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Political Wire logo The Best Anyone Can Hope For With Iran Is Pretty Bad
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Top Democrats Warn Against Bullying Joe Manchin
Superpower Summits Are Now About Cyberweapons
China Sends 28 Planes Over Taiwan

VP I Is Going to Be a Tougher Challenge than QE II Was

Thus far, Joe Biden's first trip abroad has been fairly successful. That is due, at least in part, to the fact that he's been among friends, whether members of the G7, or of the British royal family. By this time tomorrow, however, he'll be in Geneva to deal with someone of a rather different character in the person of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Here is an overview of the main items expected to be on the agenda in Switzerland:

  • Ukraine: Putin has been flexing his muscles in Ukraine, and appeared to be ready to launch another war and claim more territory. Biden got him to back down, at least temporarily, by agreeing to this week's summit. They may discuss the situation. On the other hand, some pundits speculate that because of the Hunter Biden "scandal," Biden might not want to handle this particular hot potato right now.

  • War Games: Besides Ukraine, Russia has its fingers (and thumbs) deeply dug in to two different pies, as they are expanding their military presence in the Arctic, and are pulling the strings in Syria. Biden is likely to take a more cooperative tone on the latter ("Let's try to find a way forward!") and a more confrontational tone on the former ("We can't allow you to have a bunch of missiles in range of the U.S.")

  • I'll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours: Russia wants to be able to conduct regular inspections of NATO's Aegis Ashore missile defense system, which is officially anti-Iran, but could plausibly be used against Russia. The U.S. wants to be able to conduct regular inspections of the Iskander missiles that Russia has in Kaliningrad. However, these two things are not equal, and granting access to the Aegis system would be a far greater concession than granting access to the Iskanders.

  • A Fresh START: It takes a while to hammer out nuclear arms control treaties, and Donald Trump did not help on this front by basically abandoning every such treaty that he could. Putin and Biden won't get much done here, but they could begin to lay some groundwork, particularly if they—as former nuclear arms negotiator Rose Gottemoeller advises—make sure to keep it simple.

  • Human Rights: Biden, who ran on "human rights" as part of his platform, would like to see Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny freed from prison. The President is also under pressure to secure the release of Americans Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, who are also languishing in Russian gulags. Navalny is probably a bridge too far; as to Whelan and Reed, Biden would probably have to agree to return a few Russian convicts to Putin.

  • Cybersecurity: Russians keep launching cyberattacks against the U.S., both in the public and the private sector. If Trump were still president, he would return home in a few days and say, "I asked, and Putin says he didn't do it." Biden won't be so easily snowed, but whether he can make any progress remains to be seen. The Russian has hinted at a possible cybercrime treaty, so maybe.

Ultimately, the two leaders will mostly be taking the measure of each other, and laying the groundwork for future summits. Putin deliberately goaded Biden earlier this week, calling him a "career man" and lamenting that U.S.-Russia relations are at their "lowest point" in years. Although Biden is not an especially aggressive fellow, he is a skilled diplomat, so he will presumably do what he needs to do to make clear that he's not going to be cowed by that kind of talk. (Z)

Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Is in Trouble

Actually, the extent to which that headline is correct depends on which outlet you believe. CNN reports that the bipartisan deal negotiated by the five Republican and five Democratic senators in the "Gang of 10," is "pick[ing] up steam." The Hill, by contrast, reports that the bill "is coming under fire from both sides of the aisle and may not survive the week." Apparently, it's on both the upturn and the downturn.

It is not often that we favor The Hill over CNN, but in this case we think The Hill has the right of it. To start, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has already announced he's a "no" vote. Finding 10 Republican votes is hard, finding 11 is that much harder, and that's before considering the possibility that some of the other lefty senators jump ship.

A second issue is the funding for the bipartisan plan. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was on TV this weekend to decree that the plan has no tax increases, and that instead it will pay the bills by indexing the federal gas tax to inflation. Of course, if there's inflation (as there usually is), then the gas tax will rise. Normally, when a tax rises, that is called an "increase." The new tax may have the same value, in constant dollars, but it's still an increase. Anyhow, quite a few senators are not buying into Collins' argument, including Republicans like Rick Scott (FL), who is allergic to all tax increases, and Democrats like Richard Blumenthal (CT), who doesn't want tax increases that will weigh heavily upon the poor.

And finally, many Democrats are saying their support for the bipartisan bill can only be had if there is a locked-in, 50-Democratic-senator agreement to then pass a giant reconciliation bill. But if such a deal is in place, then why would Republicans support a smaller bill first? They aren't going to facilitate a Democratic double-dip. Add all of these things up, and the compromise bill just seems to have too steep a hill to climb. (Z)

Supreme Court News, Part I: The Calm Before the Storm

The Supreme Court has been relatively quiet in the last couple of weeks, but that will soon come to an end, as they have several hot-button cases due to be decided. Here's a rundown of the biggies:

  • Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta: At the moment, a state—in this case, California—can require nonprofits to reveal their donors as a condition of maintaining their nonprofit status. The nonprofits don't think that's fair, and so they sued. The original defendant in this one, incidentally, was the then-attorney general of California...Kamala Harris.

  • Biden v. Sierra Club: The current president is in the position of arguing that it was ok for the previous president to redirect funds, via executive fiat, for his border wall.

  • Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee: Arizona got the jump on a bunch of other Republican-run states, and passed laws that (1) required ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be tossed in the garbage, and (2) forbade ballot harvesting. Chief Justice John Roberts & Co., who have previously taken a chainsaw to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, get to decide whether or not the Arizona laws are violations of the Act or not.

  • Fulton v. City of Philadelphia: This case centers on a Pennsylvania adoption agency run by the Catholic church. The Catholics think they should be able to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in the name of religious freedom; LGBTQ+ people and the city of Philadelphia disagree.

  • Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.: Can a school punish a student if that student says nasty things about the school on her own free time, using her social media accounts? This case will answer that question.

  • Texas v. California: The Republican-run Congress set the Obamacare tax penalty for not having insurance to $0. A dozen and a half Republican attorneys general argue that since the tax is $0, it no longer exists, and thus the whole law is invalid. This will be SCOTUS' third chance to strike down the ACA.

Guessing how the Supreme Court will rule, before they actually do, can be something of a fool's errand. However, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern observes that (1) these decisions are taking a very long time, and (2) Associate Justice Elena Kagan has been unusually disdainful of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh in several decisions she's authored in the last few weeks. Stern interprets these things as signs that tensions are high on the Court, and thinks that means that some very unhappy news for liberals is coming down the pike sometime soon. It won't be long before we find out if he is right. (Z)

Supreme Court News, Part II: McConnell Admits What Everyone Already Knew

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was on Hugh Hewitt's radio program yesterday, because heaven forbid he should talk to any outlet that might actually challenge him. And while the two men conducted this month's meeting of their mutual admiration society, Hewitt asked what would happen if the Republicans regain control of the Senate in 2022, and then a Supreme Court vacancy came up in 2024. The Minority Leader said: "I don't think either party, if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election. What was different in 2020 was we were of the same party as the president." McConnell was also asked about a 2023 vacancy, and said: "we'd have to wait and see what happens." For those who do not speak fluent McConnellese, that means: "We would not approve a Biden nominee in 2023 unless hell freezes over."

McConnell's logic for how 2020 was somehow different from 2016 remains nonsensical; either a president is elected for a four-year term or they aren't, and if they are, they have the same powers on the first day of their term as they do on the last day. He's almost certainly right, however, that neither party will ever again approve a nominee in an election year, unless the nominee is made by a president of the party that controls the Senate. And if he gets to set the precedent that the year before an election is off-limits, then we'll soon be at a place when nominees can only be confirmed in the first year of a president's term. Or, perhaps even more likely, a place where they can only be confirmed if the same party holds the Senate and the White House.

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, who makes his second appearance in this space today, lays out the broader strategy here: Republican leadership knows that many of their policy goals cannot possibly get through Congress, so instead they'll be implemented by conservative judges. Think reaffirming the Second Amendment, severely limiting abortion rights, or making it harder to vote.

McConnell's admission is only going to intensify the pressure on Associate Justice Stephen Breyer to get while the gettin's good. Thus far, he's dug his heels in and insisted that he isn't going anywhere. That said, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is understood to be his preferred candidate to succeed him, was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Monday. If Breyer is just waiting for her to get a little seasoning before being promoted, well, he can now start that clock. (Z)

This Week's 2022 Candidacy News

Lots of candidate announcements in the last week or so. Here are the ones of particular interest:

  • U.S. Senate, Alabama: Katie Britt (R) used to be Sen. Richard Shelby's (R-AL) chief of staff, and now that he's retiring, she wants to be his replacement. As you might imagine, she has the Senator's endorsement. On the other hand, firebrand Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) has the endorsement of Donald Trump. This seat will remain in Republican hands—it's Alabama, after all—but the primary could get ugly. And it will definitely be a test case of how much the former president's endorsement is really worth.

  • U.S. Senate, Arizona: Arizona AG Mark Brnovich (R) is the third Republican, and the first who has won statewide election, to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), who is currently finishing the term that John McCain won in 2016. This is the same Brnovich involved in a suit with the DNC (see above), which tells you he is a loyal Republican. However, while he's fairly Trumpy, he refused to intervene in the election to steer the state into the Trump column. So, his relationship with the former president and his base is shaky. The AG thinks there is potential electoral magic in the semi-Trump lane; we have noted many times that we are skeptical. It's all or none with the MAGA crowd. In any event, this is going to be a brutal primary.

  • U.S. Senate, Missouri: As they attempt to replace the retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (MO), the Republican muckety mucks would like someone who is Trumpy but does not have massive baggage. That's not a description of current (presumed) GOP frontrunner Eric Greitens (R), the former governor who got caught blackmailing his mistress. It's also not really a description of Mark McCloskey (R), whose only argument for the job is that he once got out his weapon and waved it around in front of everyone. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R) believes she could be the answer to the Party's prayers, and announced this week. Unfortunately for her, Missouri AG Eric Schmitt (R) is also fairly baggage-free, is already in the race, and, unlike Hartzler, has won statewide election. Plus, the type of voters that Greitens is courting may not be so bothered by his behavior. So, the Representative begins, at best, in third place behind those two.

  • U.S. House, Florida: Rep. Charlie Crist (D) is vacating the seat in an effort to get his old job as governor back. Since the district has a PVI of EVEN (until it's redrawn, at least), it's attracting a lot of interest on both sides of the aisle. Yesterday, State Rep. Michele Rayner (D) threw her hat in the ring. If Rayner wins, she'll become the first openly LGBTQ+ Black woman to serve in Congress (former representative Barbara Jordan, a Texas Democrat, was Black and gay, but her LGBTQ+ status was not revealed publicly until after her passing).

  • U.S. House, New York: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R) is serving her fourth term and has, of course, just assumed a position in the Republican leadership, a promotion she acquired by climbing over the political corpse of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). The Democrats think she is vulnerable, even if her district is R+8. They now have a promising candidate to challenge her in Matt Putorti, who just announced a run. He's a political unknown, though, so the Democrats will either need him to become a very pleasant surprise, or else for someone else to run, if they want to make Stefanik sweat.

  • U.S. House, South Carolina: Rep. Jim Clyburn (D) is the most powerful Black member in the House, and may trail only Kamala Harris in terms of the most powerful Black politicians in the whole country. He's 80 years old and in the midst of his 15th term. Does it sound to you like he's earned himself a nice, quiet retirement? Well, it doesn't sound that way to him; he's announced that he will run for reelection in 2022. He's a lock to win, of course.

  • Governor, Ohio: Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is not Trumpy enough for many Ohio Republicans, primarily because he refused to treat COVID-19 as fake news, but also because he believes Joe Biden won the election of 2020. It was inevitable that he would draw a primary challenge from the right, and now he's got one from Rep. Jim Renacci (R). Renacci is definitely very Trumpy, but he also angered The Donald by failing to defeat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in 2018. So, he may or may not get, endorsement.

  • Governor, Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown (D) is term-limited, so the seat will be open in 2022. Various Democrats are still weighing their options, but the bench is deep, so they will come up with someone strong. The Republicans, by contrast, have only been able to attract a bunch of perennial candidates, who amuse themselves by rolling the dice on various political offices. The latest to declare is business owner Jessica Gomez (R), who failed in a bid for the state Senate in 2018. She's a moderate, and seems perfectly competent and perfectly pleasant. In deep blue Oregon, of course, she's dead in the water, as she won't get the Democratic votes in the west, or the hardcore Trumper votes in the east. The fact that the state hasn't elected a Republican governor since Ronald Reagan was in the midst of his first term may explain why no serious Republican has entered the race.

  • Mayor, Atlanta: We don't dip into mayoral races too often, but the city of Atlanta has elected Black, Democratic mayors in every election since 1974. And the person who occupies that job has generally ended up, in that time, as a very-high-profile spokesperson for Black Southern Democrats. Current mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is a good example of this. And since she's bowing out after one term, her predecessor Kasim Reed has decided he'd like his old office back. On one hand, he has far more name recognition than the other three candidates in the race. On the other hand, he left office in the first place because of a corruption investigation, which is still ongoing. Reed's a skilled politician, though, so he may be able to maneuver around that wee strike against him.

Now you're up to date. Well, until the next wave of announcements, that is. (Z)

Virginia Governor's Race Could Be a Barnburner

When Terry McAuliffe (D) easily dispatched all comers last week to claim the Democrats' gubernatorial nomination in Virginia, we supposed that he would be a solid favorite given his near-universal name recognition, and his being a pretty good fit for blue-but-let's-not-get-crazy-now Virginia.

Two new polls suggest that it might be much closer than we thought. WPA Intelligence has McAuliffe with 48% of the vote, Republican Glenn Youngkin with 46%, with 5% undecided, and a 4.4-point margin of error. Meanwhile, JMC Analytics has McAuliffe at 46%, Youngkin at 42%, 12% undecided, and a 4.2-point margin of error.

It is, of course, very early in the race. Further, both of these polls are from middling pollsters with slight Republican house effects (roughly R+1 in both cases). So, take them with a few grains of salt. That said, McAuliffe is the kind of politician who is acceptable to many, but exciting to none. He won by 2.6 points in his first gubernatorial election, and so it wouldn't be too big a surprise if, even if he wins, it's not a blowout. (Z)

Adams Looks to Be in the Catbird Seat

Ranked-choice voting is new for New York, which means it's also new for the folks who might wish to poll the New York mayor's race. Nonetheless, WNBC, Telemundo 47 and Politico thought they would give it a try. And according to their poll, Eric Adams is in line to be the Democratic nominee in the New York mayor's race. Inasmuch as the city is more than 70% Democratic, the nomination will effectively make him mayor-elect.

The results suggest that Adams would be the winner even without ranked-choice voting, since he is the first choice of 28% of respondents, as compared to 19% for Kathryn Garcia, 17% for Maya Wiley, and 15% for Andrew Yang. However, the pollsters replicated the voting process, eliminating candidates and re-distributing their votes, until Adams finally claimed a majority in the 12th round of ballot-counting, 56% to 44%.

There is still a week until the election and, of course, there are a lot of moving parts in a ranked-choice election. So, Adams isn't home free yet. That said, from an opening position of leading the field by 9 points (again, 28% to 19%), no candidate ever gets closer to him than 8 points in the pollsters' simulation (and that happens only twice, with Adams at 28% and Garcia at 20% in both the fifth and sixth rounds).

If the counting really does go to a 12th round, that means there will be a fair number of exhausted ballots. In view of that possibility (likelihood?), some voters may put their hearts aside, and use all five of their slots (or, at least, four of the five) more strategically. In particular, the progressive vote is now split across several candidates. If those folks all unite behind Garcia, who isn't a progressive, but is more so than Adams, then that sort of progressive-centrist coalition might be enough to send Adams to defeat. Otherwise, he looks to be home free. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun14 Biden Doesn't Stomp Out of G7 Meeting
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