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Political Wire logo Bloomberg Staffers Get Unwelcome Tax Surprise
Xavier Becerra Braces for Contentious Hearings
What’s Next for Trump Taxes Investigation
Biden Readies First Major Penalties on Russia
Yellen Backs Higher Corporate Tax
Hearing Begins Probe of Capitol Riot

COVID-19 Death Toll in U.S. Hits Half a Million

The total number of deaths from the coronavirus has now passed 500,000. That is comparable to the total population of Sacramento, Atlanta, or Kansas City. It is also more than the total number of deaths in battle during World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. The top five states for COVID-19 deaths are California (49,110), New York (47,769) Texas (42,255), Florida (30,433), and Pennsylvania (23,570). Worldwide, the death count is 2.5 million, with the United States the country with the most deaths. Over 28 million Americans have been stricken by the disease and many of those who have recovered are still facing symptoms.

It is not exactly good news, but the 1918 influenza pandemic was still worse. That killed 675,000 Americans at a time when the country's population was one-third of what it is now, so that would translate to the equivalent of 2 million deaths now. In that respect, COVID-19 is only a quarter as bad as the 1918 virus. And there was no treatment or vaccine available then. You could pray if you wished to, but that was pretty much all that was available. However, this one isn't finished yet and the death toll is sure to increase.

Nevertheless, there is also some good news. The number of infections is dropping according to the CDC. Here is s chart showing the number of new cases per day from Jan. 2020 until now, a span of almost 14 months.

COVID cases since Jan. 2020

While it is still high, we are past the peak and are back down to the infection rate we saw in October. The reasons for the drop are the many measures taken by states to prevent infections (e.g., closing down businesses and requiring masks) and the increasingly large numbers of people who have been vaccinated. So far, 61 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. At this point, 13% of the U.S. population has had at least one shot and 5% have had two shots. The top states for getting at least one dose into arms are Alaska (20%), New Mexico (18%), South Dakota (17%), North Dakota (16%), and West Virginia (16%). The worst states are Alabama, Texas, Georgia, and Utah, with Tennessee at the very bottom. (V)

Garland to Appear before Senate Judiciary Committee Today

When Judge Merrick Garland was nominated to be on the Supreme Court in 2016, he didn't even get a hearing. Today, he will finally get one, albeit 5 years later, and for a different job: Attorney General of the United States. Is this a better job? Maybe not. Associate justices of the Supreme Court make $244,400 but the attorney general (and other cabinet officers) make only $196,700. It's even less than he is making now as an appeals court judge ($211,200). Further, the court gigs are for life, while it is the rare cabinet official who makes it to 8 years (and only nine of them have ever made it more than 8 years). Many don't even make it to 4 years. Still, Garland seems to be willing to take the pay cut and poor job security to make his mark on the Dept. of Justice. His confirmation is certain, as every Democrat will vote for him and several Republican senators have also said they would vote to confirm.

After the turmoil at the Justice Dept. during the Trump administration, everyone there will welcome a new boss who is actually interested in, well, justice. Other than two short stints at Arnold & Porter, Garland has spent his entire career working in public service, fulfilling many roles within the Dept. of Justice. He has handled the prosecution in many high-profile cases, including the Oklahoma City bombing, the Atlanta Olympics bombing, and locking up Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber).

Immediately after he is confirmed, Garland will have a lot on his plate. And he will be all alone because Joe Biden is surely going to make a show about not interfering with him in any way, probably not even talking to him much. One of the first things Garland will have to deal with is the prosecution of the Trump supporters who invaded and ransacked the Capitol last month. He has called it a "heinous attack" on the peaceful transfer of power. If you are one of those charged, don't count on getting 30 days in a minimum-security prison and a bit of community service afterwards. Garland has already made it clear that going after and prosecuting domestic terrorists is high on his to-do list. And he has plenty of experience doing precisely that.

Another high priority is rebuilding the civil rights enforcement program. Trump couldn't repeal the nation's civil rights laws, but he could install people to "enforce" them who strongly disagreed with the laws and made little to no effort to actually enforce them. There's definitely a new sheriff in town on that. Garland will try to rebuild that part of the Justice Dept. with people who will enforce the civil rights laws to the max.

He has no shortage of other hot potatoes coming at him. The hottest one is what to do about Donald Trump. Should he be charged with sedition? With obstructing justice? With other things? Related to that, Garland has to decide whether to release the full, unredacted Mueller report. And if he decides that Trump broke one or more laws, he has to decide whether Trump will be prosecuted the way any private citizen would be or whether a special counsel is needed.

Next, just before he left office, former AG William Barr instructed U.S. Attorney John Durham to look at the investigation of Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. Barr clearly wanted Durham to come to the conclusion that the investigators were biased against Trump and made up the case out of thin air. Durham is still at work. Will Garland let him continue or kill the investigation of the investigators?

Yet another thorny question is the investigation into Hunter Biden's tax affairs and business dealings with China. Probably the simplest thing for him to do is leave this to the prosecutors already working on the case and stay a mile away. Still, even if he punts on Hunter, Garland will have plenty of work to do. (V)

The Race to Replace Neera Tanden Has Already Begun

Joe Biden nominated Neera Tanden to run OMB, which has outsized power concerning the budget. The Senate has not even held her confirmation hearings yet, and already the race to replace her is on. The problem is that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is a definite "no" vote on her confirmation. Republicans smell blood in the water and all are virtually certain to vote "no" as well, just to hand Biden a defeat. So, barring a surprise, the Tanden nomination is as dead as the dodo. Jockeying has already begun among people who want to replace her.

Tanden was also a risky choice. She is very close to Hillary Clinton and does not like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) one bit. She also has zero respect for Republicans and not a lot for conservative Democrats. What's left is not a big enough base. In addition, she has a long history of sending out nasty tweets about people she doesn't like. Not wise for an aspiring cabinet secretary; the only people who can get away with that are aspiring presidents.

Biden is not going to withdraw her nomination yet because he doesn't want to be seen cowering at Manchin's feet. Still, he has to treat Manchin with a lot of respect because in a 50-50 Senate, he is going to need Manchin's vote on just about every bill.

In the end though, Tanden likely won't make it, one way or another, so someone else is needed. One possibility is Gene Sperling, former director of the National Economic Council. Another is the former chief of staff for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), Ann O'Leary. Neither is as controversial as Tanden. Sperling is a mild-mannered economist who would be confirmed easily. The main problem with his nomination is that Identity Politics is the name of the game for Democrats. A lot of groups within the party are scoring Biden on how many women, how many Black people, how many Latinos, how many gay people, etc. he is appointing to top positions. Replacing a woman of color with a white guy who has a law degree from Yale is going to ruffle a lot of feathers and lower his appointment score.

At least O'Leary is a woman. She recently "quit" her job working for Newsom because Republicans are trying to recall him and some of Newsom's other aides didn't think she was the right person to lead the battle against it.

Another name that has come up is Shalanda Young, who has been nominated to be deputy director of OMB. She could be bumped up a notch and be nominated for the top slot. She is a Black woman, but possibly not quite ready for the top slot.

Biden can't wait too long. It is time to get to work on the budget now and not having an OMB director hard at work is a huge problem. He might stick with Tanden, watch her go down in flames, then quickly pick someone else. Dithering is not a good choice right now. (V)

The Two McC's Are Playing Different Games

There are two schools of thought about how to manage Donald Trump: appeasement and confrontation. The two big McC's in the Republican Party are each using a different one. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is trying the former. He went to Mar-a-Lago to tell Trump how wonderful and important and powerful he is. He probably also told the former president that he won the election and would have been inaugurated again but for those nasty rigged voting machines. And he certainly told Trump that those people ransacking the Capitol were patriots and it wasn't Trump's fault at all.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is having none of that. After voting to acquit Trump on a technicality, he delivered a blistering speech attacking the former president. He wants to read Trump out of the Republican Party immediately, so it can win in 2022 and go back to its core business: cutting taxes on rich people.

The two approaches are partly due to their differing characters. McCarthy is simply a coward and stands for nothing. He is afraid of Trump and doesn't want to be yelled at. He also knows that most of his members come from Trumpy districts and he doesn't want to rock the boat. McConnell has the hide of a...well, turtle, allows all criticism to glide off his shell, and is focused like a laser on one very specific goal: getting his old job back in 2022. McConnell clearly thinks that Trump has to be defanged and disabled, lest he muck around in Senate elections and lose winnable races for the GOP. Another difference is that many House members represent districts stuffed so full of Republicans that they can't lose whereas the crucial Senate races in 2022 are closely balanced. McConnell sees Trump as a net negative.

Is one of them right and the other wrong? Possibly, but it is also possible that given the differences between the House and the Senate, they can continue to play good cop, bad cop and it might work. (V)

Trump Will Address CPAC on Sunday

Speaking of Donald Trump—and he shows no sign of going away, so we will continue speaking (well, writing) about him for a while—he is planning to return from exile in Florida to address the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Sunday, Feb. 28 in Orlando. It's only a 2½ hour drive, but it puts Trump back in the fray. CPAC is the premiere right-wing national conference, where thousands of people gather to hear about the evils of socialism and Democrats.

We don't know yet what Trump will tell the audience, but it is likely to be a hit list of his favorite grievances, including how the election was rigged, how he actually won, and why the rioters at the Capitol were patriots. The content of his talk is somewhat irrelevant since the listeners probably have heard all of it a hundred times already. The significance is that Trump is not going to take up building houses (like Jimmy Carter) or painting (like George W. Bush) or making films for Netflix (like Barack Obama). It's going to be more like Grover Cleveland—planning to get his old job back. Of course, a lot of other stuff (like indictments) can mess that up, but clearly Trump is planning to address friendly audiences in the coming weeks, months, and years. At the very least, he can gauge the size of the crowds (compared to 2016 and 2020) and estimate his chances of success in 2024.

Trump will not be the only 2024 wannabee at CPAC, however. Mike Pompeo and Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) are also speaking. Currently, Mike Pence and Nikki Haley are not planning on showing up, but that could yet change. (V)

Democrats Are Doing an Autopsy of the Election

Whether Democrats won or lost in 2020 is a matter of one's point of view. Yes, Joe Biden got more popular votes and more electoral votes than Donald Trump. However, the Democrats also lost 14 seats in the House and lost Senate races in Montana, Iowa, Maine, North Carolina, and South Carolina that they had high hopes of winning. They also did poorly in state legislature races, not flipping a single chamber anywhere in the country. In fact, they lost two (in New Hampshire). What went wrong?

Part of the autopsy will be trying to determine how much of the problem was tactics and how much was strategy. Tactics include factors like not going door to door in 2020, not registering new voters at shopping malls, and other things related to COVID-19. Those problems will be gone in 2022. Strategy brings up questions about why Democrats did worse with Latinos than expected. Did Democrats have the wrong message? Or was it merely the fact that they didn't show up enough?

Four major groups are backing the autopsy effort: Third Way (a centrist think tank), End Citizens United (a clean government group), Collective PAC (which supports Black Democrats) and the Latino Victory Fund. They are working with several groups within the House. The goal is to conduct interviews with leaders, consultants, voters, and others; pore over electoral data, and so on. Given how small the Democrats' margin is and how unfavorable the midterms almost always are for the president's party, this project is extremely urgent.

A key issue is: "What's the matter with Georgia?" Why didn't it vote Republican, like it always does? If they can figure that out, they might be able to clone the magic, although that might require cloning Stacey Abrams.

These groups aren't the only ones scratching their heads. The DCCC is already in the field in Rio Grande Valley running focus groups. More are sure to follow in Florida and elsewhere.

One issue the Democrats could very well have is that the problem is elements of the Party itself. Suppose focus groups discovered that a lot of people didn't believe the Democrats even wanted to stem illegal immigration. Or that they thought the Green New Deal would bankrupt the country. How could they fix that? Tell progressives to shut up? Not going to happen. Or suppose a lot of people think the Democrats are too timid. Should they tell the centrists to shut up? Also not going to happen.

Another problem is polling. It was way off in some cases (like the Maine Senate race, where it was spectacularly off). Was this an effect that occurs only when Donald Trump is on the ballot and will fix itself in 2022? Or is more needed? If polls can't be trusted, then campaigns will be flying blind. They need to fix the problem somehow.

Of course, a completely different approach is to forget tactics and strategy, limit the filibuster, govern as if they actually won, and run in 2022 on their achievements. (V)

Republicans' Strength in the State Legislatures Was Built Up over 40 Years

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were the Republican majorities in the state legislatures. Democrats used to control most of them. Now Republicans do. Here are maps showing which parties controlled which state legislatures after the 1980 election and the 2020 election:

Control of the state legislatures 1980 and 2020

Even after Ronald Reagan's smashing victory in 1980, Democrats still controlled most of the state legislatures (29 to 15). Reagan's victory was a personal one. People liked him better than they liked Jimmy Carter. They didn't like the Republican Party, though. In 2020, Joe Biden won by 7 million votes, but Democrats didn't do well in the state legislatures, which Republicans control 30 to 18. What happened?

For decades, the Democrats' magic formula was conservative Democrats in the South, blue-collar Democrats in the Midwest, and liberals on the coasts. The tipping point came in 1994 with Newt Gingrich's "Contract on America." (It's been a while, but we're sure "Contract" and "America" were in there.) It worked. He nationalized all elections, viciously attacked Bill Clinton as a leftist, and proposed radical changes to ideas and programs that had been around since the New Deal. In addition, Republicans put a lot of time, energy, and money into races for state Senates and state Houses/Assemblies. It got the ball rolling.

Each year thereafter, Republicans chipped away at Democratic control. The Democrats were fat and lazy and barely noticed it was happening. They didn't fight back. They didn't spend money on lowly state House races when they could blow it all on presidential races. In 2010, the Republicans put a massive effort into state races and it paid off. They took control of 25 state legislatures so they could draw the congressional maps in most of them. Democrats controlled only 16 state legislatures, and only two in the South (Arkansas and Mississippi, neither of which they held much longer).

In addition to using the state legislatures to gerrymander maps and make voting harder, the state legislatures served as incubators for federal office. State representatives ran for the U.S. House and state senators ran for the U.S. Senate.

Changing this situation could take another 40 years. Republican-controlled state legislatures have gerrymandered state districts even more than congressional districts, since it is their own jobs on the line, and since a larger number of small districts is easier to gerrymander than a smaller number of large ones. And Republicans are better organized than Democrats at the state level and are willing to spend more money on state races. In much of the South, the Plains, and the interior West, the Democratic Party barely exists at the state level. When Howard Dean was chairman of the DNC and tried to run a 50-state strategy (i.e, putting boots on the ground in places like Alaska, Tennessee, and South Carolina), other party officials blocked him, saying all that mattered was winning the presidential election in six swing states. Nothing else was worth the trouble. And certainly not worth spending precious dollars on. The consequence is the situation we have now, with Republicans controlling 30 state legislatures (including 23 trifectas) to the Democrats controlling 18 states (with 15 trifectas). Don't expect any rapid changes here. (V)

Poll: Republicans Are Still with Trump

It's not exactly breaking news anymore, but a new USA Today/Suffolk University poll shows that Republican voters are still Trumpy. If he were to form a new party, 46% would join it vs. 27% who would not. The rest aren't sure. As we have pointed out before, if Trump were to actually do that, one guaranteed consequence would be that DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison would break out the champagne to celebrate because Democrats would win all major elections going forward until the Trump Party finally went the way of the Whigs. But many Republican voters are like lemmings. It's follow the leader off the cliff.

The poll also asked about the Capitol riot and who caused it. A full 58% of Trump voters said that it was an antifa-led attack with only a few Trump supporters present. Why antifa would want to disrupt a proceeding in which their candidate was about to be declared the winner wasn't asked. But it shows that many Trump voters don't have a very good grip on reality. Or maybe don't care about reality. They might just prefer their own virtual world.

Trump voters also bear grudges, as Dear Leader does. Eighty percent said that they would be less likely to vote for any Republican who supported Trump's impeachment or conviction. On the other hand, they will vote for him if he runs in 2024. A full 76% want him to get the GOP nomination and 85% would vote for him in the general election. In short, no matter what party he is in, Trump still owns most of the people who voted for him and nothing Mitch McConnell can do will change that.

On the other hand, at least one Republican will not support Trump in 2024. That would be Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), who told CNN's Dana Bash yesterday that he definitely would not support Trump if he runs in 2024. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb21 Sunday Mailbag
Feb20 Saturday Q&A
Feb19 Ted Fled
Feb19 It Ain't Easy Being Prez
Feb19 Shadow Boxing
Feb19 Poll: It's Still Trump's Party
Feb19 Trump to Haley: Pound Sand
Feb19 Ivanka Is Out
Feb19 Video Killed the Radio Star
Feb18 Rush Limbaugh Is Dead
Feb18 How to Turn Bad News into Good News, Texas Style: Lie
Feb18 Manchin Is a Byrder
Feb18 Biden Does Not Support Forgiving $50,000 in Student Loans
Feb18 Democrats May Turn Marjorie Taylor Greene into a Boogeywoman
Feb18 Traffic at Far-Right News Sites Spiked in 2020
Feb18 Forty Acres and a Mule, Revisited
Feb17 The Kid's in the Hall
Feb17 Trump Slams McConnell
Feb17 Movin' on Up?
Feb17 Insurrection Panel Getting Closer to Reality
Feb17 Trump Sued for Inciting Insurrection
Feb17 Giuliani Sidelined
Feb17 The Downside to Schadenfreude
Feb16 Battle Lines Are Forming
Feb16 The Lincoln Project Is Dying
Feb16 One Born Every Minute
Feb16 Don't Call Us, We'll Call You
Feb16 An Unforced Error for the Biden Administration
Feb16 Nevada Getting out of the Caucus Business, into the "Going Second" Business
Feb16 Perdue May Take Another Bite at the Peach
Feb15 Takeaway Time
Feb15 How Brave Were the Anti-Trump Seven?
Feb15 Poll: Americans Believe Trump Was Responsible for the Capitol Riot
Feb15 But Will the Senate Vote Even Be an Issue in 2022?
Feb15 Some in Congress Want a Bipartisan Commission to Examine the Riot
Feb15 McConnell Is Now Leading a Fractured Republican Party
Feb15 Trump Is Coming Out of Hibernation
Feb15 Are the Democrats Powerless Now?
Feb15 Trump's Business Partners Are Squeezing Him
Feb14 Unimpeachable
Feb14 Sunday Mailbag
Feb13 The Defense Rests
Feb13 Saturday Q&A
Feb12 Send in the Clowns
Feb12 What's Next for the Republicans?
Feb12 It Will Be a Taxing Year for Trump
Feb12 Former Republican Officials Consider Forming Center-Right Party
Feb12 Biden Administration Grapples with COVID-19
Feb12 Biden Administration Also Grapples with Clemency
Feb12 Diplomatic Unity?