• Biden Administration Clears Up Vaccine Promises...
• ...And Otherwise Remains Busy...
• ...But Life Is About to Get Harder
• Murkowski Won't Switch Parties
• Democrats' Ace in the Hole?
• About that Trump Presidential Library...
In just under two weeks, Donald Trump will become the first president to face a second impeachment trial. And although he may no longer have his favorite MAGAphone to rally the troops with, the troops know full well what he wants here. And so, they are rallying themselves, with the result that the Donald has to feel very good about his chances of acquittal.
We begin with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who sometimes pretends to be an independent-minded libertarian, and who occasionally acts like an independent-minded libertarian, but who is really Kentucky's answer to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). That is to say, a lot of stunts and grandstanding, and lips firmly attached to Trump's keister. On Tuesday, Paul reached into his well-worn bag of parliamentary tricks, and tried to force a vote on the question of whether or not it is constitutional to try someone who is no longer in office. The vote failed 55-45, with GOP Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mitt Romney (UT), Ben Sasse (NE), and Pat Toomey (PA) joining the 50 Democrats/independents to kill the motion.
Although his motion was voted down, Paul got exactly what he wanted, as 45 Republican senators have now gone on record as saying that the entire exercise is unconstitutional. Obviously, there are some Republican senators who are rather famous for saying one thing and then doing the opposite (ahem, Lindsey Graham), but it's hard to see how any of those 45 can now vote for conviction. That's certainly how the Kentucky Senator saw it; after the vote he decreed: "If you voted that it was unconstitutional, how in the world would you ever vote to convict somebody for this? This vote indicates it's over. The trial is all over."
And it is not just members of the Senate who are maneuvering on Trump's behalf. As expected, Arizona Republicans voted this weekend to formally censure three prominent members of the Party who refused to back Trump's effort to overturn the election results in that state: Cindy McCain, former senator Jeff Flake and Governor Doug Ducey. In Oregon, the state GOP voted to condemn the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment, and also to officially declare the Capitol Insurrection to be a false flag operation staged for the purpose of embarrassing Republicans. And in the House of Representatives, the colleagues of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), the Chair of the House Republican Conference and the most prominent member to vote for impeachment, are plotting to remove her from her leadership role.
What it amounts to is that the "excise Trump" forces within the Republican Party were either too small in number, or moved too slowly, to seize control of this thing. On the other hand, the "Trump is God" forces settled on a narrative (trying someone when they are out of office is not constitutional), and they rallied the troops, making clear that any Republican who votes against Trump will pay a price. And that is clearly enough to get all Senate Republicans, excepting those who already committed to voting for conviction, to fall in line.
At this point, there are only two conceivable possibilities for Trump being convicted by the Senate, and both of them are remote. The first is that the impeachment managers put on a heckuva case, either calling insurrectionists to testify that they were specifically acting in response to Trump's words, or revealing something not yet known, along the lines of "Trump ordered the National Guard to back off for two hours, specifically to allow the rioters to proceed without opposition." If the President's culpability is underscored in a manner that it's politically difficult to ignore, then maybe some Republican senators jump ship and vote to convict in a trial that, remember, they've already deemed to be unconstitutional.
The other possibility is that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decides that Trump has gotta go, and this is the best time and place to do it. In that event, he might be able to whip another 12 votes for conviction, presumably focusing on members who, like him, are not up again until 2026. But the fact that the Minority Leader supported Paul's maneuvering on Tuesday suggests that he is not ready to challenge the throne quite yet.
In the likely event that the Democrats do not get a conviction, they will probably have to be satisfied with three things: (1) a likely motion of censure against the president, (2) an ongoing divide in the Republican Party, and (3) deploying "Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Ron Johnson, etc. apparently have no issue with people trying to overthrow the government" as a weapon in 2022's midterm races. (Z)
On Monday, the Biden administration made several pronouncements about future COVID-19 vaccinations. Those pronouncements were a bit sloppy (leading us to write a sloppy item about vaccinations yesterday). When it comes to projecting what will happen on the vaccination front, there are all sorts of issues that can create confusion:
- There is a literal 100% difference between "1.5 million vaccinations per day" and "1.5 million people vaccinated per day,"
since the latter accomplishment requires two shots, and thus 3 million shots in total.
- It is unclear whether children are included in projections, since the vaccines have not been approved for use on people
- It is not known what percentage of the population will need to be inoculated in order to achieve herd immunity. Could be
as little as 70% or as much as 95%.
- Finding the necessary number of vaccine doses, around 600 million, is no small feat, especially since there is a wee bit
of worldwide demand right now.
- Nobody really seems to have thought very hard about what will be done when all the voluntary vaccine recipients are taken care
of, and it's time to move on to the anti-vaxxers and other resisters.
- The Trump administration left something of a mess behind.
On Tuesday, the White House did a fair bit to clean up Monday's sloppiness, and to set a clearer course going forward. To start, Press Secretary Jen Psaki apologized for any confusion or disappointment. She said that Monday's stated goal of 1.5 million vaccinations/day—which is very low, particularly if we're talking shots per day rather than vaccinated people per day—was just a short-term target, and not a ceiling. Later in the day, Joe Biden himself went much further, announcing the purchase of an additional 200 million vaccine shots, and projecting that the government will be in a position to vaccinate 300 million people by the end of summer.
That is a very bold promise, though the careful reader will note that Biden did not actually promise that 300 million people will be vaccinated, merely that the federal government will be in a position to do so. This neatly sidesteps, at least for now, the problem of people who refuse to be inoculated even when vaccinations for them are available.
It's unfortunate that the administration dropped the ball a bit here, but at least they admit when they screw up and they try to do better, which is a change. And obviously, the great majority of Americans are rooting for the administration to hit this one out of the park, and will certainly forgive a little rockiness at the beginning as long as there's a good result at the end. (Z)
COVID-19 isn't the only thing the Biden administration is working on right now, even if it's the most pressing thing. On Tuesday, there were a number of non-vaccine related goings-on at the White House. Most notably, the President issued a handful of executive orders meant to encourage greater racial equality. Specifically:
- An order requiring HHS to examine Trump-era policies that made it harder to win a discrimination case
- An order telling the Dept. of Justice not to renew its contracts with privately owned prisons
- An order reaffirming Native American tribal sovereignty
- An order denouncing anti-Asian xenophobia, which has spiked due to COVID-19 and the use of the term "China virus"
Civil Rights groups largely saw Tuesday's actions as a step in the right direction, but a small one. They want more, and point out that there is a limit to how much can be accomplished with executive orders. Biden is happy to accommodate them, at least to an extent, but the Congress and/or finding the necessary funds may prove significant obstacles.
In addition, the White House announced Tuesday that it will reopen ACA exchanges, because so many people have lost their insurance due to the pandemic. This move is three-for-the-price-of-one, as far as the administration is concerned. It helps address the problem it's supposed to address. It also pokes Donald Trump in the eye, since his administration did everything possible to reduce enrollment. And finally, it strengthens Obamacare, which is one of Biden's main goals for his administration.
And finally, the administration didn't have much to do with this, other than making the nomination, but Antony Blinken was confirmed as Secretary of State on Tuesday by a vote of 78-22. That means that the triumvirate of key national security posts: DNI, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State are now filled by permanent officers. (Z)
Thus far Joe Biden, in an effort to hit the ground running, has made aggressive use of his powers as the leader of the executive branch of the government. Since he spent 8 years in the Obama White House and another 40 years at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, he knows well how to operate this particular puppet.
That said, and as you may have heard, there are actually two other branches of the federal government. Biden can't avoid them forever, and they won't easily yield to his influence the way the executive branch does. Less than a week into his term, the President got a reminder that the judicial branch exists, and is staffed with many people who don't see eye-to-eye with him. Specifically, Judge Drew Tipton, a Donald Trump appointee, in response to a suit filed by Texas AG Ken Paxton, issued a restraining order against one of Biden's very first executive orders, one that ordered a 100-day moratorium on deportations. "The January 20 Memorandum not only fails to consider potential policies more limited in scope and time, but it also fails to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations," Tipton wrote in his decision.
Many outlets are framing this as the first Biden-era victory for the GOP to result from the Republican strategy of stacking the courts with arch-conservative judges. Maybe so, or maybe Tipton was just ruling on the merits of the case, as he saw them, and an Obama judge or a Clinton judge would have reached the same conclusion. Generally speaking, judges of all stripes don't love it when big-time policy changes are implemented very rapidly. Either way, it's a reminder that the courts are sometimes going to be a thorn in Biden's side, just as they were sometimes a thorn in Trump's side.
And then there is the legislative branch. Biden hasn't had to deal with Congress too much, as yet, but the day is coming. The House isn't too much of a problem, since there's no filibuster there, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is so good at whipping that she could take over as Indiana Jones when Harrison Ford retires. The Senate is a real problem, though. As CNN's Harry Enten points out, the general sense that Congress is highly polarized is backed up by the numbers. 51% of Democrats now identify as "liberal" or "very liberal," and 78% of Republicans now identify as "conservative" or "very conservative." Almost all voters live among and associate with like-minded folks. As a result, voters tend to support representatives and senators who adhere rigidly to the party line, and tend to turn against representatives and senators who cross the aisle.
Even worse for the current White House, a big part of the Republican party line these days is that Biden is an illegitimate president who won the election through fraudulent means. A staggering 81% of Republicans believe that. Under those circumstances, working with Biden on anything will be perceived as a betrayal by many GOP voters. And so, the possibility of singing kumbayah and returning to the reasonably cooperative Senate of Biden's early career appears to be remote. Once again, all roads lead back to the filibuster: Will the 50 Senate Democrats/independents all conclude that killing it is their only option and, if so, how long will it take to reach that conclusion? Until then, the Senate is likely the Great Wall of Republicanism. (Z)
A couple of weeks ago, there was much scuttlebutt that Lisa Murkowski was thinking seriously about becoming an independent and caucusing with the Democrats. This weekend, she said that she has no idea how that got out, and that she's certainly not going to switch. "As kind of disjointed as things may be on the Republican side, there's no way you can talk me into going over to the other side, that's not who I am," the Senator declared.
That sounds pretty much like the Full Sherman; assume Murkowski means it until presented with evidence to the contrary. That said, she may feel differently if the next six months are spent gridlocked, particularly if she's offered a mountain of pork to help break that gridlock. The problem is bad enough that it caused Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to throw in the towel without even waiting to see what the next six months bring.
There is another sticking point that can't be lubricated no matter how much oil you put on it. Her state floats on oil. It is the basis of the Alaskan economy. She feels about oil the way Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) feels about coal. Getting her to caucus with a party that wants to phase out oil is going to be rough.
That said, Murkowski is up in 2022, and she's consistently supported the impeachment of Donald Trump (including voting with the Democrats on Tuesday's procedural measure). If her internal polls tell her she's not going to win reelection as a Republican, but she might win as an independent, she could quickly revisit her feelings on the question of switching parties. That is basically what happened with Jim Jeffords, the last person to break a 50-50 Senate tie by switching sides. So, this story might not be done yet. We'll see. (Z)
We are fans of information about loopholes, end runs, and other slick moves that can be exploited to get things done in Washington. And, based on the mailbags, we know that readers are too. So, in that vein, we note this piece from Slate's Keshav Poddar about how Congressional Democrats can Supreme Court-proof some of the legislation they pass this term.
What Poddar proposes, though he doesn't use the exact term, is the insertion of "poison pill" provisions in the bills passed by Congress. The general idea is that Congressional Democrats enact something that might run into opposition from conservative activists, politicians, and judges, and in that legislation include a "backup" provision that comes into effect if the main provision is struck down. For example, a bill imposing a 2% wealth tax (which might or might not be legal) would have a backup provision increasing marginal tax rates on top earners to 80% (which, while aggressive, is clearly within Congress' power under the terms of the 16th Amendment and is lower than the 91% top rate during the 1950s). Anyone tempted to sue to overturn the wealth tax, and any judge or justice who is tempted to overturn the wealth tax, would have to think long and hard about whether or not an 80% rate on top earners is a good trade-off.
It is an interesting proposal, but there are some issues here:
- As Poddar himself acknowledges, the whole "backup provision" technique has never been used, and so has never been
tested in court. John Roberts & Co. could find a way to declare the technique itself unconstitutional.
- It's hard to see how any legislation is going to get through the Senate this term, poison pill or not.
- To the extent that Democrats can get legislation passed, they are going to need to keep nearly their entire
caucus unified. Tricky stuff like this is likely to make the Sen. Joe Manchins (D-WV) and Rep. Elissa Slotkins (D-MI) of
the world skittish.
- Rival politicians have a nasty habit of taking bits of legislation out of context and wielding them as weapons. "The Democrats raised income taxes on some Americans to 80%," they will say, even if that is not technically true.
All of this said, given the hand they've been dealt, Democrats are going to have to spend the next two years getting creative. So, something like this is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. (Z)
This weekend, we ran a letter from G.W. in Dayton, OH, that included a message from a NARA administrator on the future Trump presidential library. Those folks have to be prepared for anything, including the possibility that there will be no actual library at all. And so, the message concludes with the note that, "Regardless of whether a former President decides to build and donate an archival research facility and museum to NARA under the Presidential Libraries Act, we maintain the collection of Presidential records created by the administration as a Presidential Library."
Writing for Politico, Anthony Clark—a former congressional staffer, and author of The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity and Enshrine Their Legacies, which is the definitive book on presidential libraries—expresses his view that, more likely than not, there will be no Trump library.
Here are some of the major issues that Clark foresees:
- Money: Presidential libraries are really, really expensive, since they not only require
land and a structure, but also an endowment to help cover operating costs. The bill would certainly run into nine
figures, and possibly into ten. This demands prodigious fundraising, and fundraising that usually begins while the
president is still in office, since ex-presidents are far less able to attract dollars than sitting presidents. There is
no evidence that Trump started raising library money while he was still in office, nor does it seem likely he can scrape
together the necessary funds now that he's out of office. Further, every dollar raised for the library is pretty much
one dollar less for his PAC/slush fund, and everyone knows what his priorities are.
- Money, Part II: If Trump does try to raise the money, he has to do it under the auspices
of a non-profit created for that purpose. As you may have heard, he's not so good at running non-profits and adhering to
the rules. And in New York, he's already on—in effect—non-profit probation.
- Land: It's hard to find a site for a presidential museum. If you put the museum where
people are, the land gets very expensive, and locals push back against the extra traffic. If you stick it in the
boondocks, on the other hand, nobody shows up. Sometimes a university will step in, but there aren't many universities
out there, if any, that have the means to host a presidential library and the inclination to be permanently
associated with Trump.
- Optics: Fundraising for, and opening, a library is the capstone to a presidential career. If Trump goes in that direction, it is tantamount to announcing, "my political career is over." That does not align well with his current goals, which are either to run for president again in 2024, or else to raise money/accrue power based on the possibility that he might run in 2024.
Another problem—one that Clark does not address specifically—is that it's hard to believe Trump actually wants the library portion of a presidential library. What value does he place on pointy-headed academics being able to research his presidency? Anything they write will be "unfair...totally, totally unfair" anyhow. And there are probably at least a few documents—or maybe a few thousand—that Team Trump would prefer to remain unseen.
On the other hand, the museum portion of a presidential library is right up Trump's alley. So, it wouldn't be too surprising for him to tell NARA to do what they want with their silly paperwork, and to open up a for-profit venture that includes a Trump museum (with "history" told Trump's way), plus maybe a Cracker Barrel, and a casino, and a mini golf course. Something like this. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan26 ...And So Has the Senate...
Jan26 ...and the Supreme Court, Too
Jan26 Portman Is Out...
Jan26 ...And Sarah Sanders Is In
Jan26 Hawley Takes His Heel Turn
Jan26 Dominion Sues Giuliani
Jan25 Second Impeachment Trial Could Be Different from First One
Jan25 Durbin Is Open to Scrapping the Filibuster
Jan25 Biden's Cabinet Does Not Look Like Cabinets Past
Jan25 State Election Officials Are Taking Guidance from the 2020 Election
Jan25 The Rio Grande Valley Will Be a Battleground in 2022
Jan25 Business Sucks: The Sequel
Jan25 You Can't Please All of the People All of the Time
Jan25 Election Action is in Louisiana
Jan25 Republicans Who Voted to Impeach Trump Are Already Facing Primary Opponents
Jan25 Trump Wants to Start a New Party
Jan24 Sunday Mailbag
Jan23 Saturday Q&A
Jan22 Biden Declares War
Jan22 Biden Slowly Staffs Up
Jan22 About that Unity...
Jan22 The Impeachment Dance Continues
Jan22 Biden Inaugural Address: The Reviews Are In
Jan22 Turns Out Biden's Was Bigger than Trump's, After All
Jan22 QAnon Believers Can't Figure out What Went Wrong
Jan21 My Whole Soul Is in It
Jan21 Being Biden's Speechwriter Is No Fun at All
Jan21 Biden Took 17 Executive Actions on Day 1
Jan21 Maybe It's Worse Than Biden Expects
Jan21 Trump Loyalist Burrows Inside the NSA
Jan21 Dear Successor
Jan21 Democrats Stage DNC v2.0
Jan21 How Can Biden Unify the Country?
Jan21 Harris Swears in Three New Senators
Jan21 Cheney Has a Challenger Already
Jan21 Support for Trump Is Already Starting to Crumble
Jan20 Today's the Day
Jan20 Great Inaugural Addresses of Presidents Past
Jan20 Joe and Kamala's Infinite Playlist
Jan20 Trump Pardon List Is Long on Sleaze, Short on Risk
Jan20 Good News, Bad News for Trump on Impeachment Front
Jan20 Senate Takes Shape
Jan20 How Will History Remember Trump?
Jan19 The Final Countdown Is Underway...
Jan19 I Beg Your Pardon?
Jan19 Schumer, McConnell Close to a Deal on Power Sharing
Jan19 Biden Embraces Some Progressive Priorities
Jan19 Fox News in Decline
Jan19 Parler Is "Back"