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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden's Been Busy...
      •  ...And So Has the Senate...
      •  ...and the Supreme Court, Too
      •  Portman Is Out...
      •  ...And Sarah Sanders Is In
      •  Hawley Takes His Heel Turn
      •  Dominion Sues Giuliani

Biden's Been Busy...

Joe Biden wants to get off to a good start, like any president. He also wants to set up a contrast with Donald Trump, both in the number and the content of actions taken. And so, the newly installed President has kept busy in the last few days.

Arguably the most important thing Biden did recently, though it flew under the radar a bit, was issue a directive on employee ethics that is as strict as any that has ever been implemented. This definitely sets up a contrast with Trump, who talked a big talk when it came to "draining the swamp," but who failed to follow through, and who wiped out most of the restrictions he did put in place in his last few days in office.

Anyhow, the Biden directive forbids former lobbyists from serving in his administration, unless they are granted a special waiver. If a waiver is issued, it will be publicly announced within 10 days, and the recipient will still be barred from participating in matters relating to a former employer, lobbying client or lobbied agency for two years. If someone leaves the administration, they will be barred from lobbying Congress for two years after their separation date, and from lobbying the executive branch until after Biden leaves office. The directive also forbids a more casual and informal exercise of influence, usually known as "shadow lobbying," for one year.

In addition, and setting another very distinct contrast from Trump, Biden took the occasion of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's arriving for his first day on the job to announce that the former president's controversial ban on transgender soldiers would be lifted. There is broad consensus, both among military leadership and among scholars who have studied the issue, that the transgender ban served only to deprive the armed forces of recruits while also depressing the morale of transgender soldiers who had already enlisted prior to the ban.

Moving along, Biden also announced that his administration expects to be able to start administering 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccinations per day in about three weeks. That's obviously better than 1 million per day that is the current target, but it's still on the slow side. If 50 million people are vaccinated by Feb. 15 or so, then that would leave 280 million to go. It's not clear exactly what percentage of the populace will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, but the best guesses place the number between 70% and 95%. At the lower end of that, at 1.5 million vaccinations per day, it would take an additional 121 days to reach the target (in other words, sometime around June 15). At the higher end, at 1.5 million vaccinations per day, it would take 176 days (in other words, somewhere around Aug. 15). And that is before considering that the pace will slow down as eager recipients are all served, and all that is left are anti-vaxxers, Trump lovers, etc. So, 1.5 million is a fine goal for now, but the administration is eventually going to have to up that by a fair bit.

And finally, in a fourth and final poke in the Trump eye (for now), the White House announced that it's going to try to fast-track the Harriet Tubman $20 bill. Not easy to do, given all the different bureaucracies that have to sign off, but possible. This would not only reverse a Trump administration policy, it would also strike one of the former president's personal heroes from the $20. As some folks know, the Donald so loved Andrew Jackson that he had Old Hickory's portrait hung in the Oval Office (it has now been replaced by a portrait of Ben Franklin).

So, Biden is certainly doing his best to create a "100 Days" of the sort other presidents used to enjoy. That said, one of these days, he's actually going to have to deal with Congress. And that is when the rubber will really meet the road. (Z)

...And So Has the Senate...

The Senate may not be dealing directly with Joe Biden, at least not yet, but at least they are doing something to earn their paychecks besides eat bean soup in the Senate cafeteria. They continue to approve Biden appointees at a reasonably brisk pace; the latest is Janet Yellen, who was confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury by a vote of 84 to 15.

In addition, and very importantly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blinked, and agreed to support passage of the organizing resolution necessary for most Senate tasks to be undertaken. McConnell claimed he got what he wanted, because Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) said they would not vote to kill the filibuster. However, that is just face-saving empty talk. The Minority Leader is savvy, and knows full well that Manchin's and Sinema's promises don't mean anything until put to the test, and that their opposition could melt very rapidly if some pork is tossed in their direction.

Anyhow, the Senate will soon be able to function normally. That means they'll be able to run an impeachment trial, should one happen to be necessary. They'll be able to deal with budgetary matters, perhaps via reconciliation votes, should that happen to come up. And now, when Biden's nominees show up to be grilled by the various Senate committees, it will be a Democrat with the gavel rather than a Republican. (Z)

...and the Supreme Court, Too

It would seem that everyone in Washington was refreshed by the holiday break, because all three branches are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. Well, ok, the folks on the Supreme Court are not quite burning the midnight oil yet, but Chief Justice John Roberts did make a couple of important announcements on Monday, at least.

The first of those was that the Court declared that it would not hear two pending cases related to Donald Trump's alleged violations of the Emoluments Clause(s) because they have checked Wikipedia and found that he is apparently no longer the president. This is a little bit weaselly, but Roberts does like to avoid controversy when he can. It means that it will either be up to Congress to pass legislation that imposes clearer restrictions on presidents and vice presidents and their business interests, or else we will have to wait for a two-term president to commit potential emoluments violations, since a one-term president can clearly just run out the clock.

The second announcement, again rooted in the observation that Trump is no longer president, and again surely motivated by the Chief Justice's serious allergy to controversy, is that Roberts will not preside over the impeachment trial. Undoubtedly, he heard from someone that the Senate is now made up of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, and he did not relish the thought of breaking a whole bunch of ties. Apparently, although there was no formal announcement, President of the Senate Kamala Harris will also forgo presiding, because it's already been announced that Senate Pro Tem Pat Leahy (D-VT) will do the job. That makes a member of the jury the presiding officer; maybe the Founders should have done a better job on spelling out that part of the Constitution.

And while we're on the subject, the House did deliver the article of impeachment to the Senate, as expected, and so it's now officially a go. Everyone is pretty much just pretending that Senate rules don't say that impeachments get first priority, because everyone agrees that the trial won't begin until Feb. 8. (Z)

Portman Is Out...

The current iteration of the Senate, and of the Republican Party, have not a lot of room for moderate members. And so, taking the lay of the land, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) threw in the towel on Monday and said he will not run for reelection when his term is up in 2022, explaining that it's difficult to "break through the partisan gridlock."

Needless to say, Ohio is purple enough (Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown was reelected easily in 2018), and every Senate seat is important enough, that this is going to set off a feeding frenzy in both parties. Here are some of the potential contenders from both sides whose names are being bandied about:

Candidate Comment
Mark Pukita He's the only declared candidate so far, an unknown of the sort that becomes cannon fodder for an incumbent. He won't win against a field full of candidates far better known than he.
John Kasich Do former presidential candidates who swore off any future runs for office, and who would be in their 70s when elected, actually run for open U.S. Senate seats? Ask Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).
Rep. Jim Jordan He's been planning for this for years, and will try to out-Trump all the other candidates.
Lt. Gov. Jon A. Husted He's been in Ohio politics for two decades, and would run in the moderate lane.
Jim Tressel He used to coach Ohio State and, as we've just been reminded, coaching a popular local football team is qualification enough for voters in some states. And unlike some football-coaches-turned-senators, who think the U.S. allied with communist Russia during World War II in order to fight socialism, Tressel is actually a sharp fellow. He's currently serving as president of Youngstown State University.
J.D. Vance Apparently, he thinks that writing Hillbilly Elegy qualifies him for high political office, because he "understands" those people. Never mind that Elegy is about the most patronizing book one could possibly imagine, described by one critic as "a list of myths about welfare queens repackaged as a primer on the white working class."
Rep. Tim Ryan Ryan undoubtedly ran for president to increase his visibility in anticipation of challenging Portman. Now that Portman's out, Ryan is salivating.
Amy Acton The former Director of the Ohio Department of Health is pretty popular, and has high visibility, due to her leadership during the early months of the pandemic.
John Cranley The current mayor of Cincinnati is young (46), centrist, smart, and religious (Catholic, with a degree in divinity from Harvard, to go with his law degree from Harvard). That said, the mayoralty is not usually a springboard to higher office; the most prominent former Cincinnati mayor is Jerry Springer, who chose a very different path to notoriety.
David Pepper He's not well known, but he is the former chair of the Ohio Democratic Party. And, as Jaime Harrison just demonstrated, the connections to party movers and shakers that one develops in that position can be very helpful.
LeBron James There aren't too many prominent Democrats among the ranks of college football coaches. However, there are plenty of them among the ranks of star athletes, particularly in the NBA. James is surely the most popular and prominent sportsman from Ohio, given that all the other famous ones are long retired, (Jack Nicklaus, Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Archie Griffin, Ken Griffey Jr.). And like Jim Tressel, James is no slouch in the brains department. That said, he's surely not quite ready to leave his basketball career behind, and if he gets tempted, he'll have 44,474,988 reasons to stick with sports in 2022 and to wait until some future cycle to run.
Dave Chappelle Democrats have their share of "Seriously?" candidates, too. Hard to believe someone can get elected on the strength of being good at telling jokes. On the other hand, it's also hard to believe someone can get elected on the strength of hosting a silly NBC reality TV show, and yet...

And note that Al Franken, while also a comedian, was a Harvard fellow, an author of several bestselling books on politics, and host of a political talk show. That is at least a somewhat stronger case for office than just "I hosted an entertaining TV show."

The most recent version of Cook's PVI has Ohio as R+3, making it purplish-red. However, Donald Trump won the state by 8 points in both 2016 and 2020, which means that either the state is getting redder, or that it's particularly Trumpy. Whatever the case may be, there will surely be a bloodbath on the Republican side of the primaries. The Democrats will be hoping, first of all, that support coalesces around a single Democratic candidate fairly quickly, so that they can avoid the political and financial costs of a bruising primary. The second thing the blue team will be hoping for is that an outspoken, outlandish candidate wins the GOP nod. Specifically, they would be delighted to face off against Jim Jordan. Jordan is as Trumpy as it gets, and his support for the ex-president and the insurrectionists, not to mention allegations he looked the other way while sexual abuse took place during his time as assistant coach of the Ohio State wrestling team, may make him a bridge too far for moderate Ohio Republicans. He could be Kris Kobach, the sequel (except that Kobach did not have a sexual abuse scandal on top of his fire-breathing far-right rhetoric).

In any event, this race just jumped right to the top of everyone's watchlists. It's going to be just as interesting as the races in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. (Z)

...And Sarah Sanders Is In

For reasons that are unknown to us, former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made an effort, after leaving the White House, to downplay the "Huckabee" portion of her name. This was, for example, the subject of quite the edit war on her Wikipedia page. But she's not downplaying it anymore (see her Twitter account for an example). That may just have something to do with the fact that, as of Monday, she is running for governor of Arkansas, a job that her father Mike Huckabee held for over a decade, from 1996 to 2007.

Let us now review Sanders' qualifications for such a high elective office:

  • She's never run for, or won, any elective office prior to this.

  • She's an inveterate liar, from her claim that she heard from many FBI officers they were pleased by the firing of James Comey (this was later proven to be a complete fabrication) to her insistence that Stormy Daniels was never paid for her services to Donald Trump.

  • She has no problem using religion as a political weapon, when convenient, such as the time she claimed that God clearly wanted Trump to become president.

  • She has a great deal of experience appearing on various media outlets, if by "media outlets" you mean "Fox News."

  • She is comfortable using her office to punish perceived "enemies," such as when she pushed for a boycott of the restaurant that asked her to leave due to her work for Trump.

  • She's got no issue with mocking others' disabilities, such as the time she tweeted "I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I hhhave absolutely no idea what Biden is talking about," making fun of the then-candidate's stutter.

  • Her entire political career is pretty much based on the fact that she's got a famous name inherited from her father.

In short, Sanders is basically a female clone of Donald Trump, who has already endorsed her bid. And if there is anywhere that is going to work out just dandy, it's Arkansas, a state Trump won by 27 points both times he ran. That said, Sanders has some competition for the GOP gubernatorial bid, including Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge (but not Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is term limited). And the Trump brand is currently damaged, and could become more so depending on the impeachment and other sundry lawsuits and controversies. So, other folks who have "qualifications" similar to Sanders', but who are thinking about running in less Trumpy states, will be watching closely to see how she does. That list includes Lara Trump (aspiring U.S. senator from NC), Ivanka Trump (aspiring U.S. senator from FL), and Donald Trump Jr. (aspiring U.S. senator or governor from...well, whatever state he can find, possibly also FL). (Z)

Hawley Takes His Heel Turn

There was a time when Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) was the great white hope of the Republican Party (both literally and figuratively). He was, it seemed, Trumpy enough to appeal to the base, but respectable enough (as a clean-cut, intellectual former college professor) to appeal to the three-martini-lunch crowd. The possibility of a Trump-like presidential candidate, but one who is intelligent and is patient enough to play the long game, had some Democrats quaking in their Birkenstocks.

Thanks to Hawley's performance during the insurrection—most obviously, insisting on challenging the Pennsylvania returns just hours after the Capitol had been raided by insurrectionists—the "man for all factions" bit is over with. The three-martini folks would need something like 15 martinis, in close succession, to consider voting for him. So, Hawley has decided to go all-in on being Trump v2.0, knowing that while he can no longer be a face for the more moderate elements of the Republican Party, the base loves a good heel.

To start, Hawley has chosen social media companies as the subject of a one-man crusade. He penned an op-ed this weekend for that scion of quality journalism, The New York Post, in which he whined and moaned about how leftists insist on using Twitter, Facebook, etc. in an attempt to deprive him of his First Amendment rights. Here is his thesis:

Everyone knows what a credit score is. But social credit scores are new. They're the latest corporate import from Communist China, where government and big business monitor every citizen's social views and statements.

And they're the latest form of cancel culture in this country, as corporate monopolies and the left team up to shut down speech they don't like and force their political agenda on America. For those who still believe in free speech and the First Amendment, this is the time to take a stand.

Those clever foreigners (though we suspect that he accidentally typed "C-o-m-m-u-n-i-s-t-C-h-i-n-a" when he meant "C-a-n-a-d-a"). One might point out that Twitter, Facebook, etc. are private companies, and so are not subject to the First Amendment. One might also point out that, in opposing Hawley, his critics are exercising their own right of self-expression, the one he says he holds so dear. In any event, this crusade will also be the subject of Hawley's upcoming book, set to be published by a right-wing press after it was...wait for it...canceled by Simon & Schuster, the mainstream press he was originally contracted with.

Hawley is also the subject of an ethics complaint filed against him by seven of his colleagues, who argue that a U.S. senator should not be in the business of trying to overturn elections. So, Hawley has decided to respond with a bit of whataboutism, and has filed a counter-complaint, arguing that U.S. senators should not be in the business of saying mean things about other U.S. senators. "In light of the shameful abuse of the ethics process you have deliberately engaged in, I have considered whether I should call for you to resign or be expelled from the Senate," Hawley wrote. "But I continue to believe in the First Amendment, which the US Supreme Court has repeatedly said protects even 'offensive' and malicious speech, such as yours." Undoubtedly, with Chuck Schumer now running the Senate (see above), Hawley's complaint will be given careful consideration and a full hearing.

In any case, we believe two things here. The first is that, from a tactical perspective, going full Trump is the right choice, because it's all Hawley's got. He's too badly damaged to ever appeal to centrist/moderate Republicans again. And the second thing we believe is that it won't work. Trump barely won election the first time and he lost pretty clearly the second time, despite being able to command the fanatical devotion of the base. Even if Hawley manages to claim the Trump lane for himself in the 2024 presidential election, he won't be able to inspire the same level of cult-like loyalty. Plus, four years of further demographic change (and, quite probably, further damage to the Trump brand) will simply leave someone like Hawley with no viable path to victory in the general election. Heck, it might leave them with no viable path to the GOP nomination. (Z)

Dominion Sues Giuliani

It was only a matter of time, and now it has come to pass. Dominion Voting Systems (DVS), which already sued pro-Trump "lawyer" Sidney Powell for $1.3 billion, has now hit pro-Trump "lawyer" Rudy Giuliani for the same amount. In both cases, the claims are for defamation and deceptive trade practices and are in response to wild claims the two "lawyers" made to the effect that DVS voting machines were badly compromised during the election, something that the company likely did in cahoots with the nation of Venezuela.

The elements of defamation are as follows:

  1. A false statement purporting to be fact
  2. Publication or communication of that statement to a third person
  3. Fault amounting to at least negligence
  4. Damages, or some harm caused to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement

Clearly—since not one whit of evidence for Powell's/Giuliani's claims has been put forward—the first element has been met. And the two "lawyers" were on front pages (and webpages) across the country, so the second element has been met as well. The third is where most defamation/libel/slander cases fail; the wronged party has to prove that the person knew they were lying, or was so reckless in verifying their information as to be guilty of negligence. That should be no problem in this case, though; even if Powell/Giuliani claim they thought they were telling the truth, there was so much pushback against their claims—up to and including cease and desist letters from DVS and others—that they were at very least guilty of negligence in continuing to assert so many falsehoods. Fourth, and finally, there is pretty clear harm to DVS here, since confidence in their brand has been significantly undermined. In yesterday's court filing, they project losses of $200 million in the next five years as a result.

In short, Giuliani and Powell should be very nervous, because a defamation suit doesn't get much more slam-dunk than this. And even worse: DVS hasn't the slightest interest in settling. They know full well that the two "lawyers" don't have $2.6 billion, or $200 million, or anything close to it. So, the company's strategy is going to be to drag Giuliani and Powell through the mud, over and over, in hopes of completely discrediting them and saving the company's brand. And, in the process, they will take whatever portion of $2.6 billion the duo does have. In addition to the court case, one assumes DVS will aim for disbarment as well.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump—who already has plenty to worry about at night—should also be nervous. DVS has not ruled out suing him, and while he probably doesn't have $1.3 billion either, he has enough that a defamation suit could take a huge chunk out of his already overstretched rear end. And he's as guilty as Giuliani and Powell are, excepting that those two didn't broadcast their claims to 80 million people on Twitter, while Trump did. That, of course, was back in the days when the former president still had access to his Twitter account. In any event, this is a story that isn't going away anytime soon. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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