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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Deus Ex Manchin
      •  Unemployment Benefits Will Soon End in Many States (Most of Them Red)
      •  Obama Speaks Out
      •  Legal Blotter, Part I: Whose DoJ?
      •  Legal Blotter, Part II: Everybody's Talkin'
      •  Legal Blotter, Part III: Nice Try, Matt
      •  Legal Blotter, Part IV: No Mo Ducking Service

Deus Ex Manchin

It's been about 48 hours since Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) dropped the op-ed heard 'round the world, and yet he is still the talk of the town. That talk is, as you might imagine, overwhelmingly of the negative sort.

Shortly after the issue of the Charleston Gazette-Mail with the op-ed hit newsstands, the West Virginia Senator appeared on Fox News Sunday to discuss the matter with host Chris Wallace. Perhaps Manchin thought that was his best chance of finding a friendly audience on a Sunday morning. If so, he was disappointed, as Wallace was unimpressed with the logic of the Senator's position. The host observed that if Manchin really wants to get the Republicans to the bargaining table, then he should be threatening to kill the filibuster, not demanding that it be kept intact. As long as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) & Co. know for certain they have that in their back pocket, they can afford to be uncooperative. Wallace also wondered exactly how Manchin can hope for bipartisan agreement on anything, if even the 1/6 commission—something that many Republican senators said they supported as recently as a few weeks ago—went down in flames. "Aren't you being naive about this continuing talk about bipartisan cooperation?" the host asked. Manchin shrugged that off, criticized McConnell for "trying to block all the good things that we're trying to do for America," and said he plans to "continue working with my bipartisan friends."

Wallace was not the only one unimpressed with Manchin. Monday saw a number of "WTF? Joe" commentaries. Here are excerpts from a few of them:

  • Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine: "The internal contradiction of Manchin's position is summarized in the first two sentences [of his op-ed]. The first one establishes that the right to vote is fundamental: 'The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics.' But in the next line, he qualifies that this right can 'never' be protected in a partisan fashion: 'Least of all, protecting this right, which is a value I share, should never be done in a partisan manner.'

    "Here we have two values in conflict: the right to vote, and the evil of partisan voting laws. Manchin claims the first to be 'fundamental,' but if he is unwilling to violate the second value to secure it, then it clearly isn't.

    "Perhaps Manchin is implying that, in his hierarchy of values, bipartisanship trumps all else."

  • Matt Ford, The New Republic: "It's worth emphasizing that Manchin is, by his own admission, voting against the bill for purely aesthetic reasons. He does not offer a single genuine critique of the For the People Act. If Manchin expressed strong opposition to any of its major provisions—automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, stricter campaign-finance disclosure rules, strengthened ethics rules for the White House and the Supreme Court, and a ban on gerrymandering, to name a few—then his position would be more intellectually defensible. But his only stated rationale for opposing it is that Republicans also oppose it."

  • Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post: "It's time for Manchin to put up or share blame for Republicans' subversion of democracy. Let him come up with 10 Republicans for H.R. 4 and for a slimmed down H.R. 1. Let him find four more Republicans to support the Jan. 6 commission. If he cannot, then his thesis that the filibuster promotes debate and makes way for compromise collapses and his role in promoting the tyranny of the minority is laid bare."

As one might expect, given whom the voting restriction bills tend to target, Black commentators were particularly pointed in their criticism:

  • Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post: "Manchin did say he supports another proposed House bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would essentially restore provisions of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act forbidding some states to change election laws without obtaining preclearance from the Justice Department. The original preclearance rules were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

    "But Manchin wants this, too, to win bipartisan support. Unless Manchin changes his position on the filibuster, 10 Republican senators would have to cross the aisle and join with Democrats. So far, there is one—Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The other nine must be in some parallel dimension, visible only to Manchin, where all the leprechauns, tooth fairies and unicorns are hiding."

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY): "[Manchin] is not pushing us closer to bipartisanship. He is doing the work of the Republican Party by being an obstructionist, just like they've been since the beginning of Biden's presidency. [He is] the new Mitch McConnell."

  • Jemele Hill, The Atlantic: "This is so on brand for this country. Record number of black voters show up to save this democracy, only for white supremacy to be upheld by a cowardly, power-hungry white dude. Sen. Joe Manchin is a clown."

  • DNC Chair Jaime Harrison: "I know he wants to protect democracy, but there will be no democracy if we don't protect the rights to vote of all Americans, [but this] is not a both sides issue."

The Senator is, of course, being defended by folks on the right. Here are a couple of those:

  • Bonchie, "Of course, it was only a matter of time until the left started levying their favorite charge they use against anyone who disagrees with them. Namely, Manchin is now getting accused of white supremacy for not supporting the destruction of the Senate."

  • Former Ohio governor John Kasich: "All too often we only celebrate courage in the rearview mirror. Change agents like Martin Luther King Jr., Natan Sharansky and Dietrich Bonhoeffer—opposed by "the system" of their times—could attest to that. Developing the collective wisdom to close the gap between when courageous acts occur and when they're appreciated could save us all a lot of pain."

Because really, when you hear "Joe Manchin," isn't the first person you think of Martin Luther King Jr.?

Anyhow, Manchin's power play—whatever it is he's actually trying to accomplish—has, contrary to his stated goals, once again shone a harsh light on the filibuster. If you believe that 41 senators, representing a minority of Americans, should not be able to bring Congress to a halt, then surely it is worse that one senator, representing the state that is 40th in population, with just 0.5% of the nation's citizens, should be able to do so. If the filibuster did not exist, then the Democrats might be able to attract one or two or three Republican votes for H.R. 1 and/or H.R. 4, which would make the bill...wait for it...bipartisan. But there is virtually no chance of attracting 10 Republican votes for anything. And, as things are currently constituted, the filibusterers don't even have to own their obstruction, at least not on an individual level.

Just yesterday, we wondered exactly what was going on with Manchin, and what his real goal is. We're not any clearer on that today, but we can say one thing: Whatever game he is playing is a short-term game. At the moment, if he truly wants to affect the content of legislation, or he wants to lay claim to a mountain of pork, or both, he has enormous leverage in order to do so. However, that leverage is overwhelmingly likely to shrink (or vanish) in next November's elections. If the Democrats lose the House, or they lose the Senate, or they expand their majority in the Senate, his vote will be far less significant. Only in a 50/50 Senate, with a House under Democratic control, is he very possibly the most powerful member of the upper chamber.

And indeed, his leverage might not even last until next November. As we have pointed out, a senator could die or be compelled to resign. Or, a senator might be persuaded to switch parties. Given that Lisa Murkowski is apparently out of step with the modern GOP on many things, and that she's already persona non grata with Trumpublicans, and that she's going to appear on a ranked-choice ballot in 2022, she is a pretty obvious candidate to turn apostate. Indeed, it would be shocking if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) hasn't already had a chat or two with her about how everyone could benefit from her making a switch to "independent" and caucusing with the Democrats. OK, that would mean all the money for rural broadband would go to Alaska instead of West Virginia, the bridge to nowhere would get built, and all coal-powered electricity plants would be required to switch to domestic oil within 3 years, but that's politics for you.

Finally, it is also the case that Manchin is either going to be able to find a bipartisan course or he isn't. If, in the next month or so, he hasn't found 10 Republican senators willing to vote for some sort of voting rights bill, or some sort of infrastructure bill (that reflects at least some Democratic priorities), then the weakness of his position will be laid bare for all to see. And, at that point, he'll have to commit to a course of action, either (1) "I guess I was wrong about the possibility for bipartisanship" or (2) "If we can't have bipartisanship, then I would rather have no bills pass at all." Either way, this particular soap opera will presumably reach its climax and its resolution sometime this summer. (Z)

Unemployment Benefits Will Soon End in Many States (Most of Them Red)

As you have probably heard, there are many businesses that are trying to get back to normal, but are having trouble staffing up. Quite a few folks, most of them on the right, are blaming the extra unemployment benefits granted by the federal government in response to the pandemic. And so, Alaska, Arizona, Florida and Ohio will cut off the extra $300/week sometime in the next month. Meanwhile, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming will end all federal unemployment benefits in that same timeframe. The careful reader will notice that all of those states either have a Republican governor, or a Republican-controlled legislature, or, in most cases, both. There is no state where Democratic officeholders are taking the lead on this.

There have already been studies of this—a remarkably quick turnaround given the usually glacial pace of academic research—and they have consistently found that the higher unemployment benefits are not what is keeping people from returning to the workforce. For example, this analysis from Yale's Tobin Center for Economic Policy found that people receiving more generous unemployment benefits were actually slightly more likely to return to work when possible as compared to folks receiving less generous benefits.

If anything, the pandemic's main impact on the job market is not that it led to benefits that disincentivized work, but that it reoriented people's priorities in various ways. Most obviously, the single most dangerous profession during the pandemic was...line cook, where morbidity rates increased by 60%. Since the pandemic is not over, many workers in food service simply aren't willing to risk their lives by returning to work right now. Other people have reexamined the cost-benefit analysis of jobs that are not satisfying, or that require lengthy commutes, or that mean regular absences from children and impose high child-care costs.

So, the pandemic did not reveal that Americans are lazy, or that public benefits encourage them to be so. Indeed, it could be that the real lesson is that businesses have gotten too accustomed to too-cheap labor. Still, the politicians who run the 25 states listed above have concluded that the jobless benefits are the problem, and so need to be done away with. This might suggest that GOP policies aren't evidence-based, or maybe that they exist primarily (or solely) to benefit business interests, or possibly both. We leave it for the reader to ponder if we've hit the nail on the head, or if there is some other explanation we've overlooked. (Z)

Obama Speaks Out

Barack Obama has, most of the time, avoided the spotlight since leaving the White House. Unlike some ex-presidents, it's not really his style to share his opinions with everyone, every single day. Further, the 44th president tends to honor the custom that ex-presidents should be seen, and not heard. And finally, Obama knows full well that today's utterances from his mouth are sure to become tomorrow's propaganda on "Hannity" or "Tucker Carlson Tonight."

That said, he does not keep it zipped all the time. And yesterday, he sat for an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. Obama shared his views that the Republican Party has been compelled to adopt policy positions that "would be unrecognizable and unacceptable even five years ago or a decade ago," that the current trajectory of the Party began when Sarah Palin was tapped as John McCain's running mate, that much of the division is along racial lines, and also that "[The two parties] occupy different worlds. And it becomes that much more difficult for us to hear each other, see each other."

Some of Obama's sharpest criticism was reserved for certain, unnamed media outlets:

I also think that there are certain right-wing media venues, for example, that monetize and capitalize on stoking the fear and resentment of a white population that is witnessing a changing America and seeing demographic changes, and do everything they can to give people a sense that their way of life is threatened and that people are trying to take advantage of them.

We have absolutely no idea which outlets he might be talking about. Unfortunately, our staff media critic is on an Outdoor Adventure Network (OAN)-sponsored Fox-hunting trip with his friend who loves to read the News, Max.

We are not certain how much influence Obama might have over the next couple of elections if he decides to adopt a bigger, and more sharp-tongued, public persona. However, he does have a fair bit of influence with Black voters, and he also might be able to reach some Obama-Trump voters when others cannot. Consider him a wild card for now. (Z)

Legal Blotter, Part I: Whose DoJ?

Since Jan. 20, the Department of Justice has been under new management. But while many expected a dramatic break from the Trump-era DoJ, there has been a surprising amount of continuity, so much so that we wondered last week exactly what was going on. The past couple of days have provided two additional stories of this sort.

The first story involves E. Jean Carroll, who claims that she was raped by Donald Trump. While serving as president, he attacked Carroll several times in his characteristic style, claiming that she is lying, delusional, etc. The statute of limitations has run on the original, alleged crime, so she went after him for defamation instead. His argument is that his utterances were those of a public official, and thus immune to a defamation claim, while her argument is that he was speaking as a private citizen when he said those things.

On Monday, the Justice Department filed a brief with a federal appeals court that says it is bound to represent Trump, as much as it might prefer not to, given the defense that he has mounted. A judge has already rejected this argument once; if the appeal is denied, then the suit moves forward, and the DoJ can presumably wash its hands of the matter and Trump is on his own. However, if the appeal is sustained, then it means that the court agrees the former president was acting in his official capacity, which in turn would mean he was immune to a defamation claim. In that case, the suit would be dead in the water, and the Biden DoJ would be left with the not-so-good optics of having helped an accused rapist triumph over his alleged victim.

The second story, meanwhile, involves the always challenging relationship between the White House and the press. The Trump White House, of course, leaked like a sieve. And as part of its strategy for stopping those leaks, the Trump-era DoJ subpoenaed e-mail information and home, cell and office telephone records from several reporters who wrote stories based on anonymous sources. Shades of Richard Nixon, perhaps?

When news of this invasive behavior became public last month, Joe Biden reacted with outrage, describing it as an attack on the First Amendment, and declaring it to be "simply, simply wrong." However, according to an editorial from this weekend by Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan, the Biden DoJ not only continued the practice, but intensified it.

The White House isn't saying much about this story, though they have reportedly ceased the practice now that it's attracted so much negative attention. Exactly how Biden could wag his finger, and then keep on keepin' on, is unclear. Initially, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had no comment at all, and then later the administration issued a statement saying they were unaware of what was going on. That's a little hard to swallow, and it means that now we're on to shades of Ronald Reagan. Whatever the truth might be, the whole thing has a distinct odor to it, and that odor ain't strawberries and cream. (Z)

Legal Blotter, Part II: Everybody's Talkin'

Or, more accurately, everybody who has dirt on Donald Trump is talkin', specifically to New York prosecutors. This week, two more folks became potential entries for the witness list.

The first of these is porn star Stormy Daniels, who confirmed that her attorney has been in contact with the folks who are investigating the Trump Organization. She made clear that she really, really wants to testify against her former paramour. Speaking with CNN, she said:

I would tell them I was approached, I would tell them I have evidence the money came from an account set up at the direction of Donald Trump, I would tell them that money was traced back to Russian funds. I would give them copies of the bank wires and all of the transcripts for that... and I think anybody should be terrified that a normal citizen can take the fall for somebody in power.

Only Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. and New York AG Letitia James know exactly how interested they might be in Daniels' testimony. Given her line of work (fair or not), her outspoken anti-Trumpness, and the fact that she did knowingly participate in a crime, she could do more harm than good with a jury.

Meanwhile, presumably less enthusiastic than Daniels, but surely more important, is Senior Vice President and Controller of the Trump Organization Jeffrey McConney, who was subpoenaed over the weekend. McConney might not know as much about the Trump Organization's finances (and possible illegal activities) as CFO Allen Weisselberg, but he surely knows a lot. Further, McConney represents a different kind of pressure on Weisselberg. Prosecutors have already been going after the CFO's family, but now, by going after someone who knows a lot of the same secrets, they will dramatically increase the chances that if Weisselberg perjures himself, he'll be caught. At this point, even if he was at all tempted to lie (and there is no evidence he was), he's basically got no choice but to spill his guts. That means the only real question remaining is whether or not Weisselberg knows things that Trump would prefer the authorities not know. We are guessing that the decades-long Trump employee knows many such things. (Z)

Legal Blotter, Part III: Nice Try, Matt

This isn't exactly legal news, but it's legal news-adjacent. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), as you may have heard, is in a little bit of hot water with the feds. He hasn't been charged with any crimes yet, but it's almost certainly just a matter of time. And ever since his legal woes began to mount, Gaetz has been plotting his congressional exit strategy. That included reaching out to Newsmax looking for a job, and thus a change of career. The Representative denied that he talked to the right-wing cable channel, but on Monday Newsmax confirmed that he did inquire, and that they are not interested.

It is not common that someone gives up a seat in Congress for a cable TV job, particularly when the channel in question is second-tier, at best. However, a show on Newsmax would give Gaetz a daily platform to advocate for his innocence, and to paint himself as a victim of a justice system gone mad. Further, it would allow him to leave Congress voluntarily, as opposed to being forced to resign, or being tossed out by his colleagues. In short, he's acting like a man who knows he's in deep, deep trouble, and is trying to strategize his way through it. (Z)

Legal Blotter, Part IV: No Mo Ducking Service

This isn't all that important, but we do hate to leave things hanging. Last week, we noted that Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) is trying to sue Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Sr. and Jr., and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) for their actions leading up to and during the 1/6 insurrection, but that Swalwell was having trouble serving notice on Brooks. So, the California Representative had to ask federal judge Amit Mehta for more time (granted) and for help from the U.S. Marshals Service (not granted).

It turns out that Swalwell apparently didn't need Sam Gerard after all, as he was able to serve Brooks over the weekend. The Alabamian is furious, and took to Twitter to complain that the process server committed a number of crimes, including breaking and entering and trespassing. Swalwell denies it, of course. Given that Brooks also claims he could "easily" have been served at any of multiple dozens of public events, we think he might be speaking less than truthfully here.

Whether or not Swalwell's process server gets in trouble, the bottom line is that all four potential defendants have now been served. Three (Giuliani and the Trumps) have asked for the suit to be dismissed, and Brooks will surely join in making that request by the end of the week. The argument that Swalwell is making may be legally dubious, or maybe not, but either way, it's not especially complicated. So, it presumably won't take Mehta too long to decide whether or not the suit can continue. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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