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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Congress Passes the COVID-19 Relief Bill
      •  Merrick Garland Finally Gets a New Job
      •  Cohen Met with Vance Yesterday
      •  Bernie Wins Nevada
      •  Nobody Knows Who Won Iowa
      •  Florida May Ban Drop Boxes for Absentee Ballots
      •  Democrats Shouldn't Take Latinos for Granted
      •  What's Going on with Ron Johnson?
      •  A Woman to Watch

Congress Passes the COVID-19 Relief Bill

In a huge victory for Joe Biden, both chambers of Congress have now passed his $1.86-trillion COVID-19 relief bill. The House approved the Senate bill yesterday by a vote of 220-211. No Republican voted for it. One Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), voted against it. Biden will sign it tomorrow in a formal ceremony. Today, Biden will give a prime-time address to the nation about how things are going on the COVID-19 front. He might just mention this bill. It is one of the biggest injections of cash into the economy since the Great Depression.

Whether opposing a bill that 70% of Americans approve of in the time of two crises is a smart political move remains to be seen, but Republicans were united in their opposition to it. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said: "This isn't a rescue bill, it isn't a relief bill, it is a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families."

He's got a point there. The bill is 628 pages long and not everything in it is related to pandemic relief. While the most-talked-about provision is the payment of $1,400 to most Americans, there is indeed a lot of anti-poverty stuff in there as well, which is why the Republicans are opposed to it (besides wanting to deny Biden a huge win on a law that is destined to become extremely popular).

Other features of the bill include:

  • $350 billion for aid to state, local, and tribal governments
  • $170 billion to help schools open
  • $160 billion for COVID-19 vaccine distribution
  •   $48 billion for COVID-19 testing and tracing
  •   $45 billion to help people pay their rent or mortgage
  •   $30 billion for help to transit agencies
  •   $25 billion for the restaurant industry
  •   $14 billion to help struggling airlines
  •     $8 billion for airports
  •     $7 billion to help students get Internet access for ZoomSchool
  •     $5 billion to help poor people get food

In addition, federal unemployment payments of $300/week will continue through Sept. 6 and $10,200 of jobless aid received last year will be tax free. The bill also covers COBRA health-insurance payments for people who were laid off. One of the things McCarthy hates is an expansion of the child tax credit to $3,600 for children under six and $3,000 for older children. This means that a young family might get $13,200/yr, enough to lift many families out of poverty. If there is one thing that all Republicans hate with the intensity of 1000 suns it is the government giving free money to poor (read: Black) people. If children don't get enough to eat, it is their own fault. They should have picked richer parents. Democrats believe that the bill will cut child poverty in half. This provision sunsets in a year, but Democrats hope to renew it then.

But the battle over the bill is not finished. Now Biden has to wage a major campaign to tell the voters what is in it for them and why it is a good thing. His success in selling the bill to the voters will be a major factor in determining the outcome of the 2022 elections. Biden is clearly aware of this and is planning a major PR blitz to sell the bill, starting with his address to the nation today. (V)

Merrick Garland Finally Gets a New Job

It wasn't the job he was hoping for, but it is indoor work, pays $210,700 annually, and involves no heavy lifting. At least not physical lifting. Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Merrick Garland as attorney general. He was a good sport about it and said the new job would "be the culmination of a career I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced and the rights of all Americans are protected." The vote was 70-30, with three-fifths of the Republicans voting against confirmation. In contrast, when William Barr was up for confirmation as AG in 2019, every Republican senator save Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted for confirmation. Apparently Barr has the right stuff and Garland has the wrong stuff.

Garland will have his hands full starting today. Prosecuting the Capitol rioters is high on his to-do list, but reviving the morale of the 115,000-person DoJ work force is also a top priority. He also has to decide if he wants to release the full (unredacted) Mueller report or prosecute Donald Trump for obstruction of justice or both.

There are a couple of hot items that he probably won't touch. Former AG WIlliam Barr tasked John Durham with looking into whether the whole Russiagate thing was a hit job aimed at Trump. The department is also investigating Hunter Biden's business dealings. In both cases, the safest course for Garland is stay away and let them play out.

He also has a lot of leeway in setting DoJ priorities. Does it want to focus on tax cheats or welfare cheats? Does he want to take a good look at policing practices and other civil rights issues? It is very likely that Joe Biden will stay a mile away from him to avoid being accused of meddling, so Garland will have to make all the tough calls himself.

In other confirmation news, yesterday the Senate also confirmed the nomination of Marcia Fudge to be secretary of HUD. The vote was 66 to 34. Fudge has vowed to make good on Joe Biden's promise to construct 1.5 million energy-efficient housing units, tackle homelessness, and end discriminatory practices in the housing market. Fudge will be the second Black woman to lead the department. Patricia Roberts Harris led it during the Carter administration.

And finally, Michael Regan was confirmed to lead the EPA, also by a vote of 66 to 34. Like Fudge, he's the second Black person to lead his new agency (the first, in this case, was Lisa Jackson, who served under Barack Obama). Regan will be refocusing the EPA, to put it mildly, since his immediate predecessor was a former coal lobbyist. The primary thing on his plate will be combating global warming. No biggie, right? Should leave him with enough spare time to pull a Kushner, and also bring peace to the Middle East, reinvent the federal government, and solve the opioid crisis. (V & Z).

Cohen Met with Vance Yesterday

Donald Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, is serving his prison sentence—at home, currently. Nevertheless, he talked (sang?) to Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance yesterday, by video. Vance recently received millions of pages of documents relating to Donald Trump's business activities and it will be a huge effort to figure out if Trump committed any financial crimes. One person who can help Vance is Cohen, who was pretty plugged into what Trump was doing when he ran his businesses. He appears to be fully cooperating with Vance and could point the D.A. to possible areas where Trump broke the law. Yesterday's call was the seventh time Cohen has spoken with Vance.

Trump is no doubt aware that Vance is closing in on him. He just spent 48 hours in his Manhattan apartment getting up to date on his business affairs, but more importantly, finding out what Vance is looking at. Apparently, Vance's inquiry has expanded to cover a loan Trump received to buy a Chicago skyscraper as well as how he financed and operated his 213-acre estate in Westchester County and what he told the tax authorities about its purpose. (V)

Bernie Wins Nevada

Newton's Third Law, as applied to politics, states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Just as Trumpist forces are taking over state Republican Parties, progressives are taking over state Democratic Parties. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have now scored a big victory in the swing state of Nevada by taking over the state party apparatus. And they did it by defeating the most powerful person in Nevada politics: Harry Reid. The consequences could reverberate far beyond Nevada.

The new chair of the Nevada Democratic Party is Judith Whitmer, who brought along a whole slate of new leaders, all of them associated with the Democratic Socialists of America. Whitmer defeated the Reid-machine candidate, Richard Segerblom.

Establishment politicians in the state are worried that a new and inexperienced team won't be able to defend the seat of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), who is up in 2022, or the state's three Democratic House members. Worried about how the new team will spend the state party's money, the old team quickly moved $450,000 to the DSCC just before Whitmer was sworn in. On the other hand, Whitmer is sure that progressives all over the country will support the new leadership and money will pour in.

Sanders' supporters have been angry with the Reid machine since 2016, when they were left with the feeling that Reid had rigged the caucuses to support Hillary Clinton (which is probably true). They have been complaining about it ever since. They were able to take over now because the state is changing rapidly, with its population becoming more diverse every year as people move in from out of state.

The new team has its work cut out for it trying to match Reid's record. Under his leadership, the Democrats got control of both Senate seats, three of the four House seats, the governor's mansion, and both chambers of the state legislature. Reid is worried that the new leadership is going to back candidates who can't win general elections in a swing state. This is their chance to show that they can win statewide in a swing state. If they pull that off, it will give progressives trying to take over other state parties a huge boost, since the rap against them is that they can't win general elections. If they show they can do it in Nevada, then why can't they do it in Wisconsin and North Carolina as well?

A very hot issue is the order of the primaries and caucuses in 2024. Many Democrats are wildly against Iowa going first because (1) it is nearly all white and (2) it botched the 2020 caucuses badly. New Hampshire ran a better election, but it is 94% white. The new Nevada team wants Nevada to go first in 2024. It is a small state, so a candidate doesn't need $50 million in advance to compete. Actually, it is a large state physically, but two-thirds of the people live in Clark County, which is just slightly smaller than New Hampshire. Further, it's much more diverse than Iowa or New Hampshire. As a whole, Nevada is 51.5% white, 28.5% Latino, 9.5% Black, and 9.5% Native American. Having Nevada go first would favor candidates who can appeal to different ethnic groups. If the state government passed a law requiring its primary to be first in the nation, there would be a conflict with New Hampshire, which already has such a law. Conceivably they could go on the same day, but that would make it expensive for candidates to campaign in both states at the same time. What could happen is that some candidates would spend all their time in New Hampshire and others would spend all theirs in Nevada. The media would probably portray this as "Candidate X is running in the white primary and candidate Y is running in the non-white primary."

If Nevada were to go first in 2024 with a state-run primary in the first week of February, this would complicate life for the Republicans. They would clearly see the handwriting on the wall that a non-white candidate running as a non-Trumpist could win Nevada and get huge momentum from that. Yes, Nikki Haley, we're looking at you. Needless to say, the Trump forces could not abide that. What they could do, however, is not to take part in the state primary and instead hold a caucus in Nevada in, say, June, nominally to avoid having it messed up by a snow storm (snow storms are rare in Nevada in June). In any event, the takeover of the Nevada Democratic Party by the Bernie forces is likely to have many (possibly unforeseen) consequences down the road. (V)

Nobody Knows Who Won Iowa

Make that congressional district IA-02, specifically. In the 2020 race in that district, the official tally put Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) ahead of Rita Hart (D) by 6 votes out of 394,439 votes cast. However, Hart contends that the official tally wrongfully excluded 22 valid votes which, if counted, would make her the winner. Miller-Meeks has been provisionally seated, but the full House has not accepted her. Yesterday the House Administration Committee voted 6-3 to postpone a decision on Miller-Meeks' motion to throw out Hart's case. This is a minor, if temporary, victory for Hart. The Committee chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), said that Hart has raised "specific, credible" allegations about enough ballots to overturn the election.

Lofgren intends to send both candidates identical questions about the procedures, legal principles, and timelines they should follow as they review the case. This is one of the closest House races in history and the final word has not yet been said on it. Ultimately, the House itself has the authority to determine who gets the seat. (V)

Florida May Ban Drop Boxes for Absentee Ballots

Florida Republicans are jealous. Georgia is getting all the attention for leading the way on voter suppression. Florida Republicans want some of that attention as well, so state Sen. Dennis Baxley (R) has introduced a bill to ban all ballot drop boxes for future elections, leaving absentee voters at the mercy of the USPS. Baxley said this was due to unspecified "security concerns." Given the large senior population of Florida, some of whom don't drive, drop boxes are extremely popular. In 2020, 44% of all votes in Florida were cast by absentee ballot, many using drop boxes. The majority of the absentee votes were from Democrats. Republicans are convinced, possibly incorrectly, that the only way they can win elections is by massively suppressing the vote. They think that if Democrats can't use drop boxes, they won't vote at all or may mail them in too late for them to be counted.

Local election supervisors are not so impressed. Brian Corley (R), the supervisor of elections in Pasco County, said: "I'm at a loss for words. It's a solution looking for a problem." Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is a strong supporter of voter suppression, so if Baxley's bill makes it to his desk, he will very likely sign it. (V)

Democrats Shouldn't Take Latinos for Granted

Democrats tend to assume that most Latinos are Democrats on account of immigration politics. But that is not always true, as was demonstrated in South Florida and in the Rio Grande Valley last November. It is true that Latinos who are citizens, but who have undocumented relatives in the U.S., are very sensitive to the issue of immigration and tend to be Democrats as a result, but that is far from the whole story.

To start with, and as we've pointed out before, Latino voters are not a monolithic bloc. There is no "Latino vote." How Latinos vote depends on where they live, how long they have been in the U.S., how old they are, and how religious they are, not to mention other factors. The number of Latinos in the country has grown exponentially, from 10 million in 1970 to over 60 million now. The total could reach 110 million by 2060.

Some Latinos self-identify as conservative. This sub-group went from voting 49%-39% Democratic in 2012 to 67%-27% Republican in 2020. Their partisan allegiance went from 50%-37% Democratic to 59%-22% Republican in the same time span. This is a huge change. Much of this change may be due to the Democratic Party coming under the sway of well-educated progressive young activists whose cultural agenda is at loggerheads with the socially conservative views of many older Latinos, for whom their family and their church are the most important parts of their lives. Many of these Latinos do not see themselves as part of an oppressed minority. They see themselves as whites and do not respond to race-based appeals. Or worse yet for the Democrats, they are repelled by race-based appeals the same way working-class white men in the Midwest are repelled by such appeals.

Indeed, only about a quarter of Latinos see themselves as people of color. Another third see themselves as part of the white mainstream, like Italian-Americans or German-Americans. By a large margin, they believe when people of color can't get ahead, it is their own fault. Another group, about 30% of Latinos, don't see Latinos as people of color or an ethnic group, but people who can and will succeed if they work hard. They are the group most likely to be Republican.

A surprising result of the survey from which this data came is that Latinos are more sympathetic to Republican dog whistles than either white or Black Americans. They want to increase (not decrease) funding for the police and don't like politicians who cater to special-interest groups that yell the loudest.

Skin tone among Latinos affects their politics. Very light-skinned Latinos tend to identify with whites and act like them politically. Darker-skinned Latinos are more likely to identify as people of color and respond to messages aimed at people of color. The nation to which they trace their roots also matters a lot; Latinos of Cuban descent are very different political actors from, say, Latinos of Mexican descent. And Latinos newly arrived from some socialist dictatorship in South America are different from both of them (and very anti-socialism).

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, has data that says 50% of Latinos are loyal Democrats, 25% are loyal Republicans, and 25% are up for grabs. This is a hugely different picture than for Black voters, who are the Democrats' most loyal constituency. Some Democratic strategists understand this and believe as the Democratic Party is increasingly taken over by young progressive activists—led by an old white guy from Vermont and a young Latina from the Bronx—they are going to lose many Latinos. This is something they ignore at their peril. (V)

What's Going on with Ron Johnson?

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is something of an enigma. He is a millionaire executive who ran a plastics company. When he first ran for the Senate in 2010, he was not part of the tea party wave. He ran as a sensible businessman who believed in small government. He was excoriated by right-wing media when he called Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) "intellectually dishonest." He was once known back home as RonJon. Now he is RonAnon. How did Ron the businessman become Ron, the Trumpiest of all?

Johnson didn't evolve in a vacuum. He has tracked the direction the entire Republican Party has moved since Donald Trump appeared on the scene. Though once a data-driven businessman, he became a supporter of Trump's baseless claim that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19. Since Jan. 6, he has maintained that the Capitol insurrection was caused by Antifa and other left-wing activists. He has also downplayed the seriousness of the attack on the Capitol and said that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was to blame for it. And all this from a formerly sensible small-government business-oriented Republican.

Charlie Sykes, an influential conservative talk radio host from Wisconsin, said Johnson used to reflect The Wall Street Journal editorial page. One thing that may have flipped him is his 2016 reelection campaign. The Party establishment thought he was road kill and abandoned him until the final days of the campaign, when then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) threw $2 million at Johnson to try to save the seat. While he appreciated the lifeline, he didn't appreciate being left twisting in the wind until the very end. That may have soured him on the Republican establishment and gave him the idea to align himself with the far right.

Back in 2010, Johnson said he would serve for just two terms. But he has been silent lately about his future plans. He wouldn't be the first politician who ran on a platform of personal term limits and then changed his mind when the limit hit.

Johnson's pro-Trump antics may help him with his base, but just as likely, they will stir up Democrats who hate Trump. Many Wisconsin Republicans think that increased Democratic turnout in 2022 could endanger the Party downticket and doom their hopes of taking back the governor's mansion. If Johnson decides to run again and completely discard his former "sensible businessman" image in favor of a Trumpier-than-thou image, the race will be watched very closely by other sensible business-oriented Republicans to see how well Trumpism sells when Trump is not on the ballot. (V)

A Woman to Watch

New York AG Letitia James (62) normally tries to keep a low profile, but that is about to change radically. She is not well known, so Politico just ran a long and detailed profile piece on her to introduce her to its readers. It's worth reading if you want to get ahead of the curve. The reason she is about to explode into the limelight is that she is simultaneously investigating Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY). If she nails both of them, people will call her the most powerful woman in America. Not to mention the next governor of New York.

James got her start in politics in 2001 when she ran for the Democratic nomination for the New York City Council's 35th district in northern Brooklyn, where she lives. She lost, but managed to get on the general-election ballot on the Working Families ticket. She lost again. In 2003, she again ran on the Working Families ticket and this time she won the general election with 77% of the vote. In 2005, she got the nomination of both the Democratic and Working Families Parties and got 78% of the vote. By 2009, she was pulling in 92% of the vote. Even in Wyoming, Republicans don't get 92% of the vote. She was elected Public Advocate in 2013 and again in 2017. In 2018 she ran for state attorney general on a platform of indicting Donald Trump for obstruction of justice and got 62% of the vote. The endorsement from...Andrew Cuomo...certainly didn't hurt.

Once in office, James began investigating Trump for manipulating the values of his properties. It was, and apparently still is, a civil case, but could easily turn into a criminal case if she discovers that he broke New York state laws. And then, early last year, another hot potato landed on her lap. When COVID-19 cases began spiking in New York, she was tasked with finding out why. Rather than issuing a report saying "deaths happen," she issued a 76-page report claiming that Cuomo was trying to cook the books to make the death toll in nursing homes look lower than it really was. Some people took that as a sign that she was trying to show the voters that she was not a one-trick pony. She reinforced her image as an all-around crusader by suing the NRA (which was then chartered in the state of New York) and trying to dissolve it altogether. Last summer, she went after the New York City Police Dept. for how it was handling the Black Lives Matters protests. Here is a photo of her leading a march over the Brooklyn Bridge to protest gun violence.

Letitia James leading a protest against gun violence

Now, six women have accused Cuomo of inappropriate behavior. Cuomo first tried to wave it off as no big deal, but that didn't work. Then he floated the idea of having a retired judge who is close to one of his advisers investigate the matter. That didn't fly, either. Next, he suggested that James and the chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals handle the investigation. James refused to split the job up like that. In the end, she got full authority to investigate him. Given the background of her report on how he cooked the books on the number of nursing home fatalities, he is probably scared witless. If she concludes that his behavior was unethical and possibly even illegal, he will be under enormous pressure to resign, or at the very least, to retire in 2022. In either case, a devastating report that neuters Cuomo will set her up to be the frontrunner for governor in 2022, as we noted on Monday. If she also hits Trump with a massive fine, or indicts him for financial crimes, she will not only be the frontrunner in 2022, she will be a shoo-in to become the state's first female governor and first Black person to be elected governor. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar10 House Expected to Pass COVID-19 Relief Bill Today...
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Mar04 Statehood Bill for Puerto Rico Is Introduced
Mar04 Real Divide: Senate Republicans vs. House Republicans
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