• Atlanta DA Has Opened a Criminal Investigation of Trump's Call to Raffensperger
• Senate Judiciary Committee Will Hold a Hearing on Merrick Garland Feb. 22-23
• Poll: Huge Majority Wants COVID-19 Relief Bill to Pass
• Biden Can Now Find Out What Trump Said to Putin
• Republicans See Themselves as the Party of the Working Class
• How the Republicans Plan to Win Back the House
• Nearly 140,000 Voters Left the Republican Party in January
• "Trump in Heels" Frustrates Virginia Republicans
• Politics Makes for Strange Bedfellows
Yesterday was the House impeachment managers' time to shine; the first of two days they have been allotted to present their case. They know full well that, barring a miracle, they will lose. That has not stopped them from bringing their A game, however.
The narrative that the managers presented yesterday came in three distinct parts. The first, occupying close to four hours, was a detailed reconstruction of the events leading to Jan. 6, and Donald Trump's central role therein. They argued that the former president's efforts to win election illegitimately had four phases, each more desperate than the last:
- Pre-election chicanery, like screwing with the USPS
- The vast array of meritless lawsuits
- Arm-twisting in Georgia and Arizona, in an effort to get officials in those states to cook the books
- Urging the MAGA crowd to invade the Capitol on Jan. 6, and to stop the counting of the electoral votes
Soon, historians will be writing books about the Capitol riot. And when they do, they can just watch the video of Wednesday's hearings, since the impeachment managers put all the relevant tweets, public utterances, TV appearances, etc. from Trump into a nice, tidy bundle.
The second part of the presentation, which was the juiciest portion of the Democrats' case, and the one that everyone is talking about, came roughly halfway through the day. Act I was probably a necessary exercise, but was also a little dry. Act II, by contrast, was intended to grab the senators' attention (and to produce memes to be shared widely by the general public).
The central focus of Act II was the invasion of the Capitol. And to make their case as compelling as possible, the impeachment managers showed many videos. Some of them are well known at this point, such as the footage of when Ashli Babbitt was shot. Several of the videos, however, have never been publicly seen before, and served to underscore how very close this whole thing came to being much, much worse. For example, Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) showed footage that makes clear how very close the mob, while chanting "hang Mike Pence," got to actually capturing the then-VP:
Other not-previously-known footage included video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) staff hiding in an inner office while the mob was just steps away, security footage of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) nearly heading right into the thick of the rioters (before being redirected at the last moment by Officer Eugene Goodman), and a clip showing that, at one point, the insurrectionists were just 58 steps from the escape route being used by the members of Congress, their staff members, and their family members. It was clear that many senators had difficulty watching the footage, and a few were visibly in tears.
The third and final portion of the Democrats' presentation on Wednesday, which they kept fairly brief, was devoted to Trump's foot dragging and lack of action once it was clear that there was a serious problem. This portion ended strangely, as Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) objected strongly to the characterization of a phone call involving him, Trump, and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). There was some argument about the matter, and then Wednesday's session was brought to a close with an agreement to argue some more today.
Some Republicans found Wednesday's presentation quite compelling, though most of those were among the group already expected to vote for conviction. Many others, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Tim Scott (R-SC), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) noticeably could not be bothered to pay attention, at least for part of the day. In the end, there's nothing to suggest that Trump is in danger of being convicted. Consequently, the main result of Wednesday's hearings is that the former president's lawyers have figured out that maybe they oughta have some videos too. Welcome to the 21st century, gentlemen. (Z)
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) has now formally opened a criminal investigation of the phone call Donald Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), in which Trump strongly urged Raffensperger to "find" another 12,000 votes for him so he could win the state's 16 electoral votes. That call violated at least three Georgia election laws. Raffensperger is also investigating the call.
The call wasn't just some spur-of-the-moment thing that popped into Trump's head. Trump called Raffensperger 18 times before getting through because Raffensperger suspected Trump was going to ask him to do something illegal and didn't want to talk to him. Eventually he gave in, though, and took the call. If it ends up in court, Trump may try to deny making all those calls, but phone company records will show that to be a lie.
The call lasted an hour, with Trump constantly pressuring Raffensperger to flip the election results and Raffensperger, a conservative Republican, steadfastly refusing. Trump can't deny what he said because Raffensperger had the foresight to record the entire call. That is legal in Georgia, so the recording can be used as evidence in court. And, of course, Raffensperger (and possibly others in his office) can testify to its veracity.
That call wasn't the only one to Georgia election officials. On Dec. 23, Trump called a Georgia official who was investigating election fraud in Cobb County. Trump told him to "find the fraud." Given all the evidence and the recording and potential testimony from multiple Georgia officials, Trump could have a problem here. If Willis gets a call from Trump one of these days, she would be wise to have a recording device handy to tape it.
It is helpful to point out that if Raffensperger collects damning evidence of Trump's guilt, all he can do is turn it over to the Georgia State Election Board, which is currently controlled by Republicans. If the Board decides there's a problem here, then they will turn the matter over to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (R), who would have sole authority to decide whether or not to move forward, and who has thus far been a staunch ally. As recently as last week, Carr was on TV condemning the current impeachment trial. So, if things go this route, Trump could well get off scot free.
Willis, in contrast, is not going to give The Donald a pass. She said that the case is a high priority one and will go to a grand jury as soon as March. If Georgia convicts Trump for violating election laws and New York convicts him for violating tax laws, the two states will have to negotiate a deal to determine whose prison he gets to visit first. Maybe they could compromise and send him to a Chinese prison. Those are supposed to be nice. (V)
If Merrick Garland is confirmed as attorney general, he will have a lot of hot potatoes on his plate. For example, will the Dept. of Justice prosecute Donald Trump (or appoint a special counsel to do it)? Will Garland release the full, unredacted Mueller Report, so everyone can see what former AG William Barr was trying to hide? Will racial justice be high on Garland's to-do list?
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin (D-IL) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have agreed to hold hearings on Garland's confirmation on Feb. 22 and 23. No doubt the senators will be asking questions like the ones above. Also no doubt Garland will try his best to finesse them by giving vague, meaningless answers. The whole confirmation process is broken, especially for high-profile nominees who don't want to discuss controversial actions they might take and which are sure to antagonize half the senators on the committee.
The second day Garland won't have to show up. Instead, outside witnesses will be called to tell the senators what they think of him. On Feb. 24, the senators will submit written questions for Garland to answer before Feb. 28. In early March the Committee will vote on Garland, and then a few days later, the entire Senate will vote.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Garland's confirmation is what happens after he is confirmed, which is a certainty since Democrats have a majority in the Senate. Joe Biden will then have a vacancy to fill on the D.C. Court of Appeals. All eyes are on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. As we have noted multiple times, this would position her to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, her former boss, if he retires soon. (V)
A new CBS News/YouGov poll shows that an astounding 83% of U.S. residents want Congress to pass a new COVID-19 relief bill. When asked whether Joe Biden's $1.9-trillion bill was big enough, 39% said it was the right size, 40% said it was too small, and 20% said it was too big.
This poll could have political implications. Suppose the Democrats were to introduce the package as a normal bill, which has no restrictions as to what is in it. Would Republicans be willing to go on record filibustering it, when the public so much wants it to pass? More importantly, would they be willing to try to kill it, knowing that Democrats could pass most of it anyway using the budget reconciliation process? How many senators want to have their next election opponent base his or her campaign on the senator's voting against the COVID-19 relief bill when it is so popular?
The poll also showed that Joe Biden's approval rating stands at 61%, with a 39% disapproval rating. His handling of the coronavirus does slightly better, at 64%. The poll also showed that 46% want the vaccine, 32% are on the fence and want to see how it affects people who got it, and 22% will never get one. If everyone who is on the fence sees that there aren't any major problems and gets the shot, then 78% of the population will be vaccinated. This is likely not good enough for herd immunity, so it will be necessary to flip some of the anti-vaxxers to beat the virus down and protect people who can't get the vaccine for some reason. (V)
Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke numerous times. Apparently what they discussed was highly confidential since Trump had the transcripts stored on a super-secret server that only a handful of people have access to. One of those people is currently Joe Biden, who is keenly interested in whether Trump disclosed any national security secrets to Putin. According to the "one-president-at-a-time" rule, there is nothing Trump can do to impede Biden's access to the transcripts. Unfortunately for Biden, the calls were not recorded, so he has no way of knowing whether Trump had the transcripts edited before putting them on the secure server.
Biden has every reason to worry that Trump gave away secret information. Early in his term he divulged classified information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office. The good news is that Trump's memory is poor and his understanding of national security matters even worse, so anything he passed along might have been garbled so badly that the Russians might have just discarded it as useless. Also, though Putin speaks some English, he always spoke to Trump in Russian. Marina Gross, who was the interpreter on many of their calls and at some of their meetings, said listening to their conversations felt like eavesdropping on two friends chatting in a bar. Since Trump knows little about diplomacy and less about national security matters, it is entirely possible that his goal every time he talked to Putin was just to butter him up in the hopes of making a deal to build Trump Tower Moscow once he left office. Given all of Trump's financial (and legal) problems now, it is hard to imagine that Putin has any interest at all in doing business with Trump. (V)
If, 10 years ago, someone had told you that the Republicans were the party of the working class and the Democrats were the party of the elites, you would probably have asked what they were smoking, since it was clearly pretty potent stuff. But Republicans are now seriously beginning to think of themselves as a Trumpish party, based on working-class voters—white, Black, and Latino. To a large extent, they have no choice, as Democrats are winning the suburbs and big business is increasingly disgusted with the Republican refusal to accept an election they lost. If they can pull it off, it would be complete reversal of the politics of FDR, the working man's hero.
If the GOP is really serious about this, you will hear their politicians talking about protecting Social Security and Medicare rather than reforming them (which is a code word for "cutting"). You will also hear about job stability instead of tax cuts. Part of the switch is due to polls showing that working-class voters don't care about any of the traditional conservative hobby horses, like cutting taxes, lowering the debt, and free trade.
Such a plan is fine and dandy, but the real crunch will come if it works and Republicans gain power. The millionaire and billionaire donors, who really run the Republican Party, don't care what the Party platform says as long as the Party delivers tax cuts for rich people and less regulation for business. Saying that you stand with the workers while actually doing things that mostly benefit the very rich requires bamboozling the voters over and over. So far it has worked, but at some point enough of them may get wise to the stunt and stop voting for Republicans. The plan doesn't deal with this part of it. It just (tacitly) assumes that the voters are infinitely gullible.
Of course, talk is cheap and Democrats are in power now. In particular, Joe Biden has a working-class background and understands full well that if he can deliver for the average American, especially over the vocal opposition of nearly every Republican, the Republicans' plans are dead in the water. In addition, if his administration can make life better for many people, when the Republicans start their usual campaign of "Democrats are socialists," a lot of people are going to be thinking "Gee, socialism isn't as bad as I thought it was." (V)
While the impeachment trial is humming along, in the background Republicans are quietly working on their plans to take back the House. The Republicans did so well in House elections in 2020 that the NRCC chairman, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), was elected to a second term in the hopes of picking up another dozen or so seats. All he needs is a net gain of five seats to wrest the gavel from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), although Pelosi might give it up voluntarily, even if the Democrats hang on to their majority. After all, she already promised her caucus she would do so. The only fly in the ointment here is that the #2 and #3 House Democrats have both celebrated their 80th birthdays. The #4 Democrat, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), is a mere kid at 59, but she isn't very well known.
Emmer's plan consists of trying to ignore the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and QAnon and focus on kitchen-table issues, not crazy conspiracy theories. His messages will be: (1) Democrats are job-killing socialists, (2) the Republicans want to reopen the schools, and (3) Republicans support the oil and gas sector of the economy. These are somewhat strange messages since: (1) the economy is likely to rebound in the next 2 years, (2) the schools will certainly be open by Sept. 2022, and (3) most people actually believe in anthropogenic climate change and want to do something about it.
In particular, Emmer wants to focus on 47 House districts currently held by Democrats. In a memo out there for all to see (including the 47 targeted Democrats), the NRCC is eyeing three buckets of seats:
- 29 Districts where Biden lost or where the presidential or congressional margin was under 5%
- 8 Districts where the Democrat underperformed Biden and won by less than 10 points
- 10 Districts that could be reshaped due to reapportionment
Here are the 29 top battleground districts in bucket 1, sorted on the 2020 congressional election margin:
|NJ-07||Tom Malinowski (D)||R+3||1.2%|
|IA-03||Cynthia Axne (D)||R+1||1.4%|
|IL-14||Lauren Underwood (D)||R+5||1.4%|
|VA-07||Abigail Spanberger (D)||R+6||1.8%|
|MN-02||Angie Craig (D)||R+2||2.2%|
|PA-17||Conor Lamb (D)||R+3||2.2%|
|MI-11||Haley Stevens (D)||R+4||2.4%|
|WI-03||Ron Kind (D)||Even||2.6%|
|GA-07||Carolyn Bourdeaux (D)||R+9||2.8%|
|TX-15||Vicente Gonzalez (D)||D+7||2.9%|
|NV-03||Susie Lee (D)||R+2||3.0%|
|AZ-01||Tom O'Halleran (D)||R+2||3.4%|
|TX-07||Lizzie Fletcher (D)||R+7||3.4%|
|PA-08||Matthew Cartwright (D)||R+1||3.6%|
|MI-08||Elissa Slotkin (D)||R+4||3.6%|
|WA-08||Kim Schrier (D)||Even||3.6%|
|PA-07||Susan Wild (D)||D+1||3.8%|
|IL-17||Cheri Bustos (D)||D+3||4.0%|
|NV-04||Steven Horsford (D)||D+3||4.9%|
|OR-04||Peter DeFazio (D)||Even||5.4%|
|VA-02||Elaine Luria (D)||R+3||5.7%|
|ME-02||Jared Golden (D)||R+2||5.8%|
|FL-13||Charlie Crist (D)||D+2||6.0%|
|NJ-05||Josh Gottheimer (D)||R+3||7.6%|
|OH-13||Tim Ryan (D)||D+7||7.6%|
|NJ-03||Andy Kim (D)||R+2||7.7%|
|CA-10||Josh Harder (D)||Even||12.4%|
|TX-34||Filemon Vela (D)||D+10||13.6%|
|TX-28||Henry Cuellar (D)||D+9||19.3%|
As you can see, most are pretty close. Josh Harder won easily, but the district has a PVI of Even, so he will be targeted. The last two are on the list because although the Democrats won easily in 2020, they won by massive routs in 2016, so the districts are moving toward the Republicans. Latinos along the border, who have been there for hundreds of years, are not happy with the Democrats' views on immigration, the police, and a lot more.
The underperforming Democrats are Katie Porter, Mike Levin, Lucy McBath, Sean Casten, Sharice Davids, Chris Pappas, Kurt Schrader, and Colin Allred. The redistricting watch is in states where the size of the congressional delegation might change, thus requiring new maps. These states are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, and New York.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) summed up the situation by saying: "I would much rather be us than them." History is on the GOP side since the president's party usually gets hit hard in the midterms and reapportionment favors the Republicans this time. On the other hand, if Joe Biden turns the country around and Democrats can make Republicans who voted to nullify the election out as traitors, all bets are off. (V)
The flood of people leaving the Republican Party is continuing. New data show that almost 140,000 left the Republican party in January, vs. 79,000 who ditched the Democrats. Normally, people switch parties only close to a primary so they can vote in their new party's primary. Except for New Jersey and Virginia, there are no primaries this year (and maybe not in Virginia—see below). Thus, so many people switching now is very unusual. The 140,000 Republicans who left the party are spread across 25 states. Nineteen states do not register voters by party and the others haven't reported.
Observers think that the Capitol riot played a role in the switches, especially for the Republicans. In North Carolina, for example, in the weeks after the riot, 2,007, 2,850, and 2,120 Republicans switched, respectively, vs. 650 Democrats each week. Chuck Coughlin, a Republican strategist in Arizona, said: "The exodus that's happening right now, based on my instincts and all the people who are calling me out here, is that they're leaving as a result of the acts of sedition that took place and the continued questioning of the Arizona vote." Also, the defeat of Donald Trump may have played a role as some voters now see him as a loser rather than a hero and are less interested in being associated with him. Kevin Madden, who worked on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, said: "It's not a birthright and its not a religion. Political parties should be more like your local condo association. If the condo association starts to act in a way that's inconsistent with your beliefs, you move."
In terms of absolute numbers, 140,000 is a drop in the bucket, but Prof. Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, who follows this kind of stuff, said it is probably just the tip of the iceberg. On the other hand, Josh Holmes, a top political adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said: "If Republicans can reunite behind basic conservative principles and stand up to the liberal overreach of the Biden administration, things will change a lot quicker than people think." However, the NRCC's strategy is to junk conservative principles (see above) and despite what Holmes might think, Biden is not a socialist, so he might be a wee bit optimistic here. (V)
Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase (R), who calls herself "Trump in heels," is running for governor in this year's election. Think of her as an older (51) version of Marjorie Taylor Greene, but without the assault rifle Greene likes so much. The Virginia Republican Party does not want a bitter, nasty, divisive, ideological primary with Trumpy and never Trump Republicans slashing at each other. They would prefer to just anoint former House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R) as the nominee. Even if they get him, winning would be tough, given how blue Virginia has become. Winning with Chase as their nominee is pretty much out of the question.
The party honchos thought of a clever way to avoid a brutal intraparty battle and get rid of Chase: Get the people out of the loop, cancel the primary, and just pick the nominee themselves. Easy peasy. Chase got wind of this, though, and filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to prevent the power grab. She might get support from businessmen Pete Snyder and Glenn Youngkin, who also think they would be fine Republican governors.
Party leaders are very concerned that Chase is so divisive that she could never get enough votes in the Trumpier parts of the state to offset the huge Democratic bloc in Northern Virginia, so they want to field a more moderate candidate. If Chase wins in court and the people do get to have a say on the subject of whom the Republicans will nominate, this could be a preview of many battles yet to come in 2022, when "Trumpier-than-thou" candidates face off against moderate Republicans in House districts and gubernatorial races all over the country. Be that as it may, Virginia Republicans don't want to be the guinea pigs to see how this plays out. (V)
Question: What do oil companies, pornographers, and growers of the evil weed have in common? Answer: Lack of access to banking. For various reasons, some banks don't want to do business with oil companies (bad for the environment), porn companies (bad for morals), and marijuana growers (selling the product violates federal law). The Trump administration wanted to protect the oil companies from the nasty left-wing Commie banks, like Goldman Sachs, Citi, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Bank of America, none of which want to finance drilling in the Arctic. So the Comptroller of the Currency issued a rule that would forbid banks from denying loans to companies for any reason except financial ones. Naturally, the porn and dope purveyors teamed up with the oil companies to defend the rule. Now the Biden administration has to decide whether to keep the rule or kill it.
Many congressional Democrats want the rule killed because it will force the banks to lend money to oil companies for drilling in environmentally sensitive areas. If the rule is killed, the oil companies probably won't be able to get financing to drill in the Arctic, which is expensive. Killing the rule will also hurt the pot companies, which Democrats generally support, but they are just collateral damage. Republicans want the rule to stay. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, said the rule is needed to prevent banks from discriminating against otherwise financially sound firms whose business they don't like.
This issue has come up before. Several years ago, PayPal decided to stop doing business with Smashwords, a site that allows people to self-publish e-porn, which is legal, albeit not universally appreciated. Under pressure from civil liberties groups, PayPal eventually relented. The Trump rule would put Smashwords and similar firms on stronger footing since financial firms could not reject legal profitable businesses whose products they didn't happen to like.
Another industry that wants to keep the rule are the companies selling cryptocurrencies. Banks won't touch them. This one is a bit tricky because banks could legitimately believe the product is nothing more than digital snake oil and demand could vanish at any moment (unlike the demand for e-porn or pot, which have substantial customer bases). Can the government force banks to lend to companies whose entire business model seems flaky to them? We will soon know. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb10 Lessons Learned
Feb10 Good News, Bad News for Fans of a $15/hour Minimum Wage
Feb10 Biden's Getting His Cabinet, Slowly but Surely
Feb10 Democrats Focus on the Suburbs
Feb10 Presidents' Best Friends
Feb10 About Those 1980s Movies...
Feb09 Deja Vu All Over Again
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