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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  SCOTUS Pokes Trump in Both Eyes
      •  Tanden in Deep Trouble, Haaland Not Far Behind
      •  Garland Is in the Clear
      •  Sanders and Co. Work to Save Minimum Wage Hike
      •  Florida Republicans Apparently Have Their Candidate
      •  Low Blows on Joe
      •  Dominion Voting Systems to Go to the Mattress with MyPillow Guy

SCOTUS Pokes Trump in Both Eyes

Donald Trump isn't president anymore, but he's still losing Supreme Court cases on a regular basis. On Monday, two more defeats were added to the list, as SCOTUS decreed that Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. can indeed have a look at the former president's tax returns, while also concluding that there was no need to hear a pair of cases related to how Pennsylvania ran its presidential election this cycle.

In the short term, nobody knows exactly what the implications of the tax ruling will be (which, incidentally, was unsigned and had no written dissents). After all, we don't know what exactly is in the returns, nor do we know what Vance already learned from previously available-to-him sources (like Trump's New York state returns). And we do not know the exact scope of Vance's investigation, either. The DA did little to help clarify things, sending out only one very oblique tweet after the decision was announced:

It is true that Vance has said that he's looking into the hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. However, there must be more to it, or he wouldn't need so much time, nor would he need to bring in hired guns like Mark Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in looking at financial institutions. One suspects that Vance might also be taking a long look at how Trump has valued his assets over the years. And even if he's not looking at that, then Vance will presumably send a copy of the returns over to New York AG Letitia James, who is definitely interested in that particular question. In any event, bad news for the former president.

In contrast to the decree on Trump's taxes, the one on the Pennsylvania cases did attract dissents—three of them, from Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. It is Thomas' dissent, in particular, that is exciting much commentary, as his judicial cheese seems to be slipping off its judicial cracker. He declared that voting by mail is deeply problematic, and that the Supreme Court has the right to get involved with vote-counting if there is even the mere appearance of corruption. In this, Thomas is abandoning pretty much everything he once claimed to hold dear. That includes evidence (since there is no evidence whatsoever that voting by mail leads to corruption), federalism (since overriding states' right to run their own elections runs contrary to Thomas' strong states' rights stance on other issues, like abortion), and originalism (since the fellows who wrote the Constitution made clear, in no uncertain terms in Art II. Sec. 1, that running presidential elections is the province of each individual state). Put another way, Thomas is no longer pretending to be anything other than a rabid partisan.

Ultimately, the most concerning thing here is not that Thomas has gone off the deep end. He is, after all, only one vote. No, it's that the Pennsylvania cases were only dismissed on the basis that the election is over, and that therefore any ruling would basically be only advisory, which the Court does not like to do. However, when this came up before the election, Monday's three dissenters joined with Brett Kavanaugh to support SCOTUS involvement in state elections. Chief Justice John Roberts would not go along, and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett was not on the Court yet. If either of those decides to join with the other four, then we could indeed have SCOTUS stepping in and changing state-level election results by fiat. At very least, Republican legislators across the country have just been given an engraved invitation to crack down on voting access, since they know they will likely be sustained by the Supreme Court, should it come to that. (Z)

Tanden in Deep Trouble, Haaland Not Far Behind

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced over the weekend that he would be a "no" vote on Joe Biden's Office of Management and Budget Director-designate Neera Tanden. The Senator's reason is that she sent a bunch of mean tweets, and he now thinks that she will have trouble working with all the people she needs to work with as leader of the OMB. That means Tanden needs at least one Republican vote. On Monday, two of the three obvious candidates for that vote, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT), said it won't be coming from them, as Tanden is just too liberal for their tastes. That means that it's likely Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or bust. Presumably she won't be interested in sticking her neck out, particularly with her reelection campaign commencing soon. That said, the Alaska Senator hasn't tipped her hand yet, and she just might like to have the OMB director be in her debt. After all, a billion here and a billion there goes pretty far in The Last Frontier (even if the bridges built by those billions go nowhere).

Meanwhile, Secretary of the Interior-designate Deb Haaland is also in some trouble, as a similar dynamic is unfolding. Apropos to an Interior Secretary, not to mention a 35th generation Laguna Pueblo, she tends to prefer that the United States' natural resources be kept intact, as opposed to being despoiled in search of fossil fuels. Republicans find her views "extreme," while Manchin—who comes from a state that loves, loves, loves its coal—says he's undecided on the nomination. If Haaland loses Manchin's vote, then she will need to be rescued by Romney or Collins, since Murkowski's home state also has more than a passing interest in fossil fuel extraction. That said, the optics of rejecting the first-ever Native American nominated for a cabinet position are not pretty, so maybe Manchin (and a couple of the Republicans?) fall in line. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, who come from a state with many Native American (or part-Native) residents, namely Oklahoma, are also possibilities to buck their party.

You might have noticed, at this point, that the two cabinet secretaries who are in the most danger are both women of color (the third who is getting some blowback, HHS-designate Xavier Becerra, is similarly a person of color). And even if you didn't notice it, lots of prominent women of color certainly have. Many of them feel that there is a "double standard" in play here, as Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus chair, put it. They point out that quite a few white men with serious black marks against them—Jeff Sessions and his past racism, Brett Kavanaugh and his meltdowns in the actual Senate chamber, Tom Price and his conflicts of interest, etc.—managed to secure the support of most or all of the Senators who now oppose Tanden, Haaland, and possibly Becerra.

Undoubtedly, there is something to this. After all, someone like Chu undoubtedly has a finer-tuned radar when it comes to sensing underlying racism than we do. However, we would add our suspicion that there's also a performative aspect to this as well. That is to say, a Republican senator—or a Democrat in a state that went 70-30 for Donald Trump, as Joe Manchin's home state of West Virginia did—needs to vote "no" on cabinet nominees at least a couple of times so they can assert that they weren't just a rubber stamp for Joe Biden's agenda. And so, they pick the two or three nominees seen as most liberal by the constituents back home, and find reasons to vote against those people. With that said, an outspoken person of color, particularly an outspoken woman of color, is considerably more likely than an outspoken white man to be seen as "politically extreme." So, even if a Joe Manchin or a Susan Collins is not themselves driven by racism, their actions may ultimately circle back to racism in the end. (Z)

Garland Is in the Clear

Speaking of white guys who will apparently have no trouble getting confirmed, AG-designate Merrick Garland commenced his confirmation hearings yesterday. Admittedly, he doesn't have the sort of baggage that some other candidates have. In any case, he laughed, and he cried a bit, and—like any savvy cabinet nominee—said virtually nothing of substance.

The would-be AG did say he wants to go after white supremacists, and that he wants to depoliticize the Justice Department, and that he probably wouldn't cancel any investigations that are ongoing. None of this will be found in the dictionary under "sticking your neck out." He also does not have a Twitter account, so there is no chance that injudicious past tweets will come back to haunt him. There may be a lesson in that, though we're still trying to put our fingers on what it is. In any event, the only real question left is not whether Garland will be confirmed, but whether he will be confirmed unanimously (don't bet on it because, you know, Sen. Rand "Look at Me!" Paul, R-KY). (Z)

Sanders and Co. Work to Save Minimum Wage Hike

Reportedly, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough will soon make a ruling as to whether or not a minimum-wage hike can survive a Byrd bath, and be passed as part of reconciliation. In fact, she may announce her decision sometime today. If the legislation clears that hurdle—and especially if it doesn't—it will be time to fire up the sausage grinders in hopes of getting something done on this front.

Leading the charge, of course, is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is not only the foremost champion of a $15/hour minimum wage, but is also chair of the Senate Budget Committee. If he gets MacDonough's blessing, then his life is a lot easier, because then he just needs to get the wavering Blue Dogs on board. Joe Manchin is the obvious one, but Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) actually appears to be the harder sell here, since her constituents aren't as poor as his are. The duo might be won over with some juicy patronage. Could Phoenix and Charleston use new airports? Or, the Senators might go for a softer minimum-wage proposal—Manchin has already said he's much more comfortable with $11/hour than $15/hour, and maybe Sinema can be persuaded, too. Alternatively, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is looking for ways to give some help to small businesses, perhaps with a tax break, so that the minimum wage increase doesn't break their backs.

If MacDonough says "No way, José" (or "No way, Bernardo"), then life gets a lot harder for the higher-minimum-wage folks. They can try to scrape together the 10 Republicans that would be needed to overcome a filibuster. And a few members of the GOP, like Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton, have suggested they are willing to play ball, albeit with a smaller minimum wage and with new and stronger penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants. Finding 10 votes might not be easy, however, given that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made clear that he again sees job #1 as obstructing a Democratic president. Further, Democrats in general, and progressives in particular, might not be too happy with a watered-down bill that also comes with added provisions (anti-immigrant or otherwise).

Alternatively, Sanders & Co. can take the hint that Joe Biden has been putting out there for over a week and conclude that this is not their year. Perhaps, a year from now, the feelings of one or more Blue Dogs will change. Or, maybe the filibuster will be dead, D.C. will be a state, and there will be much more room to maneuver. In short, it's not easy making the legislative sausage. (Z)

Florida Republicans Apparently Have Their Candidate

There are three Trumpy Floridians who are in the running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. They are Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott (all R-FL). This list excludes, of course, anyone who is a member of the Trump family, including Donald Sr., who may well be a candidate himself.

Assuming that no member of the Trump family runs, GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio would like to know which of these three candidates has the backing of Florida Republicans. And so, he ran a poll on the question, and discovered that it is not close. DeSantis had the support of 64% of the 304 Republicans who responded, compared to 12% for Rubio and 10% for Scott. The poll has a large margin of error (5.6%), but even accounting for the possible range of outcomes, the Governor leaves the Senators in the dust.

We do not bring this up because we think it gives valuable insight into the 2024 presidential race. There is a lot of time, and one midterm election, between now and then, and things can and will change. Further, while it is nice for a candidate to theoretically have Florida in their hip pocket, we do not believe DeSantis is viable nationally, particularly given how he (mis-)handled the COVID-19 crisis.

No, we think the real story here is that DeSantis came out so far ahead because Florida Republicans see him as the Trumpiest candidate (Fabrizio also asked that question, and it tracked closely with support for each candidate). Note that none of these three men has Trump's endorsement, since they are not officially in the race yet, and he's not officially out. And note also that, of the three, it's actually the Senators who have done and said the most to help the former president, up to and including voting to acquit him in the impeachment trial. The Governor has actually butted heads with Trump a few times, including over DeSantis' gung-ho-but-not-gung-ho-enough support for holding the GOP convention in Jacksonville, over the hiring of campaign aide Susie Wiles by Team Trump, and over the Governor's unwillingess to peddle conspiracy theories about Hurricane Maria.

What we are saying here is that DeSantis' support among the Trumpeters seems to have fairly little to do with Trump himself, and instead with the perception that he's an avatar of Trump. And that's certainly correct; he does many, many Trumpy things, from slamming "the libs," to ordering state flags flown at half mast in honor of Rush Limbaugh, to downplaying COVID, to trying to restrict voting rights. And so, the Governor's popularity certainly seems to be evidence of our suspicion that Trumpism will continue to dominate the GOP, even if Trump himself fades dramatically in importance. (Z)

Low Blows on Joe

In the past week, right-wing commentators have leveled attacks against Joe Biden that make Barack Obama's tan suit controversy look positively tasteful and high-brow by comparison. To start, that paragon of classiness, Tucker Carlson, went on his Fox News show and decreed that the Bidens' 44-year marriage is "a slick PR campaign devised by cynical consultants determined to hide the president's senility by misdirection," and that "their love is as real as climate change."

Right off the bat, just about everyone noticed that Carlson backed into what the kiddies call a "self-own." Though it was not his intent, Carlson's actually absolutely right—by all indications the Bidens' affections and climate change are both equally real. Beyond that, even if you concede that Biden needs a distraction from his senility (which we most certainly do not concede), how clever was he to plan for that by setting up a sham marriage forty-four years ago? He must have been getting advice from the same people who realized that a Black kid born in 1961 might one day become president, so it's best to put birth announcements in two different Hawaii newspapers to hide his Kenyan birth.

Presumably, Carlson felt free to cast aspersions on the Bidens' marriage because people spent five years casting aspersions on the Trumps' marriage. Very good, but if Carlson can't tell the difference between the two relationships—one husband seems to regularly hire paramours and one does not, one husband is twice divorced and one is not, one wife acts in public like her spouse is radioactive and one does not—then it raises some interesting questions about the health of the Carlsons' marriage.

Moving along, Newsmax's Greg Kelly decided to do Carlson one better, and to get even dirtier—literally. Since the President and the First Lady are too easy as targets, apparently, Kelly set his sights on...the First Dog, Champ. "I want to show you something I noticed. Does anybody look a little, uh, a little rough?" the host said. "I love dogs, but this dog needs a bath and a comb and all kinds of love and care. I've never seen a dog in the White House like this." Kelly even brought on two "historians" to help make his point that Champ is the worst First Dog ever. Never mind that those "historians" have made careers of writing hagiographic books about Republican presidents, and that they have between them 33% as many degrees in history as (Z) does all by his lonesome. Oh, and speaking as both a dog owner and a historian, (Z) thinks Champ looks just fine for a senior German shepherd and a First Dog.

All of this said, our point here is not to mock the stupid stuff said by far-right carnival barkers. That's like shooting fish in a barrel—with a Gatling gun. No, it's to point out that we're about a month into the Biden presidency, and the right-wingers appear to already be scraping the bottom of the aforementioned barrel. When your audience is primarily made up of white senior citizen males, it's not so easy to find things to disparage when your target is a white senior citizen male. It was much easier with a pantsuit-wearing woman who had been the subject of a 20-year propaganda campaign, or with a younger, highly educated Black man.

We also wonder if this is an early reflection of how the loss of Rush Limbaugh will impact the right-wing media. Say what you will about the man, he knew how to find Achilles' heels, real and imagined, and to exploit the heck out of them. Many is the day that Limbaugh found some new angle to explore, and then the Sean Hannitys and Tucker Carlsons of the world just parroted it that evening, accompanied by some pretty graphics. Maybe, just maybe, they have lost their muse. (Z)

Dominion Voting Systems to Go to the Mattress with MyPillow Guy

MyPillow Guy Mike Lindell, who is about as fanatical about Donald Trump as it gets, has made no secret of his belief that the election was stolen from the former president and that Dominion Voting Systems (DVS) was a primary culprit. Lindell kept running his mouth even after the lawsuits started flying, and other Trumpeters (Fox, Newsmax, OAN, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell) put a sock in it for their own self-preservation. In fact, Lindell dared—indeed, begged—DVS to sue him, including in a three-hour "documentary" on election fraud that he edited together in iMovie and paid OAN to air.

Now, DVS has officially granted that request, and sued him for the same $1.3 billion that they're going after from Giuliani, Wood, Fox News, and others. Lindell may be a savvy businessman, but he isn't exactly a legal scholar, and so he reiterated his alleged "excitement" about being sued, saying that this will now allow him to conduct discovery and find "proof" that election fraud took place. He is, of course, unlikely to find that proof. Further, by saying that, he is publicly admitting that he did not already have evidence of his claims when he made them, and so is essentially proving the plaintiffs' case for them. Maybe Lindell's lawyers will eventually convince him to shut his trap, but between his now-shuttered Twitter account, the "documentary," and his many and varied public pronouncements, he's already given DVS a rope, tied it for them, and built a gallows. Oh, and he's worth an estimated $300 million, a number that will presumably be going way down by the time this is all said and done. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb22 COVID-19 Death Toll in U.S. Hits Half a Million
Feb22 Garland to Appear before Senate Judiciary Committee Today
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Feb22 Democrats Are Doing an Autopsy of the Election
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Feb21 Sunday Mailbag
Feb20 Saturday Q&A
Feb19 Ted Fled
Feb19 It Ain't Easy Being Prez
Feb19 Shadow Boxing
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Feb19 Trump to Haley: Pound Sand
Feb19 Ivanka Is Out
Feb19 Video Killed the Radio Star
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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
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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
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Feb14 Unimpeachable
Feb14 Sunday Mailbag
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