• Lessons Learned
• Good News, Bad News for Fans of a $15/hour Minimum Wage
• Biden's Getting His Cabinet, Slowly but Surely
• Democrats Focus on the Suburbs
• Presidents' Best Friends
• About Those 1980s Movies...
Going into the first day of the Second Annual Donald Trump Impeachment Trial, you had to guess that the impeachment managers would have the upper hand over Trump's defense counsel. After all, there are more people on team impeachment (9 to 2), and each is, at minimum, talented enough at public speaking and verbal expression to have been elected to Congress. Further, they have been working on their case for well over a month, as opposed to the week that Trump's (newly hired) counselors had to prep. And finally, the anti-Trump case is an easier one to make than the pro-Trump case.
As it turns out, betting that the impeachment managers would be better than Trump's lawyers was...right on the mark. And how. The Democrats did not follow our advice yesterday to keep things as short as possible, but they did use somewhat less than the two hours they were allotted (about 30 minutes less). Further, they clearly appreciated that they needed to be operating in the realm of emotion, not reason—hearts, not minds. They also recognized a need to start strong and end strong. And so, they began their case with a very effective 13-minute video that showed Trump egging the crowd on, and then showed the crowd storming the Capitol, with some footage of rioters saying various incriminating things. The concluding image was of a Donald Trump tweet, one of the last he sent before losing his account, in which he spoke approvingly of the rioters' actions. Here's the video if you care to watch all or part of it:
The video was powerful enough that numerous GOP senators were seen dropping their heads to avoid watching the whole thing.
As to the final portion of the Democrats' case, that was left up to lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). He explained that his daughter accompanied him to work on Jan. 6, so that they might be together the day after laying Raskin's son to rest. The Congressman then described, in great detail, the fear that he, his daughter and others felt as they prepared to be attacked by the mob. He spoke of people making calls and texts to loved ones, communicating for what they thought would be the last time (shades of UA Flight 93). Here is that video, if you want to watch it:
At about 6:20, Raskin reaches the tear-jerker moment, where he explains that he apologized to his daughter for what happened, and said it wouldn't happen the next time she visited him at work. His daughter's reply was that there would not be a next time, because she never wants to return to the Capitol again. Again, if you're going for the hearts of the "jury," as well as the folks watching at home, this is the way to do it.
And then there is the way not to do it. Donald Trump's lawyers went second and, even allowing for the challenges they faced (erratic client, limited time to prepare, tough argument to make), their presentation was an absolute train wreck. Actually, train wreck isn't quite right. It was more like 30 trains, all of them converging on the same spot at the same time, and all of them carrying loads of gasoline, dynamite, gunpowder, and Zippo lighters. (V) and (Z) are both experienced lecturers, of course, and it was dumbfounding to watch Bruce Castor and David Schoen violate every known precept of public speaking or of making an oral argument. Eventually, the thought occurred that not everyone has spent more than 10,000 hours in front of a classroom, and so maybe our judgment was too harsh. Nope. Team Trump was lambasted by everyone, from talking heads to politicians to conservative legal scholars to the former president's supporters and allies. Here's a sampling of the headlines from various outlets:
- The Atlantic: Trump's Lawyers Lost the Day
- New York Magazine: Trump's Lawyer Rambles Through Hilariously Incoherent Impeachment Defense
- Slate: The Rambling, Stumbling Case for Trump's Acquittal
- The Daily Beast: Absolutely No One Seems to Think Trump's Impeachment Lawyer Did a Good Job
- CNN: Why Trump's defense team failed miserably
- SFGATE.com: Newsmax cuts away from impeachment trial so Alan Dershowitz can trash Trump lawyer Bruce Castor
When you've lost Alan Dershowitz, you've lost TrumpWorld.
So, what was so bad about it? Well, broadly speaking, it was an aimless mess. Castor seemed to be dazed, or stoned, or maybe both. Schoen wasn't a whole lot better. The duo had a fair number of arguments they wanted to put forth, and they also had some "compelling" quotes/anecdotes to share, but these things were organized into nothing resembling a cohesive form. They not only seemed completely unprepared; Castor openly admitted to it:
He acknowledged that the Democrats' case was very well done, and that he was caught by surprise that they went straight to the meat of the matter, as opposed to focusing on the constitutionality of impeaching someone who is no longer in office. Castor insisted that he and Schoen have answers to the points that the Democrats raised, they just didn't have them ready to present on Tuesday.
This is all dangerously close to legal malpractice. If Trump's counselors did not foresee at least the possibility that the Democrats would jump to the riots, then they are the only ones. Castor and Schoen are lucky they weren't fired on the spot. If Trump still had access to Twitter, they might very well have been.
More broadly, Team Trump did not seem to have a clear vision for what they were trying to do. In order to think about this, consider the three audiences they might plausibly have targeted with their case:
- The Public: There are two possible reasons to target the general public here. The first is
to maintain Trump's political power, either so he can run for president again in 2024, or so he can collect donations
and push around other Republicans. The second is to influence possible jurors who might hear a future criminal
prosecution of Trump.
If the general public is the target demo, then the way to proceed is to build an emotional case, one in which Trump is a leader and a patriot who is being victimized by an unfair process and/or a political witch hunt. There was certainly some of this in Schoen's remarks, but it was very late in the game. If the goal is to actually play on people's emotions, you have to go all in, as the Democrats did, making sure to start and end with your best pulling-at-the-heartstrings material. Castor and Schoen did not come close to doing that.
- The Senators: Alternatively, Trump's counselors could have decided that their real focus
is the 100 members of the "jury." More specifically, the minimum 34 votes they need to secure acquittal. If this is the
target, then the emphasis should have been on razor-sharp constitutional arguments, so that the Marco Rubios (R-FL) and
Chuck Grassleys (R-IA) have something to go back and repeat to their constituents. But the constitutional arguments
(which is the part that Castor and Schoen said they were prepared for) were flabby. For example, they argued that
disqualifying Trump from future officeholding was unconstitutional because it would disenfranchise voters. That despite
the fact that disqualifying people from future officeholding is right there in the Constitution.
To take another example, Schoen kept bouncing back and forth between "this process unfolded far too quickly" and "you can't impeach a president who is no longer in office." Taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean that a president is effectively unimpeachable during the lame duck period, since there's not enough time to do the job. It would give defeated or term-limited presidents carte blanche to, say, incite a riot two weeks before their successor is inaugurated. Or maybe order the assassination of the incoming president and vice president in order to claim that he should stay on in order to "bring the country together." And this is before we consider that the Democrats were more than willing to try Trump while he was still president, but they couldn't do it because then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to call the Senate back into session. (And by the way, for McConnell to vote that it's unconstitutional to impeach a former president, as he did yesterday, after personally delaying the trial until after Trump was out of office, is remarkably hypocritical, even by McConnell's standards.)
Anyhow, it is not just our guess that the Republican senators were not impressed; they openly said so after the Senate adjourned for the day. Reportedly, Schoen and Castor quickly whipped up a list of talking points and distributed it among the GOP senators in an effort to repair some of the damage.
- Donald Trump: The third possibility, and we saw a lot of this in the first impeachment,
was for Castor and Schoen to play to the audience of one who is (maybe?) going to pay their legal bills. The best way
to do this would have been to make a "stolen election" argument, but they're clever enough to know that opening that
can of worms would play right into the Democrats' hands.
At very least, one would think that Castor and Schoen would want to avoid poking Trump right in the eye. But, apparently not. At one point, early on, Castor effectively dared...well, anyone to prosecute the former president criminally, declaring: "[If you] actually think that President Trump committed a criminal offense...you go and arrest him...The Department of Justice does know what to do with such people, and so far I haven't seen any activity in that direction." Generally speaking, throwing the glove down in front of the mighty Department of Justice is not what a defendant pays their lawyers to do.
Perhaps even worse, at least from The Donald's standpoint, was Castor's argument that impeachment is not necessary because the people have already spoken, and they threw Trump out on his ear:
That is pretty much the polar opposite of what Trump wants to hear, and it's definitely the opposite of what he wants his base to hear. So, it's not too surprising that, as he watched at Mar-a-Lago, he reportedly blew his stack. It's almost too bad he doesn't have Twitter anymore.
In the end, the good news for Trump is that his lawyers' crummy performance didn't do him much harm...at least, not yet. When it came time to vote on the constitutionality of impeachment, the vote was 56-44. Compared to the vote on Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) motion last week, a grand total of one senator switched their vote—Bill Cassidy (R-LA). Cassidy said that he found the impeachment managers' arguments persuasive, and the defense's arguments much less so. The Louisiana Republican Party has already formally rebuked their senator.
Still, things could be headed downhill from here. "Let's argue the Constitution" was the strongest part of Trump's case, and Castor and Schoen blew it. What are they going to do when they have to deal with the issues on which the ex president is badly exposed? Maybe Cassidy will be the only defector, but if they continue the Keystone Kops act, he might prove to be just the vanguard. Even worse for Trump, what on earth is he going to do in a potential criminal trial, when the jurors won't already be in the bag for him? At the very least, he better find better lawyers than the ones he's got now. (Z)
When comparing Barack Obama and Joe Biden, it's generally easier to take note of the advantages enjoyed by the former. Obama is more erudite, he's smoother on camera, and he's a far better public speaker. However, Biden has his advantages, too. As a beltway insider for half a century, he knows all the ins and outs of operating the levers of power. He also has the example of the Obama presidency to learn from. And so, Team Joe is working hard to avoid the errors of Team Barack.
To start, the Trump administration moved very fast to fill judicial vacancies while the Republicans controlled the Senate. The Obama administration was slower, and so ended up unable to fill many open seats before losing control of Congress. The Biden administration wants to follow the Trump model and not the Obama model. And so, the President is trying to find nominees to fill the 60 seats that are currently open and the 20 seats that will soon become so. If that means, for example, foregoing Obama's (and Bill Clinton's) preference to have nominees vetted by the American Bar Association, then so be it. The White House will also gently nudge older, Democratic-appointed judges to hurry up and go gentle into that good night. At the top of that list is Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. (Helpful hint for Biden: Call the deans of the Stanford and Harvard Law Schools and get them to call Breyer and say they are looking for someone to teach a course on constitutional law.)
Similarly, the administration would certainly like cooperation from Republicans on the COVID-19 relief package. But if they don't get it (and it's not looking likely), then they will move forward without the GOP and pass the thing with budget reconciliation. Thereafter, in a departure from the Obama approach, Biden & Co. will do everything they can to see to it Republicans are punished for their non-cooperation. There's already been a media blitz, with Biden and 14 members of his administration sitting for over 100 interviews to sell their plan. That will increase when and if a Democrats-only plan is passed. Then, when midterm season heats up, get ready for commercials about how Representative or Senator [last name of Republican up in 2022] opposed those $1,400 checks that you, John Q. Public, so badly needed, or how Representative or Senator [last name of Republican up in 2022] can somehow find money for tax breaks for the rich, but not for those who are struggling through a pandemic.
In short, beneath Biden's avuncular exterior is a battle-hardened, veteran politician who is more than willing to play hardball in a way that Barack Obama was not. That doesn't mean that the President disdains the unity he's called for, but it does mean that he won't allow his agenda to die on the altar of unity, either. Biden seems to understand that one way to achieve "unity" is to do things that Republican voters like, rather than things Republican politicians like. It won't be hard for the DNC to make videos later this year featuring lifelong Republicans saying how grateful they are for that $1,400 because it put food on the table until they got their job back. In Nov. 2022, we'll see if his approach yields better results than Obama's did. (Z)
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has weighed in on Democrats' tentative plan to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour. For those who advocate that policy, most notably Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), things just got easier...and harder.
The CBO's conclusion, in brief, is that a higher minimum wage will result in the trade-off that you would expect. Specifically, the projection is that about a million people would be lifted above the poverty line, which would decrease government spending on food stamps and other welfare programs. However, the change would also cost 1.4 million jobs, and so would increase the federal deficit by over $5 billion per year due to increased spending on unemployment and on Medicare/Medicaid (because many healthcare workers currently make less than $15/hour).
The good news here for Sanders, et al., is that it should be easier to persuade Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough that the proposal will have a real impact on the federal budget, and so is allowable as part of budget reconciliation. The bad news is that it's going to be even harder to get folks like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on board. Sanders is arguing that the CBO's methodology was flawed, and there are alternative analyses (including some from conservatives) that have a rosier outlook than the CBO does. But it is going to be very hard to get the Blue Dog Democrats to dismiss the CBO. (Z)
Since the impeachment trial did not begin until after lunch on Monday, the Senate had a bit of time to conduct regular business. And so, they were able to confirm Denis McDonough to lead the Dept. of Veterans' Affairs by a vote of 87-7.
That means that today's post has a McDonough and a MacDonough. It also means that six of Joe Biden's 23 cabinet-level appointees have now been approved, including the top three cabinet officers in the line of succession. There probably won't be any more until late next week, due to the impeachment trial and also Presidents Day. That said, now that the Senate has approved an organizing resolution, hearings can be scheduled for all the nominees, including AG-designate Merrick Garland. So, most of the backlog should be cleared by the end of the month. (Z)
OK, maybe we're a bit crass here, but you can't take the politics out of the politicians. One of the more contentious issues in the new coronavirus relief bill is who should get the $1,400 checks. Some Democrats and a number of Republicans wanted to lower the cutoff above which people wouldn't get payments. In the previous bill, single people making up to $75,000 and married couples making up to $150,000 got the maximum payment, with phaseouts above that.
Meet the new rule, same as the old rule. In other words, everyone who was eligible for a full payment in the previous rounds of payments will be eligible for a full payment in the upcoming one. Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has spoken. Suburban couples making $100,000 to $150,000 in the past tended to vote Republican and that is precisely the group Democrats are trying to woo. Telling them that they are rich and don't deserve any help is probably not a great way to go about it. Of course, when the bill hits the House floor, there could be attempts to amend it. However, given the Democrats' extremely narrow majority, if they don't stick together, they won't get a bill.
The Senate is potentially a problem since probably every Republican will oppose the bill, because, as Winston Churchill so aptly pointed out (at least allegedly), the job of the opposition is to oppose. More specifically, Donald Trump's name won't be on the checks. Someone else's will be. So the loss of even one Democrat could endanger the bill. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) previously said that he thinks a cutoff of $150,000 per couple is too high, but he is now starting to backtrack. Most recently he said he wants evidence that people making $150,000 are truly in need (English translation: See if you can find some family making $150,000 with a sick child who needs very expensive medical treatments so I have a fig leaf to approve this).
The bill is not a carbon copy of the previous bill (for our younger readers, before photocopy machines existed, people could make a copy of a written document by putting a sheet of "carbon paper" between two sheets of paper and then press very hard when writing on the top one). One change is expanding the refundable child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for children 6-17. This is primarily intended to lift large poor families out of poverty. Attention Sen. Manchin: Are there any of those in your state? (V)
We've been saving this for a particularly heavy news day, and given the ugliness of impeachment, we think that day has arrived. People like animals (well, those people who don't live at Mar-a-Lago, at least), and in honor of the return of dogs to the White House, Slate did a ranking of presidential pets. Here are the Top 10, with explanations:
- James Buchanan's dog Punch: Buchanan was a lousy president and he was a lousy dog owner.
He only tolerated Punch because his niece (and First Lady) Harriet Lane loved the dog.
- Bill Clinton's cat Socks: There were very popular presidential dogs before Socks, but he
was the first rockstar presidential cat, from "writing" books to appearing in video games and on television.
- Harry Truman's dog Feller: Like Donald Trump and James Buchanan, Harry S. Truman did not
much care for dogs. So, he wasn't thrilled to be gifted with a cocker spaniel puppy for Christmas of 1947, and he gave
the dog away pretty quickly. After a mini-scandal ensued, Harry S. pretended that Feller was still living at the White
House, but that was horse manure, to use a favorite phrase of the President's.
- Theodore Roosevelt's bear Jonathan Edwards: TR loved animals, both as pets and as hunting
targets. He brought a pet store's worth of pets with him to the White House, including a black bear (not the famous bear, mind
you, that inspired the Teddy Bear). Ultimately, Jonathan Edwards was donated to the Bronx Zoo, since fully grown black
bears weigh 600 pounds and are rather dangerous around humans.
- Lyndon B. Johnson's dogs Him and Her: In case you think the culture wars are a new thing,
think again. When LBJ picked Him up by the ears during a photo-op, it became a national scandal. Animal rights'
activists pointed out, quite rightly, that doing so was unkind to the dog. Culture warriors responded that such
complaints were just another example of the feminization of American men.
- Ulysses S. Grant's horse Butcher Boy: Grant had a lifelong interest in horses and riding;
when he was at West Point, horsemanship was the only course he excelled in. While serving as president, he caught sight
of a mysterious white horse faster than any other he had ever seen. Friends eventually found the owner, a
butcher, and acquired the horse as a gift for the president, paying the princely sum of $300 (about $7,000 today; well
above the normal price tag for a horse).
- Abraham Lincoln's dog Fido: Fido lived into Lincoln's White House years, but he didn't
live in the White House, as crowds made him skittish and so the president-elect left the dog behind in Springfield. Both
dog and master met untimely ends, one from an assassin's bullet and the other from a drunkard's knife.
- Woodrow Wilson's ram Old Ike: During World War I, Wilson acquired a small flock of sheep
to graze on the White House lawn, thus freeing the human gardeners for military service. He also donated the wool they
produced to the Red Cross, so it was a win-win. Old Ike was the best-known (and meanest) member of the flock.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt's dog Fala: Fala is surely the most famous presidential dog of them
all, especially since Checkers did not live to see Richard Nixon's White House years. Like Socks, Fala appeared in movies.
Unlike Socks, his name was used to unmask spies (inability to answer "What is the name of the President's dog?" blew the
cover of more than one German agent). Fala is even commemorated in statue form as part of the FDR monument on the
- Herbert Hoover's possum Billy Possum: This is a very strange #1, but Slate made the choice because they think he embodies the worst elements of American culture. He was accepted on his arrival at the White House, but wore out his welcome. He annoyed people whenever he opened his mouth. He showed little concern for the needs of anyone other than himself. We're not so sure this is a list of the worst elements of American culture, but it is a pretty good list of the worst elements of Herbert Hoover.
The real lesson here is that presidential pets are kind of like Twitter: They can make life a lot better for their presidential owners but, in the wrong hands, can also create some real headaches. (Z)
Yesterday, we ended up dropping references to 1980s movies in six of seven items. There's enough explanation and linking that, as we deliver on our promise of a rundown, it's clearer to do it as an item rather than a footnote. So, without further ado:
Deja Vu All Over Again,
the last line "put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV" is from the 1982 film "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Cool-kid
character Mike Damone tells not-so-cool-kid character Mark 'Rat' Ratner that playing the album is a good way to
sit back and relax (particularly on a date). The song that plays in the clip is "Kashmir," which is actually on the
album "Physical Graffiti." The in-movie explanation for this is that Rat is so un-hip that he either screwed up
or didn't have the correct album to play. The real-world explanation is that Led Zeppelin IV was too expensive for
the filmmakers to license.
Parscale Suggests Trump Run as Martyr in 2024,
"Parscale is a professional. But, a professional what?" pretty directly parrots
from the 1986 film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
Raffensperger's Office Launches Investigation into Trump Phone Call,
we made a direct reference, with link, to the 1983 film "The Big Chill."
No DeJoy in Mudville (at Least, Not Yet),
the concluding line about using a space laser to fill Louis DeJoy's house with popcorn is essentially a description
of the climax to the 1985 comedy "Real Genius."
Red-colored Sharks Are Circling Newsom,
we mentioned "The Terminator;" that film was made in 1984. We also threw in "Hasta la vista, baby" as a bonus for Schwarzenegger
fans, though the T-800 only learns that line in the 1991 sequel.
- In Fetterman Throws His (Sizable) Hat into the Ring, we included the line "greed is good," which is among the most famous movie lines of them all, and comes from the 1987 film "Wall Street."
We also inadvertently included some film references we didn't intend; for example, "No joy in Mudville" shows up in the 1989 film "The Dream Team." We also, without intending it, included four baseball references. Nobody tell C.W. in Carlsbad.
Note that this happened almost entirely organically. The only one we deliberately went back and added, to give one per item, was the "Fast Times" reference. And, at this point, this is getting too silly. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb09 Parscale Suggests Trump Run as Martyr in 2024
Feb09 Raffensperger's Office Launches Investigation into Trump Phone Call
Feb09 No DeJoy in Mudville (at Least, Not Yet)
Feb09 Red-colored Sharks Are Circling Newsom
Feb09 Fetterman Throws His (Sizable) Hat into the Ring
Feb09 Rep. Ron Wright Succumbs to COVID-19
Feb08 Key Questions about Trump's Trial
Feb08 The Trial Could Be a Public Relations Disaster for the Republicans
Feb08 No More Dog Whistles
Feb08 Biden Doesn't Think the $15/hr Minimum Wage Will Be Allowed in the COVID Bill
Feb08 Trump Won't Get Intelligence Briefings
Feb08 Fox Is Worried
Feb08 "You Probably Haven't Heard of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson"
Feb08 Report: Shelby Won't Run in 2022
Feb08 Boebert Has Three Democratic Opponents Already
Feb08 Judge Says Tenney Won
Feb08 What Is the Defense Production Act?
Feb07 Sunday Mailbag
Feb06 Saturday Q&A
Feb05 America First Couldn't Last
Feb05 Greene's New Deal
Feb05 Trump Refuses to Testify
Feb05 The Day AFTRA
Feb05 Double Trouble for Fox News
Feb05 Pence Makes His Move
Feb05 Judy, Judy, Judy...
Feb04 Schumer and McConnell Have a Deal
Feb04 Biden Is Willing to Compromise a Little on the Stimulus Checks
Feb04 The Future of the Republican Party Is Here Now
Feb04 Warren Will Join the Senate Finance Committee
Feb04 Ocasio-Cortez Is Threatening to Primary Schumer
Feb04 Senate Won't Vote on Merrick Garland's Nomination
Feb04 Bills about Voting Are All the Rage in State Legislatures
Feb04 You, Too, Can Gerrymander
Feb04 Could Ivanka Trump Beat Marco Rubio in a Primary?
Feb03 The Case of the Two Impeachment Cases
Feb03 Buttigieg and Mayorkas Confirmed
Feb03 Sanders Takes His Best Shot at $15/Hour
Feb03 Schiff Wants to be California AG
Feb03 Biden Has a Mini-Scandal
Feb03 Newsmax Boots Mike Lindell
Feb03 Lin Wood Under Investigation for Illegal Voting
Feb02 Senate Republicans Unveil COVID-19 Relief Plan, Meet with Biden
Feb02 Graham Refuses to Schedule Garland Hearing
Feb02 The GOP Civil War Is Out in the Open
Feb02 Trump Has a New Defense Team
Feb02 Why Trump Lost, According to His Own Pollster
Feb02 Donald Trump, Russian Asset
Feb02 Jockeying for the 2022 Senate Elections Is Well Underway