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Biden Doesn't Stomp Out of G7 Meeting

It shouldn't be necessary to report that the President of the United States, attending an important meeting with world leaders, didn't act like a spoiled toddler. But given the recent history of the G7 meeting, maybe it is newsworthy. In any event, Joe Biden got along with other leaders a lot better than did his predecessor. And this time the group issued a statement that they all agreed to, with no hissy fits from anyone.

One area where the G7 leaders—who have now concluded their meeting in Cornwall, England—all agreed is that China needs to do a lot better. The leaders admonished China for human-rights abuses, the crackdown on Hong Kong, the encroachment on Taiwan, and the use of forced labor in Xinjiang. The statement is a win for Biden, who went to the G7 meeting with the goal of getting the other leaders to adopt his position that China has to be confronted directly on many fronts. For example, he favors a WHO-led study on the origins of the coronavirus. Biden got what he wanted. It is also a win for Biden politically, because Republicans would just love to attack him for being "soft on China," and by orchestrating a strong anti-China statement, he made a fact-based attack much more difficult.

The G7 position is likely to anger China, which warned that a small group of countries cannot rule the world. Biden, of course, knew that China wasn't going to like him organizing the West into an anti-China group, but was prepared for it. One of the things he got from the meeting was a commitment from the other G7 countries to match the 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine that the U.S. is supplying to poor countries. With the rich countries supplying almost a billion doses to the poor countries, the gains China got with them from supplying a far smaller number of doses will be greatly reduced. While a new cold war with China isn't on the horizon, a much more contentious relationship is going to be the new normal.

Another thing that Biden got from the other leaders is an agreement that multinational companies should pay at least some minimum tax. However, having seven leaders saying they want to do this is not quite the same thing as all seven countries passing laws that make it happen. In particular, Biden will have a very difficult time getting this through the Senate. The other countries have parliamentary systems (which means that the leader's party has a majority in the parliament). Consequently, the parliaments will do what leaders want, so the U.S. will be the bottleneck here.

One thing that Biden did not achieve is a strong statement on the environment. Environmental activists are not happy with this, but it really wasn't one of Biden's top priorities, so they shouldn't be too surprised.

In addition to the strong stand against China and agreement in principle on taxes, Biden achieved another goal, pulling the U.S. and some of its most important allies closer together, after Donald Trump had spent years opposing America's friends and cozying up to its enemies.

After the meeting, Biden had tea with Queen Elizabeth. Biden is very protocol conscious and was careful not to violate any of the unwritten rules. For example, when walking with her, he always walked half a step behind her, unlike his predecessor who barged ahead, in violation of the royal protocol. What they talked about wasn't released, although Biden did say the Queen reminded him of his mother. Both of them are fond of dogs. Maybe he asked her how she has trained her corgis not to bite people, advice he could use with his dogs. Politics was probably not on the agenda. Given all the controversy swirling about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, talking about their kids and grandkids probably wasn't on the agenda either. The dogs are safe, though. (V)

McConnell Tries to Exploit Biden's Weakness

Although turtles are not as well known as foxes for their cunning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is trying his best to raise their profile. He has dangled the ultimate carrot in front of Joe Biden, saying that he thinks a bipartisan deal on infrastructure is possible. Biden will have a tough time resisting. Of course the deal consists of Biden accepting the Republican position, something the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party will never accept.

Darrell West, of the Brookings Institution, said: "McConnell's strategy is divide and conquer. He wants to drive a wedge between Biden and progressive Democrats and he knows if he can do that, one, he creates big problems for Biden, and, two, he limits Biden's ability to pass transformative legislation." Biden has been around for a while and knows this, of course, but the lure of bipartisanship is so great that he will have trouble not taking the bait. When Odysseus knew he was about to hear a message he wouldn't be able to resist, at least he had the foresight to get his team to lash him to the mast. Maybe Biden needs to get his staff to take away his Apple watch and lock him in the Lincoln bedroom until this is over.

The one thing that could save Biden is having the Gang of 10 proposal (see below) crash and burn in the Senate. If Republican senators reject what the gang has come up with, then the temptation to go along will be gone and Biden can be released from the Lincoln Bedroom with no damage done. But of course, the Republican senators take direction from McConnell and he may tell them not to kill it outright, but to keep a small ray of hope alive, in order to keep Biden under its spell. The longer this game goes on, though, the more insistent progressive Democrats will become on stopping the game and getting something done. But as long as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) isn't on board, that isn't an option for now. (V)

Collins Clarifies How the Gang of 10 Will and Will Not Pay for Its Infrastructure Bill

A gang of 10 senators, half Democrats and half Republicans, has put together an infrastructure bill that it hopes can pass the Senate. The bill is under a trillion dollars, far less than the $2.3 trillion that Joe Biden has proposed. Biden's bill is clear where the money will come from: raising the tax on corporations. The original proposal was to raise the rate from 21% to 28%, which is still lower than the 35% it was before the 2017 tax-cut act.

Where the funding would come from for the gang's bill has been a mystery so far. Yesterday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a gang member, went on CBS' "Face the Nation" to explain where the money would and would not come from. She said that no part of the Republicans' 2017 bill would be repealed. Nor would the gas tax be increased. So what is left?

She listed three sources of income. First, the bill would create an "infrastructure financing authority." She didn't explain what that was or how it would work, but other "authorities" the government has created in the past have issued bonds. In other words, she would just increase the national debt but try to hide it by having an entity other than the Treasury issue the bonds. She also didn't explain where the authority would get the money to repay the bondholders when the bonds come due.

Second, she would use some of the money appropriated in the COVID-19 relief bill that Congress already passed. No Republican voted for it and none of them like it. By using money from that bill, the Republicans would be able to retroactively gut legislation they never liked in the first place. This will not play well with Senate Democrats.

Third, and most controversial, she wants to tax owners of electric cars for using the roads. Since they don't buy gas, they also don't pay the gas tax and, in her opinion, are getting a free ride. But taxing electric cars is never going to go over big with Democrats, who want to encourage, not discourage, the use of electric cars since they can be effectively powered by solar energy and wind energy. Also, determining how many miles an electric car drove would be very invasive of people's privacy. Would it require manufacturers to put in a GPS-enabled gadget in all electric cars to report on where they were in order to track their mileage? How would this go over in Texas?

In short, the plan of increasing the federal debt in a sneaky way, gutting the COVID-19 relief bill, and taxing electric cars is not exactly a method that is going to appeal to most Democrats and probably not many Republicans either. It will be a tough sell. (V)

The States Are Proving Manchin Wrong

Ron Brownstein has an interesting piece about Joe Manchin in The Atlantic. He notes that Joe Manchin has said he won't vote to abolish the filibuster or vote for H.R. 1 because he believes that democracy requires bipartisanship. Consequently, Manchin doesn't want to support changes to the rules or legislation unless a substantial number of Republicans agree as well.

It is often said that the states are laboratories of democracy. If that is the case, democracy is not doing well and neither is bipartisanship. A new study from the Brennan Center at NYU has shown that recent changes to election laws in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, and other states have passed on straight party-line votes with few, if any, exceptions. So at the state level, if democracy requires bipartisanship, then democracy is either dying or is already completely dead.

This behavior has left many state-level Democrats incredulous at Manchin's statement that he will support voting rights only if Republicans do, too. Arizona's secretary of state, Katie Hobbs (D), told Brownstein that Arizona Republicans have completely shut Democrats out of the legislative process. Similarly, the Democratic whip in the Iowa House told him: "I don't see anywhere where Republicans are inviting Democrats along, or inviting Democrats to the table. Why are some Democrats saying 'I won't do this unless it's bipartisan?'" So it looks like bipartisanship is a one-way street. When Republicans have the power to go it alone, they do it without bipartisanship, but when Democrats have the power, they are expected to take into consideration what Republicans want.

According to the study, 17 highly restrictive election bills have passed this spring. On 13 of the bills, not a single Democrat voted for them. On three others, a single state House Democrat or a single Democratic state senator voted for the bill. The only one of the 17 that had more than one Democrat voting for it was an Arkansas bill that narrowed the kinds of ID that could be used to vote. On the 16 restrictive bills that had (almost) no Democratic support, only two of the 509 Democratic state House (or Assembly) members and only one of the 207 Democratic state senators who voted on the bills voted "yes." Also, no Democrat cosponsored any of the 17 bills.

Now the other side of the coin. Outside of Montana and Arkansas, no more than one Republican in any of the state legislatures voted against any of the bills. In Montana, one bill was opposed by two House members and one bill was opposed by two state senators. In Arkansas, six state representatives opposed one bill. All in all of the 1,143 state House (or Assembly) Republicans who voted on the bills, 1,131 voted for the restrictive bills and 12 voted against them. Among the 458 Republican state senators who voted on them, 451 voted for the restrictive bills and seven voted against them. How's that for bipartisanship?

In many of the states, the vote was entirely along party lines, with no exceptions. For example, in Arizona, a bill to remove 200,000 voters (of whom a disproportionate number are Latinos) from the state's permanent absentee voter list passed without a single Democratic vote or a single Republican opposing it. Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) quickly signed the bill when it landed on his desk. Arizona Republicans are now working on a bill to strip the secretary of state of her authority to defend the state in election-related lawsuits—but only until January 2023, when they hope a Republican will be sitting in Hobbs' office. The bill would transfer that authority to state AG Mark Brnovich (R). By having the new law expire when Hobbs' current term is over, the partisanship is as naked as can be. After all, if the state legislators really believed that election-related lawsuits should be defended by the AG as a matter of principle, they would have made the change permanent, not ended it after Hobbs' current term expires.

Manchin has been vague about why bipartisanship is so important at the federal level when it is virtually completely absent at the state level. Senate Democrats can't decide if he is naive or disingenuous. But if someone shows him the new Brennan Center study and he doesn't budge, that moves the needle further toward disingenuous. Unless, of course there is something else in the picture that we can't see (such as a big campaign donation from a group that wants to block the Democrats). (V)

Justice Dept. Is Going to Look at Barr's Spying on Democrats...and Republicans

Donald Trump's Dept. of Justice secretly seized data about and from a dozen House Democrats and journalists. Among other victims were California House Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell.

The investigations began under Jeff Sessions but discovered nothing related to the leaks the DoJ was trying to plug. However, after William Barr became AG, he wanted to continue the hunt by moving the work to a prosecutor in New Jersey whom he trusted but who had no experience in that kind of investigation. Among other things, this prosecutor subpoenaed phone records of sitting members of Congress, something that is unprecedented outside of corruption investigations, which this definitely was not. The subpoenas were kept secret until Joe Biden's Justice Dept. announced them.

In addition, the Barr DoJ issued subpoenas to Apple and one other company to provide data about members of Congress and followed that up with gag orders preventing them from telling anyone about the subpoenas. The upshot of this story shows how aggressively Sessions and Barr went after Trump's political opponents in Congress and the media.

In fact it is worse than that. The DoJ even went after (at least one) Trump loyalist in the White House: former White House counsel Don McGahn. Apple recently revealed to McGahn that it had been compelled to spy on his account, and also that of his wife. The disclosure that the DoJ spied on the White House counsel, who is appointed by the president, is almost as shocking as the DoJ's spying on members of Congress and the media.

Barr has said he knew nothing about any of the items listed above. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded by saying it was "beyond belief" that Barr knew nothing about them. Spying on members of Congress is such a sensitive matter that it is completely inconceivable that any DoJ employee would dare do such a thing without explicit instructions from the AG. Pelosi also said that what the DoJ did under Trump even goes beyond what Richard Nixon did with his "enemies list."

Now the tables have turned and the hunters are being hunted. The DoJ Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, is now going to review the matter. Horowitz said: "The review will examine the department's compliance with applicable DoJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations." As in many investigations, it will undoubtedly start at the bottom of the food chain: Whose signature is on the various subpoenas and orders? Then those people will be questioned under oath and so on up the food chain, until the top is reached. If it turns out that Barr broke the law carrying out Trump's orders, he could have a problem.

Horowitz isn't Barr's only problem. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on Senate Republicans to demand answers. So far, none of them are interested in getting answers. Of course, a House committee could hold hearings, with or without Republicans' buy-in. Count on that happening if the Republicans treat Barrgate like they treated 1/6. (V)

Nevada Is Helping Iowa Stay First

Nevada has passed a law saying that its primary has to be the first one. Just like New Hampshire's law that says the same thing. In principle, they could be held on the same day, but having the first two primaries on the same day so far apart would be very troublesome for unknown candidates who don't have a lot of money. Of course, neither is really first since that honor goes to Iowa, which holds a caucus rather than a primary. However, Iowa (like New Hampshire) is very unrepresentative of the Democratic Party and botched the caucus in 2020 to boot. So this could be Nevada's chance. We haven't seen any stories on whether potential Democratic candidates would prefer trudging through the snow in rural Iowa in January of 2024 or hanging out in sunny Las Vegas, but we can guess. Nevada is the fifth most urban state and a third of the people and most of the Democrats live in Las Vegas/Henderson. So it should be an easy call for the DNC to demand that Nevada goes first and threaten New Hampshire with a loss of its delegates if it tries to jump the gun.

But it seems that Nevada is doing its best to preserve the status quo, new law or no new law. The problem is that Nevada Democrats are at war with...Nevada Democrats. Progressive Democrats aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have taken over control of the state party, opening up a fissure with the Harry Reid machine and with many other Democrats, both inside and outside Nevada. Just as Gov. Steve Sisolak (D-NV) signed the new bill, Democrats in Washoe County (Reno) took over control of the 2022 campaign from the state party. The Washoe Democrats are aligned with Sisolak and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), who is up in 2022. They are not keen on Masto being challenged from the left in a primary. The state chair, Judith Whitmer, blasted them, calling it "an insurgency within our own party." This does not exactly project the image of a smooth-running operation that can pull off the crucial 2024 primary effortlessly.

Iowa pounced. Dave Nagle, former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, said: "Putting on one of these is a mammoth undertaking. And you can't have the organizers in open warfare with each other." DNC member Scott Brennan of Iowa said: "Their internal issues certainly create challenges that make it hard to see them moving forward successfully." Democratic strategist Michael Ceraso, who was a fundraiser for Jaime Harrison during his ill-fated Senate campaign, said: "If a state can't work together, how are they going to operate a primary?"

Harry Reid, who still has a lot of influence in Nevada, called the infighting "exaggerated." He also said: "I've been to state party meetings where fist fights broke out, so we're used to a little intrigue." So as long as there are no fist fights, Reid thinks things are just humming along.

It will be up to the national Democrats to sort this out. But if the Nevada Democratic Party continues to be torn apart by warring factions, the chance that Nevada goes first will be greatly reduced. Of course, if the Democrats want to get rid of nearly all-white elections at the start of 2024 and Nevada Democrats are still at each others' throats, there is an obvious other candidate: South Carolina, where more than half the Democrats are Black. If Joe Biden decides to call it quits after one term and South Carolina goes first, Kamala Harris is likely to win a massive, lopsided victory there, possibly even clinching the nomination in round one. Surely that is not what the Latino-heavy Nevada Democratic Party wants. But if it can't contain its squabbling, that is what it may get. (V)

Republicans Are Complaining about 2024 Debates Already

Historically, each political party has partnered with some television network for its primary debates. On Friday, David Bossie, chairman of Citizens United and Donald Trump's deputy campaign manager in 2016, who is close to many Republican insiders, said that the RNC may end this arrangement in 2024 unless some changes are made. What he had in mind is getting rid of moderators who ask hard questions whose answers could come back to haunt the nominee in the general election. They have to stop. Specifically, he said: "We have to not allow bad actors to infiltrate our debate process." Although he didn't say it, in his view, someone like Fox News' anchor Chris Wallace, who is a serious journalist, is probably his idea of a "bad actor."

Just as a (hypothetical?) example, imagine that Wallace (or some other moderator) asked: "What do you think of Donald Trump?" The correct answer for the primary is: "He is the greatest person to walk the earth since Jesus Christ." That is not the correct answer for the general election. If the question is asked and answered during a primary debate, then Democrats could make a clip of it the basis of ads during the general election campaign. Bossie said that the RNC wants to make sure that does not happen. A better question is "What do you think of Joe Biden?" The correct answer to that is the same for the primary and the general election. What Bossie wants is the moderators ask only questions that don't trip up any candidates and whose answers also play well in the general election. He was very explicit about that.

Exactly how the primary debates would work without a television network is not clear and Bossie didn't explain. They could be run by the RNC and streamed on Internet only. However, people without broadband Internet—which is a substantial fraction of the Republican base in rural areas—would then miss out. Would Fox News enjoy missing all the advertising revenue it could get from a series of primary debates? There were 12 of them in 2016 and if Donald Trump opts out in 2024, there could be 12 again in 2024. If the RNC does decide to have TV debates, it is very unlikely that it would partner with any network other than Fox. Most likely, Bossie's statement is a shot across the bow warning Fox far in advance that the Party does not expect or want anything approaching actual journalism from the moderators.

Bossie isn't the only one whining about the debates 3 years in advance. Earlier in June, RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel fired off a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which runs the general election debates. She was pretty miffed about how the 2020 debates went. Remember that in the first debate, Trump shouted and yelled whenever Biden was speaking so that no one could hear Biden. McDaniel probably thought that to be a great debate strategy, but the Commission thought otherwise. It scheduled the second debate with the candidates at separate remote locations, with the moderators given a switch to cut off the mic of any candidate speaking out of turn. When he heard that, Trump threatened to boycott the debate, but it was ultimately canceled when he got COVID-19 and then rebelled against the safety protocols that were put in place. McDaniel's solution to the problem of people yelling when it is not their turn is term limits for the Commission's members.

If Biden runs again in 2024, the Republican candidate can ill afford to threaten to boycott the debates. If it is Trump, he will have been out of the news for years, so he will need the PR against a sitting president. If the GOP candidate is a lesser-known Republican, such as Nikki Haley or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), opting out will just look cowardly. If Biden doesn't run and the Republican doesn't show up but the "debate" (basically, a town hall) is held anyway, then the Democrat will get a ton of free PR and the Republican will get nothing. That is not a viable strategy. It seems to us that McDaniel has very little leverage here with the Commission, especially if it makes clear that the debates will go on, even if only one candidate shows up. (V)

Israeli Parliament Approves New Government

After a raucous session with members yelling "shame" and "liar" at one another, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, yesterday approved the unwieldy left-center-right eight-party coalition cobbled together by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. For the first time in 12 years, Benjamin Netanyahu will not be the prime minister. For the first 2 years, Bennett will be the PM, then, in the extremely unlikely event of the government lasting that long, it will be Lapid's turn.

Unlike his buddy and patsy, Donald Trump, Netanyahu didn't claim he won. His team got 59 votes to Bennett's 60, with one abstention. Nevertheless, he didn't go gentle into that good night. He made a nasty speech attacking the new coalition, saying that it would never be able to equal his economic record. Specifically, he said: "I'll be back. Try to ruin our wonderful economy as little as possible so we can fix it as quickly as possible when we return." Doesn't sound like he is going to take up playing golf. Maybe he will start a "new social media platform" or, as it's known to some, a blog. Though he might not have time for that. Now that he is gone, his trial on corruption charges will soon begin. If he ends up in prison, his comeback will be a tad more difficult.

From Joe Biden's point of view, getting rid of Netanyahu, who is a very skilled politician but impossible to deal with, is a plus. Netanyahu blocked all efforts to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East for years. On the other hand, Bennett is the leader of the Orthodox religious-nationalist movement and is very much committed to not having a Palestinian state. He isn't as smooth as Netanyahu, but will be equally difficult to deal with. Still, in one area of contention he will be an improvement over Netanyahu. Part of the deal with Lapid is there will no new settlements in the West Bank. That was always a stumbling block to peace. Nevertheless, sometimes new leaders surprise people. Who would have thought that it would be the Commie-hater Richard Nixon who would be the one to call for recognition of Red China?

If the new government lasts only a few months, which is certainly possible with eight parties that don't agree on anything except their dislike of Netanyahu, then Israel will have its fifth election in about 2 years and any progress made toward peace will be wiped out and it will be back to square one. That said, the odds are good that they will somehow find a way to hold on until, at very least, Netanyahu's trial is over. A conviction there would be the only way they could be sure that it's bye-bye, Bibi, for good. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun13 Sunday Mailbag
Jun12 Saturday Q&A
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Jun08 Deus Ex Manchin
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Jun08 Legal Blotter, Part II: Everybody's Talkin'
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Jun08 Legal Blotter, Part IV: No Mo Ducking Service
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Jun07 McGahn Finally Testified
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Jun07 Republican Jumps into Senate Race against Warnock
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Jun06 Sunday Mailbag
Jun05 Saturday Q&A
Jun04 What Is Going on with Donald Trump?
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Jun04 I Fought the Law, Part I: Louis DeJoy
Jun04 I Fought the Law, Part II: Matt Gaetz