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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Senate Passes China Bill
      •  "Infrastructure, Act II" Has Commenced
      •  Senate Releases 1/6 Report
      •  Biden Judicial Nominee Confirmed
      •  McConnell Will Have His Say on 2022 Nominees
      •  Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2021 Gubernatorial Candidates
      •  It's Not EVERY Republican Governor

Senate Passes China Bill

As compared to domestic policy issues like abortion and guns, foreign policy issues are less likely to turn into partisan litmus tests. That's not to say it never happens with foreign policy; Republican politicians are pretty much required to be anti-Iran, and Democratic politicians are pretty much required to be pro-UN. However, even in these hyper-polarized times, there is considerably more room for agreement on foreign policy issues. And so, it's not entirely shocking that yesterday, the Senate managed to pass its bill meant to rein in China, 68-32. All of the Democrats, Sen. Angus King (I-ME), and 19 Republicans voted in favor while 31 Republicans and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against.

Despite this forward movement, we're still pretty far away from anything actually being signed into law, as the Senate bill has not been passed by the House. And while the members of the House generally agree that something needs to be done in response to China's growing power (and growing incursions on American power), they are not necessarily on board with the Senate's plan of attack. It appears that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will put forward a series of bills, rather than one omnibus bill. And progressives aren't thrilled with the Senate bill (hence Sanders' "nay" vote), so they're going to demand some key elements, like much stronger language on climate change than the Senate bill has.

In short, working with a razor-thin margin, Pelosi has to get legislation through the House. Then, it will be up to a conference committee to hammer out a compromise between the Senate bill and the House bill(s). Then, the Senate—where some progressives and some conservatives who voted "yea" on Tuesday have already expressed reservations—will have to pass the compromise bill, as will the House. So, there are a lot of steps left where this could turn sour. (Z)

"Infrastructure, Act II" Has Commenced

Maybe, just maybe, Congress will actually send a China bill to Joe Biden for his signature. We couldn't call it "probable" yet, but the signs are promising (see above). However, Biden does not seriously think that he and Senate Republicans will be able to agree on an infrastructure bill that is satisfactory to both sides. Still, there are many Americans, including at least one who represents West Virginia in the upper chamber, who tend to fetishize cooperation and bipartisanship. So, the President has to seem like he's trying to reach across the aisle before instructing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to ram a bill through using budget reconciliation.

In Act I of this little pantomime, the White House has primarily been talking to Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), who has been the point person for the Senate Republican conference. During this time, Biden has moved a fair bit from his original position, slashing $500 billion off his original $2.3 trillion ask, and also agreeing to change his approach to funding the package. Capito and her colleagues have moved very little; even their latest offer is $700 billion short of what Biden wants, and includes just $250 billion in new funding. This is not a good faith offer; if a boss is buying a used car from his employee, and the car has an asking price of $10,000, the boss is not going to get the deal done if he says "I'll give you $1,500 plus this month's paycheck, so that's $4,000. Deal?"

On Tuesday, the White House announced that Biden is done talking to Capito, and that he will now move on to discussions with the "Gang of 20," a group of 10 Republican senators and 10 Democrats who, if they reach consensus (and if they are joined by the other 38 Democrats and the two independents), would have enough GOP votes to kill a filibuster. And so, the curtain goes up on Act II.

We suppose that it's not impossible that something comes of the discussions between the White House and the Gang of 20, but the odds are strongly against it. The relationship between Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats right now is very poor, and the infrastructure bill is one of the major sources of tension. And there are two specific sources of disagreement that are basically dealbreakers for both sides: (1) Democrats want corporate America to foot the costs by paying more taxes and Republicans are adamantly opposed to that, and (2) Democrats want to spend money on "soft" infrastructure like daycare and other social services and Republicans are only interested in spending on "hard" infrastructure like roads and bridges and wiring for broadband. Further complicating things is that Republicans suspect, with good reason, that if they agree to a hard infrastructure bill, then that will pass with votes from both parties, and then the Democrats will pass a soft infrastructure bill through reconciliation.

If all of this is not enough, progressives in the Senate are growing restless, and both Biden and Schumer have promised that June will be a productive month. So, Act II may end very rapidly, with the White House then moving on to Act III, which involves figuring out exactly what Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is willing to vote for, and praying that he doesn't write any more op-eds for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. (Z)

Senate Releases 1/6 Report

When it comes to Jan. 6, 2021, who knows how much of the story of that day will be told? A special commission is still nominally on the table, as is a select House committee. The FBI is investigating, of course, as are a few of Congress' standing committees.

On Tuesday, two of those committees—the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee—released a joint report that sheds light on some aspects of that day. Here are the major findings:

  • Capitol police had ample warning—days and weeks in advance—that violence was a possibility on that day. However, due to poor intradepartmental communication, many key Capitol police officials did not receive this intelligence.

  • Once violence broke out on that day, the chief of the Capitol police—then Steven Sund, who has since resigned—was limited in his response by red tape. Specifically, he could not ask for National Guard assistance of his own volition, and needed approval from a three-person board.

  • The National Guard took far longer to show up than it should have. But whose fault is that? Everyone who spoke to the Senate committees pointed the finger at someone else.

  • Law enforcement officials, including the FBI, did not put as much stock as they should have in online chatter about a potential insurrection.

  • The crowd was out of control, and the officers on the scene were not all properly equipped or kept informed as to what was going on. It is remarkable that things did not turn out much worse than what actually happened.

So, some answers, but a lot of questions still remain. Further, in order that the report would have bipartisan support, a fair bit of whitewashing took place. Nowhere does the word "insurrection" or the name "Donald Trump" appear. Chuck Schumer, among others, was none too happy about this, complaining that "They almost assiduously avoided the words, two words, that are vital to finding out what happened on January 6th: 'Donald Trump.'"

Some Congressional Democrats want Schumer to bring the bill for a joint 1/6 commission to the Senate floor again in the hopes that, having learned more about the events of 1/6, another four Republicans will vote for cloture this time. Others think that if "bipartisan" means that certain subjects are off limits, it is probably better to just move forward with a process controlled by Democrats. Whatever happens, the chances that Congressional Democrats just drop the matter—which were already low—are now down to zero. (Z)

Biden Judicial Nominee Confirmed

It took a while, but the federal judiciary now has its very first Joe Biden appointee. Making it through the obstacle course that is the U.S. Senate, Julien Xavier Neals was confirmed by a vote of 66-33 to be U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey. Not long thereafter, Regina Rodriguez joined Neals on the judicial rolls by a vote of 72-28. She's headed to Colorado to serve as a district judge there.

It is no coincidence that Neals was the first to come up for a vote, since he was previously nominated to a seat on the federal bench by Barack Obama, and then saw his nomination end up in the same desk drawer as Merrick Garland's. In other words, confirming him was a bit of a poke in the eye of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. There are still 80 more vacancies to fill, and Chuck Schumer and Biden have pledged to put the pedal to the metal and get folks seated in all of them. Of course, many Democrats would really, really like to see that number of vacancies increase by one, by virtue of a certain 82-year-old who sits on the highest court deciding to call it a career. So far, he's not given any indication that he's interested in relocating to the old judges' home.

One imagines that the seat that California district judge Roger Benitez vacated when he assumed senior status has just jumped to the top of Schumer's and Biden's judicial to-do lists. Benitez is a George W. Bush appointee who received the somewhat rare assessment of "unqualified" from the ABA when he was tapped. He got his commission nonetheless and, like many judges who have assumed senior status, is still hearing some cases. Last week, he struck down California's ban on assault weapons, issuing a decision that helps illustrate why the ABA was not enthused with him as a candidate. He decreed that AR-15-style rifles are comparable to Swiss army knives, that COVID-19 vaccines kill far more people than mass shootings, and that assault weapons are an important tool for preventing rapes.

Benitez has long had a reputation as a fellow who doesn't have both oars in the water. He'll be assigned the occasional case for as long as he wants, but the quicker that his spot, and the other five open seats in Southern California, are filled, the fewer the number of cases that will be available for him to mangle. (Z)

McConnell Will Have His Say on 2022 Nominees

Donald Trump thinks that the Republican Party belongs to him. He's not entirely wrong about this. However, it's also Mitch McConnell's party. And unlike Trump, McConnell is still in office, and also has access to social media. So, the Minority Leader has a say in things, too.

One of the biggest differences between the nation's two most powerful Republicans is their goals when it comes to endorsing and supporting candidates for office. McConnell cares about power, both for himself and for the Party. A candidate could insult the Minority Leader's wife, kick his dog, and spit on his mother's grave, and McConnell would still back that candidate if he believed that person was the most electable Republican available. Trump cares about massaging his ego and about score-settling. He picks candidates based on how enthusiastically they kiss the ring, and whether or not they have the same enemies he does.

In view of this, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which largely takes its marching orders from McConnell, said this week it will "review" Trump's endorsements, and may back candidates other than those that he favors. This was prompted, in particular, by The Donald's endorsement of Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) for the open North Carolina U.S. Senate seat. The Representative definitely knows how to kiss some Budd (or something like that), but he might not be the most electable fellow in the purplish Tar Heel State. The NRSC hasn't thrown its weight behind some other candidate yet, but they might.

Truth be told, the NRSC would prefer to stay neutral during the primaries, consistent with Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment of politics: "Thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans." But that would require Trump to stay neutral and keep his mouth shut, and those are two settings he does not have. Of course, this only gets interesting if (1) McConnell and Trump disagree on a significant number of candidates, and (2) one of the two backs considerably more winners than the other. If those two things do happen, then it will give some indication of whose party it really is. (Z)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2021 Gubernatorial Candidates

Not counting California, which will have a jungle-style general election that only matters if Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is also recalled on that day, there are just two states with gubernatorial elections in 2021: New Jersey and Virginia. And, as of Tuesday night, we know who the major-party candidates will be in both states.

Let's start with Virginia, which does not have term limits, per se, but does bar governors from serving consecutive terms. Former governor Terry McAuliffe (D), who served from 2014-18, decided he wanted his job back. And on Tuesday, the majority of the state's Democrats voted to give him that opportunity, as he took 62.3% of the vote. That easily outdistanced second-place finisher Jennifer Carroll Foy (19.8%) and third-place finisher Jennifer McClellan (11.6%). Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) was also running, and he finished with a dismal 3.5% of the vote. It would seem that the sexual assault allegations lodged against him in 2019 were career-killing after all.

McAuliffe will face off against Republican Glenn Youngkin, who was tapped by the state party at its "convention" on May 10 (participants were in 39 different locations, and participated remotely). Youngkin has no experience in elective office; his main qualification is that he's wealthy and can self-fund. He was not the Trumpiest primary candidate, but was pretty Trumpy, and in particular went all-in on the notion that the election was stolen from the former president. Since landing the nomination, Youngkin has tacked pretty aggressively toward the center.

McAuliffe is the overwhelming favorite here. There is some folk wisdom that the Virginia governor's mansion goes to whichever party does not hold the White House. That has held true for more than 30 years, with just one exception. However, just because a pattern is interesting and noticeable doesn't necessarily mean it's predictive. Further, that one exception was...Terry McAuliffe, whose first election came during the Barack Obama years. Anyhow, the former governor has near-universal name recognition, is an absolute machine when it comes to fundraising, can get out his contact list and get any Democrat in the country to campaign for him, and is a pretty good fit for blue-but-not-CRAZY-blue Virginia. Meanwhile, Youngkin is a mediocre candidate who is about to show us that there is no semi-Trump lane. Either you're all-in, or you're all-out.

Moving on to New Jersey, that race also had only one open slot heading into yesterday, although it was on the other side of the aisle. And in the Republican primary, former state assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli won his party's nomination easily, taking 49.2% of the vote, followed by pastor Philip Rizzo with 26.2% and engineer Hirsh Singh with 21.4%. Rizzo and Singh are both political unknowns with no experience in elective office, and both ran fanatically pro-Trump campaigns. Ciattarelli ran a Never Trump campaign and, given that he not only won but he outpolled the two Trumpers combined, it's something of a black eye for the former president.

Ciattarelli will face off against Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who scared off all comers when he announced his reelection bid and so was not subjected to a primary. New Jersey hasn't reelected a Democrat since 1977 (Brendan Byrne), but that looks like another interesting-but-not-instructive pattern to us. Of far greater importance is the fact that New Jersey voters definitely have a taste for moderate Republican governors, having sent Chris Christie to the governor's mansion twice this century. That said, the state is pretty blue, and Murphy is an incumbent with name recognition and a large war chest. His approval rating is also in the mid-to-high 50s. So, he's certainly the favorite, at least at the moment. That said, it's a long time until Election Day (Nov. 2), and he's certainly much more likely to be knocked off than McAuliffe in Virginia. (Z)

It's Not EVERY Republican Governor

As long as we're talking about governors named Phil, we will pass along the news that Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT) just signed a bill that expands voting rights in the Green Mountain State. Specifically, Vermont will join Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington in sending out mail-in ballots to all registered voters, and will also allow people to "cure" ballots that are defective in some fashion.

Scott thus becomes the rare (unique?) Republican governor who believes voting should be made easier, not harder. He will immediately become a useful example for Democrats as they argue for greater ballot access, and try to make the case that it isn't (or shouldn't be) a partisan issue. On the other hand, Joe Manchin just became a useful example for Republicans as they make the other side of that argument. So, that basically means that the two men cancel each other out, and the status quo remains intact. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun08 Deus Ex Manchin
Jun08 Unemployment Benefits Will Soon End in Many States (Most of Them Red)
Jun08 Obama Speaks Out
Jun08 Legal Blotter, Part I: Whose DoJ?
Jun08 Legal Blotter, Part II: Everybody's Talkin'
Jun08 Legal Blotter, Part III: Nice Try, Matt
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