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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  We Have a Deal, Part 29
      •  Supreme Court Justices Are Earning Their Paychecks
      •  The Day After
      •  Another Proposal for Fixing the Filibuster
      •  Biden Nominates McCain for U.N. Post
      •  We Have Our First Redistricting Map...and Our First Redistricting Map Squabble
      •  Newsom to Face Recall Election

We Have a Deal, Part 29

For two or three decades, the U.S. allowed much of its infrastructure to crumble. There was much talk about the problem, but relatively little urgency when it came to actually doing something. Bill Clinton did sign a $198 billion, five-year infrastructure bill into law in 1998, and Barack Obama did the same with a $305 billion, five-year bill in 2015. Recent Republican administrations, by contrast, have been not as successful, largely due to being part of a party that prefers to give money back to wealthy people and corporations rather than spend it on roads, and partly due—at least in one case—to a near-total lack of skill at making deals, and a belief that the only really important infrastructure project was putting another brick in the wall.

Joe Biden wants to leave his predecessors in the dust on this issue, and to spend the sort of infrastructure money the country hasn't seen since the 1950s. In part, this is because there's a real issue here that needs to be addressed, and in part it's because he wants to distinguish himself from his immediate predecessor, who failed in such high-profile fashion on this front. Further, Biden isn't interested in waiting until later in his term, the way the last two Democrats did. He knows that you have to strike while the iron is hot, and it's pretty hot right now. He also knows that if in November of next year, the House passes into House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) hands or the Senate passes into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) hands, they will be ten times harder to work with than Newt Gingrich was in 1998. Which is really saying something, if you think about it.

So, it's gotta be now. And that's not just in the sense of "sometime soon," but more in the sense of "sometime in the next few weeks, or perhaps the next few days." Many members of Biden's party are getting restless, and intolerant of further delays. More importantly, Congress spends much of the summer not in session, so the number of legislative days left between now and Labor Day is pretty small. And once the legislature gears up again, it will be time to talk about the annual budget, which is likely to suck up much of the members' time, not to mention their willingness to write big checks.

In view of all of this, the gang of—however many senators it is these days—that was working on a compromise felt enormous pressure to get something hammered out, for fear of missing their window of opportunity. And late Wednesday—and stop us if you've heard this before—they announced that they have had a breakthrough. In fact, what they actually said was that a deal has been struck, and the White House has signed off on it. The price tag is $1.2 trillion, and it includes $579 billion in new spending (or, according to other sources, $559 billion).

Those are some pretty strong words; clearly the "gang" thinks they're on to something here. That said, if you are a tad bit skeptical here, you are right to be. Here are some very good reasons for that skepticism:

  • The progressives: As you might guess, the new proposal will jettison virtually all of the progressives' priorities. They are going to be hopping mad, and there's every reason to believe that some of them will withhold their votes. Of course, they might be brought on board if promised that a companion bill will be passed through reconciliation, but then many Republicans will surely bolt.

  • The price tag: Biden would be getting one-quarter of the money he wanted. Is he really willing to give up that much in search of "bipartisanship"? At the same time, the 10 or so Republicans who were a part of these negotiations are apparently OK with the price tag, but it's not clear their 40 or so colleagues will be. And if a bunch of progressives jump ship, some of those 40 or so votes will be needed.

  • White House "approval": It turns out that when the "gang" said that the White House has signed off on the deal, they meant something more like "the White House was willing to hear more." When asked, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the senators had "made progress towards an outline of a potential agreement." That is rather different from "Yep, we're on board!" isn't it? Further, at the point the Senators made their announcement, Biden hadn't even been briefed on the plan. Perhaps our understanding of politics is out-of-date, but we are pretty sure he gets a vote here.

  • Paying for it: As to the stickiest issue of all, namely how to pay for the outlay, the senators have agreed that...they will figure that out sometime soon, maybe today, maybe tomorrow. That seems to be an awfully large hurdle left to deal with for folks who have all but declared victory. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) pooh-poohed such talk, asserting that there are many possible options, while also noting that an increased gas tax and/or increased corporate taxes were not among them. Perhaps the senators are all going to bring in their used aluminum cans for recycling, and pay for it that way.

So, it sure looks to us like they are putting the cart before the horse here. Again, maybe they really have cracked the code, and something will come of this. But that seems likely only if Manchin and/or one of the other Democrats says that this is the one and only infrastructure bill they will vote for. (Z)

Supreme Court Justices Are Earning Their Paychecks

In the summertime, when the weather is hot (and humid), everyone wants to get out of Washington. It actually used to be much worse, thanks to all the disease-ridden mosquitoes. Even today, though, the politicians do their best to get out of Dodge when the calendar turns to July. And so, just as Congress is trying to wrap things up for a while (see above), so too are the members of the Supreme Court working hard in order that they might commence their summer vacations. After a few weeks in which it seemed the pipeline was clogged, they've been issuing forth with major decisions nearly every day. Three more of them dropped yesterday:

  1. Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.: Although public schools are part of the government, they have rather more leeway than most government entities when it comes to infringing on students' free speech rights. One reason is because the courts have judged the need to maintain "order" as a compelling interest that sometimes outweighs First Amendment protections. Another reason is that schools are understood to function as something of an avatar of the students' parents, a doctrine called in loco parentis.

    That said, Mahanoy Area High School officials took things pretty far when they suspended Brandi Levy from the cheerleading team for a year after she posted some snarky messages to Snapchat following an unsuccessful tryout. Levy ultimately made the team, in her next school year, so she could have let it be, but instead she and her parents decided to sue (and Levy's mother is not named Mary, in case you were wondering). She was a minor at the time the suit was filed, hence the initials, though she is now an adult and has publicly identified herself. Anyhow, by an 8-1 majority, with only Associate Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Court ruled that the school had indeed overstepped its bounds, and that the things students say on their own time, on private social media platforms, cannot be policed by their teachers and principals, unless they impact academic functions or student and faculty access and safety (e.g., bullying, harassment, threats).

  2. Lange v. California: The plaintiff in this case is Arthur Lange, who was playing loud music and honking his horn while driving home late one evening. This aroused the suspicions of highway patrol officer Aaron Weikert, who followed Lange in his patrol car, and then on foot, with them finally coming face-to-face in the garage of Lange's residence. Weikert smelled alcohol, did a sobriety test, and popped Lange for DUI.

    Lange's argument was that, given he was guilty of a misdemeanor at most (noise infraction), the officer did not have the right to follow him into his residence without a warrant. California's argument was, in essence, "Nuh, uh!" The justices sided with Lange 9-0, which means that, at least for one day, the current Supreme Court was less supportive of police authority than the state of California. Let that one sink in for a while.

  3. Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid: That said, this is still a SCOTUS with six Republicans and three Democrats. Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid also involves a dispute that came up in California, this one dealing with organized labor. The California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, passed back in the 1960s, says that labor organizers are allowed to visit agricultural workers' workplaces, to talk with them about unionizing, and that the owners of the farms (or canneries, or packing plants, etc.) in question cannot bar them from the grounds.

    In 1976, the Court heard a lawsuit about this very issue, and dismissed it on technical grounds, decreeing that there was no "substantial federal question" in dispute. After waiting 45 years, the California farm owners decided to try their luck again. And in a decision that broke down along ideological fault lines, the Court found 6-3 that the California law violates the farm owners' Fifth Amendment rights against unlawful seizure of property. That's a pretty aggressive leap of logic, one that does not line up especially well with past SCOTUS jurisprudence on what is, and what is not, considered a seizure of property under the Fifth Amendment. It's also another blow for organized labor, since farm workers are otherwise very difficult to reach outside of their employers' property, either because the workers move around with the seasons, or because they actually live on the grounds.

The Cedar Point Nursery decision is not going to gladden the hearts of liberals. Nor is the upcoming decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, about voting rights in Arizona, likely to do so. However, the Court took on some tricky issues this term and, on the whole, made decisions that are acceptable (or even desirable) to Democrats, including protecting free speech, Obamacare, and student-athletes. It's definitely a conservative court but, as Politico's Peter S. Canellos observes, the justices have quite a number of areas of agreement. And several (and possibly most) of the conservatives are not willing to be quite as nakedly partisan as, say, the Senate Majority Leader who put several of them on the Court, or the president who nominated several of them to the Court. (Z)

The Day After

We do not know who the next mayor of New York City will be, nor will we know for two or three or four more weeks. However, lots of journalists are still in a New York state of mind, so there was plenty of interesting coverage and commentary on Wednesday based on what we know already.

To start, The New York Times can always be counted on for a "takeaways" piece, and it did not disappoint here, offering five of them:

  1. Eric Adams is leading after defining himself on public safety
  2. Because of ranked-choice voting, the counting isn't over yet
  3. Andrew Yang went from first to fizzled
  4. Maya Wiley and the progressive momentum stalled in the first ballot
  5. Progressives hold hope elsewhere even if Adams wins

These aren't the most profound insights that The Gray Lady has ever offered up, but they do summarize the state of affairs as they currently stand. The first point is certainly the most important; quite a few outlets published pieces like this one yesterday, proposing that given a recent spike in crime, Adams' pro-police message was a winner, "defund the police" is a loser, and Democrats ignore that lesson at their peril. It's a fair assessment, we would say, though we would also point out that the Democrats' real problem here is that "defund the police" is just awful, awful branding, and plasters the Party with a policy position that most members do not actually agree with. We are guessing that if Adams and, say, fellow New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had a chat about policing, there is a lot they would agree on.

As to Yang, Politico has a very interesting postmortem on what went wrong for him, as he went from the frontrunner to an afterthought. Though it's not organized in this way, the piece identifies four basic themes:

  1. Lack of Constituency: Yang, as we pointed out yesterday, does not fit cleanly on the political spectrum. He's very liberal in some ways, and pretty conservative in others. So, he did not have much of a natural power base. He hoped and counted on strong backing from Asian voters, but they are only 10% of the city's population, so that wasn't going to get it done. Yang traveled to the 5 boroughs, trying to piece together a coalition (including, among other groups, Orthodox Jews), but a viable bloc never came together.

  2. Lack of Platform: When he ran for president, Yang was known for one issue, namely universal basic income. That's not much to build a presidential campaign on, since it's not going to pass Congress anytime in the next century, and it's even less to build a municipal campaign on. Yang cast about for other positions he might take, but he came off as opportunistic rather than genuine. Even his own adviser described Yang as "an empty vessel" on policy.

  3. Not Battle Tested: Thanks to the surprising interest he attracted in running for president, Yang did spend a bit of time under the harshest spotlight in American politics. However, he wasn't in the frying pan for all that long, and even when he was, he was never really a first-tier candidate. In this race, by contrast, he was right at the top of the list. And so, much more time was spent looking in his closet for (and finding) skeletons, such as his spotty New York voting record, his COVID-19 escape from NYC, and his somewhat underwhelming record on job creation. He also made some mistakes during public appearances, perhaps none worse than the candidates debate where he essentially scapegoated homeless, mentally ill people for the rise in crime: "Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else has rights? We do! The people and families of the city," he decreed. "We have the right to walk the street and not fear for our safety because a mentally ill person is going to lash out at us." That is not very nice, nor is it supported by evidence.

  4. Bad Timing: This is probably the biggest one. When Yang started his campaign, the pandemic was still in full swing, and many New Yorkers lapped up his light-on-policy-but-heavy-on-optimism messaging. However, in an excellent demonstration of how quickly things can change, the pandemic receded and crime rates jumped. At that point, New Yorkers were less interested in sunshine, and more interested in who could keep them safe. The former cop seemed a better bet, at least to many, than the guy who was pointing the finger at homeless people.

As we did yesterday, Slate's Jordan Weissmann wondered what might be next for Yang (who, by the way, has already conceded). Weissmann agrees with us that if the would-be mayor wants a future in politics, he really needs to be thinking House of Representatives. Otherwise, it's probably talking head, or corporate board member.

Meanwhile, ranked-choice voting (RCV) is getting rave reviews. For example, Henry Grabar, also of Slate, decreed that RCV is the real "winner" here. Because it allowed people to feel they were being heard, as opposed to being forced to choose the lesser of two evils (or least of several evils), it drove turnout and voter satisfaction to very high levels. One of our New York readers, D.A. in Brooklyn, who we quoted yesterday and are going to quote again today, agrees. D.A. wrote to us:

I did RCV in the NYC election this past Tuesday. It was positively the most satisfying voting experience I've ever had. I left feeling that I had been able to fully express my sentiments, without having to make those wretched, anguished calculations. Eugene Debs' admonition "it is better to vote for someone you like and have them lose than to vote for someone you don't like and they win" is now over. I can vote for both. (And did: Chang, Morales, Stringer, Wiley, Garcia). At the time of this writing I am convinced that Wiley or Garcia will ultimately win, but even if it were Adams or someone I didn't vote for, I'm very content. I have spoken and my fellow voters have spoken. This is what democracy looks like.

With reviews like these, RCV could be an idea whose time has come.

And finally, as it turns out—and you may not know this—there are actually other cities in New York State besides New York City. One of those—and we're waiting for the staff linguist to give us a proper pronunciation—is called "Buffalo." There is a very interesting development there, as it looks like political newbie India Walton is going to successfully primary four-term Mayor Byron Brown (D). The upset is not the interesting thing, though; sometimes it happens. No, it is that Walton is an outspoken, dyed-in-the-wool socialist. Not a Democratic socialist—a socialist socialist. If she holds on (she's up 52%-45%, pending absentee ballots) then she would be a big favorite to become the first socialist to lead a large American city since 1960. There was a time when blue-collar cities were a hotbed of socialism; Milwaukee alone elected three socialist mayors. It would be quite interesting if "Socialist!" is fading in potency as a bugaboo, and is again starting to be a selling point to, say, workers or young people. (Z)

Another Proposal for Fixing the Filibuster

Tom Harkin represented Iowa in the U.S. Senate, as a Democrat, from 1985-2015. And one of his pet issues (pet peeves? pet sounds?) was the filibuster, which he urged his colleagues to rein in, for fear of an arms race that would lead to near-total gridlock. In other words, he pretty much predicted what's going on at this very moment.

In view of that, Harkin dusted off an idea he put forth a couple of times during his career in the upper chamber, and wrote it up as an op-ed for The Washington Post. Recognizing that the filibuster is a useful tool for the minority, when employed sparingly, he would retain the tactic. However, he would allow each successive cloture vote, after a few days have passed, to require three fewer senators to pass. In other words, the first cloture vote would require 60 votes, but the second would require 57, the third 54, and the fourth just 51.

The former senator estimates that each round of cloture voting would take up about a week, which means that a maximal filibuster could extend to about a month. In Harkin's view, that approach allows the minority to really gum up the works, if they feel like it, since they could keep the chamber's output to just one bill a month (Harkin doesn't say it, but he clearly intends that the Senate would return to being able to consider only one matter at a time). Since, as he points out, "the most important thing is time" for a majority leader, this kind of ultra-foot-dragging would motivate the majority to negotiate. At the same time, since the minority would ultimately go down to defeat if they play the whole process out, they too would be motivated to negotiate.

Given that the man was a five-term senator, his words necessarily carry some weight. That said, his proposal is also predicated on the notion that the minority has actual policy goals it wants to accomplish, and that minority would rather accomplish some of those goals rather than none of them. That sentiment may be a bit pollyanna-ish, as it does not necessarily appear to apply to the current Senate minority, particularly its leader. (Z)

Biden Nominates McCain for U.N. Post

During his campaign, Joe Biden promised that he would follow a custom embraced by most of his immediate predecessors, and would name a Republican to a prominent place in his administration. One of the two most likely candidates for that honor (with the other being Jeff Flake) was Cindy McCain, widow of Sen. John, who vocally supported Biden during the 2020 election.

On Wednesday, Biden followed through on his promise and nominated McCain as ambassador to...the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. That is certainly an important agency, one that—as you might guess, if you did not already know—works to combat hunger globally. No information has been made public as to the White House's conversations with McCain, but it's the kind of posting that a candidate usually asks for because the cause is near and dear to their heart. If this was not requested by her, and she was expecting Ireland or Canada or some such posting, she's going to be kind of blue (as opposed to kind of green, or kind of red).

Although Biden found a spot for McCain, one can hardly say he fulfilled his campaign promise. After all, "Get the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture on the phone—now!" was said by no president, ever. We shall see if he taps Flake or some other member of the GOP for something a little higher profile, or if that promise basically just gets forgotten. (Z)

We Have Our First Redistricting Map...and Our First Redistricting Map Squabble

Thanks to the mangling of the census process that took place under the previous administration, the states did not get the data they need to draw their congressional maps until quite late. That was no problem for, say, Wyoming or Delaware, which have only one representative. Their maps have been complete for literally years. But the other states were left to hustle. And the first of those to reach the finish line is...Colorado. Maybe it is easier to focus on map-drawing when you are Rocky Mountain high.

Colorado is one of the states that has turned map-drawing over to a non-partisan commission, so as to forestall any partisan bickering. And naturally, now that the map is done, it has quickly been met with partisan bickering. Can you guess which party is salty about the map? While you decide on your guess, we'll remind you that Colorado is one of the states that gained a seat in the House this time around, such that partisans on both sides were eagerly licking their chops in hopes of picking up that seat.

The new Colorado map keeps the state's current three Republican representatives in fairly safe Republican districts, and the state's current four Democratic representatives in fairly safe Democratic districts, and creates an eighth district in and around Denver that is basically a toss-up. So, if this map is implemented, then Colorado's 4 Democrat/3 Republican delegation is likely to end up either 4/4 or 5/3. And the party that is irked about this is...the Democrats. They point out that Sen. John Hickenlooper (D) and Joe Biden both won the state by double digits last year (10 and 13.5 points, respectively), and argue that the new map should reflect that sort of Democratic dominance.

Put another way, the Democrats are angry because they wanted an independent commission to create a gerrymandered map. But that, of course, is not how it works. If they win that Denver seat, then they'll actually have 25% more seats than the Republicans (62.5% to 37.5%). There's no way to chop up 8 seats to give one party 10% more. Further, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) looks like she'll end up in the least safe of the Republican districts, and given her baggage, the Democrats could knock her off, which means a 6-2 split is certainly possible.

In any event, the map is not official, since state law calls for a "public comment" period. But given that neither the redistricting process, nor state law in general, gives the blue team a leg to stand on, so that all they've got is "Waaaaaah!," things aren't likely to change much. (Z)

Newsom to Face Recall Election

As with the item above about infrastructure deals, stop us if you've heard this one before. On Wednesday, officials in the office of California Secretary of State Shirley Weber (D) announced that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will be subjected to a recall election later this year.

Of course, we already knew that. Recall proponents cleared the bar, in terms of the number of signatures needed, by nearly half a million. There was no way that many signatures would be withdrawn (which is legal), or found to be invalid. However, now the process is complete, and so what was inevitable is now official.

That said, California does love its red tape. And so, although a preliminary budget for the recall has been worked out, an official one has not. That work still needs to be done, and the budget needs to be approved. Further, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (D) has yet to set an actual election date. California Democrats are going to try to hustle the process along as rapidly as is possible, in hopes of holding the recall while Newsom's approval numbers are still strong. However, as Dick Starkey once observed, time takes time.

In the last four recall polls, the "do not recall" folks outnumbered the "recall" folks by double digits (+15, +13, +11, +16). This pretty much mirrors the Republican vs. Democratic breakdown of the state, once all the "independents" are sorted into the faction they tend to lean toward. So, Newsom would have to alienate a fairly large chunk of his fellow Democrats before he'd need to start sweating, especially given that the Republicans who seek to replace him remain an underwhelming bunch. (Z)



Well, it happened again. Without any deliberate planning, we ended up with five items that mentioned notable musical albums, while the other two mentioned notable songs. After noticing that, we went back and added albums to the two "song" items. So, if you'd care to hunt for the seven album names, have at it. We'll list them tomorrow. As a hint, here are the years for the albums, in the order they appear: 1979, 1970, 2004, 1966, 1959, 1972, and 1992.


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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun23 It Ain't Over Til It's Over
Jun23 Pelosi Reportedly Ready to Move Forward with 1/6 Commission
Jun23 Manchin Plays Ball
Jun23 Democratic Super PAC Will Pour $20 Million into Voting Efforts
Jun23 Some States Are Making Voting Easier
Jun23 Democrats Vow to Reach Out to Minority Voters
Jun23 Senate Committee Takes Up D.C. Statehood
Jun23 Labor and Green Groups Urge Biden to Reject Watered-Down Infrastructure Plan
Jun23 Judge Rules Against Protesters in Lafayette Square Case
Jun23 Will the Free Market Make Bernie Sanders Obsolete?
Jun22 Sinema Lays Out Her Filibuster Views in Black and White
Jun22 Polling News, Part I: Adams Remains the Favorite
Jun22 Polling News, Part II: DeSantis for President?
Jun22 Trump's Risky Endorsement Strategy
Jun22 Tucker Carlson, Male Prostitute
Jun22 Big News Times Two from the World of Sports
Jun21 More Democrats Are Yelling "Go, Joe, Go!"
Jun21 Catholic Bishops Vote to Draft a Statement That Will Rebuke Biden
Jun21 Garcia and Yang Gang Up on Adams
Jun21 North Carolina Republicans Want to Throw Out Ballots Arriving after Election Day
Jun21 Georgia Will Soon Purge 100,000 Voters from the Rolls
Jun21 First Hearing Is Scheduled in Smartmatic's Suit against Fox News
Jun21 Trump Endorses in Alaska Senate Race
Jun21 Democrats Are Not Wild about Nikki Fried
Jun21 Poll: Chuck, Time for You to Pack Your Bags and Leave the Senate
Jun20 Sunday Mailbag
Jun19 Saturday Q&A
Jun18 SCOTUS Takes Center Stage
Jun18 McConnell Promptly Shuts Manchin Down
Jun18 American Racism, Past and Present
Jun18 Keeping Trumpism Alive, Part I: Immigration
Jun18 Keeping Trumpism Alive, Part II: Trump for Speaker
Jun17 Biden and Putin Met and Nothing Happened
Jun17 Manchin Is Open to a Mini-H.R. 1 Bill
Jun17 Schumer Is Following Two Paths on Infrastructure at the Same Time
Jun17 DSCC Will Spend $10 Million to Protect the Vote
Jun17 Mayors Have Had It
Jun17 Trump Is Struggling to Clear the Field in Senate Primaries
Jun17 Dept. of Justice Will Focus on Domestic Terrorism
Jun17 Biden Will Double Number of Black Women on Appeals Courts
Jun16 Bipartisan Bill Has One Foot in the Grave (and the Other on a Banana Peel)
Jun16 1/6 Realities Diverge in Congress
Jun16 Surprise! White House Pressured DoJ to Help Overturn Election
Jun16 Many Things Are Coming Up Roses for Progressives
Jun16 There's Good News and There's Bad News on the COVID-19 Front
Jun16 Florida Does an End Run around the Rules
Jun16 Kushner Signs Book Deal
Jun15 VP I Is Going to Be a Tougher Challenge than QE II Was
Jun15 Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Is in Trouble
Jun15 Supreme Court News, Part I: The Calm Before the Storm