.5 trillion in 15 years, far more than Biden needs, so the smaller big fish (say under $5 million) could be exempt and it would still be a potent fundraising source. Or the rate could be reduced or made progressive, with small-time millionaires paying a lower rate than big-time millionaires.

The numbers are actually slight underestimates since the model here assumes people with $1.000 million to $1.999 million are taxed on $1 million. On the other hand, assuming no new net savings, the tax base will be decreased each year by the previous year's tax, although that effect is smaller than using the lower limit for each bin.

One argument for a wealth tax is that 82 national organizations, including the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, and the Center for American Progress, sent Biden a letter yesterday encouraging him to impose a wealth tax, among other ways of taxing the rich. In other words, it would make a big chunk of the President's base happy.

But it is not going to happen. Biden has ruled out Warren's plan (2-3% starting at $50 million), which would raise $4.5 trillion in 15 years. He hasn't made his veto of the Warren plan public, so he hasn't explained why he's not interested, even though 70% of voters supported it when Warren campaigned on it. One obvious problem is that it is probably unconstitutional, so it would require an amendment. Good luck with that. Remember that the income tax wasn't constitutional until the 16th Amendment was passed.

Another issue is enforcement. Banks and stockbrokers could be compelled to report on the assets of their clients, so some wealthy people would no doubt try to hide their wealth elsewhere, either by sending it overseas (although that is getting much harder to pull off since foreign banks in many countries are required to report the assets of U.S. citizens to the IRS). Some people would buy gold bars, fine art, and other things that are harder to track. These things are not insurmountable.

Also a problem is that during the primaries, when Biden was competing with Warren, he opposed her plan. Suddenly breaking his promise on something as high profile as this would be politically tough. Republicans would pillory him over it.

Instead, Biden is going to have to go a more conventional route. He will raise the top income tax rate, change the capital gains rate, and make various changes to the estate tax to prevent the truly wealthy from creating a new generation of truly wealthy people who didn't earn that wealth. With enough fiddling with the numbers, it should be possible to make the math work. (V)

No Gas Tax or Mileage Tax, Either

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said that a gas tax or a tax on mileage wasn't in the works, either. Like a wealth tax, a tax on gas would be a potent way to raise money. The trouble with it is that it is extremely unpopular and hits poor and middle-class people much harder than it hits rich people. In other words, it is regressive. For this reason it is a very tough sell politically.

Buttigieg himself has supported a gas tax in the past. Among other things, a high gas tax makes the switch to electric cars an easier sell politically: You don't like the gas tax, then buy an electric car. Electric cars can effectively be powered by solar or wind energy because those can be used to produce electricity that can be used to charge cars.

Buttigieg said that he believes in the principle of "the more you drive, the more you should pay to have the roads maintained." But he doesn't get to make the call. (V)

Democrats Are Arguing about H.R. 1

All Democrats understand that unless some variant of H.R. 1 is passed, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and other states are going to pass laws that will probably make it impossible for Democrats to win statewide elections for years to come. Thus they all want to pass a new Voting Rights Act. Unfortunately, they disagree about what should be in it and whether they should aim for a bipartisan bill. It seems unlikely that the current 800-page bill (called S. 1 in the Senate) can make it through the Senate and the sausage making is now in full force.

One group of Democrats wants to pass the House bill unmodified. That is the view of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, where the bill is now under consideration. But even if her committee sends it to the Senate floor, it can still be amended there. After that, the Democrats will have to "reform" the filibuster to get it passed. No Republican is going to vote for it in its current form. Or in any other form.

The immediate problem is that some Democrats say it goes too far taking away power from the states, while others say it doesn't go far enough. Until all the Democrats are on the same page, it is not going anywhere. In particular, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) still hopes for bipartisan agreement on the bill, even though he surely knows that's wishful thinking. And he is not the only one with concerns. Here are some other problems:

  • Congressional Black Caucus: Many Black Democrats are leery of the independent commissions that the law would create to draw district maps. They are afraid that the commissions will be color blind and not intentionally create majority-minority districts. Put in slightly cruder terms, they want gerrymandering in order to create districts where a majority of the voters are minorities. Without this kind of gerrymandering, many of their seats would be in danger and fewer Black members would be elected to the House with color-blind commissions. One Black Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), was so concerned he voted against the bill, even though he was a co-sponsor.

  • Campaign Finance: Some moderate Democrats don't like the six-to-one matching program for donations under $200. They are afraid that young, activist, far-left challengers will enter every primary race, raise a decent amount of money, have it multiplied by seven due to the law, and wipe out all the moderates. Then the leftists will go down in flames in the general election.

  • Timing: The bill says that properly postmarked absentee ballots must be counted even if they arrive up to 10 days after Election Day. This provision was included to prevent shenanigans from the USPS delaying ballot delivery. The law also gives voters another 10 days to correct mistakes on their absentee ballots (e.g., a just-married or just-divorced woman using the wrong name). However, states have laws about when results must be certified. These two delays mean that except when the election is a landslide, results cannot be certified until at least 20 days after Election Day. If one or more recounts are needed, it may be impossible to meet statutory deadlines.

  • One Size Does Not Fit All: The bill requires all precincts to be open for early voting for 15 days, 10 hours a day. This makes plenty of sense in Atlanta or Los Angeles. In McDowell County, WV, only 6,000 votes were cast in the 2020 election. Is early voting for 150 hours really needed there? Forcing rural counties like this to be open for days is probably going to cause counties to reduce the number of polling places to save money, making people drive farther to vote. It might even be counterproductive.

  • Voting Machines: The bill requires voting machines to meet standards so strict that no machines actually available for sale now meet the requirements. States and counties are going to have to buy thousands of new machines. Can they do it on time for next year's primaries? Who will pay for them? Will Republican administrators be willing to buy them from Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic?

  • Election Administration: The bill makes so many changes that many election administrators are afraid they will not be able to implement them by the 2022 primaries, which are only a year away. This could result in many failures and complete chaos. Republicans would blame every failure on the Democrats, no matter who the secretary of state in the relevant state is.

  • Public Relations: Donald Trump spent months claiming the Democrats rigged the system. If a far-reaching 800-page bill passes, the Republicans will use it as evidence that the Democrats are continuing to rig the system. If letting everyone vote is rigging the system, then that is true. Very few voters are going to even attempt to understand the bill. They will just believe what their favorite news channel tells them. The result is that Fox News viewers will become even angrier than they are now and walk over broken glass barefoot if they have to in order to vote in 2022.

In short, there are some problems that have to be solved, and quickly before even the Democrats agree on a bill. Getting the Republicans to agree is pretty much out of the question. (V)

EPA Starts the DeTrumpification of Its Scientific Panels

We hereby nominate "deTrumpification" for word of the year, even if it is only April. As president, Donald Trump stacked advisory panels at the EPA (and other agencies) with anti-science people who were picked to try to stop the agency from making regulations that might hurt companies that pollute the air and water. Newly confirmed EPA Administrator Michael Regan has figured this out already, and is cleaning house. More than 40 Trump appointees on the EPA's Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee are being sent home for tilting toward the industries they are supposed to regulate and for holding positions counter to the prevailing scientific consensus on many issues, such as climate change.

In a statement, Regan said: "Resetting these two scientific advisory committees will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment." Under the Trump administration, the panels were largely populated with people who worked for the companies being regulated, rather than independent scientists. Initially, Trump banned scientists who were receiving EPA funding from being on the panels, but a federal court ordered him to get rid of the ban. Nevertheless, after the ruling, Trump didn't remove anyone appointed before it. Christopher Zarba, who used to direct the EPA office that coordinates with scientific committees, said that under Trump, "Lots and lots of the best people were excluded from being considered."

The EPA is now calling for new applications to be on the panels. Once the new panels have been installed, they will examine the current levels for particulate matter emitted by cars and power plants to see if they need to be tightened. Last year, Trump's panel declined to tighten the rules, even though there is evidence that soot raised the risk of dying from COVID-19. They will also look at ozone levels and other issues that Trump's panels didn't want to investigate.

This is one of the many steps that Biden appointees have to do to get rid of unqualified or biased people Trump stacked the government with. There is much more that needs undoing than a couple of panels, though. For example, shortly after taking office, Trump had the EPA webpage about climate change taken down so as not to upset fossil fuel industries. Regan put it back up.

In short, Regan is going to try to undo 4 years of damage to the environment as fast as he can. He knows plenty about the job, having run the North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Quality for 4 years, so his new job is more of the same, except nationwide now. Regan, who is Black, is well aware of "environmental justice" (e.g., banning the dumping of toxic waste where Black people live) and created a board in North Carolina to tackle it. (V)

The 2020 Election Is Over

Perhaps you thought that the 2020 election ended sometime in November, after all the ballots had been received and counted. Or in December, when Joe Biden's status as president-elect was affirmed, while all of Donald Trump's lawsuits were dismissed. Or in January, when the new Congress was sworn in and got down to business.

In fact, although most of the loose ends were tied up weeks or months ago, there was one contest whose results were still in doubt, at least until yesterday. Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) won her seat representing IA-02 by just 6 votes, something that her Democratic opponent, Rita Hart, said would not have happened had election officials counted roughly two dozen ballots that were improperly rejected. Election officials in Iowa looked into, and rejected Hart's claim, and so she took it to the House of Representatives, which does theoretically have the power to overturn the result.

Yesterday, however, Hart withdrew the challenge she filed with the House Administration Committee. So, Miller-Meeks—who had already taken her seat—is now 100% secure. Presumably, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or one of her underlings took Hart aside and explained there was simply no way, politically, that the House could overturn the result. The tradeoff (even if Hart's claim was valid) would have been two years of Republican complaints about Democratic corruption, in exchange for just one seat. It is also possible that Hart was promised that she will have the full backing of the Party if she decides to make another run at Miller-Meeks. In any event, the 2020 election has finally ended. (Z)

Rick Scott Heads to Iowa

The 2020 election is over, but that's no reason to be down if you're a politics junkie, because the 2024 election is already underway. While Democrats are discussing whether Iowa should go first in 2024 with its famous caucus, Republicans don't seem to have a problem with it. It is even possible that Democrats decide to abandon the caucus for a primary and move Iowa to the back of the line while Republicans hold a caucus there in February 2024. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who would very much like to be Pres. Rick Scott, is heading off to the Hawkeye State tomorrow to test the waters.

The formula that Scott has used to win statewide election three times in Florida won't work in a presidential run. His approach was to spend $150 million of his own money in his races. That is not enough to buy the GOP presidential nomination, so he needs big national donors, and that means traveling around the country talking to them. Fortunately, he has a good cover story: He is chairman of the NRSC, so he will be there nominally to raise money for Senate Republicans next year. However, getting to know the donors while ostensibly helping the Republican Party won't hurt him in 2023 when the pitch will change from "support Republican senators" to "support me." Starting his campaign now, albeit a bit under the radar, is important, because one of his main competitors is likely to be another Floridian, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who is better known nationally than Scott is. The governor is on TV all the time talking about the coronavirus, whereas junior senators like Scott don't get a lot of attention. Hence the need to hit the hustings already.

Alex Conant, who was the communications director for the ill-fated presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in 2016, said: "Anyone who is seriously planning a run for president in 2024 is taking steps right now to keep that option open. It's not just visiting the early states, it's building a team that can run a presidential campaign. It's laying the groundwork to marshal the resources a modern presidential campaign requires, it's raising your profile with key audiences, including primary voters." Conant noted that four other Republicans besides Scott are making the moves, namely, DeSantis, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pompeo. (V)

House Freedom Caucus Is Split

Members of the House Freedom Caucus don't agree on tactics anymore. One point of dissension is whether to use procedural tools (like constantly demanding quorum calls) to slow the House down. This tends to irritate everyone in the House if they keep having to run to the chamber, sit there for half an hour while the roll is called, and then do it again an hour later. Motions to adjourn 10 times a day also aren't popular. It has now gotten to the point that even some members of the Freedom Caucus are annoyed with the caucus chairman, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ). Some of the Republicans are afraid that if they keep this up, the Democrats will change the rules so they can never use these tactics, even when it really matters.

Another point of dissension is whether to oppose every bill, including bills to name post offices, or only bills they really object to. Some members of the Freedom Caucus feel that the brand of their caucus is to oppose absolutely everything, all the time, and take no prisoners. Other members feel that doing this just marks them as a bunch of loonies and that they would be better served opposing only bills that they really don't like. So far, Biggs is hanging on as chairman, but if enough members get annoyed enough with him, he could be dumped.

Even on matters of substance, the caucus is not always unified. Many members opposed the certification of Joe Biden as president, but a few, including Reps. Chip Roy (R-TX) and Ken Buck (R-CO), refused to go along with the stunt. Even Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who cofounded the group, hasn't always been on the same page as Biggs. For example, he was silent when other members opposed a bill honoring the Capitol Police for trying to save their lives during the Jan. 6 riot.

Right now, this split in the Caucus is mostly about how much sand to throw in the gears of government to slow it down, but in the end, the Freedom Caucus can't really stop anything permanently because Democrats are in the majority. If the Republicans capture the House in 2022 by a small margin, the Biggsians (Biggsters?) could refuse to support the leadership and could cause real trouble. Actually, Biggs won't be the troublemaker-in-chief himself in 2022 because he will be term-limited for being chairman by then. For that reason, he is considering running for the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) in 2022. Kelly hasn't endorsed Biggs' bid yet, but he is surely hoping that Biggs is his opponent next year. (V)

Summer Zervos' Case Can Resume

A former contestant on "The Apprentice," Summer Zervos, sued Donald Trump for defamation when he called her a liar for saying he sexually assaulted her decades ago. Trump's lawyers claimed that no one can sue a sitting president in state court. On Tuesday, the highest court in New York, the State Court of Appeals, noted that Donald Trump is no longer a sitting president, so Zervos' case can proceed. Zervos' lawyers want to depose Trump under oath. He is adamantly against that, but might not be able to prevent it now.

Of course, if Trump is served with a New York subpoena and simply refuses to show up because he now lives in Florida, the legal wrangling will continue for months because the judge can't just send the New York police to Florida to haul him into court. The plaintiffs' attorneys could try to get a Florida court to reissue the subpoena. There are rules for that. Failing that, conceivably an aggressive judge could hold Trump in contempt of court and levy a fine for it. Then he could attempt to seize some of Trump's New York State property to auction off to pay the fine. This, too, could go on for a long time. (V)

New York Legalizes Pot

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) seems to have weathered the storm for the moment. It doesn't look like he will resign (unless more bad news shows up). However, if he decides to run for reelection, he is certain to be primaried from the left. Consequently he needs to shore up his left flank, especially with younger voters. To that end, he signed a bill yesterday to legalize the evil weed in New York State. Although 14 other states went first, the measure is expected to make New York one of the biggest national markets for Mary Jane, raising $350 million a year in tax revenue and creating 30,000 to 60,000 jobs growing, processing, and selling the dope.

The new law allows individual New Yorkers to possess up to 3 ounces of weed or 24 grams of a concentrated form. People will be allowed to smoke it in any place where smoking tobacco is legal, but not in schools, workplaces, or cars. It also expunges the criminal records of people who were busted with reefer in their possession. Of course, changing the state criminal code doesn't remove it from federal law. In practice, however, going after people for using grass is not a high priority for the feds, particularly when the AG is someone other than Jeff Sessions, so if the states don't do it, not many people are going to be arrested for it. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar31 Biden Branches Out
Mar31 Biden Will Announce Infrastructure Plan Today
Mar31 Just Assume the Russians Are Reading Everything
Mar31 Matt Gaetz In Hot Water
Mar31 While You Weren't Looking...
Mar31 Another Poll, More Good News for Newsom
Mar31 DNC Gets Ready to Tinker With the Rules
Mar30 What Is Going on in Georgia?
Mar30 Get Ready to Hear a Lot about Section 304
Mar30 This Is Going to Take a While
Mar30 World Leaders Propose Pandemic Alliance
Mar30 Past as Prologue: Presidential Retirements
Mar30 Van Drew Draws Potential Nightmare Opponent
Mar29 The Voting Wars Have Now Officially Begun
Mar29 Taxes Are Going to Go Up for Corporations and the Wealthy
Mar29 Dominion Sues Fox News for $1.6 Billion
Mar29 Another Autopsy Looks at Why Democrats Lost House Seats
Mar29 Bannon Could Face State Charges
Mar29 Raffensperger Is in Trouble
Mar29 Biden's Approval on COVID-19 Hits 75%
Mar29 Biden Has Frozen the 2024 Field
Mar28 Sunday Mailbag
Mar27 Saturday Q&A
Mar26 Biden Faces the Music
Mar26 Republicans Are Losing the Filibuster Debate
Mar26 Cheney 1, Trump Jr. 0
Mar26 Old Presidents Never Die--They Just Fade Away
Mar26 Pelosi Flexes Her California Muscle
Mar26 COVID Diaries: The Return
Mar26 Bye-Bye, Bibi?
Mar25 Harris Gets a Job
Mar25 So Does Rachel Levine
Mar25 Senate Begins Advancing S. 1
Mar25 Manchin Will Support a $3-Trillion Infrastructure Bill If Democrats Raise Corporate Taxes
Mar25 Trump Wants to Build a Huge Dark-Money Machine
Mar25 Missouri Senate Race Heats Up
Mar25 Newsom Picks New AG for California
Mar25 A Look at the 2022 Gubernatorial Races
Mar25 Republican Governors Miss Trump
Mar24 Gun Control Kabuki Theater, Part 168
Mar24 Hirono, Duckworth Want (and Get) More Asians in the Biden Administration
Mar24 Here Come De Judge(s)
Mar24 The Significance of Johnson
Mar24 Poll: Newsom Appears to Be Safe
Mar24 Israeli Gridlock Likely to Continue
Mar23 Team Biden Prepares to Move on to Bigger (and Better?) Things
Mar23 Biden's Cabinet Is Complete
Mar23 The Significance of Warnock
Mar23 Two Candidates Toss Their Hats into the Ring...
Mar23 ...And Two Candidates Remove Theirs