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We Have a Deal...Or Maybe Not

"Infrastructure: A Comedy in Three Acts" has been playing on Pennsylvania Avenue for, what, 7 weeks now? And just over 24 hours after Joe Biden said he was done talking with Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and that he would move on to working with the "Gang of 20," half of that gang (5 Republicans, 5 Democrats) announced that they had struck a deal. It's a miracle!

Here are the key elements of the deal (apparently):

  • $974 billion in spending in the next five years and $1.2 trillion over 8 years, of which $579 billion would be new spending.

  • The plan would be paid for by tapping unused COVID funds, creating public-private partnerships, increasing gas taxes, and allowing states to borrow money.

  • There would be no increase in corporate taxes.

  • There would be no money for "soft" infrastructure.

Why did we put "apparently" in parentheses? Because even the 10 negotiators don't seem to be in complete agreement about what the exact proposal is, and all of them admit that there are "details" to be worked out.

As you might be able to tell from our tone so far, we don't think all that much progress has actually been made. Beyond the fact that there is no actual proposal yet, there are a lot of issues here:

  • Only the 10 senators who negotiated the semi-proposal—Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Mark Warner (D-VA)—are known to support the proposal. That's not enough to pass it, of course, nor is it enough Republicans to break a filibuster.

  • It's not clear that five more Republican votes are available to be had, since they weren't available for proposals with a lower price tag.

  • Although the White House is saying the right things right now about how this offer represents "progress," it offers a bit less than half of the money Joe Biden wants. It also pays the bills with taxes that would affect people making less than $400,000, which would violate a key Biden campaign pledge. And it also relies on COVID funds, an option that has previously been a nonstarter.

  • Progressives are going to be hopping mad. Their priorities are basically not reflected at all, and they are going to be furious that regular folks might have to pay more for gas while the corporations basically get off scot-free.

In the end, we can only see two plausible ways that some variation of this proposal becomes law: (1) Biden and the Democrats get everything they can from the Republicans in this bill, then follow up with a second bill that is passed through reconciliation; or (2) some members of the Democratic caucus, like Manchin and Sinema, put their feet down and make clear that this is the only proposal they will vote for. (Z)

FBI Is Not Investigating Trump's Role in Insurrection

Yesterday, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Judiciary Committee. Committee members wanted to know if the FBI is investigating Donald Trump's role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Wray said that he is not aware of any investigation that addresses Trump's role in the insurrection, but noted that there are hundreds of other investigations going on.

Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) started out by asking what the Bureau knew about the insurrection before Jan. 6. Nadler said that the event was carefully planned in advance and wanted to know how much the Bureau knew before it happened and what it did with the information it had. He also wanted to know whether the Bureau could have disrupted it.

Wray said that the FBI does not police ideology or investigate groups who are exercising their First Amendment rights. Nadler wasn't impressed. He said that the FBI has long downplayed the threat of white supremacists. Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) went further. She said: "The Bureau has a white supremacy problem within its ranks. The choice to not pursue white supremacist violence like what we saw on January 6 is not because the Bureau does not have the resources or the statutory discretion to do so. It is a blatant dismissal of white supremacy as a threat. It is racist, it's unethical, it's unconscionable." Wray wasn't able to respond to Bush because she had used up her allotted 5 minutes asking the question.

Other Democrats on the committee, including Veronica Escobar (TX) and Mondaire Jones (NY), separately pressed Wray on threats to democracy. He evaded all of their questions with non-responses like: "I speak through our investigations, and our intelligence products. And so I just, I don't think I should be starting to start chiming in on other people's public chatter or rhetoric, no matter what it is."

Democrats were not the only ones attacking Wray. Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) accused the Bureau of intruding on Americans' civil liberties by conducting the investigations. He also accused it of violating the rights of Rudy Giuliani by swooping down on his home and office and snatching all of his electronic devices. Wray refused to answer him.

Finally, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is himself under investigation by the FBI, got a chance to ask the questions instead of only having to answer them. He asked Wray about the coronavirus and whether it could be linked to the Chinese government. Wray declined to go into that. (V)

Senate Confirms First-Ever Muslim Judge

There are about 3.5 million Muslims in the United States, which means they make up about 1.1% of the population. There are about 900 federal judges, which means that if the federal bench was entirely representative, there would be 9 or 10 Muslim judges right now. But, of course, one political party wouldn't appoint a Muslim as dogcatcher, and the most recent president from the other party was himself accused of being a secret Muslim, and so couldn't really afford the optics of breaking this particular glass ceiling. So, instead of 9 or 10 Muslims on the federal bench, there are zero.

Well, until yesterday, that is. Joe Biden is not beholden to a bunch of right-wing evangelicals, nor has anyone accused him of being anything other than the Catholic he says he is. So, the President nominated Zahid N. Quraishi to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey, and yesterday Quraishi was approved by a vote of 81-16. That's the most lopsided approval for any Biden judicial pick so far; perhaps that is an indication that Quraishi is very well qualified for his post, and that his ascension is not a sign of the end of days. That said, we did not have a chance to reread Revelation yesterday, so don't quote us on that.

As a sidebar, pretty much every story about this described Quraishi as "Muslim-American." We gotta say, we don't get it. You have to be an American to be made into a federal judge, so the "American" part is implied. Further, we do not recall ever reading about a Christian-American or a Baptist-American or a Catholic-American being appointed as a judge. Usually the [X]-American involves a geographic identifier (Irish, African, Asian, Mexican), so as to suggest—correctly or not—a shared cultural heritage. But there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, and the community of American Muslims is the only major faith community that has no majority ethnicity. That is to say, 25% of American Muslims are Black, 24% are white, 18% are Asian, 18% are Arab, 7% are of mixed heritage, and 5% are Latino (3% prefer not to say). So, they seem particularly unsuited to being lumped together, as if they are a monolithic group. Thus, we're skipping the Muslim-American descriptor. (Z)

Omar Ruffles More Feathers

As long as we are on the subject of Muslims, Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN) has spoken up about Israel again. She was participating in a committee hearing during which Secretary of State Antony Blinken was being grilled. And after, she opened up Twitter and sent this summation of the concerns she brought up during the hearing:

Inasmuch as Hamas and the Taliban are both considered terrorist groups by the U.S. Department of State, that was a rather problematic way to put things.

Unsurprisingly, a dozen of Omar's Jewish colleagues in the House were not happy. They said they were not necessarily accusing her of antisemitism (including the United States in the list probably kept her just barely on the right side of that line), but that they wanted her to explain her remarks. For a period of time, she dug her heels in, while other members of the Squad came to her defense. However, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her leadership team quickly got involved. They issued a very carefully worded statement that read, in part:

Legitimate criticism of the policies of both the United States and Israel is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate. And indeed, such criticism is essential to the strength and health of our democracies. But drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all.

Thereafter, Omar issued a clarification in which she said that she was specifically referring to ongoing International Criminal Court probes, and that she did not intend to draw "a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel," and that she "was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems."

The underlying dynamics here are as clear as day. Omar is herself Muslim, and her constituency is made up of Muslims and of progressives. Both of those groups are, on the whole, Israel-skeptical and Palestinian-sympathetic. That said, there is little that Congress can do to resolve that conflict, since they don't really manage foreign policy, and raising it serves to divide the Democratic caucus while also handing the Republican opposition (and its media apparatus) a hammer to wield against the blue team. Here are a few headlines about Omar's remarks from right-leaning outlets:

No wonder Pelosi moved at lightning speed to put this particular fire out. This also helps illustrate why Joe Biden will have to move very carefully when he decides to engage with the Israel peace process, and with (likely) new PM Naftali Bennett.

Oh, and as long as we talked a little bit about terminology in the last item, why not continue that in this item? Customarily, the word for anti-Jewish hatred is written as "anti-Semitism." However, there has been a recent shift, among some outlets at least, to "antisemitism" instead. We don't feel especially qualified to judge which is best, so we reached out to a few readers whose submissions to the mailbag/Q&A suggest they are much more dialed in. Their responses were unanimous, and we got permission to share some of them, because we think they are very interesting. So:

  • M.R. in Maynard, MA: "Anti-Semitism" was a term coined to give a pseudo-scientific patina to Jew-hatred. Since there is no such thing as "Semitism," there is no "anti-" that makes sense.

    I prefer "Jew-hatred" as a clear-eyed expression of this particular poison. (Or, at the very least, something like "anti-Jewish bias.") As a gay man, I have a similar problem with "homophobia"—is it a phobia to persecute someone?

    But you're stuck with the word, right? Given that everyone knows what you're talking about when you say it, go with "antisemitism."

  • J.K. in Short Hills, NJ: I actually prefer "antisemitism" over "anti-Semitism." A common argument for those defending themselves against an accusation of antisemitism is as follows: "I am an Arab and therefore a Semite, so how can I be anti-Semitic?" While linguistically true, "antisemitism" presently connotes racial antagonism to Jews exclusively. By hyphenating the term (i.e. anti-Semitism), it gives those who make this specious argument less cover for their bigotry.

  • K.C. in Los Angeles, CA: An interesting question... one which I recently revisited as well, since there seems to be something of a migration going on regarding the proper spelling. I had, for many years, written "anti-Semitism," but I had noticed in recent years that "antisemitism" had become more normative.

    I don't know that there is any definitive source on the matter, but it may be most instructive for your purposes that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the pre-eminent Jewish organization dedicated to combating hate acts against Jews and anti-minority extremism across the board, now uses "antisemitism" in their printed materials... which is good enough for me.

Thus our use of "antisemitism" in the paragraph above, and our continued use of that formulation going forward. (Z)

Sinema, Boebert May Be Playing with Fire

We propose, in the item above, that Ilhan Omar may sometimes err in the direction of rhetoric that pleases her constituents, at the expense of the national party. Now let's look at the yang to that yin, and look at a couple of members who may be focusing a bit too much on their national profile at the expense of their constituents' concerns.

First up is Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO). One portion of her district loves Donald Trump and guns, and so is with her all the way. Another portion of her district, where you'll find all the rich people and all the ski resorts, can't stand her. That means that the real decider is the centrist portion of the district, particularly the city of Pueblo. That city is full of blue-collar types, many of them union, and many of them fondly remembering the days when the town's steel industry was booming rather than crumbling.

Politico talked with many of the residents of Pueblo (and the surrounding area). And while the plural of "anecdote" is not "data," it is pretty clear that many voters—including quite a few who cast their votes for her in 2020—are unhappy with Boebert. They think she is too interested in making headlines and going on Fox News, and not interested enough in serving the people who elected her. They say she rarely holds town halls or other public events, is rarely available to meet with individual voters, and, indeed, that the doors of her local office are often locked during business hours. They also wonder why she doesn't support legislation that would help their economy, specifically the portions of the Biden infrastructure package that would send money to Amtrak. Since Pueblo is one of only a handful of places in the country that still makes rails, that would be a boon for them.

Boebert is often compared to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), for obvious reasons. However, Greene's district, GA-14, is R+28. She is virtually invulnerable, even if she aggravates a few of her voters. By contrast, Boebert's district, CO-03, is just R+6. Because of the way PVI is calculated, that means she only has a margin of error of about 4 points. If 10-20% of the centrists/independents in her district who voted for her in 2020 turn against her in 2022, her goose is cooked.

Another little detail here is that Colorado picked up a House seat in the 2020 census, so there will be new maps. And Colorado's congressional map will be drawn by a nonpartisan commission that presumably will not be especially interested in making sure current House members get reelected. So she will have to pick a new district when the map is drawn and the district containing her home town may or may not have a majority of Republicans in it. If it does, she is set. But if it doesn't, she will either have to run in an unfavorable district or run in a district she doesn't live in (or else move). Representatives don't have to live in the districts they represent, but if they don't, expect "carpetbagger" to appear more than a few times in their opponents' ads.

Moving on, the senator who has mystified us more than any other, perhaps, is Kyrsten Sinema. In the case of Joe Manchin, at least one can point to the fact that his state is ruby red, and so he has to hew to a pretty centrist (or even conservative) line much of the time. Plus, he's basically irreplaceable for the Democrats, since it's unlikely a Democrat would replace him if he retired or stepped down. But Sinema's in a purple state, and one that has an actual Democratic bench. If she turns into a Republican in Democrat's clothing, she is in danger of being primaried, or of being beaten by an actual Republican in the general election.

As Politico did with Boebert, CNN chatted with some of Sinema's voters. And while this is, once again, just anecdotal, it would seem a lot of them are not happy. While Boebert appears to be in trouble with the centrists, Sinema's problem is on her left flank. There are Arizonans who voted for her, taking note of her maverick personality and her history of Green Party activism. While they appreciate that she can't be Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), given the realities of Arizona politics, they aren't thrilled that she's become one of the biggest obstacles to the Democratic agenda. When activist Alejandra Gomez, who previously supported Sinema, was asked if challenging/abandoning the Senator risked putting a Republican in that seat, Gomez said: "We already have a Republican in that seat." The lefties are particularly aggravated by Sinema's opposition to a $15/hour minimum wage.

Sinema's position is even more delicate than Boebert's. In 2018, she defeated then-senator Martha McSally (R) by a little over two points. It is improbable that a challenge from the left would be successful, though it's not impossible. And even if Sinema survives the primary, if national progressives decide there are better places to invest their campaign contributions, and Arizona progressives decide they might as well stay home or vote third party on Election Day the next time she is up (2024), she could be in trouble.

There's one other lesson that comes from these two stories, incidentally. If anyone thinks voters aren't paying attention to what's going on in Congress, they are wrong. And it is very clear that many a vote will be determined by which party and which members get things done, and which do not. Exactly how those things get done—whether bipartisan or not—seems to be of little importance; what matters is that something is accomplished. (Z)

A Possible Answer to the Manchin Mystery

We're going to start this with a disclaimer: This story is from, which is definitely quite left-leaning, and is often hit and miss. Further, no other outlet has run with the story yet, at least as far as we can find. However, it's very well sourced, and is written by one of Salon's strongest contributors, Igor Derysh. So, we're going to pass it along and you can reach your own conclusions.

With that out of the way, Derysh wanted to examine the same question we've pondered many times: What's going on with Joe Manchin? And, more specifically, why did he come out strongly against the For the People Act, a bill that he previously supported? Derysh proposes that, as is so often the case in politics, you have to follow the money.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCOC) very much dislikes the For the People Act, specifically the provisions that place limits on lobbyists and dark money, and has spent tens of millions to try to defeat the bill. This is an easily verifiable fact, and you can understand why the USCOC would take that position. Meanwhile, after having made no donations to Manchin since 2012, they resumed their support of him in Q1 of this year. This is an even more easily verifiable fact, by virtue of FEC disclosures. Derysh's conclusion, then, is that Manchin has been bought and paid for, with the USCOC having figured out that he is the lowest-hanging fruit in the Democratic caucus.

That is a pretty provocative assertion to make, especially since the donation—$2,500—would seem to be a bargain price for a key vote from a U.S. senator. That said, he could also be getting money from other groups that oppose the bill, like the Kochs and the pharmaceutical industry. He could also be worried that those folks will unleash a vast pile of soft money against him if he does not play ball. We may never know for sure, though if Manchin changes his mind and backs the current version of the bill, that would be instructive in one direction, whereas if he comes back with a revised version of the bill that omits the lobbying and dark money portions, that would be instructive in the other.

If this story is true—and again, we really don't know, so keep an open mind—what the Democrats need to realize is that Manchin's soul is for sale and start a bidding war. They could get wealthy Democrats to offer him even more campaign funding if he agrees to "reform" the filibuster (make them read the phone book) and vote for H.R. 1. Such is the level of American politics, unfortunately. (Z)

Dumbest Member of Congress Unwisely Opens His Mouth

As we have noted previously, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has a reputation for not exactly being the sharpest knife in the drawer. We created a new profile (so, no influence from past searches), and then did a Google search for "dumbest member of Congress." This was the result:

Seven Google results; five of them about Gohmert

Five of the results are about Gohmert, and two are about the deceased former senator William Scott. Both of these fellows made the mistake of not only being not so bright, but also of complaining when others called them out on it. There is little good that can come out of complaints like these:

  • I don't think it's fair that people call me the dumbest doctor in the hospital.
  • I don't think it's fair that people call me the dumbest player in baseball.
  • I don't think it's fair that people call me the dumbest person on the Internet.
  • I don't think it's fair that people call me the dumbest student at USC.
  • I don't think it's fair that people call me the dumbest member of Congress.

Consistent with the Streisand Effect, such complaints serve only to draw attention to one's reputation, not to improve it. Perhaps that might have occurred to Scott and Gohmert, if not for the fact that they are, well, you know...

There was some risk that Gohmert might yield his crown to Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is definitely an up-and-comer in this area. However, on Thursday, he reasserted his status as the champion in truly impressive fashion. Attending a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee, he asked U.S. Forest Service associate deputy chief Jennifer Eberlien if her agency might be able to combat climate change by "chang[ing] the course of the moon's orbit or the Earth's orbit around the Sun." As viewers of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" know, that's a simple matter, all you have to do is change the gravitational constant of the universe. It would appear that Eberlien is not a Trekkie, however, as she was forced to explain that would not be possible.

Please understand that our purpose here is not to dump on Gohmert, and to use him as a little bit of comic relief. Well, ok, that's part of our purpose. But the more important purpose is to point out that even most Republicans know that climate change is a problem; they just don't particularly like the solutions that will be necessary to combat it. If there was a simple fix—like, say, changing Earth's orbit—they would be right on board. The problem is that while most of them are clever enough not to speak the truth out loud, some of them are not. (Z)

California Democrats Move the Goalposts a Bit

The process for recall elections in California is quite complicated and drawn out, and requires working through lots of red tape. One of the necessary steps is that the state's number crunchers have to come up with a budget for the election, and then the legislature has up to 30 days to review that budget and to raise questions and concerns. Well, the estimated price tag was officially announced on Thursday; the Golden State is set to, spend $215 million. The legislature promptly decided that they don't need to review the numbers, and voted to approve the budget.

The speed of the legislature has nothing to do with its confidence in the accountants, and everything to do with its desire to get the election scheduled and held as rapidly as is possible. If the recall were held today, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) would almost certainly be sustained, and would keep his job. That's also true of tomorrow, and Sunday, and all the days of next week. However, the longer this process lasts, the more chance that public opinion could turn against the Governor. Late summer and early fall are fire season, or there could be another COVID outbreak due to new variants or to the start of the school year, or the economy could go downhill, or any of a dozen other things could happen to undermine his standing. There are still plenty of hoops to be jumped through before the election can be scheduled, much less held, but it's now at least possible it might take place as early as September, instead of the initial projection of early November. (Z)

About Those Vaccine Incentives...

When we wrote last week about West Virginia's newly introduced vaccine incentives, we pointed out that some of them—pickup trucks, shotguns, etc.—may have veered a little bit into stereotype territory. And we suggested some tongue-in-cheek possibilities for some other states that did the same.

Our list for Washington was "Umbrellas, Starbucks gift cards, and Subarus." As readers of the mailbag know, quite a few Washingtonians wrote in and said "pshaw!" to the umbrellas, observing that only non-natives carry them in the Evergreen State. The thing is, we originally had "marijuana joints" in that spot, but then we decided that would be pushing it a little too far.

It turns out that we need not have worried. The state has just announced a new inducement program guessed it..."Joints for jabs." And the deal is exactly what you think it is: If you get either your first or your second shot, you can visit a smoke shop and receive a free doobie. No edibles, though—those you still have to pay for.

We have gotten a fair number of e-mails with proposed inducements for other states, though the mailbag is still open for anyone else who has thoughts. We will, as promised, run a selection of the most interesting/entertaining suggestions this weekend. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun10 Biden Goes to Europe
Jun10 Gang of 10 Wants to Do Infrastructure without Raising Taxes
Jun10 Democrats Can't Figure Out What Manchin Wants
Jun10 Transcript of McGahn Hearing Is Released
Jun10 Report: Police Did Not Clear Protesters for Trump's Photo-Op at Church
Jun10 The Primary Battle Has Begun
Jun10 Special Master Is Appointed to Vet Electronics Seized from Giuliani
Jun10 Val Demings Is Officially Running against Marco Rubio
Jun10 Keystone XL Pipeline, 2010-2021
Jun09 Senate Passes China Bill
Jun09 "Infrastructure, Act II" Has Commenced
Jun09 Senate Releases 1/6 Report
Jun09 Biden Judicial Nominee Confirmed
Jun09 McConnell Will Have His Say on 2022 Nominees
Jun09 Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2021 Gubernatorial Candidates
Jun09 It's Not EVERY Republican Governor
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
Jun08 Legal Blotter, Part IV: No Mo Ducking Service
Jun07 Manchin Will Vote against H.R. 1
Jun07 Biden Rejects Latest GOP Offer
Jun07 McGahn Finally Testified
Jun07 Trump is Now Synonymous with "Cheap"
Jun07 Lara Trump Won't Run
Jun07 Republican Jumps into Senate Race against Warnock
Jun07 Kemp Survived
Jun07 NRA Drops Lawsuit against Letitia James
Jun07 Political Advertising Is All Wrong
Jun06 Sunday Mailbag
Jun05 Saturday Q&A
Jun04 What Is Going on with Donald Trump?
Jun04 What Is Going on with the DoJ?
Jun04 There Will Be No Presidential Commission on the Insurrection
Jun04 I Fought the Law, Part I: Louis DeJoy
Jun04 I Fought the Law, Part II: Matt Gaetz
Jun04 I Fought the Law, Part III: Mo Brooks
Jun04 Texas Backs Down, a Little
Jun04 West Virginia Ups Its Vaccination Game
Jun04 COVID Diaries: The U.S. vs. the World
Jun03 MacDonough Rules That Democrats Get Only One More Reconciliation Bill This Year
Jun03 Biden Calls for a National Month of Vaccinations
Jun03 Trump Shuts Down His Blog
Jun03 Tampa Man Pleads Guilty to Storming the Capitol
Jun03 Katie Hobbs Is Running for Governor of Arizona
Jun03 National Enquirer Settles with FEC over Helping Trump in 2016
Jun03 Liberty University Is at a Crossroads