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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Will Announce Executive Action on Guns Today
      •  First Georgia, Now Texas
      •  But Not Kentucky
      •  Boehner Blames Trump for the Capitol Riot
      •  Republicans Get a Deadline on the Infrastructure Bill
      •  D.C. Statehood Bill Will Come Up This Month
      •  Why Don't Republicans Hate Kamala Harris?
      •  Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Raking in the Big Bucks
      •  So Is Mark Kelly

Biden Will Announce Executive Action on Guns Today

According to a report from Politico, Joe Biden will announce an executive order relating to guns today. It is not clear what the XO will do. It is possible that it will require people who make their own guns at home to go for a background check, although how this could be enforced is anyone's guess.

Biden may also try to ban concealed carry of assault weapons. These weapons are not easy to conceal and in none of the recent mass shootings was the weapon concealed, so an order to this effect would mean very little. Biden could also ban people who have been convicted of domestic violence from purchasing guns, but that would require a database listing all such felons that gun shops could check. That would raise a host of privacy and other issues

The reality is that Biden can do very little on his own. He needs Congress to pass laws, and even then there is the Supreme Court to deal with. One measure that Congress could do that probably would pass muster with the Supreme Court is put a substantial tax on various kinds of weapons and ammunition with massive penalties on gun shop owners who evaded the tax. Congress clearly has the power to tax any product involved in interstate commerce and also has the power to set the penalty for tax evasion. If the tax were levied on the gun manufacturers rather than directly on the gun shops or customers, it would be difficult to evade. But even a sales tax paid by gun shops would be fairly easy to enforce by having volunteers try to buy guns and see if the shop owner insisted on the tax being paid. (V)

First Georgia, Now Texas

Georgia has been in the news a lot recently on account of its new voting law. Texas is jealous and wants to be in the spotlight, so legislators there are working hard to make sure they are next. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) said revising the election law is a priority, but he doesn't actually count that much. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX), who controls the state Senate, also sees it as a priority, so he is going to move the bill through the state Senate quickly. After all, the midterms are a mere 19 months away.

The bill is 38 pages long. Among its other provisions are:

  • A ban on local officials promoting early voting
  • A ban on the unsolicited distribution of absentee ballots
  • A ban on using public funds to help outside groups encourage early voting
  • A ban on dropboxes for absentee ballots
  • A limit of 12 hours of early voting in the final week of absentee voting
  • No more straight-ticket voting by checking a single box at the top of the ballot
  • Making it a felony for one person to collect multiple ballots (e.g., from a nursing home)
  • Allows (partisan) poll watchers free access to all parts of polling places
  • Allows poll watchers to record everything they see (even though voters may not consent)
  • A de facto ban on drive-in voting
  • A requirement that anyone helping a voter fill out the ballot file a form with the state government
  • A requirement that anyone who drives three or more voters to their precinct file a form with the state government
  • A requirement that precincts have video surveillance
  • A ban on outside help running any election (e.g. telling Mark Zuckerberg to keep his $400 million next time)

In short, in contrast to Georgia's bill, which is geared toward making it harder to vote, the Texas bill is more focused on making it easier for partisans to intimidate voters.

Many of the provisions have absolutely nothing to do with election security. How does limiting early voting to 12 hours in the last week improve security? How does eliminating straight-ticket voting eliminate fraud? Why does banning drive-in voting make for a more honest election? The Republicans have simply given up all pretenses of making the new laws about stopping undocumented immigrants from voting and more or less openly are focusing on stopping Black people from voting.

The ban on straight-ticket voting is actually more important than it might appear. It has a long history in Texas and two-thirds of all voters in the 10 biggest counties use it. Eliminating it will mean voters take much more time in the voting booth looking at all the downballot races, thus slowing down voting considerably. This will make the lines longer. The lawmakers hope that after waiting 4, 6, or 8 hours, voters in large and understaffed (i.e., "urban" precincts) will go home and not vote. The true answer to "Why did you pass this law?" is "Because we can," but most Texas politicians are smart enough not to say that out loud. Note that straight-ticket voting had already been tossed out by a judge, shortly before the 2020 election; the new bill enshrines that decision into law.

Allowing poll watchers (but not voters) to record activity at polling places has to be understood in context. Texas has a long history of partisan poll watchers intimidating voters. Allowing them to record who is voting just gives them another tool.

The bill also changes the way resources are allocated for running elections. It is a bit complicated, but places with many undocumented immigrants (which tend to be in inner cities and highly Democratic) will get fewer resources going forward, which will translate to longer lines. (V)

But Not Kentucky

While Georgia and Texas are doing their level best to make voting harder, especially for Black and brown voters, Kentucky, of all states, is making it easier. And remember, this is the home state of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). Yesterday, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed a bill that actually expanded voting, rather than limiting it. Beshear must be a really good negotiator, because the leaders of the Republican-controlled state legislature could have passed a bill like Georgia's or Texas', let Beshear veto it, and then overriden his veto. They have the votes for that.

On the other hand, unlike in Georgia, where Democrats did well, in Kentucky Republicans won statewide easily, so they are not scared of Democrats suddenly winning elections. Also, Kentucky's voting laws are among the tightest in the country, so even with them loosening slightly, Kentucky is still a tough place to vote. For example, no early voting of any kind has ever been allowed in the state.

The bill passed by a huge margin. It was 91-3 in the state House and 33-3 in the state Senate. That is pretty amazing for something this controversial. Among its other provisions are:

  • Official approval for voting centers
  • An online portal for registering for absentee ballots
  • Drop boxes
  • Three days of early voting (up from 0 days)
  • A requirement that all voting has a paper audit trail

Kentucky is not yet Stacey Abrams' idea of a dream state. Three days of early voting is much worse than in Georgia, no-excuse absentee voting still does not exist, and there is a prohibition of one person collecting and returning multiple ballots. Still, it's amazing that this happened, but it did and is now the law in the Bluegrass State. (V)

Boehner Blames Trump for the Capitol Riot

Former House Speaker John Boehner has written a book about his time in politics. It is due out later this month, but portions of it have already leaked. One of the more salient passages blames Donald Trump for the Jan. 6 riot. Specifically, Boehner writes that Trump "incited that bloody insurrection for nothing more than selfish reasons, perpetuated by the bullsh*t he'd been shoveling since he lost a fair election the previous November." In response to the publication of the leak, Trump's spokesman called Boehner a "swamp creature."

Boehner also said he wasn't surprised about the riot at all. He wrote: "Some of the people involved did not surprise me in the least. The legislative terrorism that I'd witnessed as speaker had now encouraged actual terrorism." Boehner encouraged Republicans to take back the Party from what he calls "garden-variety whack jobs" and "insurrectionists." (V)

Republicans Get a Deadline on the Infrastructure Bill

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who is very close to Joe Biden, has told Republicans that they have until Memorial Day (May 31) to negotiate an infrastructure bill that they like. If they haven't come up with a proposal that the Democrats can accept, then the blue team will go it alone, without Republican input. If that doesn't sound like an ultimatum, we don't know what does.

Coons has said that some senior Republicans would be willing to go along with a $1 trillion bill that addresses only hard infrastructure, like roads, bridges, tunnels, harbors, airports, and rural broadband Internet. Definitely not "soft infrastructure," like paying home healthcare aides more. The Republicans also want to avoid a tax increase for corporations, but are open to a higher gas tax and a fee levied on electric vehicles. No math was provided, but it is likely that to get to $1 trillion on the gas tax would require a politically unacceptable increase. Charging a fee for driving an electric car would be logistically complicated to enforce and is something Democrats definitely don't want. They want to do everything they can to incentivize the purchase and use of EVs, not discourage those things.

Yesterday afternoon, Biden welcomed compromise with the Republicans, so we now know who the good cop is and who the bad cop is. Biden plans to invite senior Republicans to the White House for tea and to discuss matters. Biden said that, for example, he might be willing to raise the corporate tax to only 25%, but this was not much of a concession since Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) might insist on that limit anyway. Of course, doing that will make the math not work, so new sources of revenue will be needed to fill the gap. Biden said he was open to ideas about where the revenue would come from, but the reality is that the Democrats and Republicans are very far apart on possible sources for the money. Republicans will never accept higher income taxes or estate taxes and Democrats will never accept a regressive national value-added tax. Neither party is fond of raising the gas tax. So, where will the money come from? Biden has suggested passing a minimum tax on the profits big public companies report to their shareholders (which would include profits made by subsidiaries in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands), but Republicans are sure to oppose this.

While he campaigned on bipartisanship, Biden also knows that cutting his plan in half or more will not sit well with much of his own party. It is also possible that in order to make sure he doesn't have to consider the Republican plan at all (and thus anger much of the Democratic House caucus), Biden might make it a condition that unless the Republicans are able to get at least 25 members of their caucus behind their proposal, he doesn't even want to discuss it. Getting 10 Republicans to go for a minimal plan is probably not a good deal for Biden. He knows that voters tend to look at the results, not how many votes it got in the Senate. Saying that he wants at least 25 Republican senators to back whatever plan they have is clearly a poison pill, but it could get him off the bipartisanship-is-the-answer-to-all-your-problems hook. (V)

D.C. Statehood Bill Will Come Up This Month

Infrastructure is not the only item on the House Democrats' agenda now that they have passed H.R. 1. Another biggie is D.C. statehood. A vote on making D.C. the 51st state is going to be taken later this month. It will almost certainly pass along party lines.

Democrats may be able to ram the infrastructure bill through the Senate using budget reconciliation if they have to, but it is not too likely they can pass a statehood bill that way, even if they bend over backwards to persuade Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough that adding D.C. has a real, legitimate budgetary impact. And Republicans will oppose it with absolutely everything they have, because they know that within 6 months of it becoming law, two new Black Democrats will be sworn in as members of the Senate. That would make retaking the Senate in 2022, already a tall order for the GOP, close to impossible.

An interesting question is: Who would the new senators be if D.C. becomes a state? Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has represented D.C. in the House for 30 years and can do pretty much everything a representative can do except vote on the floor. She is unlikely to run for a 6-year Senate term because she is 83. She might run to be the 51st state's representative though. She's earned it, and having her obituary read that she was a full, voting member of Congress would be a nice thing for posterity.

Mayor Muriel Bowser could conceivably run for the Senate, but since she is already running D.C., it seems more likely she would keep the job, but now be called Gov. Bowser instead of Mayor Bowser. That's still a big promotion.

Here is a short rundown of some of the more likely candidates for the Senate. And remember, there would be two lucky winners. Assuming that statehood is conferred later this year, then one of those would serve about 2 years, and one would serve about 4 years before having to run again. For those who are interested in the weedy elements of this, one of the new senators would be a Class 1 senator (up again in 2024) and one would be a Class 2 senator (up again in 2026), since those two classes currently have 33 senators each while Class 3 (up again next year) has 34. Which new senator would be in each class would be decided after both were elected, by drawing straws or flipping a coin or some other random-selection process.

  • Karl Racine: The D.C. AG is known to have national ambitions and sparred with Donald Trump repeatedly, which would be a big selling point. If Kamala Harris had become president, he would have had a good shot at becoming the U.S. attorney general, but being a senator would be a fine consolation prize.

  • Susan Rice: She was born in D.C. and has lived there for most of her life. Nobody could call her a "carpetbagger." She has served in multiple government positions including ambassador to the United Nations. She would be an obvious candidate for being on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She often rubs people the wrong way, but that characteristic could be repurposed as "will fight hard for you."

  • Tony Williams: The former D.C. mayor is often credited with pulling off the city's financial turnaround. He is well known and well liked. He has the kind of senatorial gravitas that can be a big help when raising the kind of money needed for a Senate race.

  • Eric Holder: The former AG didn't grow up in the District, but has served in both local and national government for years. He was a D.C. Superior Court judge and later U.S. Attorney for D.C., and, of course, the U.S. Attorney General. That's probably enough of a connection to avoid being labeled a carpetbagger. And he knows lots of people in high places.

One fantasy candidate for many people is Michelle Obama. She has been living in the District since Jan. 20, 2009, so she is a plausible candidate. With the help of her hubby, she could raise more money than you could shake a stick at and would probably be the favorite. But there is zero indication that she wants the job. (V)

Why Don't Republicans Hate Kamala Harris?

Jonathan Bernstein has observed that Republicans and right-wing media outlets have pretty much given Kamala Harris a free pass. They don't like her, of course, because she is a Democrat, but there has been amazingly little invective hurled in her direction. They could possibly hate her for: (1) being Black, (2) being Asian, (3) being a woman, or (4) being from California, but there is none of that. They have hardly smeared her at all, even though she checks lots of boxes for right-wing viewers/readers to hate. They barely even pointed out that 4 years in the Senate is a pretty meager track record for being a heartbeat away from the presidency, especially when the heart in question will be 82 before the owner's term is up.

Instead, they are busy hating Coca-Cola and Major League baseball, both of which are run by white men. Bernstein looked around at all the usual suspects and found almost nothing. There is no book out attacking her. The worst Fox News came up with is that she hasn't held a press conference on what she is going to do about the border situation she is suddenly in charge of.

It is possible that they are waiting direction from Donald Trump and so far he hasn't gotten around to picking on her. During the campaign, his biggest complaint about her was that she ran a lousy primary campaign, something that applies to a couple of dozen other Democrats as well. Maybe there is something else going on, but it seems strange for such a high-profile politician who is not an old, straight white man to get a free pass from Fox and friends. (V)

Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Raking in the Big Bucks

Many people regard Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) as pretty loony (literally, what with her contention that the California wildfires of last summer were intentionally set by Jewish space lasers). Nevertheless, she has her supporters—over 100,000 of them. In the first quarter of 2021, she raised $3.2 million, an enormous sum for any House race, especially for a freshman in a cheap-to-advertise-in rural district who is almost 2 years from the next election. Greene did not contribute any of the funds herself. By way of comparison, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pulled in $728,000 in her first quarter in the House. So Greene outraised her by more than 4 to 1.

How did this happen? Well, Greene was in the news a lot—not necessarily in a good way, but that doesn't seem to matter with her fans. She was also kicked off her committees, so there will not be any Greene New Deal written by her, or any other legislation, for that matter. In case you forgot, legislating is what House members are generally supposed to do, but Greene's being excused from that has freed her to do more important things, like send out lots of e-mail solicitations. Of course, the most important factor in her favor is that she is in Donald Trump's good graces. She visited him at Mar-a-Lago last week and they made a short video together.

Greene might need the money, even in a market where advertising is cheap. Her district, GA-14, is R+27, so she doesn't have to worry about being knocked off by a Democrat. However, given her level of craziness, she most definitely has to worry about a primary challenge. In fact, Republican challengers are already quietly getting to work. Most of the donations to Greene came from outside the district, so her haul doesn't necessarily indicate that she's popular with the voters she actually has to answer to. Unfortunately for her, her fans in Texas and Indiana and Alabama don't get to cast ballots in Georgia. (V)

So Is Mark Kelly

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) knows he has a bullseye securely pinned to the back of his jacket. He is one of the NRSC's top targets in 2022. If term-limited Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) decides to challenge him, it could be a rough ride. Consequently, he is working hard raising money in order to fight the expected avalanche of negative ads that will be in store for him next year. So far, he is starting out pretty well. He raised $4.4 million in Q1 2021. That's more than Marjorie Taylor Greene, but, of course, he is a senator and she is not. Still, that is a big pile of cash for a brand-new senator to raise so fast. In the 2020 cycle, Kelly raised and spent $100 million, a record for Arizona. Clearly he is very good at fundraising, which will come in handy in what is expected to be a very expensive race next year.

Kelly is actually in a pretty good position for someone with a bullseye on his back. The NRSC targets the "most vulnerable" opponents, but sometimes the "most vulnerable" opponents aren't actually all that vulnerable. Arizona has become a purple state, which obviously helps Kelly a lot. The other senator, Krysten Sinema, is also a Democrat and Joe Biden won the state. Further, Kelly is a pretty good fit for a state that tends to prefer its senators be white, male, and military veterans (see McCain, John). Many voters also admire his unflagging support for his wife, former representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was badly injured (and permanently incapacitated) in a mass shooting.

The most important issue for Kelly is who his opponent will be. Ducey is by far the best-known and strongest Republican in Arizona. However, Donald Trump hates his guts and will move heaven and earth to see that he loses the GOP primary. For this reason, he may decide not to run, much to Kelly's relief. There are other Republicans who have been elected statewide, including AG Mark Brnovich and State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, but neither is as well known as Ducey, and neither would be the threat to Kelly that the Governor would be.

Another Republican who may try for the nomination is Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ). He is to the right of Marjorie Taylor Greene, just not so nutty. If he were to enter the race, he could possibly get Trump's endorsement. If he won the nomination, Kelly would be safe.

The bottom line is that if Ducey throws his hat into the ring and then survives the Republican primary, Kelly will have his hands full trying to keep his seat. Otherwise, he's in good shape to cruise to reelection. As an astronaut, he learned to prepare for all possible eventualities that can be anticipated, hence the pedal-to-the-metal fundraising right now. Better to have the money and not need it than to need the money and not have it. Besides, if it turns out that he gets a weak or unknown opponent, he can donate some funds to needy Senate colleagues, which will make him quite popular with them. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr07 Biden Administration Says It Won't Get Involved in Vaccine Passports
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