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Political Wire logo Democrats Agree on $3.5 Trillion Budget Reconciliation
McAuliffe Holds Small Lead for Virginia Governor
Inside the Secret Plan for the Texas Democratic Exodus
Greg Abbott Could Get Burned as Democrats Flee
Iranian Operatives Planned to Kidnap a Brooklyn Author
Judge Throws Out Roy Moore’s Lawsuit

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  East Bound and Down
      •  Infrastructure Reconciliation Bill Picks Up Speed
      •  Who Is the Biggest Threat to Abbott?
      •  California Voters Will Just Have to Guess...
      •  Who Will Replace Eric Garcetti?
      •  Edwin Edwards (1927-2021); Donald Rumsfeld (1932-2021)

East Bound and Down

In the movie that gave us that song, the folks fleeing the long arm of the Texas law were headed to Atlanta. By contrast, the Democrats in the Texas legislature actually hightailed it yesterday to Washington, DC. Also, they used chartered jets, and not a Trans-Am. Nonetheless, we think it's fair to say they were channeling the spirit of The Bandit.

At issue, of course, is Texas voting law. The legislature has been called back into special session by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to try to do what the Democrats said couldn't be done during the regular session, and to implement new and myriad ways of making it harder for (certain) people to vote. As they are in the minority, and as Texas Republicans have no interest in compromise, the only thing at the Democrats' disposal is parliamentary trickery. So, they fled the state, which means the legislature will not have a quorum, at least for as long as they are gone.

The current plan is to spend a week in Washington meeting with various stakeholders, including members of Congress, and also lobbying on behalf of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. In other words, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are about to get many earfuls (earsful?), Texas-style, about how it's time to change or kill the filibuster. Joe Biden may just hear from them, as well.

Exactly what the Texas Democrats plan to do—beyond this week—is unclear. The special legislative session lasts 30 days, of which 3 have elapsed. So, if they remain on the lam for another 3½ weeks, they could frustrate their Republican colleagues once again. That's not so easy for them on a personal level, though. Given the Southern (and Texan) belief that governance is a part-time job, these folks have jobs and families that they have been compelled to temporarily abandon.

On top of that, Abbott can always call another special session, and another, and another. And even if the Texas Democrats are willing to spend months (or more) in exile, Texas Republicans are eventually going to get more aggressive. They could try to arrest the absent legislators and drag them back to Texas. Or, the red team could do something like unilaterally change the quorum rules. That would likely not be legal (because there is no quorum to do business) but good luck finding a court in Texas that would be willing to step in and void the move. Note that all 8 members of the Texas Supreme Court (one seat is currently vacant) are Republicans.

In short, Texas Democrats are making a short-term play. Maybe that means a week, and maybe it means a month, but all they are really doing is buying a little time. The only available long-term solution to their problems, as they see it, is action by Congress. Chris Turner, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, made this clear during an appearance on CNN yesterday. "You have to act, and you have to act now. There's no more waiting," Turner declared. "We need Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation to save our democracy because these Republican attacks will continue to occur, over and over again, in Texas and across the country."

That said, Democrats aren't the only ones who know how to generate some headlines. Hervis Rogers waited in line six hours to vote in last year's presidential election, and even made it on national TV as part of a CNN "this is how much people want to vote this year" story. He was on parole, though, and under Texas law, that means he was not eligible to cast a ballot. So, just before the special session of the Texas legislature began last week, he was arrested and charged with crimes that could send him back to prison for 20 years. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) did some peacocking, declaring "Hervis is a felon rightly barred from voting under Texas law ... I prosecute voter fraud everywhere we find it!" Translation: "We found one guy who accidentally committed voter fraud, in a manner that wouldn't be illegal at all in about half of the 50 states! He's also Black! Clearly we need to completely overhaul voting laws!"

It is possible that this story will take a few leaps forward today. Joe Biden will be in Philadelphia to give a speech on "the sacred, constitutional right to vote." Thus far, he's been fairly hands off when it comes to the voting rights legislation, and specifically when it comes to pressuring Manchin and Sinema on the filibuster. If ever the time was right to change gears in a big way, today would seem to be it. One way or another, we'll know just hours after this post goes live. (Z)

Infrastructure Reconciliation Bill Picks Up Speed

While voting rights legislation is currently stuck in the mud, the Democrats' big infrastructure bill appears to be headed for the fast lane. There were several notable developments on that front on Monday.

To start, Senate Democrats say they are very close to working out a package that is satisfactory to all segments of their caucus. The rumored outlay is somewhere between $3 and $4 trillion, and the source of those funds is...still under discussion. It goes without saying that a deal is not a done deal until it's actually a done deal. And we've been skeptical of past announcements that the other, bipartisan infrastructure bill is "almost done." That said, it's much easier to get 50 Democrats on the same page than it is to get 60 Republicans and Democrats there. It's possible that a bill that passes muster with Senate Democrats won't be satisfactory to House Democrats, though any member who tanks more than $3 trillion in spending on Democratic priorities would soon find themselves assigned to the House Select Committee on Your Career Is Over. So, the House probably isn't too much of a hurdle.

And speaking of funding, the members of the blue team have made one decision on that front: They're going to make use of dynamic scoring as they attempt to make the budget workable (or, at very least, as they attempt to make the budget appear to be workable). Dynamic scoring is an accounting technique by which the projected financial gains from a particular piece of legislation are estimated and factored in, such that a bill that costs $1 trillion, but is expected to grow the economy by X amount, and thus to grow tax revenue by Y amount, is pitched to voters as only costing $1 trillion minus Y amount. Republicans have used dynamic scoring, multiple times, to declare their tax cuts (including the 2017 cuts) to be revenue neutral. Democrats have criticized the GOP use of dynamic scoring, since the tax cuts never actually generate the growth, and thus the tax revenue, promised. But now, the blue team is going to take the technique out for a spin. Some Republicans are already blasting the decision as hypocritical; readers can decide for themselves if this criticism is on target, or if things like new roads and bridges, or free community college, are more likely to generate economic growth than "trickle down" tax cuts.

Finally, while Joe Biden has largely left voting rights on the White House's back burner (see above), he's been much more assertive about an infrastructure bill. However, many Democratic leaders believe his messaging has been unfocused, and that he hasn't used his bully pulpit effectively to sell the legislation to the American people. And so, he's going to dust off his campaign slogan, and is going to start talking about how this is part of the plan to Build Back Better. The thinking is that when it comes to the "soft" parts of the infrastructure package (family leave, school tuition, etc.), framing them as a necessary part of recovery from the pandemic is more salable than decreeing "these things are just as important as roads and bridges." It's no "Happy Days Are Here Again" or "Morning in America," but that assessment seems sensible to us. (Z)

Who Is the Biggest Threat to Abbott?

On one hand, Texas has developed a habit of reelecting its Republican governors. George W. Bush was given a second term before moving on to bigger things, Rick Perry was given both a second and a third term, and Greg Abbott also won a second term. On the other hand, Abbott has not had a great second term, between the pandemic, and the meltdown of Texas' electrical grid, and a few other setbacks. This is why he is furiously trying to shore up his right-wing, Trump-loving bona fides with various stunts, like lobbying governors from other states to send troops to the Texas border, or calling the legislature into special session to deal with "voter fraud" (see above).

The Dallas Morning News wanted to know if, at this point in the race, Abbott is actually in any danger. So, they commissioned a poll in which respondents were asked about three possible challengers:

  1. Former state Sen. Don Huffines (R): Huffines is the only person on this list who has actually declared his candidacy. He's running to the right of Abbott, and claims that he's the true Trumpy candidate, and that he is the one who will shut down the border, eliminate election fraud, and slash taxes. It's probably just a coincidence that Huffines looks like he could be David Duke's younger brother.

  2. Beto O'Rourke (D): He has near-universal name recognition in Texas, is wildly charismatic, has Washington experience, and knows how to run a statewide campaign. On the other hand, he promised to ban assault rifles, which is like going to California and promising to ban In-N-Out Burger.

  3. Matthew McConaughey (D?): He is also charismatic, and also has wide name recognition. On the other hand, he's a political cipher with zero experience in elective office. He's undoubtedly in favor of legalizing pot, as he's a longtime enthusiast, but beyond that, who knows? Also, he was once arrested for nude bongo drum playing.

So, which of these three has a chance to knock off Abbott? While you ponder that, we will note that Allen West declared his candidacy too late to be considered for the poll. However, while he might be Trumpy, and he might be a military veteran, he's also kind of kooky, and he's a carpetbagger who was born in Georgia and represented Florida in Congress. So, we doubt West will poll very well versus Abbott. They also did not poll respondents about BlazeTV personality and stand-up comedian Chad Prather; we would rate him an even less serious candidate than West.

And now we will tell you that it is not Huffines whom Abbott needs to worry about. In a hypothetical matchup, Abbott wins 77% to 12%. That's a 65-point spread. In addition, Beto O'Rourke is not a threat, either. Democrats are unsure about the former congressman and independents like Abbott a little better, such that the Governor comes out on top in that pairing, 45%-33%. That means that, by process of elimination, McConaughey is the true contender, despite not having declared for the race. The poll has an Abbott-McConaughey matchup as a statistical dead heat, with the Governor leading by just 1 point, 39% to 38%. This confirms the findings of other polls of the race.

We doubt that McConaughey will run. And if he does, we doubt he will remain competitive, once he has to start adopting actual policy positions, and once he is under the harsh spotlight that would be pointed at him. However, these polls would appear to be telling us two things: (1) Abbott is vulnerable to the right Democrat, and (2) "the right Democrat" is not O'Rourke. If one of the Castro brothers (Julián or Joaquin, we mean, not Raúl or Fidel) jumps in, however, they could certainly make things interesting. (Z)

California Voters Will Just Have to Guess...

When Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is subjected to a recall on Sept. 14, he would really like his party identification to be noted on the ballot. Clearly, he feels a lot of his support comes from low-information voters who just look for the (D) and check the corresponding box. On Monday, however, Judge James P. Arguelles ruled that the law does not allow for that, and that Newsom's name will appear unadorned. Arguelles, in case you were wondering, is an appointee of former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (?-CA).

Meanwhile, the race to succeed Newsom, should he be recalled, got another candidate on Monday in the person of Larry Elder. We are not clear how well known he is outside of Southern California, but Elder is a Black, conservative talk radio host who bills himself as the "Sage of South Central" (a.k.a., the majority-Black part of L.A.). He should have no problem laying claim to Southern California's Black, conservative vote. Whether he collects a second vote remains to be seen. In other words, we don't see him as a serious candidate; he's surely doing this for the PR, since his radio show has been banished to a satellite service. Still, his entry into the race suggests that none of the other Republicans is lighting the world on fire. (Z)

Who Will Replace Eric Garcetti?

As long as we're on the subject of California politics, let us note that Los Angeles may soon need a new mayor. Since we've already given so much attention to the mayoral race in America's second most important city, it seems we should give at least a bit of coverage to what's happening in its most important city.

The current mayor, Eric Garcetti, has been tapped as the new ambassador to India. He's a longtime Biden ally, and had hoped for Mexico, but is suited for the India posting, since he once did extensive fieldwork in that nation. It will take some time for the Senate to consider the nomination, and they might withhold their assent, of course. However, the odds are that Garcetti will be booking his flight from LAX to DEL very soon.

If and when he goes, the race to replace him is likely to provide us with considerably less material than the New York City race did. The interim mayor will be Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez. She would become not only the first Latina to lead the city, but also the first woman, even if it's on an interim basis. It's true that Meredith P. Snyder served three different terms, but that was 125 years ago, when Meredith was a man's name. So, Martinez will definitely be the first.

By the terms of the city charter, the Council has two options. The first is to call a special election to fill the vacancy. However, that would cost $40 million, and by the time the process was completed, there would be less than a year left in Garcetti's term. There appears to be near-universal agreement, both within the Council and without, that $40 million is a bit pricey for 9-10 months of mayoring, even if it's first-class mayoring.

That leaves us with option #2. The Council is also empowered to choose a replacement mayor without the need for an election. This would seem to be the sensible choice. However, since several council members have their eyes on a 2022 run, they would prefer not to pick someone who would thus get a running start on getting themselves elected in their own right. So, it's almost certain to be a placeholder. A previous mayor, like Antonio Villaraigosa, is a strong possibility. So too are folks who tried for the mayor's office, came up short, and retired from politics, like former City Controller Wendy Greuel. Both of them are UCLA graduates, so the city would be in good hands. In any event, unless the City Council ends up in an all-out war over a replacement, there's not going to be much to see here. (Z)

Edwin Edwards (1927-2021); Donald Rumsfeld (1932-2021)

A little over a week ago, Donald Rumsfeld, who was both the youngest and the oldest Secretary of Defense in U.S. history, died. And yesterday, four-time Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards joined Rummy in the Great Beyond. They both appear to have succumbed to cancer.

Although the two men were of different parties, with Rumsfeld a Republican and Edwards a Democrat, they did have a fair bit in common. Both achieved political prominence in the 1970s, both reinvented themselves mid-career, and both had a second chapter that was as substantive as the first. They were both willing to play fast and loose with the rules, and both issued forth with famous quotes that we often borrow here. In Rumsfeld's case, that was "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns." And in Edwards' case, it was "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy."

That said, the two men were wildly different in terms of their personal and political styles. Rumsfeld, ever the Ivy Leaguer, was about as buttoned down as it gets. He did not intend to be quotable, it just happened sometimes. Behind the scenes, however, he was a conniving backstabber. George H. W. Bush didn't trust Rumsfeld one bit, and warned George W. Bush not to trust him either. Henry Kissinger, who was himself pretty conniving when he wanted to be, called Rumsfeld "the most ruthless man I ever knew." If Rumsfeld had a moral compass, it must have been broken, as he played a central role in orchestrating the Iraq War on false pretenses, and he also tolerated (or possibly encouraged) abuse and torture of prisoners of war. He even got caught using an autopen to sign letters of condolence to the parents of dead soldiers. Eventually, George fils concluded that George pere had been right, and Rumsfeld was cashiered. However, in marked contrast to Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Rumsfeld never once expressed regret for anything he did as Secretary. It is for all of these reasons and more that many of the obits of the former secretary, like this one, this one, and this one, described him as the worst Secretary of Defense the U.S. ever had.

Edwards, by contrast, was as charming and as folksy as the day is long. He was known for his gift of gab and his witticisms. The most famous of the latter was the "live boy or a dead girl" remark, but not far behind that was his potshot at opponent and former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (who somehow managed to get mentioned twice in today's posting). Never shy about his prowess with the ladies, Edwards decreed: "The only thing we have in common is that we both have been wizards beneath the sheets." He also worried that Duke might fall ill from smoke inhalation, due to having spent time "around so many burning crosses."

The Louisiana governor was often shady but, unlike Rumsfeld, he had a very clear sense of right and wrong (even if it wasn't one that computes for most people). Edwards got in trouble for taking illegal campaign contributions/bribes, and ultimately did significant time in prison for it (8 years). He always insisted that he had done no wrong, arguing that "It was illegal for them to give, but not for me to receive." Edwards also believed that the ends justified the means, and said that he always tried his level best to help the people that voted him into office (which is basically true). One recalls the Gilded Age political boss George Washington Plunkitt, who held forth about the virtues of "honest graft." Remarkably, in 2011, well after Edwards had been run out of office in disgrace, and had served nearly a decade in prison, 30% of respondents to a New Orleans Times-Picayune poll said he was the best governor of their lifetime.

Politicians like Rumsfeld were once commonplace...and they still are. Politicians like Edwards were also commonplace...but not anymore. Because of this, it is easy to take note of the debt that many prominent politicians today, including Donald Trump, owe to the Donald Rumsfelds and Richard Nixons and Joseph McCarthys that came before. It's easier to forget that Trump also took a major cue from the Edwin Edwardses, Jim Traficants, and Lawton Chileses of the world. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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