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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden's Headaches, Part I: The Border
      •  Biden's Headaches, Part II: The Budget
      •  Biden's Headaches, Part III: The Winter Olympics
      •  Haaland Is Confirmed
      •  Democrats Now Waging Full-Frontal Assault on the Filibuster
      •  Iowa Voters: Grassley Must Go!
      •  Booker May Challenge Paul in Kentucky

Biden's Headaches, Part I: The Border

When Joe Biden took office, he knew that he'd have to grapple with the nation's immigration policy eventually. He expected, however, that it could remain on the back burner for a short while, so that he could deal with even more pressing issues—like, say, COVID-19—first. Unfortunately for him, circumstances have conspired to create an emerging crisis.

The general problem is that there has been a (predictable) surge in new arrivals given the advent of a Democratic administration, the end of the Muslim travel bans, the need for workers in the farming and healthcare industries, the possible return of in-person instruction at universities, and (some) success in terms of COVID-19 vaccination. Not helping things is that the Biden administration still has a skeleton team at the top levels as the President waits for the Senate to approve his nominees. And so, the system—one not particularly designed for the humane approach that Biden favors—is overwhelmed.

The situation is particularly acute at the southern border. Given current circumstances, including the pandemic, the administration is willing to turn adults and families away when they request entry (or when they are caught trying to sneak across). However, this has led many young people to attempt a crossing on their own. The administration is not willing to reject them, and would probably be flayed by progressives if it tried. So, there are now roughly 4,200 undocumented immigrants under the age of 18 in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.

By law, non-adult immigrants cannot be held in the same prison-like holding cells that adults are. Further, the government is required, within 72 hours, to process and transfer these individuals to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). However, the Department of Homeland Security does not have the staffing or the facilities to adhere strictly to the rules, especially since ORR is still working its way through the 7,000 or so immigrants it received last month. And so, underage immigrants are being held in the wrong sort of detention facilities, for 117 hours on average (in other words, 45 hours too long). Both of these things are in violation of federal law.

Speaking to reporters, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the White House is pursuing the best among a lot of bad options. To wit, the administration could:

  1. Eject these thousands of young people from the country
  2. Send many of these young people to unvetted homes
  3. Work through the backlog as rapidly and humanely as is possible, even if the rules have to be bent some

Obviously, thus far, Team Biden has chosen option #3. The White House has also taken emergency measures, including drawing on FEMA staff for assistance, relaxing social distancing rules at non-prison detention facilities so they can house more people, and arranging for the use of the Dallas Convention Center for temporary housing.

In the short- to medium-term, it's not going to be easy for the administration to steer a course through this morass. Moderate Democrats, like Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), want the White House to do everything possible to discourage more immigrants from arriving. Progressive Democrats, like Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN), want the White House to be more welcoming. Needless to say, these are very different approaches. Republicans, for their part, are offering little in the way of solutions, while taking potshots at Biden and declaring that—less than 60 days into his presidency—his immigration policy is a failure. Rep. John Katko (R-NY), for example, opined that it is "disorder at the border by executive order." For those keeping score at home, that's a double rhyme, so you know Katko is serious.

In the long term, things don't get much easier. Biden not only wants to overhaul the system, he wants to create a path to citizenship for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the country. There was a time when Republicans could get behind something like that, but there's little chance of that happening today. Which means that, even assuming the President can get all of the Senate's Democrats on board, this is yet another area where he's going to need the filibuster to be trimmed back or eliminated (more below). (Z)

Biden's Headaches, Part II: The Budget

Joe Biden would like, in the next 4 years, to spend money like a drunken sailor. There's the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, of course, which is now a done deal. He wants to make some elements of that bill, like the child tax credits and the more generous Obamacare subsidies, permanent. He aspires to pass an infrastructure bill, and maybe also to do something about global warming, so that Orlando, FL, and Sacramento, CA, aren't beachfront property by the time his grandkids are his age.

All of this takes money, of course—gobs and gobs of it. And the next time the administration spends big bucks, it does not want to put the whole thing on the nation's credit card. That means a big tax hike is coming, the first since Bill Clinton signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 into law.

The White House plans to adhere to Biden's campaign promises, and to raise taxes only on corporations and wealthy people. For the former, the rate would go from 21% to 28%, and the preferential rules for pass-through businesses would be tightened. For the latter, the plan is to increase: (1) the top marginal rate on folks earning more than $400,000, (2) the capital gains tax on folks earning more than $1 million annually, and (3) the estate tax. The administration is already prepping the public for this, even though it may be as much as a year away. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was on the Sunday morning news programs this weekend to warn that a tax increase is coming, and various senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), are prepping their full-court press.

The Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have signaled that they will fight this tooth and nail, a development about as surprising as the sun rising in the east. If there is any policy position that is foundational to the modern GOP, it's opposition to higher taxes on corporations and wealthy people (though opposition to immigration, see above, is also way up there). "We'll have a big robust discussion about the appropriateness of a big tax increase," said McConnell, by which he means: "We'll spend zero time talking to the Democrats, and lots of time going on Fox News to complain about how the Democrats aren't willing to work with us."

The bad news for the Republicans, and the good news for the Democrats, is that this is doable via reconciliation. Indeed, the careful reader might notice that reconciliation is exactly how the blue team accomplished a tax increase back in 1993. Back then, in fact, the Party's margins were even narrower than they are now—the final version of the bill passed the House 218-216 and the Senate 51-50 (with VP Al Gore casting the tiebreaking vote, of course). So, as long as the Democrats can stick together here, they will be able to get something done. West Virginia has the lowest average income, and the least capital investment, of any state in the country, so Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is not likely to be a holdout here. We will soon learn which Democratic senators might be, however. Possibly Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper (both D-DE), since 50% of publicly traded companies and 60% of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in Delaware. (Z)

Biden's Headaches, Part III: The Winter Olympics

The International Olympic Committee is not the most trustworthy organization in the world. They often pay lip service to the lofty goals expressed by modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin. Maybe they even believe it, at least sometimes. However, there are definitely lots and lots and lots of cases where their motivations had little to do with idealism, and lots to do with filthy lucre.

We note this as background to the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will take place in Beijing. The Chinese government is engaged in all manner of abuses right now, from imposing itself on Taiwan to tightening its grip on Nepal to propping up North Korea to the ongoing Uyghur genocide. When the IOC awarded the games to China in 2015, a time when all of these issues were already well known, the Committee said that it hoped hosting the games would encourage the Chinese to improve their behavior. If any IOC official really thought that the Chinese would reverse years or decades of policy in exchange for a couple of weeks of increased tourism, they should see a doctor about the injuries they sustained falling off the turnip truck.

Anyhow, the upshot is that dozens of liberal democracies, including the United States, are now faced with a pickle: Send a delegation to the games, and tacitly whitewash China's abuses, or skip the games and risk the wrath of voters who will be angry that athletes who have trained hard their whole lives are being used as political pawns. The famous example here is the 1980 Summer Olympics, when Jimmy Carter (and many other world leaders) decided to boycott because the USSR was hosting that year, and had just invaded Afghanistan. This was the principled decision, but it certainly didn't do Carter any favor at the polls later that year when he was unseated by Ronald Reagan.

Although the Beijing Games are nearly a year away, they have already become a political football. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who received much praise for his leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, published an op-ed yesterday in which he called for "an economic and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics." In other words, the U.S. athletes would attend, as would their families, but American officials and tourists would stay away. It's exactly the sort of "solution" that one would expect from Romney, who is not exactly known for having a spine of steel.

That said, Romney's approach is positively draconian compared to the one proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who never met a hot-button issue he didn't like, and who penned his own op-ed on Monday. The Texas Senator asserts that the 1980 boycott "utterly failed," and that the best way to stick it to China is for the U.S. team to head over there and win a whole bunch of medals. Because Xi Jinping is sure to say: "We really have to lay off the Uyghurs now that the U.S. has taken gold and silver in luge."

It is worth noting that Cruz—either out of ignorance or deliberate disingenuousness—completely ignores another potentially relevant historical precedent. In 1936, Adolf Hitler had just seized power and—as we now know—was laying the groundwork for a genocide of his own. There was serious talk of a boycott of that year's Summer Olympics, held in Berlin. Instead, the nations of the world went forward with the festivities, and Hitler got some excellent PR out of it and tightened his grip on Germany. Of course, we all know how that story ended.

This is not to say that we know what the correct choice is here, merely that we don't find Romney's or Cruz's op-eds to be particularly thoughtful or compelling. The White House, for its part, is playing its cards close to the vest, and says that no decision has been made, as yet. In the end, the Olympics are nowhere near as important as immigration or tax policy (see above). However, they are exactly the kind of thing that can be used to drive voters into a tizzy. And so, as the administration figures out what it's going to do, it's going to be choosing between aggravating the progressive wing of the party (anti-China) and aggravating centrists/independents/Republicans (pro-China). It's strange, our memory must be failing us, because we could swear that the Republicans were strongly anti-China as recently as, oh, about two months ago. (Z)

Haaland Is Confirmed

Speaking of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, they got some news yesterday that will gladden their hearts. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), who is now former Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior by a vote of 51-40. She got the votes of all Democratic senators who were present yesterday, along with Republican senators Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both AK), and, interestingly enough, Lindsey Graham (SC). Murkowski and Sullivan are reasonably moderate and have many Native American constituents, and Collins is fairly moderate and likes to buck her party on occasion, but we have no explanation for Graham's vote, and he didn't explain himself to reporters or on Twitter.

Haaland's confirmation is pleasing to progressives for three reasons. First, they like breaking glass ceilings, and Haaland is the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet (though Charles Curtis, who served with Herbert Hoover, was part Native American, and was Cabinet-level by virtue of being VP). Second, because Haaland is one of theirs, having served as co-chair of Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign last year. Third, because the newly approved Secretary is strongly pro-environment and takes a dim view of certain petroleum extraction techniques, like fracking.

At this point, only two Biden Cabinet officials are not yet confirmed: Labor Secretary-designate Marty Walsh and HHS secretary-designate Xavier Becerra. The former is expected to be approved next Monday, while the latter just got Joe Manchin's blessing and is expected to secure approval (51-50) sometime later next week. There are also three cabinet-level officials waiting for the Senate's approval, United States Trade Representative-designate Katherine Tai, Administrator of the Small Business Administration-designate Isabel Guzman, and whomever Joe Biden taps as Director of the Office of Management and Budget-designate now that Neera Tanden's name has been withdrawn. The first two of those are likely to be approved in a couple of weeks, while the latter is obviously going to take longer.

Meanwhile, Haaland leaves behind a district in NM-01 that is D+7. Already, eight Democrats have declared their interest, while another 10 have at least hinted (for the Republicans, those numbers are six and one). The good news for the blue team is that there will be no knock-down, drag-out, expensive primary. By the terms of New Mexico law, the candidates for the special election will be chosen by the state parties' central committees. If you were placing bets, you'd have to guess that Michelle Lujan Grisham's legislative director, Victor Reyes, ends up with the Democratic slot while state senator Mark Moores gets the Republican nod. Whoever the candidates are, however, the odds are strong that this ends up as a Democratic hold. (Z)

Democrats Now Waging Full-Frontal Assault on the Filibuster

If the DNC hired us to write a script for what the party should do when it comes to selling a filibuster change to the American public, we would suggest two things: (1) Have moderate members of the Party insist that they really, really would prefer to keep the filibuster unless there's simply no choice but to kill it, and (2) have more liberal members of the Party, particularly those from safe blue states, make the case that the filibuster is wrong, undemocratic, outdated, etc.

The DNC did not hire us, but this is the script they are running nonetheless. Last week, Joe Biden made clear his alleged position that he wants to keep the filibuster intact, while Joe Manchin (who is all over today's posting) said that he wants to keep it, too, but that he's open to making it "more painful." Both of these centrists are now pretty well situated to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a situation where the filibuster gets modified.

This week, the liberal Democrats' assault has begun. As we noted, Stacey Abrams talked to CNN this weekend, pressed for the filibuster to be eliminated for voting rights laws, and said that a failure to do so will allow racism to thrive. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), for his part, has been all over the place, warning his Democratic colleagues that if they don't get anything done in the next 18 months, the voters won't accept "Mitch McConnell wouldn't let us do anything" as an excuse. Meanwhile, yesterday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) gave an address on the Senate floor in which he absolutely lambasted the filibuster, declaring: "The filibuster is still making a mockery of American democracy. The filibuster is still being misused by some senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by a strong majority of the American people. This is what hitting legislative rock bottom looks like."

You never know what's going to happen, of course. However, given that: (1) the Democrats don't figure to have 60 seats in the Senate again anytime soon, and (2) the Republicans, consistent with their minority status, have so enthusiastically embraced obstructionism, and (3) so many prominent Democrats are playing the "roles" they need to play in this particular drama, the smart money says that change to the filibuster is coming. (Z)

Iowa Voters: Grassley Must Go!

We made a brief mention of this yesterday, but it's worth a bit more attention. Ann Selzer, the king of pollsters (if Elizabeth II can be a duke, Selzer can certainly be a king), has run a new poll of the 2022 Iowa U.S. Senate race. And she revealed that while 28% of Iowans want Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to run for reelection, 55% want him to stand down. Among Iowa Republicans, 50% want him to run again and 35% want him to call it a career. The main issue here is not that he's become unpopular, it's that he's currently 87 years old, and would be 95 at the end of his next term, were he to be reelected. For many residents of the Hawkeye State, that's just a little too long in the tooth.

Presumably, such polls will not have much influence on Grassley. He knows full well that while many Iowa voters prefer a younger Republican to an older one, they still prefer an older Republican to any Democrat. He's also under some amount of pressure from Mitch McConnell and other GOP muckety-mucks to run again, so as to increase the odds that the Minority Leader gets his old job back.

On the other hand, the current, bitterly divided Senate is not Grassley's cup of tea. He's more inclined to be a reach-across-the-aisle-and-get-things-done type. Further, he knows that it generally does not work out well when a senator reaches his advanced age. Already, Grassley is the 8th oldest senator in U.S. history (7th if we don't count Rebecca Felton, who served one day as a replacement senator, for symbolic purposes). The list of senators older than he: Dianne Feinstein (currently 87), Daniel Inouye (served until he was 88), Carl Hayden (served until he was 91), Robert Byrd (served until he was 92), Theodore F. Green (served until he was 93), and Strom Thurmond (served until he was 100). All of these folks, including Feinstein, struggled to handle their workload as they reached their late 80s. And two of them (Inouye and Byrd) ended up dying in office.

For these reasons, if we were to hazard a guess, we would guess that the Senator throws the towel in. He's a good party man and, in normal circumstances, he would make a decision as rapidly as possible so as to allow for potential Republican successors to launch their campaigns, start getting their name recognition up, and begin raising money and building infrastructure. The fact that Grassley has not announced his retirement, given that the 2022 cycle is nearly in full swing, would generally be a pretty strong indication that he's not retiring.

There is another plausible explanation for his silence, however. The Republican bench is reasonably deep in Iowa, and if Grassley had a preferred candidate—particularly one who already has plenty of name recognition, infrastructure, and money—he could delay so as to give that person an advantage. Someone like, say, Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives Pat Grassley, who is 37 years old, and is...Grassley's grandson. Pat already has the senator's name (and most of his name recognition). If Chuck waits until, say, January of next year to retire, then he can hand his campaign infrastructure and much of his money in the bank over to Pat, leaving other GOP competitors with relatively little time to get up to speed before the primaries on July 7. Passing off the family business like this seems much more plausible than becoming just the fourth (or fifth, if Feinstein remains) nonagenarian to serve in the U.S. Senate. (Z)

Booker May Challenge Paul in Kentucky

When he first ran for the U.S. Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he was a big fan of term limits, and would serve just two terms. He seems to have forgotten that, or else lost his taste for term limits, as he's already announced a run for a third term in 2022. Outside of Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY), who has no intention of challenging Paul, the Democratic bench in the bluegrass state is paper thin. Given that moderate-leaning Democrats, such as Jim Gray (2016) and Amy McGrath (2020), have been trounced in recent Senate elections (by 15 points and 20 points, respectively), the blue team may have trouble even finding a candidate.

Or maybe not. Former state rep. Charles Booker is young, Black, and very progressive, and nearly claimed the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2020 before losing out to McGrath. He said this weekend that he might just throw his hat into the ring, decreeing that "we have much more in common than we do otherwise" and "there are struggles that I have experienced in the west end of Louisville that aren't partisan—rationing my insulin, seeing my lights be cut off, not having a place to stay, seeing loved ones battle drug addiction and looking at jobs leaving our community never coming back."

If Booker does run, he will certainly have his work cut out for him. Not only is Kentucky very red, but a recent poll found that Paul's approval rating is 53%, while 47% of Kentuckians said they would vote for his reelection right now, if given the opportunity. That said, there is a certain strain of progressive populism (think Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT) that resonates with some red-state voters, and Booker is a very good campaigner. Further, it's not like running moderates has worked for the Democrats, so they might as well try something else. For Booker to have a real shot, Paul would probably have to commit some sort of huge gaffe. Not probable, though if there's any senator who might do it, it's probably Rand Paul. Anyhow, this one is still safely Republican, but it's at least possible it gets interesting. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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