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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Senate Republicans Unveil COVID-19 Relief Plan, Meet with Biden
      •  Graham Refuses to Schedule Garland Hearing
      •  The GOP Civil War Is Out in the Open
      •  Trump Has a New Defense Team
      •  Why Trump Lost, According to His Own Pollster
      •  Donald Trump, Russian Asset
      •  Jockeying for the 2022 Senate Elections Is Well Underway

Senate Republicans Unveil COVID-19 Relief Plan, Meet with Biden

Joe Biden's plan for the next COVID-19 relief bill includes $1.9 trillion in spending. This weekend, we learned that 10 of the more moderate Senate Republicans—Susan Collins (ME), Rob Portman (OH), Bill Cassidy (LA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mitt Romney (UT), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Todd Young (IN), Jerry Moran (KS), Mike Rounds (SD) and Thom Tillis (NC)— have an alternate plan that includes just over $600 billion in spending. On Monday, the GOP senators unveiled their plan, so we now know the nitty gritty.

Let's compare the major elements of the two plans that are now on the table:

Target Biden Plan GOP Plan
Stimulus $1,400 for individuals earning $75,000 or less or couples earning $150,000 or less, with an additional $600 for each child under 17. The amount paid out would taper off up to $87,000/$174,000. Individuals who earn more than $87,000, or couples who earn more than $174,000, would be out of luck. Checks of $1,000 for individuals earning $40,000 or less or couples earning $80,000 or less, with an additional $500 for each dependent. The amount paid out would taper off up to $50,000/$100,000. Individuals who earn more than $50,000, or couples who earn more than $100,000, would be out of luck.
Unemployment Extension of $400/week through September Extension of $300/week through July
COVID $70 billion for vaccination, equipment, and testing, plus funds to hire 100,000 more public health workers $160 billion for vaccination, equipment, and testing
Hunger 15% increase in SNAP through September, $3 billion in additional funding for WIC, $1 billion to territories for nutrition assistance $3 billion to expand SNAP through September
Small Business $50 billion, to be distributed through channels other than PPP $40 billion more for PPP, $10 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loans
Education $170 billion to help reopen schools $20 billion to help reopen schools
State and Local Governments $150 billion Not mentioned
Childcare $40 billion to help with childcare expenses, one-year expansion of childcare tax credit Not mentioned
Healthcare Increase in Obamacare subsidies, $20 billion for veterans' healthcare, $4 billion for mental health and substance abuse Not mentioned
Minimum Wage Increased to $15/hour nationwide Not mentioned
Renters Eviction moratorium extended to Sept. 30, $30 billion in assistance to low- and middle-income renters Not mentioned

After the "Gang of 10" unveiled their plan, they headed to the White House and chatted with the President for a couple of hours. Everyone said the right things afterwards, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki noting that Biden was happy to be able to explain his proposal, and Collins telling reporters: "It was a very good exchange of views. I wouldn't say we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two-hour meeting."

That all sounds super, but the bottom line is that the GOP proposal can hardly be taken seriously, even as an opening bid. Keep in mind that the Democrats hold most of the cards here, since they can do most of what they want to do using budget reconciliation. If the Republicans actually want to work with Biden, coming from a position of weakness as they are (which will happen when a party is in the minority), they will either have to meet him considerably more than halfway on his basic funding goals, or else they will have to help him pass something that will be difficult or impossible to do with reconciliation. The current proposal from Collins & Co. ignores about half of Biden's priorities and comes up way short on most of the rest (with small business funding the notable, and predictable, exception).

It is true that Biden would very much like to pass this with bipartisan support, for two reasons: (1) It would deliver on his campaign and inaugural promises to pursue "unity," (2) It would hopefully grease the skids for future cooperation. However, delivering a whiz-bang, big-time COVID relief bill would also fulfill a campaign promise, and would likely impress voters more than a much smaller bipartisan bill. So, #1 doesn't matter that much. And #2 matters even less, since while it would be helpful for the Biden administration to get off on a cooperative foot, that hardly guarantees future cooperation.

What we are saying, in other words, is that the Republicans are grossly overplaying their hand. If the Democrats feel reconciliation is their only option, and that there will be gridlock thereafter, then they will shoot for the moon, which is the opposite of what the GOP wants. Further, assuming the pandemic is in the rearview mirror a year from now, and the healing and recovery are in full swing, do Republicans up in 2022 really want to run on a platform of "we opposed COVID-19 relief"? And finally, the timeline here is working against the red team. Voters want a new relief package yesterday, and Democratic leadership in Congress is already moving forward with the assumption that reconciliation is going to be necessary. So, if the Republicans don't come up with a more viable counter-offer soon, then they will run out of time, and will be out of luck. (Z)

Graham Refuses to Schedule Garland Hearing

Although Senate leadership reportedly has reached agreement on an organizing resolution for the upper chamber, they haven't actually voted on it. That means that, for at least a little while longer, the various committees are being run by the Republicans who ran them last term. And, in turn, that means that scheduling a confirmation hearing for AG-designate Merrick Garland is currently up to current Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Soon-to-be Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Graham to schedule the hearing for Thursday and Friday of this week, pointing out that the last five AGs all took two days to vet. Graham refused, blaming the Democrats for wasting/occupying the Senate's time with an impeachment trial next week.

Ultimately, this story is not that important, as Garland will presumably be in place in a couple of weeks, and until then Acting AG Monty Wilkinson is eminently competent. However, we run this item as an adjunct to the previous item. Sometime very soon, the Senate will pass its organizing resolution. And sometime very soon, Garland will get his hearing. These are inevitabilities, and have only been delayed as long as they have because of Republican foot-dragging. Put another way, these represent two opportunities for the GOP members of the Senate to reach across the aisle, and to be a part of Team Congress, without giving up anything. And yet they still refuse to do it. How can Joe Biden or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) observe behavior like this and think that "unity" and "bipartisanship" are in the cards in the future, when those things will require Republicans to make actual sacrifices?

The answer is that they cannot think that. Republicans in Congress, even the allegedly moderate ones, have yet to provide a shred of evidence that they have a real interest in cooperating with the Democrats in Congress or with Biden. On the other hand, there is a mountain of evidence that they plan to return to the foot-dragging, obstructionist ways of the Obama years. And if the GOP does not change course in a big way, and quickly, then the Democrats—already feeling burned by what happened during the Obama presidency—will conclude that the time has come to embrace power politics. That means governing through executive orders (which is already happening), use of budget reconciliation (which is growing imminent), and very probably weakening or eliminating the filibuster.

There is another way of looking at all this. When the Democrats are in charge, as in Congress, the Republicans think that bipartisanship is extremely important and strongly encourage the parties to work together. However, when the Republicans are in charge, as in the Florida and Texas legislatures which are about to do redistricting, there is nary a word about bipartisanship. It's full speed ahead for the maximal Republican gain. Funny, huh? There's a word for this, but we can't think of it at the moment. It begins with an "h." Hypodermic? Hyperactive? Hippopotamus? Hippocratic? Hypochondriacs? Something like that. (Z)

The GOP Civil War Is Out in the Open

For four years, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rarely said a word against Donald Trump. Now, he's sharing opinions that are non-Trump-friendly left and right. What could have changed?

To start, the leader and the face of the anti-Trump GOP faction in Congress is Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). This is due to her prominent name, her high rank among House Republicans (she's #3 in the GOP leadership), and her voting for impeachment despite being from a very red state. Many of Cheney's fellow Republicans, still in codependent relationships with The Donald, have lambasted her for her anti-Trump actions, even calling for her to be stripped of her leadership position. On Monday, McConnell made clear he's on Cheney's side here, issuing a statement that read, in part: "Liz Cheney is a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them. She is an important leader in our party and in our nation. I am grateful for her service and look forward to continuing to work with her on the crucial issues facing our nation."

On the other hand, McConnell is most definitely not on the side of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), the conspiracy-theorizing bigot who has become a huge embarrassment to (much of) her party. In yet another statement, the Minority Leader decreed:

Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country. Somebody who's suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.'s airplane is not living in reality. This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.

It's a little weaselly that McConnell did not mention Greene by name, but it's very clear who he was referring to.

Presumably, the Minority Leader—who, of course, has no direct authority over Greene—is signaling to his colleagues in the House that they need to do something to shut the apostate up. Censure and/or removal from committee assignments are the most probable sanction, though expulsion is also on the table. Thus far, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has been noncommittal, saying only that he will talk to Greene about her views. One wonders what she might possibly say, given that her history of saying outrageous and offensive things is well documented and stretches back many years.

If McCarthy does not act, and pretty quickly, events may spin out of his control. House Democrats—who are, you will recall, in the majority—have already made clear that if the Republicans don't strip Greene of her committee memberships, then they will do the job. It may have occurred to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) & Co. that a vote on that procedural maneuver would force all Republicans to go on record as to whether they are ok with Greene's rhetoric or not. It may also have occurred to them that if Greene has nothing to do all day, she'll have even more time to go on Twitter, Facebook, Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, etc. to say things that embarrass the GOP.

Incidentally, Mitch McConnell was not the only high-profile Republican to push back against Trumpism on Monday. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), whose pro-impeachment vote and outspoken criticism of the ex-president have made him second only to Cheney as the face of anti-Trump Republicans, announced the formation of the Country First PAC, which will work to excise Trumpist elements from the GOP. "This is not a Trump-first party. This is a country-first party," Kinzinger explained in video posted online. "This is a time to choose." Now that the Lincoln Project is enmeshed in scandal, this provides a convenient alternative for LP donors.

Of course, the pro-Trump forces have plenty of juice, too. Trump himself has his nearly quarter-billion-dollar slush fund that he can use to influence the party. He has many loyalists left in Congress, including Reps. Greene, Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Ron Johnson (R-WI). So, this is going to get ugly, and anyone who says they know how it will turn out is telling a Trump-class whopper. (Z)

Trump Has a New Defense Team

A week before his impeachment trial will start, Donald Trump parted ways with his whole legal team. Part of it was over strategy but—as is usual with Trump—money was also a key issue. Axios is reporting that lawyer Butch Bowers wanted $250,000 as his personal fee. Trump was ecstatic—until Bowers told him that he would need researchers and assistants and other lawyers and that the total bill would be $3 million. Trump was livid even though he has almost $200 million in his giant slush fund that he could use. Given the fight over money and also over strategy, Bowers and Trump parted ways.

Less than 24 hours later, the former president announced that he's got new counsel in place. Doing the job will be David Schoen, who has a track record defending politicians and political operatives (including Roger Stone), joined by former politician Bruce L. Castor Jr.

Castor is a particular surprise, because he used to be a leading never-Trump Republican. However, it would appear that Castor really likes publicity. The two new attorneys suggested they would be going with "impeaching a former officeholder is unconstitutional," and "freedom of speech" as opposed to "the election was stolen" as their defense. If so, it means Trump was forced to yield to the fact that no reputable attorney, nor most of the disreputable attorneys, would be willing to go before the Senate and mount a defense they know to be a lie. That would not only be bad PR, it would also be grounds for disbarment. Anyhow, given that Trump is no longer lawyer-less, it would seem the trial will be able to move forward next week, as planned. (Z)

Why Trump Lost, According to His Own Pollster

The RNC may, or may not, do an autopsy of what went wrong in 2020. They did one in 2012, but with the party divided between pro-Donald Trump and anti-Donald Trump forces, nearly any conclusion reached by a 2020 autopsy could add fuel to the internecine civil war. That's less of a problem for the Trump campaign itself, with the result that the former president's chief pollster Tony Fabrizio decided to put together his own autopsy, focused on 10 key battleground states (five that flipped from Trump 2016 to Biden 2020, and five that went for Trump both times). Fortunately for political junkies, Politico managed to lay hands on the report.

Here are the main findings:

  • Trump did poorly with independent voters in 2020, particularly relative to 2016
  • He gained some ground with Latinos, but lost more ground with white men
  • He lost ground with all age groupings, but particularly 18-29 and 65+
  • He was trounced among "new" voters who did not cast ballots in 2016
  • He was hurt by the perception that he is not trustworthy
  • He was hurt badly by his management of COVID-19, which was the most important issue with 2020 voters
  • 90% of voters said the Supreme Court was a factor in their vote, and among those folks, there was a preference for...Biden

Most of this we could have guessed without Fabrizio's numbers. However, it is interesting to learn that the SCOTUS machinations hurt Trump more than they helped him.

We seriously doubt that Fabrizio's goal here is to help Trump course-correct for a future campaign. First of all, Trump goes with his gut and not with what the pollsters think. Second, a 2024 run for The Donald is not terribly likely due to damage to his image from the insurrection, the loss of his Twitter account, his age and health, and his massive legal and fiscal woes. Much more probable is that Fabrizio is marketing himself to future Trumpy candidates with the message: "I can help you avoid the mistakes that were made in 2020." Since Fabrizio lives near Miami, he may even have a specific Trumpy candidate or two in mind. (Z)

Donald Trump, Russian Asset

We'll say this for the Russkies: They're really good at the cloak and dagger stuff. This weekend, The Guardian published a piece based on revelations from former KGB Spy Yuri Shvets, who says that his agency first identified Donald Trump as a potential asset in 1977—more than 40 years ago—and that they began to seriously work on turning him into a "useful idiot" (unwitting agent for Russian interests) in the mid-1980s, particularly after the future president and his then-wife Ivana visited Moscow in 1987.

In essence, according to Shvets, Trump had the ideal profile the KGB looks for: a person of influence who is highly susceptible to flattery and not overly bright. So, while The Donald was in Moscow, KGB operatives spoon-fed him a steady diet of rear-end kissing, including telling him how impressive and powerful his personality is, and suggesting that he would be an ideal candidate for president. The Russians could not believe how successful they were; when Trump returned to the United States he promptly placed several full-page ads in The New York Times in anticipation of a possible 1988 presidential run. Normally, it takes years to convert someone into a Russian asset—not days.

Thereafter, of course, the Russians continued to work on Trump. They were over the moon when he became a serious presidential candidate in 2015, and quickly got to work aiding his bid. When he actually won in Nov. 2016, well, many bottles of vodka were consumed. Shvets, who eventually left the KGB and Russia, became an American citizen, and is now on Vladimir Putin's дерьмо list, assisted with a just-published book by American journalist Craig Unger entitled American Kompromat: How the KGB Cultivated Donald Trump, and Related Tales of Sex, Greed, Power, and Treachery. Both Shvets and Unger say the Mueller Report barely scratched the surface when it comes to contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. It is doubtful that anything will come of this, if for no other reason than there are so many other Trump prosecutions that are further along. But who knows, maybe the Democrats will decide they want to impeach him a third time. (Z)

Jockeying for the 2022 Senate Elections Is Well Underway

There are downsides to declaring a run for office too early. Once a candidacy becomes official, the target on the candidate's back gets much bigger, while the fundraising and other rules they have to play by get much stricter. That said, if the field is going to be crowded, sometimes it's worth it to get your name out there early in order to separate yourself from the pack. It would appear that at least two potential candidates have concluded as much.

To start, there are quite a few Democrats in Ohio who would like to take a shot at the seat that Rob Portman has decided to vacate when his term ends in Jan. 2023. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) was planning to challenge Portman anyhow, so he's positively drooling at the possibility of facing off against a non-incumbent. He wants to discourage as many competitors as he can, while at the same time building on the name recognition he has from his 2020 presidential campaign. And so, it looks like he'll be declaring in the next month or so.

Ryan is a moderate white guy with blue-collar roots and strong ties to organized labor, so he'll be a strong candidate. And again, he's got pretty good name recognition. That said, the largest cities in his wildly gerrymandered district are Youngstown and part of Akron, so he doesn't have the urban strength that other potential Democratic contenders will be able to command.

Meanwhile, there will also be a feeding frenzy on both sides of the aisle in Pennsylvania in 2022, as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) is joining Portman in throwing in the towel. And Kenneth Braithwaite, a former rear admiral who once worked under former senator Arlen Specter, and who served as ambassador to Norway and as Secretary of the Navy in the Trump administration, made clear this weekend that he is exploring a bid for the GOP nomination.

If Braithwaite does run, the general idea is that he's got moderate bona fides due to his association with Specter and yet Trump bona fides due to his association with Trump. We are skeptical that it's possible to walk both sides of the street like that right now, much less nearly two years from now. If a Republican wants to win Pennsylbama, he or she has to dominate the bama part (most of the state besides Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) and hope that's enough to overcome the Democrats' advantage in the Pennsyl part (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and their suburbs). Braithwaite also has a "Kenneth who?" problem, which is why he's getting his bid out there before the horse race has a dozen entrants.

Anyhow, these two fellows are among the first to publicly suggest they're running for 2022's open Senate seats, joining Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D). They will be far from the last. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb01 Biden's First Actions Are Popular
Feb01 Republican Senators Offer Biden a "Compromise" on COVID-19 Relief
Feb01 Trump's Impeachment Lawyers Quit
Feb01 Why Did Democrats Win in Georgia and Lose in North Carolina?
Feb01 Trump Raised $255 Million after the Election
Feb01 Democrats Also Have Some Cash in the Bank
Feb01 Beware of the Gerrymander
Feb01 McDaniel Is in a Bind
Feb01 Town of Palm Beach Is Reviewing the Legality of Trump's Living at Mar-a-Lago
Feb01 Democrats Are More Popular Than Republicans in Georgia
Jan31 Sunday Mailbag
Jan30 Saturday Q&A
Jan29 McCarthy Goes to Florida to Kiss the Ring
Jan29 A House Divided against Itself Cannot Stand
Jan29 Senate News, Part I: Jordan Out
Jan29 Senate News, Part II: Rubio May Be Bulletproof
Jan29 Question Answered: It Was Trump
Jan29 Another Question Answered: It Was a Hacky Decision
Jan29 Bird Isn't the Word
Jan28 Some Democrats Are Working on Plan B
Jan28 Trump's Targets
Jan28 The Pentagon Wants Its Money Back
Jan28 Democrats Need to Move Fast
Jan28 The Art of the Presidency
Jan28 Biden Has Created a Commission to Study the Judiciary
Jan28 Tens of Thousands of Voters Have Ceased to Be Republicans
Jan28 Federal Judges Are Starting to Retire
Jan28 North Carolina Senate Race Heats Up
Jan28 Senate Republicans Worry about More Retirements
Jan28 Scott Will Back Rubio for Reelection
Jan27 Trump Looks to Be Impeachy Keen
Jan27 Biden Administration Clears Up Vaccine Promises...
Jan27 ...And Otherwise Remains Busy...
Jan27 ...But Life Is About to Get Harder
Jan27 Murkowski Won't Switch Parties
Jan27 Democrats' Ace in the Hole?
Jan27 About that Trump Presidential Library...
Jan26 Biden's Been Busy...
Jan26 ...And So Has the Senate...
Jan26 ...and the Supreme Court, Too
Jan26 Portman Is Out...
Jan26 ...And Sarah Sanders Is In
Jan26 Hawley Takes His Heel Turn
Jan26 Dominion Sues Giuliani
Jan25 Second Impeachment Trial Could Be Different from First One
Jan25 Durbin Is Open to Scrapping the Filibuster
Jan25 Biden's Cabinet Does Not Look Like Cabinets Past
Jan25 State Election Officials Are Taking Guidance from the 2020 Election
Jan25 The Rio Grande Valley Will Be a Battleground in 2022
Jan25 Business Sucks: The Sequel