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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  As the Infrastructure Turns
      •  Pelosi Makes It Official...
      •  ...As Does the New York Bar
      •  DeSantis Cements His Claim to the Trump Lane
      •  This Week's 2022 Candidacy News
      •  COVID Diaries: The Origin Story

As the Infrastructure Turns

We've already used that headline, because it's the one that works best for communicating the soap opera-esque (soap operatic?) qualities of the infrastructure chess game. Maybe we should switch to some other reference, though. All My Infrastructure? Days of our Infrastructure? Beverly Hills, 90210 (Doesn't Really Need Any Money for Infrastructure Because They're Doing Just Fine)? Feel free to choose which one you like best, and to mentally swap it in as the headline.

Anyhow, in yesterday's episode, as you may recall, the Gang of 10, 20, or 21 (depending on whom you ask) announced that they had reached a deal and that the White House had signed off on it. This was clearly premature, as Joe Biden had not yet even heard the particulars when they made that declaration, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki quickly threw things into full reverse. In retrospect, it is evident they got some positive indicators from the administration, and then tried to box the President in by spinning that into "we have a deal!" If Biden ultimately did sign on, then the gang would achieve their ultimate goal. And if he did not sign on, then the gang (and others, primarily Republicans) would say that a deal was in place, and then the White House got skittish and backed out, which would make it look like Biden's embrace of bipartisanship was just talk.

The problem is that Biden has been in politics for half a century, and is clever enough to have gotten elected president, in contrast to the 100 senators (not that a dozen or so of them haven't tried). You have to get up pretty early in the morning to outmaneuver him. And so, early Thursday, he appeared with 10 of the gang members and said "We have a deal!" If someone is going to be made to look irresponsible and unwilling to do the hard work of governance, it's not going to be him.

Presumably, Biden knew exactly what would happen next. We predicted it, and we weren't really sticking our necks out when we did so. Maybe he also had information we don't have. After all, he can get Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on the phone anytime he wants, whereas we're only allowed to call their personal cell phones between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., and preferably not on weekends. Anyhow, Sanders and other progressives promptly declared that their votes would not be available unless there was also a big-time reconciliation bill, while Pelosi advised that she would not even bring the compromise bill up for a vote unless a reconciliation bill was in place.

Biden responded to all of this by announcing that of course there would be two bills, and that while he was delighted to be able to work with the Republicans on "hard" infrastructure, he also requires progress on "soft" infrastructure, and so he will either provide two signatures or he will provide none. If you would prefer his words, then what he said was: "[I]f only one comes to me, I'm not signing it. It's in tandem." Put another way, Biden is setting himself up to claim credit for being bipartisan, and also to claim credit for a massive outlay done entirely on Democratic instigation. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.

If this was the movie "Star Wars," and we could do a wipe transition, we would. In any event, the drama quickly shifted back to The Hill, where Darth, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reacted angrily, choking an aide to death with a mere thought. Ok, we're just guessing about that; what he definitely did was tear into Biden, declaring: "Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues and actually endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the President took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it. It almost makes your head spin." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is one of the 21 gangsters, added that "If reports are accurate that President Biden is refusing to sign a bipartisan deal unless reconciliation is also passed, that would be the ultimate deal breaker for me."

So, it would appear that we're right back where we started. It's possible, we suppose, that 10 Republicans will play along with the scheme that the Democrats are cooking up, just so those Republicans can claim partial credit for hard infrastructure improvements while distancing themselves from more aggressive spending. However, we doubt it. And so, it will presumably come down to exactly what sort of reconciliation bill Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will support. Unlike voting rights or the filibuster, he really does need to bring this pork home, given that his state's economy is based on a dying industry, has 56 kbps dial-up Internet in the good parts and 0 kbps Internet in the bad parts, and toxic abandoned coal mines in all parts. So he's not entirely in a position to say, "My way or no highway." Congress adjourns for the Independence Day holiday very soon, so it may be a few weeks before the next episode of The Bold and the Infrastructure drops. (Z)

Pelosi Makes It Official...

Given the looming holiday, Nancy Pelosi is very busy this week, tying up various loose ends that demand her attention. On Thursday, she made an announcement that has been inevitable for at least a week, and perhaps even longer: "This morning, with great solemnity and sadness, I'm announcing that the House will be establishing a select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection."

Beyond that, the Speaker did not provide many details. For example, she did not say which members of her caucus would serve on the committee, or who would serve as chair (although Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson, D-MS, is apparently the favorite). She also did not say whether there would be Republican participation in the effort. Pelosi would prefer that the effort appear to be bipartisan, but she also does not want to open the door for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to throw a wrench into the proceedings by filling his seats with grandstanders, like Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Matt Gaetz (R-FL). And even if the opportunity is extended to the Republicans, they might decline it in protest (though grandstanding is really more their style). Conceivably she could cut McCarthy out of the loop and appoint Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as co-chair and let her select the Republican members. McCarthy would bellow, but you can get noise canceling reusable earplugs for $2.30.

From a public service perspective, Pelosi really had no choice here. What happened on January 6 cannot be overlooked or swept under the rug, particularly the extent to which the White House aided in things by egging the insurrectionists on, or by neglecting to take action while the violence was underway. The Speaker also had no choice politically. Democrats across the country would have howled if she decided to drop the matter. And while a large percentage of the country has already decided that (1) Trump is a 21st century Benedict Arnold/Robert E. Lee, or else (2) that what happened on 1/6 was just a bunch of tourists having a good time, there is still some segment that has reserved judgment. Depending on what the committee finds, Trump and/or the Republican Party could be badly wounded. A party leader like Pelosi can't let a chance like that pass. (Z)

...As Does the New York Bar

We're not sure which item, this one or the one immediately above, was a greater certainty, but they're both on the level of death, taxes, the sun coming up in the east, and the Detroit Lions missing the playoffs. Anyhow, on Thursday, the New York State Bar suspended Rudy Giuliani's law license, for making "demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts" and because his conduct "immediately threatens the public interest and warrants interim suspension from the practice of law."

There is much about this that is unusual. To start, lawyers have an awful lot of leeway when it comes to representing their clients' interests, and so being suspended for bending the truth is not common. Further, Giuliani hasn't even had a full hearing yet; the "danger" was deemed to be so imminent that the five-judge panel exercised their right to be proactive and to act immediately. And, of course, Giuliani was once among the best-known and most-respected lawyers in the land. To fall so far, so fast is not common (though F. Lee Bailey also managed the trick).

It is possible that, once Giuliani gets a full hearing, he'll get his license back. But don't bet on it. The judges explained their preliminary ruling in a 33-page report, and it is a takedown of epic proportions. They essentially catalogued each of the lies he peddled after the election, and then shot each one full of holes. Perhaps they were just being thorough but, reading it over, one senses they enjoyed putting America's (former) Mayor in his place. The folks who end up on Bar hearing boards generally do not take kindly to those whom they believe to have shamed the profession.

Losing his license, whether temporarily or permanently, is pretty embarrassing, though it's not Giuliani's biggest headache right now. He's also got the massive civil suit from Smartmatic hanging over his head, not to mention the possibility of criminal prosecution due to his dealings with Ukraine. There may also be legal exposure that is not publicly known; after all, he was also on the infamous Trump phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), and he also egged on the crowd on 1/6. There has been much talk about Trump possibly fleeing the country to a non-extradition country. Given Giuliani's civil and criminal exposure, and that he seems to be closer to paying the piper than Trump is, we wouldn't put it past Rudy to be the one who flees. (Z)

DeSantis Cements His Claim to the Trump Lane

This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed 44 bills into law. That's the kind of total that says: "These initiatives were totally given the kind of care and attention they should get before becoming binding on the people of Florida."

The Governor was thrilled to sign many of the measures into law, since he's gearing up for his reelection bid, as well as a possible (maybe even probable) run for president in 2024 in the Trump lane. The Donald's signature issue was, of course, anti-immigration. DeSantis is happy to parrot that, but he's also trying to develop his own identity distinct from Trump. And the Governor has plainly decided that those bastions of liberal indoctrination—in other words, schools—are a fantastic boogeyman for him to run against.

Already, DeSantis had signed a bill prohibiting Florida elementary and high schools from teaching critical race theory. This week's pile of bills added another three education-related initiatives to the list. S.B. 1108 requires the state's college students to take a civics literacy course, and to pass an assessment before they graduate. H.B. 5, which is called the "Portraits of Patriotism Act," instructs the Florida Department of Education to develop a curriculum that covers how awesome the leaders of the U.S. and other democracies are, and how evil the leaders of communist and totalitarian regimes are. In particular, DeSantis has noted his disappointment that Mao Zedong and Che Guevara are sometimes discussed "positively" on campuses. One wonders if the Governor knows that Guevara was a foot soldier, and was not actually the leader of any regime. And then there is the bill that really has people talking. That would be H.B. 233, which is meant to stop "indoctrination" at the state's universities by requiring students, professors, and staff to take a survey about their political beliefs, and whether or not they think their viewpoints are being "heard."

H.B. 233 is just all kinds of stupid. We could give you two dozen reasons, but we'll limit ourselves to the five biggest ones:

  1. It's Probably Illegal: Professors and staff are generally protected by some sort of contract that governs their labor. Professors, staff, and students are all protected by the First Amendment. Giving folks a new "required" task is dubious. Giving them a task that requires them to reveal their political viewpoints is ten times more so.

  2. Bad Data, Part I: When you ask students (or faculty, or staff) to fill out some form or survey, you get three basic groups of people: (1) those who agree with the purpose of the survey and/or who try to be diligent and dutiful, and so give it their best effort; (2) those who blow it off or rush through it; and (3) those who deliberately falsify their responses to taint the data. Under normal circumstances, about 60% of folks are in the first group, 39% are in the second, and 1% are in the third. With something like this, it could end up 33%/33%/33%.

  3. Bad Data, Part II: In most classes and subjects, there is no "political" angle. There are no Republican-skewed physics classes, or Democratic-skewed dance classes, or Libertarian-skewed Spanish classes. The whole point of this bill is to allow Republican-leaning students to complain about a fairly narrow range of courses—history, literature, political science, and a few others. However, given that they are just learning the subject, students are pretty poor judges of what is and is not "balanced." When (Z) was in grad school, for example, campus conservatives published a "dirty 30" list of UCLA professors who were guilty of indoctrinating their students into leftist orthodoxy. (Z)'s dissertation chair/mentor made the list, despite being about as centrist as it gets, because in one lecture she said "In the Gilded Age, Republicans were primarily interested in growing the economy and promoting business interests." Meanwhile, some of the really outlandish leftists in the history department didn't even make the list.

  4. Bad Data, Part III: Similarly, because some right-leaning students have been taught that university professors are out to get them, they automatically assume that if they do poorly in a course, they are being persecuted for their beliefs. On multiple occasions, for example, (Z) has had students who were assigned essays on a question like "Why do you think the Union won the Civil War?" and who answered with "Because God wanted them to win." When that happens, (Z) assigns no grade, and invites the student to his office to explain that history essays are about marshaling evidence in support of an argument, and since God's will can neither be proven or disproven with evidence, it's not the basis for an essay in a history class. There is no question that some of those students concluded that they were being compelled to rewrite their essays because of their religious beliefs, even though that was not the case.

  5. What's the Penalty?: H.B. 233 vaguely suggests that if a university is found guilty of "indoctrination" or being "intolerant" to certain viewpoints, its funding might be cut. But what on earth would be the standard for reaching such a finding? That 20% of students say they are not "being heard"? 30%? 50%? And the nuts and bolts of university budgets are figured out at the university level, not the state level. The state government can't cut the budget for the University of Florida History Department, they can only cut the budget for the overall university. Are they really willing to punish all departments because a few departments are deemed to be in violation of...whatever it is they're violating?

We are shredding H.B. 233 in this fashion because we want to make clear it's not going to "solve" the alleged problem it pretends to solve. There can be only two reasons for this exercise; either (1) DeSantis and his colleagues just wanted to show off how "concerned" they are, and they're not actually going to bother with the surveys, or (2) they want to collect "data" about the "oppression" of conservative students, so they can use that for various political purposes. Given DeSantis' aspirations, we're betting on #2. (Z)

This Week's 2022 Candidacy News

The 2022 cycle continues to heat up. This week's candidate news had a decidedly gubernatorial lean, as you can see:

  • U.S. Senate, Pennsylvania: The Republican side of the race to replace Sen. Pat Toomey (R), who is retiring, is underwhelming. Thus far, the race has drawn five candidates, who all have in common that they've never won an election, but they have lost one. Surely the GOP leadership would like someone a little stronger than two failed House candidates, a failed U.S. Senate candidate, a failed lieutenant governor candidate, and a failed Montgomery County Commission candidate. The problem is that the Republican bench in Pennsylvania is pretty thin, and there's a sense among most or all of the top-tier folks that this seat is close to a lost cause. They would rather keep their current, safer jobs. This could clear the path for former representative Charlie Dent, but (1) he quit his last House term midway through, which is not a good look; and (2) he's been a Trump critic. Not a likely person to rally the Republican troops.

    The Democratic side of the contest communicates the same lesson—that this is looking like a flip—because there we have a surfeit of strong candidates, as compared to the Republican dearth. At the moment, it looks to be a three-way race. There's Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who marries intellectual brilliance (masters degree in public policy from Harvard) with a blue-collar, motorcycle-riding, Regular Joe image, and who has crafted a policy portfolio that pretty effectively blends progressive stances on some issues (minimum wage, criminal justice reform) and centrist stances on others (fracking, gun control). He's been in the race for a couple of months now. He was joined, not long ago, by Val Arkoosh (D), a physician and member of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. Her signature issue is health care, and her pitch is tailored toward suburban women voters, of which Pennsylvania has many. Arkoosh was aided in her quest this week when she landed the endorsement of EMILY's List. The third candidate, who has yet to declare, but is giving every indication he plans to do so, is Rep. Conor Lamb (D), a military veteran, former Asst. U.S. Attorney, and centrist who won the hearts of many Democrats when he won a special election in a district that was then R+11. At the moment, polling has Fetterman up on his two rivals (or would-be rivals), with him getting 40% support compared to 20% for the other two, and the remaining 20% scattered among lesser candidates.

  • U.S. House, Georgia: Rep. Jody Hice (R) is giving up his seat to run for secretary of state, so that he can—by his own admission—"find" votes for Donald Trump or other Republican candidates as needed in 2024. The seat is likely to stay in Republican hands, as it is R+15 pending redistricting. However, the Democrats have at least a puncher's chance, since the GOP side of the contest has already gotten ugly, while the blue team just got a promising candidate in Phyllis Hatcher. She has no political experience, but she is Black (in a district that is 25.3% black) and she is pastor of her church. That's the profile of Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) when he ran last year, so maybe it can work.

  • Governor, Idaho: Two candidates entered the fray this week, and they are just a tiny bit different from each other. One of them is ultra-far-right activist Ammon Bundy, who said he is running to protect Idaho from "Joe Biden and those in the Deep State that control him." Bundy is a militia member, and his family is known for their armed resistance to paying taxes (which landed several of them, including Ammon, in jail) and their unabashed racism. If he somehow gets elected, and gets the platform that comes from being a governor, he is going to give Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) a run for her (funny) money.

    Also declaring was Melissa Sue Robinson, who is a lifelong Idahoan, and who is the first trans person to run for governor in Idaho. Her goal is not to win, as you might guess, but instead to bring more exposure to the trans community. Still, we would pay good money to watch a gubernatorial debate with her and Bundy on stage.

  • Governor, Massachusetts: State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz (D) threw her hat into the ring this week. She's young, progressive, and is the first Latina (and, currently, the only woman of color) to serve in the Massachusetts Senate. In the primaries, she will lock horns, at very least, with Harvard University political science professor Danielle Allen (D) and former state senator Ben Downing (D). There's also much scuttlebutt that state AG Maura Healey (D) is going to run, and any high-profile Massachusetts election always has the potential to attract a Kennedy (in this case, Joe III). Surviving the primary will not be easy, and there also remains the question of whether Gov. Charlie Baker (R) will run for reelection. He hasn't decided yet, but he's very popular, so if he does run, he would be a strong favorite over any of the Democrats.

  • Governor, Maryland: Tom Perez was Secretary of Labor under Barack Obama, and then he ran the DNC for four years. He wants back in the arena, and so declared a run for the Maryland governor's mansion this week. Because Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is term-limited, the Democratic field is already jam-packed, though mostly with second-tier candidates. Perez probably becomes the immediate frontrunner, with his main competition being Maryland comptroller Peter Franchot and former Secretary of Education John King Jr. (who also served under Obama). That said, beyond a successful run for Montgomery County Council, Perez has never won election before. Further, he's not terribly popular with the progressive wing of the party.

We don't want to overdo it, but there are two other governor's races, both in states beginning with 'A,' that are getting interesting. We'll cover those next week. (Z)

COVID Diaries: The Origin Story

Where did SARS-COV-2 originate?

"What was the source of the pandemic?" was not a very pressing question six months ago. When the house is burning around you, how the fire started is not at the top of your priority list. But now that we are standing in a charred and smoking structure (not quite a ruin), the question is more interesting.

There are not just political points to be scored here. If China is ultimately held accountable, this will be a multi-trillion dollar problem for them. That said, this is not just a binary question: "Did the virus come from the Wuhan lab or not?" There are several possibilities to consider:

  1. SARS-COV-2 is a 100% human engineered, weaponized virus that China released to harm the West.

  2. SARS-COV-2 is a 100% human engineered, weaponized virus that China accidentally released.

  3. SARS-COV-2 is a naturally occurring virus that was identified and was being studied (and maybe modified as part of that research) at the Wuhan lab and that accidentally escaped.

  4. Some people got sick with the virus through animal interaction. They were treated at the Wuhan Lab while the virus was already spreading naturally.

  5. The Wuhan lab had nothing to do with SARS-COV-2. The lab just happened to be in the same city where the first major outbreak was detected. Maybe the reason it was detected in Wuhan was that the lab was located there.

Secrecy and paranoia from the Chinese government are not unexpected in this context. They are not exactly rolling out the red carpet to inspectors and researchers.

The evidence that Wuhan had anything to do with SARS-COV-2 is anything but a smoking gun. Dr. Li-Meng Yan claimed that SARS-COV-2 was created in a lab. However, the scientific peer review process was less than impressed by her claims.

The virus itself is the best evidence that it is engineered. SARS-COV-2 is unusual. It is more infectious than similar viruses. It seriously affects some people and does nothing to 90% of the population. A friend who has been treating COVID patients since the beginning of the pandemic has repeatedly commented that COVID is "different." I also received an opinion from "an anonymous (but reputable) source" (fearing professional reprisal) who stated the case for an engineered virus pretty well. Specifically:

  1. There is a sequence of genes encoding the amino acid arginine that are not normally found in coronaviruses.

  2. The behavior of this virus is very peculiar. It hides from the immune system initially, then comes on full force late in the infectious process. This is very unusual.

  3. SARS-COV-2 takes advantage of specific genetic variations more common in Europeans and very uncommon in Chinese Asians.

Most of the stories in the U.S. are less than objective (one way or the other). A nice review article was written for the BBC, though. They correctly conclude that we should keep asking questions about COVID-19's origins and not be satisfied until we have a clear answer. That said, that clear answer may never be found. Unless someone credible comes forward with insider knowledge of the inner workings of the Wuhan lab (which is far less likely than someone with internal knowledge of Trump's finances), we may never know for certain what started the pandemic.

That will not stop people from having an opinion, however. Over half of all Americans are convinced that SARS-COV-2 was fabricated in the Wuhan Lab. It is not just a Fox News result. There have been several confirming polls (Fox is just the most recent). This is perhaps a better reflection of the effectiveness of the Fox (and "friends") propaganda machine than of evolving and damning evidence. More than 79% of Republicans are convinced of a Wuhan Lab origin, as compared to 41% of Democrats. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims that there was "an enormous amount of evidence" in support of a Wuhan Lab origin. Of course, he also asserted that "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration," so perhaps we can be excused for taking his assertions with some quantity of sodium-based seasoning.

Dr. Paul Dorsey, Ph.D., works in medical software, providing software to support medical practices and hospitals nationwide.

We had a number of readers e-mail and ask us not to reveal the album names that appeared in each of the seven items yesterday, to give them a little more time to play the game. So, we will hold off until next week. That said, if you're dying to know how you did, you can send us a message, and we'll tell you. As a reminder, it was seven notable album names, one per item, from the years 1979, 1970, 2004, 1966, 1959, 1972, and 1992 (those are in order). We also snuck an eighth album in there somewhere (it's from 1971) that nobody who has e-mailed in thus far has picked up on.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun24 We Have a Deal, Part 29
Jun24 Supreme Court Justices Are Earning Their Paychecks
Jun24 The Day After
Jun24 Another Proposal for Fixing the Filibuster
Jun24 Biden Nominates McCain for U.N. Post
Jun24 We Have Our First Redistricting Map...and Our First Redistricting Map Squabble
Jun24 Newsom to Face Recall Election
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