• Biden Gets Another Cabinet Member, but Still No "Yea" Vote from Hawley
• A Tale of Two Speeches
• Two More Politicians Tease Senate Runs
• Census Delays Will Make Things a Little Messy
• Cuomo's in Deep Trouble
• Sarkozy's in Deeper Trouble
That is particularly true if by "goose" you mean "presidential candidate," and by "gander" you mean "actual president." In the last week, Joe Biden has given an object lesson in this, specifically in the case of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi on the orders of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
While campaigning last year, Biden had nothing but very strong words on this subject, promising to make a "pariah" of MbS. This was part of a broader effort to paint the then-candidate as the anti-Trump, since Trump did absolutely nothing to punish MbS or Saudi Arabia for the murder of the U.S.-resident journalist. However, now that Biden is in the big chair, he has changed tack quite a bit, walking a fine line between "sorta keeping my promise" and "not aggravating the Saudi government." Perhaps the best way to break this down is like this:
On one hand...Biden did order the release of the U.S. intelligence report finding MbS culpable in Khashoggi's murder, thus officially confirming what everyone already knew. Trump never even went that far.
On the other hand...the report was released late Friday, which is the deadest part of the news cycle, and the best time to "bury" unpleasant news.
On one hand...Biden has made clear that MbS will not be welcomed to the U.S. for an Oval Office visit.
On the other hand...the President has not otherwise sanctioned MbS. The Prince's American assets have not been seized, he (apparently) has not been barred from entering the country, etc.
On one hand...Biden has banned 76 Saudi nationals from entering the U.S., due to their complicity in the crime.
On the other hand...the White House refused to release the list of banned Saudis, meaning that the general public knows nothing about who is being punished or why. In fact, there's no way to know whether the list is actually being enforced at all.
On one hand...Biden is talking to Iran (a Saudi enemy), and he withdrew support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.
On the other hand...the President ordered the bombing of Syria, which may advance U.S. interests (anti-Iran, anti-Syria), but also advances the Saudis' interests (since they are also anti-Iran and anti-Syria).
On one hand...Biden paused a planned arms sale to the Saudis.
On the other hand...the President didn't kill the sale, and it's much more likely than not to eventually move forward.
This is a common dynamic in the politics of foreign policy. That is to say, it's plausible to live in an ideal world while campaigning, but not so much when you're actually holding the reins of power. The world is a complicated and messy place, and sometimes it's necessary to maintain cordial relations with folks who are not the nicest people.
An example that is quite similar to Saudi Arabia, in many ways, is Turkey. Turkey perpetrated one of the great war crimes in modern history, namely the genocide of the Armenian people (comparable in scope to the Holocaust, or the Spanish conquests of the Inca, according to the method we used last week). The Turks have never admitted their guilt, and nearly every president since Jimmy Carter (with Ronald Reagan the exception) campaigned on a promise to formally recognize the Armenian genocide (that list includes Joe Biden, incidentally). The problem is that the Turkish government is deeply invested in the fiction that there was no genocide, and will react very badly if the U.S. government challenges that. The U.S. needs Turkey—specifically, Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey, which allows reconnaissance missions of much of the Middle East (particularly Iran) and also has a bunch of nukes meant to keep the Russians honest. And so, every president ends up deciding that the moral victory of acknowledging the Armenian genocide is not worth the potential risk to U.S. security.
The Saudis are probably even more important to U.S. national security than Turkey is. They are, of course, a source of oil (thanks, Franklin D. Roosevelt!). They are a hedge against other unfriendlies in that part of the world, namely the aforementioned Iran, Russia, and Syria. And the 2,700 or so troops and planes stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base serve a similar function to the personnel at Incirlik Air Base (no nukes at Prince Sultan, though). Introducing too much tension into the U.S.-Saudi relationship could have significant consequences for U.S. national security.
Inasmuch as Biden has been in politics for 50 years, with more than two decades' service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (including 4 years as chair and another 8 as ranking member), he surely knew that he would not be able to live up to his campaign promises on MbS (or on the Armenian genocide). Is he to blame for peddling half-truths? Or does the blame fall on a political system and a media establishment that does not do nuance and insists on policy positions reduced to soundbite form? Maybe all of the above? Readers will have to decide for themselves. (Z)
On Monday, the Senate confirmed Miguel Cardona to the post of Secretary of Education, by a vote of 64-33. There is much about the new Secretary that will please Democrats. He is Latino, first of all, having been born to Puerto Rican parents. He has an inspiring Horatio Alger-type story; he went from growing up in a housing project and struggling in his early school years to becoming an honors student, a public school teacher, and eventually head of the Connecticut Dept. of Education. And, perhaps most importantly in Democratic eyes, he's not Betsy DeVos.
Cardona will get to deal with two very hot potatoes in his new post. The more immediate is the reopening of schools, given Joe Biden's promise to reopen within 100 days of his inauguration. How that can be done safely, or whether it can be done at all, will occupy the Secretary's attention for the next couple of months. And once he's tackled that problem, he will move on to student loans, and what can be done to reduce that burden, with an eye toward what is fair and also what is plausible under existing law.
Meanwhile, pretty much everyone noticed that in casting a "nay" vote for Cardona, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has yet to give his support to a single one of Joe Biden's cabinet nominees. Asked to explain himself, Hawley said: "I take them one at a time, if there is someone I think will be good to Missouri, that I can defend to my voters, somebody who I think is going to be good for the job, I'll vote for them." This is what is known as—and forgive the use of complicated academic jargon here—a "lie." Hawley does not give a rodent's rear end about whether or not the candidates will be good for Missouri. He cares only about whether they will be good for one particular Missourian, namely one Joshua David "Josh" Hawley. Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have been almost as parsimonious in their support for Biden's nominees, with Scott bestowing 2 "yeas" and 9 "nays" so far, while Cruz is 1-10.
What these three men have in common, of course, is that they see themselves as 2024 presidential candidates. And we saw the same dynamic in the other direction back when Donald Trump's cabinet was being approved. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) voted against 27 of Donald Trump's 29 cabinet and cabinet-level nominees, while Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against 26, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) voted against 25.
In both scenarios, the senators were probably right that a 100% (or near-100%) voting record on cabinet picks was a necessity for the voters they hoped to appeal to during their presidential runs (anti-Trump voters for the 2020 Democrats, pro-Trump voters for the 2024 Trumpy Republicans). However, the votes also make clear that they are prioritizing their "next" job over their current job, and some voters don't like that. The careful reader will notice that none of the Democrats listed in the previous paragraph won the presidential nomination (or came particularly close), while none of the Trumpy Republicans broke into double digits in this weekend's CPAC straw polls, and that despite the fact that the audience was super-Trumpy, and that one of the two polls was conducted with "Trump is not on the ballot" as a condition.
The point here is that there is a reason that only two sitting senators in the past century have been elected to the White House. Sitting senators have to take regular votes on hot-button issues. They can't vote in a way that makes everyone happy, and those votes become ammunition for their opponents. The two senators who overcame this were John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama who, not coincidentally, were the most charismatic politicians of their respective generations. That is not a description that anyone will be applying to Hawley, Cruz, or Scott. (Z)
Sometimes it is interesting to see how key political events are covered by different segments of the media, particularly when Donald Trump is involved. And so, let's take a look at how the former president's CPAC speech, his first since departing the White House, was covered. First, outlets that are not generally friendly to Trump:
The Guardian (UK), Trump grasps for relevance in first post-presidential speech at CPAC: "In a comeback speech that lasted an hour and a half there were many familiar lines from old speeches, including tirades against the Iran nuclear deal, 'forever wars,' renewable energy, big tech companies and the Washington establishment."
CNN, Trump unleashes new threat to American democracy: "The ex-President's warning could be so damaging because he is effectively making his support for GOP candidates in the 2022 midterms contingent on them backing his false claims of a corrupt election in 2020. And in the shorter term, he is seeding even more suspicion about his exit from the White House with conservative voters, while providing more potential motivation for extremist groups who support him."
The Washington Post, Trump's big CPAC lie unmasks a vile truth. Democrats ignore it at their peril: "Amid the stream of delusion, depravity, malevolence and megalomania that characterized Donald Trump's speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, one message should be regarded as arguably more important than all the others combined. It's this: The former president told his audience that the Republican Party's success in coming years depends, in no small part, on its commitment to being an anti-democracy party."
Esquire, Trump Was Bored By His Own Speech Until He Got to the Revenge List: "He was very old and in the way, until he got to the hit list. The hit list energized him. It turned on all his lights. It was the pure, uncut evil juju that had been missing from his life for months and, generous demon from the depths of hell that he is, he shared it with all the minions gathered at CPAC in Florida, and it made all their lights shine."
USA Today, At CPAC, Donald Trump targets the Republican Party of Liz Cheney and Mitch McConnell: "Trump used his first post-presidential speech Sunday to rip GOP lawmakers who backed his impeachment, and pledge to defeat them in future elections likely to be shadowed by in-fighting that could undermine the party's chances to win back Congress."
Bloomberg, Trump's Not-Quite-Triumphant Return: "Donald Trump's rapturous reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, made clear that the conservative movement, as well as the Republican Party, belongs to him. Yet there were also signs that his brand is tarnished."
The New York Times, Trump's Republican Hit List at CPAC Is a Warning Shot to His Party: "As Democrats pursue a liberal agenda in Washington, the former president's grievances over the 2020 election continue to animate much of his party, more than a month after he left office and nearly four months since he lost the election. Many G.O.P. leaders and activists are more focused on litigating false claims about voting fraud in last year's campaign, assailing the technology companies that deplatformed Mr. Trump and punishing lawmakers who broke with him over his desperate bid to retain power."
The Bulwark, CPAC Rehabs Trump as Master of the GOP: "For the Trump cultists, it was a ton of fun. But, the joke isn't on them. The event was a raging success for the disgraced president. Thanks to CPAC, the one-term, twice-impeached former president who oversaw the loss of the White House, the Senate, and the House and whom Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated was 'morally responsible' for the violence that unfolded on January 6 is now rehabbed as the glorious leader of the Republican party."
So, the takeaways are: (1) he's still a liar, (2) he's still fuming over the 2020 election, (3) he's still a danger to democracy, (4) he's still a political force, and (5) he's gunning for "disloyal" Republicans as much as for Democrats.
And now, outlets that are almost always friendly to Trump:
Newsmax, Trump Praises Dems' 'Unity'; Slams 'Rogue' Romney, Others: "'The Democrats, they're smart, they're vicious, very vicious. What they say and what they do is just terrible,' said Trump, 'but still, they stick together rather than have divisions.'"
Fox News, Trump uses CPAC speech to tear into Biden on border crisis, says he won't create new party: "He focused predominantly on the escalating border crisis, which he returned to frequently as he ripped into Biden's rollbacks of a number of Trump-era policies—which has in turn seen a surge in migrants at the border."
OAN, President Trump: U.S. Electoral System Needs Reforms: "President Trump outlined necessary changes to the U.S. elections system that need to happen in order to prevent voter fraud from occurring in the future...[he] also reiterated last year's elections were a landslide victory for the Republican Party, adding he may have to beat Democrats yet again in 2024."
RedState, CPAC 2021: President Trump Wows the CPAC Crowd: "Trump spoke most extensively about the Border, which was his signature campaign promise in 2016. The Biden administration is doing all it can to dismantle not only the continuation of the Wall, but shifting policies for ICE to neuter their enforcement, to the invitation to illegal immigrants to come across the border and invade the United States."
The Daily Wire, Trump Pays 'Love And Respect' To Rush Limbaugh During CPAC Speech: "'I also want to pay my love and respect to the great Rush Limbaugh, who is watching closely and smiling down on us,' Trump told the enthusiastic audience."
The American Spectator, Trump's CPAC Triumph: "He's back. If there was any doubt about the popularity of Donald Trump in the conservative movement, it was erased for good with his Sunday CPAC appearance."
Breitbart, Donald Trump Slams Democrats' Transgender Attack on Women's Sports: "Trump's comments reflect the increasing willingness of GOP leadership to take on the transgender ideology. However, their defense of Americans' home-grown culture is muted because many major business donors fully support the revolutionary and chaotic transgender ideology."
Hot Air, Trump Triumph At CPAC: "A triumph, in Roman times, referred to the entry of a victorious commander or emperor at the head of a parade to celebrate his leadership—no matter how people thought of the commander or emperor beforehand. This morning, that definition applies to Donald Trump's return to CPAC, one year after both Trump and CPAC parted ways over format and potential protests. Today Trump returns as a conquering hero, perhaps in more way [sic] than one."
The Washington Times, Trump revamps MAGA movement to fight Biden agenda: "'We all knew the Biden administration was going to be bad, but none of us ever imagined just how bad they would be and just how far left they would go,' [Trump] said."
The takeaways here are: (1) Trump is a conquering hero, (2) RIP Rush, (3) Joe Biden is a very bad person who has managed to completely screw up immigration in one month on the job, (4) Democrats and trans folks are bad people, and (5) the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
In short, it becomes clear—as it does pretty much every time we do this—how people end up with different sets of facts (or "facts") depending on the source from which they are getting their news (or their "news"). (Z)
It may take a while for the various House races to get going (see below), but there's nothing stopping the various Senate races from getting underway. And so, expect to see a lot of items from us about the jockeying that is taking place on that front.
To start, the Democrats would really like someone good to take on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). On one hand, he's won statewide election twice (and a bunch of local elections before that) and he's popular with certain key constituencies in his home state (like Cubans). On the other hand, he has something of a reputation as an empty suit who doesn't particularly care about his current job. Plus, he comes from a state that the Democrats believe to be purple (despite rather substantial evidence that may be a mirage).
Anyhow, the Democrats may just get their strong candidate in the form of Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), who is considering a run, and who will undertake a "listening tour" of Florida in service of same. She's a woman, a person of color, and she has three times won election to her seat in a district with PVI of Even. The first of those victories came against a 12-term incumbent Republican. Further, Murphy fled a communist regime in Vietnam, a story that she often tells in both English and Spanish. So, she might just peel off some Cuban or Venezuelan folks who like Democratic policies, but who want a representative they trust to be "right on communism."
Meanwhile, it's the opposite situation in New Hampshire, a purplish state where Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) might just be vulnerable to the right opponent. Hassan probably doesn't have quite as many vulnerabilities as Rubio does, but she's got a couple of scandals on her résumé, most obviously the two staffers who committed felonies while in her employ (they acquired and distributed personal information about Republican senators). Further, in her first U.S. Senate election, Hassan defeated Republican Kelly Ayotte by just 0.2% of the vote (48.0% to 47.8%).
The good news for Hassan is that the Republican bench in New Hampshire really has only one Republican who presents a serious threat to her. That would be Gov. Chris Sununu (R), scion of the state's leading family political dynasty. The bad news for her is that Sununu says he's thinking about a run. He's won statewide election in New Hampshire three times, just like Hassan, and unlike hers, his last win was a blowout (65.2% to 33.4% in the 2020 gubernatorial election). He could choose to stay governor, though it must be annoying to have to run for reelection every two years. Or he could depart for the private sector, as he notes he has his kids' college educations to pay for. Or he could take on Hassan. If he does, that race would become a coin flip.
And that concludes today's 2022 Senate elections news. After all, Election Day is only 617 days away. (Z)
Yesterday, we wrote: "Within a few months, states will know how many House seats they will have for the next decade." We may have spoken a little too fast. As it turns out, Donald Trump's attempts to monkey around with the census have thrown a real monkey wrench into things. As a result, the granular-level data needed to draw congressional districts won't be available until September 30.
That is considerably past the usual deadline of March 31, and is sure to create more than a few messy situations. To start, Congress has to approve the census, and if they drag their feet for any reason—unhappy with the process, not in session, one or more senators decide to showboat—then that will add to the delay. Similarly, what if the Census Bureau runs into additional problems?
Then, once states get to work, they have to hammer out maps that suit the needs of whoever has the power to draw districts. Normally, in states where one party runs the whole show (say, Texas), the job is completed fairly quickly. But given the uncertainties that we pointed out in yesterday's piece (which vote totals to trust: Trump-free 2018 or Trump-added 2020), even those states may struggle to take care of business. Meanwhile, states where there is potential for a partisan struggle (say Pennsylvania, where the Republican-controlled legislature gets to draw the maps, but the Democratic governor has a veto) could really end up under the gun. Additional complications include: (1) in some states, particularly in the South, the legislature only meets for part of the year; (2) the census data will come available shortly before holiday breaks commence, and (3) nearly a dozen states have constitutionally mandated deadlines for redistricting that cannot be met because they fall on a date before the data will become available.
At the moment, a number of states have primaries scheduled for March 2022, which generally means filing deadlines in January 2022. Those states are probably going to have to bow to reality and push their primaries to later in the year. Still, there is only so much wiggle room in the calendar. And the bottom line is that the longer that things remain uncertain, the harder it will be for unknown candidates to pick a race, jump in, and gain traction. That means that incumbents get another little bit of a leg up.
It is not impossible, incidentally, that the House will choose to just sit on the data until 2023 (or later), arguing that it's not fair to release it so late in the process. That happened once before, in 1921. Doing so would presumably advantage the Democrats, since most of the states expected to gain districts are red and most of the states expected to lose districts are blue. Normally, the blue team does not have the stomach for this sort of ignore-the-spirit-of-the-Constitution-even-if-you're-following-the-letter realpolitik, the way that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does. Still, keep it in mind as we wait to see what Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) does when the House finally gets the census data in September. (Z)
Last week, a female member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D-NY) staff accused him of sexual harassment, claiming that he invited her to play strip poker, among other offenses. Over the weekend, a second accuser came forward, asserting that the Governor asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether or not she liked to sleep with older men. And on Monday, a third accuser joined the list, saying that Cuomo touched her back at a wedding and asked to kiss her.
When it is just one person, there is at least something of a "he said, she said" dynamic, and so Cuomo pushed back against the accusation. However, now that it is "he said, they said," the governor has changed course. He said he will refer the matter to New York AG Letitia James (D) for an investigation. He also apologized, and said that he regrets anything he said or did that may have been "misinterpreted," and that he was just "being playful" and "teasing" the women.
Cuomo's governorship is now, barring some sort of miracle, dead in the water. To wit:
- "Let's conduct a full investigation" is a popular trick among guilty people, in hopes of buying time until things
blow over. Think, for example, of Richard Nixon and Watergate. Of course, Nixon was not compelled to turn the Watergate
investigation over to the person most likely to run against him in the next election.
- Cuomo has now admitted to the basic truth of the accusations, all he's got left to dispute is his intent. Anyone who
believes his intent was "misinterpreted," we have several handsome bridges for sale at bargain-basement prices.
- Even if Cuomo's intent was innocent (ha!), that does not matter if his targets saw things differently. As they teach
in every interpersonal communications class in the land, "lack of intent does not excuse negative impact." This is
doubly or triply true with sexual harassment.
- It is at least possible for one accuser to be lying, or to have misunderstood, or whatever. But three accusers? It
is virtually unheard of for all three to be lying, or to have misunderstood, or whatever.
- In the end, politics is not a court of law. Perception is what matters, and the perception here is lethal for a politician.
As we've noted, we do not claim to have our finger on the pulse of New York politics. But this is basically unsurvivable in any blue state, and in most red ones (though maybe not Alabama). At this point, the only question seems to be whether Cuomo will hold on until the end of his term, or if he'll resign. If he does surrender, he'll be the second Democrat in a row to be elected to the New York governor's mansion and then be forced to resign (following Eliot Spitzer). Incidentally, the current lieutenant governor of New York is Kathy Hochul (D), who would presumably become Tish James' main competition in the 2022 New York gubernatorial election. (Z)
Andrew Cuomo is likely to lose his job, either this year or next, and he may even end up on the wrong side of a civil suit or two. However, imprisonment does not appear to be in his future. The same cannot be said for former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was found guilty of corruption and influence peddling and sentenced to 3 years in prison (albeit with 2 years suspended).
This news is germane to American politics because it sets a high-profile precedent that even presidents of major Western nations are not above the law and can be sent to prison. While the U.S. does not directly take its legal cues from France, this will nonetheless make it a little easier for a jury or a judge to send Donald Trump up the river, should that time come. Of course, Sarkozy was convicted of improperly trying to influence a government official and of accepting money he was not entitled to, while Trump...oh, wait a minute. And by the way, Sarkozy is not out of the woods yet, and could be hit with more punishment based on additional trials that are pending.
The good news for Trump is that the French government decided that it was not necessary for Sarkozy to go to prison, and that he could serve his sentence on house arrest, with a tracking bracelet around his ankle. So, if the American judicial system follows the French to a T, then Trump could be looking at spending more time at Mar-a-Lago than he'd ever dreamed. One wonders if the golf course counts as part of the residence for this purpose. And can you imagine how much competition there would be, among the paparazzi, to get the first shot of Trump wearing the ankle bracelet? (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar01 Poll: Swing Voters Like the COVID-19 Relief Bill
Mar01 Republicans Are Hard at Work Making Voting Harder
Mar01 Trump Is Messing Up the Map
Mar01 Senate Primaries Are in Full Swing
Mar01 Trump Will Create a Revenge Super PAC
Mar01 Other Republicans Are Setting Up an Anti-Revenge Super PAC
Mar01 Democrats Are Winning the Twitter War
Feb28 Sunday Mailbag
Feb27 Saturday Q&A
Feb26 MacDonough to Schumer: "Sorry, Charlie!"
Feb26 Biden's Team Is Being Put in Place...Slowly
Feb26 House Passes Equality Act
Feb26 McConnell Says He Would "Absolutely" Back Trump in 2024
Feb26 CPAC Begins Today
Feb26 The Horse Is Officially out of the Barn
Feb26 Governors in Hot Water
Feb25 Manchin Will Back Haaland
Feb25 DNC Will Get Involved in Midterms
Feb25 Postmaster General DeJoy May Soon Get a Special Delivery Letter
Feb25 Secretaries of State Are Hot
Feb25 Net Neutrality Scores a Big Win in California
Feb25 Democrats Might Make a Huge Unforced Error That Could Cost Them Next Year
Feb25 Virginia Gubernatorial Election Is Often a Bellwether
Feb25 Rush Limbaugh and the Battle of the Flags in Florida
Feb25 O'Rourke Is Back
Feb25 Democrats Introduce a Bill to Strip Presidents Convicted of a Felony of Their Pension
Feb24 COVID-19 Bill Will Be a One-Party Show
Feb24 Putting 500,000 in Context
Feb24 Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Feb24 Perdue Chickens Out
Feb24 Texas Democratic Postmortem Is In
Feb24 Gonna Turn My Red State...Blue
Feb24 They Were Trump Before Trump, Part III: Henry Ward Beecher
Feb23 SCOTUS Pokes Trump in Both Eyes
Feb23 Tanden in Deep Trouble, Haaland Not Far Behind
Feb23 Garland Is in the Clear
Feb23 Sanders and Co. Work to Save Minimum Wage Hike
Feb23 Florida Republicans Apparently Have Their Candidate
Feb23 Low Blows on Joe
Feb23 Dominion Voting Systems to Go to the Mattress with MyPillow Guy
Feb22 COVID-19 Death Toll in U.S. Hits Half a Million
Feb22 Garland to Appear before Senate Judiciary Committee Today
Feb22 The Race to Replace Neera Tanden Has Already Begun
Feb22 The Two McC's Are Playing Different Games
Feb22 Trump Will Address CPAC on Sunday
Feb22 Democrats Are Doing an Autopsy of the Election
Feb22 Republicans' Strength in the State Legislatures Was Built Up over 40 Years
Feb22 Poll: Republicans Are Still with Trump
Feb21 Sunday Mailbag