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Biden Seeks to Recast the Role of Government
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  This Is Not a State of the Union Address
      •  This House Isn't Big Enough for the Both of Us?
      •  Hundreds of Prominent Businesses Support LGBTQ Equality
      •  Send in the Clowns
      •  More on the Census
      •  More on Crying Wolf
      •  No More "Op-Eds" in The New York Times

This Is Not a State of the Union Address

Tonight, Joe Biden will follow the custom of his immediate predecessors and address a joint session of Congress, albeit a bit deeper into his term than is usual. The last few presidents toddled over to the Capitol roughly 50 days into their terms, while Biden is showing up on Day 99.

The Constitution requires that the president make regular reports to Congress, though it does not say how often, or in what form. George Washington interpreted the requirement to mean "once a year," and that's pretty much been the rule ever since. Washington and John Adams also thought it would be nice to show up in person, as did the presidents from Woodrow Wilson onwards (except for Calvin Coolidge), while the presidents from Thomas Jefferson through William Howard Taft (along with Silent Cal) just sent a written message over for the Clerk of the House to read. Over time, agreement has also been reached that while a president's first, early-term address may be delivered to a joint session of Congress, and may give a progress report about how things are going, it is not a State of the Union address. And that is how we get to the point that Biden will report to Congress, and in person, but his speech will just be called a "joint address to Congress."

Despite the underwhelming title, Biden and his team have been working hard on his remarks. The pandemic will get a lot of attention; it would be hard for it to be otherwise, since the House chamber will be sparsely populated due to social distancing. Only 200 people will be in the room, as compared to the normal crowd of 1,000. The President will also take a few victory laps, as is always the case with these things, highlighting the number of vaccine doses that have been delivered, the COVID-19 relief bill, and other sundry accomplishments. And he's going to formally unveil and begin to push his latest $2 trillion proposal, the "American Families Plan."

One way in which the speech will depart from recent custom is that there will be no designated survivor. Given the small crowd size, most of the cabinet will not be in attendance, so it's not necessary. It's not clear if President Pro Tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will be there, since he's been invited, but he's also 81 years old and may decide the COVID risk is unacceptable. If he does skip it, he'll become president should disaster strike. If he doesn't skip it, then the highest-ranking person in the line of succession who won't be there is Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen. There is quite a vigorous debate going on at Fox News, and other right-wing sites, about whether the country would be better off if most prominent Democrats were wiped out in a nuclear blast, or if it wouldn't matter because the true puppetmasters who are pulling the strings live far away from Washington.

Speaking of conspiratorial thinking, the notion that Biden's cheese has slipped off its cracker is a popular one among Trumpists. We presume tonight's speech will be competent if not spectacular; one wonders how many highly publicized, perfectly capable speeches he will need to give before the "Biden has dementia" bit goes away. Actually, there probably is no number high enough; it's not like the "Obama was born in Kenya" nonsense ever went away. Folks like Tucker Carlson will also make a big deal of Biden's use of teleprompters, conveniently forgetting that Trump also used them for major addresses (and many minor ones). Also, don't tell Tucker, but St. Ronald of Reagan not only used teleprompters, he took cue cards with him to cocktail parties to help him in making small talk.

The speech is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. ET, and will be televised by all the news networks, as well as by Fox. It will stream in a bunch of places, including here. It's expected to last about an hour, and then the Republican response will be delivered by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and will last about 15 minutes. (Z)

This House Isn't Big Enough for the Both of Us?

There's trouble in paradise, as the #1 Republican and the #3 Republican in the House are now fighting openly, primarily due to their differing views on Donald Trump. The #3 Republican, of course, is Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). She has made a bet that the former president (and future felon?) is not the future of the GOP. Her decision to turn against the Donald was not too much of a surprise, since they are radically different sorts of Republicans. The Representative inherited much of her politics from her old man, and from the other Old Guard Republicans he pals around with, and so she favors a vigorous (some would say aggressive) foreign policy, she likes adherence to Party customs and traditions, she also likes (legal) immigrants, and she dislikes unbalanced budgets and Russia. Trump disagrees with her on all of these things.

In view of her having gone apostate by voting in favor of Trump's second impeachment, there is no reason for Cheney to hold back on the anti-Trump rhetoric. And so, she's been going after him with both barrels. Most recently, she said that the Department of Justice should give careful consideration to charging the former president with inciting insurrection. She also proposed that any Republican who supported the insurrection (including folks like Sens. Josh Hawley, R-MO, and Ted Cruz, R-TX, who challenged the election results) should be tossed out of the Party or, failing that, should be barred from holding leadership positions.

This has put Cheney on a collision course with the #1 Republican in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). House Republicans are currently at their annual retreat, and when the Minority Leader was asked about Cheney, he said: "There's a responsibility, if you're gonna be in leadership, leaders eat last. And when leaders try to go out, and not work as one team, it creates difficulties." In other words: "Shut up, Liz."

Let us not pretend, however, that McCarthy is being statesmanlike or that he's putting the Party ahead of his own needs. He has made very clear which side of this debate he's really on, as he's pointedly refused to push back against any of the excesses of Trumpism (including the insurrection), and has made multiple pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago to genuflect before the Dear Leader. This serves the needs of Kevin McCarthy, as one of the 435 members of the House, very well indeed. He is from the reddest district in any of the Pacific States; CA-23 is R+12 and went for Trump by 16 points in 2020 and by 22 points in 2016.

Of course, Trump can't stop himself from getting involved in these things, particularly when he has the chance to dump upon a woman. And so, using his 2021 version of Twitter (issuing statements through his grift operation, er, PAC), he issued a statement that read, in part: "Liz Cheney is polling sooo low in Wyoming, and has sooo little support, even from the Wyoming Republican Party, that she is looking for a way out of her Congressional race. She'll either be yet another lobbyist or maybe embarrass her family by running for President, in order to save face."

Short-term, who knows where this is headed? McCarthy can already feel the Speaker's gavel in his hand, so he's certainly not going anywhere. And Cheney definitely has presidential aspirations, so she's not going anywhere either. When asked about those aspirations this week, she responded "I'm not ruling anything in or out—ever is a long time." Clearly not the Full Sherman; we would read that as, "A 2024 run isn't in the cards, but see you in 2028." It's possible Cheney could be forced out of her leadership position, but she's one of only two women in Republican leadership in either chamber (Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA, is Senate Republican Conference Vice Chair, which makes her the #5 Republican in the Senate). Given that the GOP is desperately trying to stop hemorrhaging suburban women voters, kicking one of their most prominent women members to the curb seems an unwise choice.

Long-term, it's already looking like Cheney has made a wise gamble. A new poll from NBC News reveals that 50% of Republican voters say they favor the Party over Trump, while 44% favor Trump over the Party. That is not a great place for the GOP to be, but it is the first time in nearly two years that the Party did better than the (former) President. It certainly looks to be the case that, out of power and without much of a platform, his influence is waning. And that's before he deals with any of the roadblocks that appear to be before him, like indictments in New York State and maybe in Georgia. (Z)

Hundreds of Prominent Businesses Support LGBTQ Equality

It's not gotten quite as much attention as H.R. 1, or H.R. 51, but H.R. 5, introduced by Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-RI), is known as the Equality Act. It would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making sexual orientation and gender identity federally protected classes. This means that LGBTQ folks would be afforded the same legal protections against discrimination as people of color, religious adherents, etc. Not only could LGBTQ Americans sue for discrimination, the Dept. of Justice would also be empowered to investigate and prosecute such discrimination. As you can presumably infer, bathroom bills would be kaput.

Yesterday, a group known as the Business Coalition for the Equality Act unveiled something of a surprise: They have collected signatures from more than 400 corporate leaders in support of the legislation. Among the major business interests that have signed up are Apple, Capital One, CVS, Facebook, GM, Home Depot, Marriott, PepsiCo, and Starbucks, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

This is yet another example of how the Republican Party's socially conservative (regressive?) policy positions are putting it at odds with the corporate interests the GOP has traditionally been allied with. H.R. 5 has already passed the House, and so it will be the Senate where the rubber meets the road. Democratic roadbump #1, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), is herself LGBTQ, so her vote presumably won't be a problem. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) wants changes, but he will surely be gotten on board. Will that duo, plus the 48 other Democrats and independents, be willing to "improve" the filibuster for civil rights bills? Maybe so; that should be politically salable. Besides, many senators are dying to know who the first person in the Alabama phone book is.

The other option is to work with the Republican members of the Senate. Some Republicans, those who are of a libertarian bent, support the legislation on its merits. In fact, three members of the GOP conference voted for H.R. 5 when it passed the House. It's also possible that support for the bill could be a bargaining chip in exchange for dial-backs elsewhere. Most GOP pooh bahs don't really oppose LGBTQ equality; they're just pandering to evangelical (and other socially conservative) voters who do. It's conceivable that 10 Republican votes, from senators who are retiring or who represent more moderate states, could be found. Don't bet on it, necessarily, although the Republican Party hates to aggravate the corporate types, so who knows? (Z)

Send in the Clowns

Now that the recall election is official, the...unorthodox candidates are starting to come out of the woodwork. As part of the Golden State's commitment to democracy, state law sets the bar for entry ridiculously low. Anyone who can come up with a few thousand dollars or a few thousand signatures can become a gubernatorial candidate. This makes it the best PR value in town for someone who's looking to promote their business interests, or perhaps their oddball political agenda.

Here are some of the "celebrities" who have already expressed an intent to run:

  • Randy Quaid: Quaid was once among the finest actors in Hollywood, capable of handling comic roles (National Lampoon's Vacation, Kingpin) and dramatic roles (Brokeback Mountain, The Last Detail) with equal ease. These days, he's so many cards short of a full deck that he'd have trouble making it through a round of blackjack. He believes that he and his wife are being stalked by the "Star Whackers," an alleged cabal that is supposedly responsible for the deaths of Heath Ledger, Chris Penn, and David Carradine, and is now hot on the trail of Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, and the Quaids. He's also a big Trump supporter, by the way.

  • Mary Carey: The former porn star launched something of an empire based on her 2003 run, and she'll be back again in 2021. "[I] will not be taking this position laying down. I am ready to be on top!," she explained in her campaign announcement. We suspect there may be a double entendre or two in there, but unfortunately, our staff linguist is hiding out from the Star Whackers.

  • Angelyne: It is not clear to us how well known Angelyne is outside of Los Angeles, but she's a local fixture, not unlike the "naked cowboy" in New York City. She drives around in a pink Corvette and pays for billboards that feature her picture and name. How she makes money off of this is one of the great mysteries of life in the city, and has confounded reporters who tried to get to the bottom of the matter. Like Carey, this will be her second run, following a 2003 campaign. Incidentally, Angelyne's slogan is "We've had Gray, we've had Brown, now it's time for some blond and pink."

  • Mike Cernovich: Cernovich is a real piece of work; he's just about the most anti-woman member of the right-wing media, which is not an easy hill to be king of. He was a key figure in perpetrating the anti-feminist Gamergate online harassment campaign, has opined that many mass shooters (like the Orlando shooter) were driven to it by domineering women in their lives, and has flatly declared that there is no such thing as date rape. Cernovich, who broadcasts on Alex Jones' network, also popularized the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and is generally a big fan of accusing both his critics and prominent Democratic politicians of being pedophiles.

Some of the "notables" who ran in 2003, such as Gary Coleman, are dead. Others, however, are still around. In particular, it would not be a surprise to see comedian Leo Gallagher, known for his watermelon-smashing stage show, to jump in again. His career has stalled badly, possibly because he's become an unapologetic bigot. Seriously; he used to just smash watermelons, but now he smashes them and says "pretend this is a Muslim's head!" He also thinks that calling things "gay" (though that is not quite the word he prefers) is hilarious. If he does run again, he should fit in well with Cernovich.

There are also plenty of non-celebrities who are running in order to promote their messages, such as they are. For example:

  • Armando "Mando" Perez-Serrato: He owns a sporting goods business, and wants to export all mental health, drug and homeless services, and state prisons to Central America. Please don't tell anyone that he's a UCLA graduate. And maybe don't tell him that if you are speaking only of yourself, and you are male, you are a "proud UCLA alumnus" and not a "proud UCLA alumni."

  • Tim Herode: He is a computer repair technician, a pastor, and a climate change denier. He says he can't find anyone who can explain why, if there is climate change, deserts don't catch on fire. One wonders how many barbecues at the Herode home have been ruined because he couldn't get the sand to ignite.

  • Dakota K. Vaughn: He is a small business owner, and wants to get rid of laws that require most dogs to be neutered. It's a ballsy platform, we'll give him that.

Again, there's been no polling here (not that any of these folks would register). However, we have to imagine that the more circus-like the recall seems, the more that plays into Gov. Gavin Newsom's (D-CA) argument that this is all a stunt and a silly waste of time. (Z)

More on the Census

We wrote a pretty lengthy item yesterday about the census in which we talked primarily about the impact on representation in the House. However, there was an angle we missed. See if you can see the pattern:

  • Texas was expected to gain three seats, and gained two
  • Florida was expected to gain two seats, and gained one
  • Arizona was expected to gain one seat, and gained zero

The connection, if you haven't picked it up already, is that these are all Republican-led states with large Latino populations.

The obvious inference here is that Donald Trump may have failed in his efforts to get undocumented immigrants excluded from reapportionment, but he was partly successful in causing Latinos to be undercounted, at least in places where the state government was happy to play along. In addition to the list above, it is also the case that New York and California—blue states with large Latino populations—were potential candidates to lose two seats each, but ultimately only lost one each.

In short, it sure looks like Trump managed to shoot the GOP in the foot. At least two of the lost seats in Texas/Florida/Arizona would have ended up in Republican hands, and maybe all three. And the larger lessons here would seem to be that: (1) manipulating the system is harder than it looks, and (2) Republicans have been pretty bad at it recently, between the census, and USPS shenanigans, and voting restrictions that may hurt the Party's working-class base more than anyone else. (Z)

More on Crying Wolf

In another piece from yesterday, we wrote about the ridiculous claim propagated by Fox News (and others) that the Biden administration was preparing to begin strict beef/hamburger rationing. This was based on a (willful?) misreading of a tiny, tiny piece of not-really-evidence, and was so obviously spurious that it's remarkable that anyone ran with it. And yet, they did.

Tuesday gave us yet another example of this, courtesy of The New York Post. We wouldn't normally spend time on this, but it follows the same pattern as Burgergate. Kamala Harris, as you may or may not know, wrote a children's book titled Superheroes Are Everywhere. Someone noticed that one of the immigrant children at the border was carrying a copy. And so, the Post reported that every child was being given a copy, with the implication that they were being indoctrinated as Democrats, communists, future vice presidents, etc. Other right-wing outlets, along with numerous Republican politicians, ran with it.

Do any of these folks actually believe these things are true? Or are they merely willing to do anything to push people's buttons? Is it really plausible that the Biden administration would actually undertake such a program, given not only the logistical issues, but also the obvious potential for blowback? The current president isn't the RNC, after all, and the book in question was written by Harris, not Donald Trump Jr. Further, did it not occur to anyone that immigrant children arriving from Mexico and Central America mostly speak Spanish (or other languages that are not English) and would not be able to read Harris' book?

Laura Italiano, the Post reporter who wrote the story, said she was ordered to do so by her editors. She is so upset and embarrassed that she resigned from the paper on Tuesday. Meanwhile, we stand by our assertion from yesterday, that the more stupid and ridiculous stuff that right-wing politicians and media puts out there to try to discredit the current administration, the less anyone will pay attention when something scandalous or concerning actually does happen. (Z)

No More "Op-Eds" in The New York Times

Online on Sunday, and in print on Tuesday, The New York Times announced that it is retiring the term "op-ed" after 50 years. The new term that will be used in its place is "guest essay."

The 900-word mini-essay explaining the announcement, written by opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury, is loaded with buzzwords and corporate speak, and tries to frame this as something undertaken to better serve readers. Uh-huh. In truth, today's readers are not great at being aware of the lines between news, journalist-produced opinion (e.g., editorials, columns), and outsider-produced opinion (op-eds). This has created problems for newspapers, particularly when printing controversial op-eds, like the one the Times printed from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) in which he proposed using the military against left-wing protesters. By rebranding op-eds as "guest essays," the Times hopes to make the line between those pieces and staff-produced content much redder and brighter.

The other consideration is that opinion is, these days, one of the biggest moneymakers for newspapers. People eat that content up, and generally the more outlandish, the better. The Times believes that better branding will make marketing this content much easier, not only in the print version of the paper and on their website, but also through newsletters and tweets and the like.

Anyhow, we would say that the lesson here is this: the media often gets attacked for its political biases, which are definitely present, but are often overstated. To borrow an observation from Al Franken back when he was just an author, there are much more significant biases than the political ones, particularly the propensity for pot-stirring, scandal-mongering, and the like. It couldn't be clearer that the Times wants to set things up so they can crank out the eyeball-attracting opinion content but also to be in a position to say "Who? Us? Blame the guest essayist!" if anyone complains. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr27 The Returns Are In
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Apr26 Biden's Next $2 Trillion "American Families Plan" Will Be Released This Week
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