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Poll: Voters Love the New COVID-19 Relief Law

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll shows that 72% of registered voters approve of the COVID-19 relief law Congress passed last week. Only 21% oppose it. Among Democrats, approval is near universal, with 95% approving it. Independents also largely like it, with 69% approving it. Republicans oppose it by a small margin, 44% to 48%. Still, all in all, the law is very popular with the voters, even though no Republican in Congress voted for it. And this is before people receive the $1,400 checks and other benefits, when approval is likely to go up. It is also before the administration's big pitch to sell the law to people. It is no wonder that right-wing media are not attacking it directly.

The poll also asked about Joe Biden. So far 62% approve of the job he is doing and 34% disapprove. That's a pretty good place to be.

The poll also asked people what their top issues are. The results were the economy (39%), health care (16%), Social Security and Medicare (13%), national security (12%), women's issues (5%), energy (5%), and education (4%). Except for national security, these are all issues that favor the Democrats now that the COVID-19 relief bill is completely owned by the Democrats.

Morning Consult also asked about whether respondents had a favorable or unfavorable view of various politicians and groups. The results: Joe Biden (60% favorable), Kamala Harris (54%), Congressional Democrats (52%), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (42%), Mike Pence (40%), Donald Trump (37%), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (34%), Congressional Republicans (34%), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (25%), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (21%). Things can turn on a dime in politics, but for the moment, the Democrats are much more popular than the Republicans. (V)

... But Florida GOP Politicians Are Fighting over It

They are fighting with each other, that is. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) have something in common other than being Republican politicians from Florida: Both are thinking seriously about running for president in 2024. And they are already taking pot shots at each other, three years before the primaries. Scott started by calling on cities and states to return "excess" money from the law Joe Biden signed last week. As a senator who doesn't have to balance a budget, that is easy for him to do. He also voted against the bill and doesn't want his rivals to call him a hypocrite like Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who voted against the bill and then immediately began telling his constituents about all the great things it will do for them.

DeSantis most definitely has to balance a budget (states may not run deficits) and has no intention of returning a penny of what the law gives him. In fact, he has already announced plans for spending $4 billion of the $10 billion he expects to get. There will be $1,000 payments to police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, more spending to rev up tourism (a major industry in Florida), improvements to transportation systems, and much more.

It is noteworthy that these gentlemen used to have different views. When Scott was governor of Florida, he loved spending money to curry the voters' favor. And when DeSantis was a member of the House, he was a big deficit hawk and railed against almost every kind of spending except for the military. Now their offices have changed, so their views have changed. But this is only the opening salvo. Both are serious contenders for the 2024 GOP nomination if Donald Trump doesn't run, so they are going to be popping off at each other for the next three years. (V)

House Republicans Are Also at Each Other's Throats

At a meeting of the House Republican conference yesterday, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Kevin McCarthy got into a food fight. Biggs said: "You've got to get in the way and try to slow things down as much as you possibly can." In other words, Biggs' idea of his job is not to work with the Democrats to pass laws that Republicans like, but to simply gum up the works so the House ceases to function. Specifically, what Biggs wants is to ask for roll calls on noncontroversial bills, like naming Post Offices, and to continuously make motions to adjourn—five, six, seven, maybe 10 times a day—and then to demand a roll call vote (which takes at least half an hour) for each.

McCarthy sees this as counterproductive because he knows that if Biggs tries to carry this out, the Democrats will simply change the rules to make this kind of obstruction impossible. As a side effect, it will convince the Democrats that even talking to the Republicans about legislation is pointless, so why bother? But Biggs has no intention of backing down. This rift within the House GOP caucus certainly can't work to the Party's advantage. It also shows that if the Republicans win a narrow majority in 2022, they may not be able to get much done if the Freedom Caucus constantly blocks the road. Which, truth be told, was exactly what happened the last time the GOP had the majority in the House. (V)

Republican State AGs Already Planning to Sue over the COVID-19 Relief Law

The ink is barely dry on the new COVID-19 relief law and already the lawyers are gearing up to take it down. Some people have wondered why the bill was 628 pages. One of the reasons is that Democrats were concerned about the possibility of states taking all the money (as Ron DeSantis is planning to do), and then cutting taxes and using the federal funds to plug the holes in the budget. That way Republican governors could get credit for helping folks out and cutting taxes at the same time. Win-win for them. In fact, a number of governors are planning to do precisely that.

Unfortunately for them, the Democrats foresaw this maneuver, and put in detailed wording stating that if states took the money and then cut taxes, they would have to pay the federal government back the amount they reduced taxes. That's one of the reasons the bill was so long and complex, dealing with situations like that. A number of Republican attorneys general have asked Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to confirm that their states could cut taxes if they so wished. Instead they got an answer from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who said that the bill gave the states money to help their residents, not to cut taxes.

Not surprisingly, then, several red-state attorneys general are already planning lawsuits. They hope that the Supreme Court will ultimately rule that Congress can't order states not to cut their taxes nor can it threaten to withhold benefits if states refuse to agree not to cut taxes. If the Supreme Court rules for the Republican attorneys general, then the states can have their cake and eat it, too, by taking the federal money to plug the holes in their budgets that the tax cuts create. If they can get away with this, then the net effect of the law in the red states will be to lower state taxes, rather than to improve state services. So, what will happen is that the federal government will be supporting tax cuts for rich people rather than better services for ordinary Americans. And you thought the Trump administration had come to an end. (V)

Biden Will Finally Hold a News Conference

Joe Biden has been criticized by members of both parties for so far failing to hold a news conference in which reporters can question him. All of his 15 most recent predecessors held a news conference in the first 33 days in office. Biden has been in office for over 50 days and hasn't held one. His staff has defended his lack of availability by saying that he is entirely focused on the coronavirus and the economy.

The criticism finally got to him, and he agreed to hold a news conference on March 25. Until then, at least, Biden will control the agenda. He is planning various visits and events that put the focus on the new relief law. The Vice President, First Lady, and Second Gentleman are all planning events of their own. The idea is to make the new law the only piece of news the media can report.

A news conference interferes with that strategy. Some reporter could ask about the border "crisis." Another could ask about some state where vaccinations are not going well. Still another could bring up the deficit. By delaying the news conference for a week, Biden gets to control the news for another entire week by simply making sure everything he does relates to the law and instructing everyone in his cabinet to hold events relating to the law. For example, the secretary of education can talk about how it helps schools open safely by providing funding to upgrade ventilation systems, buy hand sanitizer and PPE, etc.

In accordance with his policy of making all news about the law, Biden recently announced that Gene Sperling, an economist who held key economic positions in the Obama and Clinton administrations, will be in charge of making sure the money appropriated by the law was spent the way Congress intended it to be spent. (V)

Redistricting Is Complicated

Yes, doing a good gerrymander is complicated, but there is software out there to help, as we have pointed out before. However, redistricting also complicates life for politicians in several ways.

Some politicians may discover that after redistricting, their district has vanished. For example, in 1980, David Dreier (R) was swept into Congress along with Ronald Reagan. After a rough primary in his first reelection bid, he didn't have a rough race for decades. Then, one fine morning in 2010, he woke up to discover that his district no longer existed. The new citizen redistricting commission had carved up CA-26 and put pieces of it in seven adjacent districts. No district had more than a third of his longtime constituents. Unfortunately, he found himself at odds with Kevin McCarthy, whose district had become more Republican as a result of carving up CA-26 and who was in no mood to fight for Dreier. Representatives don't have to live in their districts, but Dreier couldn't find an unoccupied district that he liked, and so he left politics.

Another problem that redistricting can create is putting two incumbents in the same district. This can happen when a substantial piece of, say, District 1 and a substantial piece of, say, District 2 are put into the same new district, forcing the people who represented them to compete against each other. If they are in the same party, then they will face each other in a primary. If they are in different parties, then they will probably clash in the general election. In 2010, two California Democrats, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, who had served together for 14 years, found themselves in the same newly drawn district. There was a nasty primary, but due to California's jungle primary, they both advanced to the general election and slugged it out some more. It got so nasty that they almost got into a fistfight at one of the debates. And there were many other incumbent vs. incumbent battles in Democratic primaries, Republican primaries, and the general election.

Since the states don't yet know how many House seats they will have, the new districts haven't been finalized, but it is inevitable that both of these problems—disappearing districts and incumbent vs. incumbent races—are going to happen in 2022. The latter will probably provide some of the most combustible races. So, make sure to stock up on popcorn. (V)

Biden Will Soon Learn Where the Buck Stops

An extremely thorny issue has reared its head and will soon be sitting on Joe Biden's desk, staring him in the face: vaccine passports. As vaccinations progress, increasingly many organizations, including airlines, interstate bus companies, railroads, theaters, sports arenas, stores, businesses, and maybe even schools, are thinking about demanding proof of vaccination before letting people in the door. In fact, New York State is already trying out its Excelsior Pass, to do precisely this. Hawaii wants visitors to show proof of vaccination or go into a mandatory 10-day quarantine. The problem is that this scheme will never work unless the federal government develops standards and technology for allowing people to prove that they have been vaccinated. Doing so raises a host of troublesome questions.

Without the federal government leading the way, there will be chaos as there will be dozens of different incompatible standards and methods of proof. If each state, some cities, and some companies develop their own smartphone app, how are airport officials in Hawaii going to tell real ones from fake ones? A patchwork of local solutions will invite uncertainty and fraud.

Further, not everyone has a modern smartphone running the current version of the operating system. Some people don't have a smartphone at all and they tend to be poorer and less white than the population at large. They will not be happy to be told they can't take the bus to Grandma unless they buy a modern smartphone and put some app they don't understand on it. So right off the bat, any kind of digital solution will discriminate against people who already face many barriers.

Also, people with an older phone that can't run the app won't be happy. Telling the app developers to make sure the app will run on every smartphone sold in the past 15 years will get the response: (1) that is impossible, and (2) unless we restrict the app to very recent phones we can't guarantee the security of the system since the security features we need were introduced only in version x of the operating system a couple of years ago.

The next problem is how to get the "proof" into the app. Vaccinations are being given by a large number of different organizations, from pharmacies to public health clinics to universities to private business concerns to municipal and county officials. All of them run different software and all of them will have to be updated to allow them to work with the new app (if there is just one) or the 50 new apps (if every state makes its own). Getting this to work properly could take months or maybe even years.

Then there are privacy concerns. Ideally, someone who shows up for a vaccination gets the passport put on the phone, and then the data is deleted from the source. Then it can't be hacked at the source. But some people will forget to bring their phones or lose their phones and will want to get their vaccination passports later on their new phones. This means the vaccination organizations will have to maintain the data, with the risk of it being hacked and exposed. There are also legal issues here as there are tight laws that organizations have to obey when handling health-related data. These laws were not written with the intention of storing confidential data on poorly managed unsecured devices.

Technology aside, any widespread adoption of a vaccine passport would divide society into two groups, the vaccinated and the untouchables. The former could resume normal life; the latter would be outcasts. Antivaxxers would be in the latter category and might not take it well. Also, people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons would be a problem.

The European Union is grappling with the same problems and may be close to adopting a solution developed in Israel. The Israeli solution uses a QR code. When scanned, it shows the name of the person and date of the vaccination (and potentially more information, such as the type of vaccine used). QR codes have the advantage that they can be printed on paper, so a vaccinee (new word alert) can carry it around either on a phone or on a piece of paper. A disadvantage is anyone can make up a QR code, so there needs to be some kind of security in the system, such as a digital signature of some sort. But the E.U. has to deal with only 27 countries. The U.S. has to deal with 50 states that don't like to to be told what to do, plus pharmacy chains and a lot of other players. Getting agreement won't be easy unless Biden puts down his foot and says: "This is how we are going to do it. Now please shut up."

In short, to prevent chaos, protect privacy, and not disadvantage poor people, Biden is going to have to play a major role here and take a lot of flack from many different groups in the process. And he thought holding a press conference was a pain in the rear. (V)

Senate Approves Katherine Tai for USTR 98-0...

No, that is not a typo. The Senate actually approved one of Joe Biden's cabinet-level nominations with no dissenting votes. The nominee was Katherine Tai and the position is U.S. Trade Representative, which is actually a controversial job since it requires the USTR to negotiate deals with China, the E.U., and others. And many of these deals are complicated because they involve human rights, jobs, subsidies, and other explosive material. One of the easier disputes is one in which the U.S. has accused the E.U. of subsidizing Airbus and the E.U. has accused the U.S. of subsidizing Boeing by giving it cost-plus military contracts to develop and test new technology on the taxpayer's dime. The conflicts with China are 100x worse.

Tai is the daughter of immigrants from Taiwan. She has a bachelors degree from Yale and a J.D. from the Harvard Law School. After graduating, she worked for several law firms and clerked for the U.S. district court in D.C. She then became the USTR's general counsel, a job she did for 7 years. After that she became the trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee. She has extensive experience negotiating trade deals and she speaks fluent Mandarin. She also has a reputation for being extremely smart and a tough negotiator. And she has worked well with politicians of both parties. No one doubts that she is exceptionally well qualified for the job. What is amazing is that no Republican voted against her, just because she's Joe Biden's nominee. In case you're wondering, the two senators who did not cast votes were Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI). Hirono is away from Washington right now dealing with personal business, and Sanders missed work yesterday, though he previously voted to invoke cloture on the nomination, so he wasn't opposed to it.

Probably the biggest item on Tai's plate is what to do about the tariffs Donald Trump placed on exports from China to the U.S. It's a very divisive subject. For example, U.S. steel makers like the tariffs that make Chinese steel more expensive in the U.S., but steel users (like, say, automakers) say that they raise the cost of their products. The steelworkers union, which is an important part of the Democrats' base in key Midwestern states, likes the tariffs. Joe Biden has so much on his plate that he is going to have to depend on Tai to figure out what is possible and what is politically palatable.

Another very hot issue is what to do about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This was Barack Obama's plan to make a deal with other Asian countries in order to constrain China. Trump killed it; not because he likes China, but because it was an Obama idea. Will Tai try to revive it in some form?

The environment is also on her agenda, as some trade deals have the effect of moving production to countries with lax environmental laws. Climate activists want to block these deals. Finally, enforcing the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico is also part of her job. She will have to make dozens of tough decisions on hot-button issues, but at least she is starting out with a lot of good will. (V)

...and Isabel Guzman for SBA Administrator 81-17

It wasn't the most lopsided vote of the day, but it was a much clearer endorsement than most of Joe Biden's nominees got from the Senate. Anyhow, shortly before Katherine Tai was confirmed as U.S. Trade Representative, Isabel Guzman was approved as Administrator of the Small Business Administration, 81-17.

Guzman is her own personal Rainbow Coalition; she is a woman, of course, and is of Latina, European, Jewish, and Chinese descent. She's also an Ivy Leaguer (Penn), and has long experience as a private consultant, as well as in federal service (deputy chief of staff at the SBA, 2014-17), and in state government (until yesterday, she was the director of California's Office of the Small Business Advocate). Just like every other Biden appointee, she will have a lot on her plate the moment she takes office. In particular, it will be up to her to oversee (and clean up) the mess that is the Paycheck Protection Program.

And speaking of Biden's appointees, Tai and Guzman came up for a vote more quickly than expected, and the same appears to be the case with HHS Secretary-designate Xavier Becerra, who may be confirmed before the week is out. Secretary of Labor-designate Marty Walsh's confirmation is scheduled for Monday of next week. Barring any surprises, the only cabinet-level positions that will remain after that will be the just-elevated position of Presidential Science Advisor (nominee: Eric Lander), and the Office of Management & Budget Director (nominee: Who knows?). (Z)

In the Netherlands, the Voters Have Spoken, Now What?

With about 90% of the vote counted as of this morning, it looks like 17 parties will be represented in the lower chamber of the Dutch parliament. Here are the percentages.

Dutch election results

We described the parties on Monday. The "conservative" party of the current prime minister, Mark Rutte, got 22.0% and remains the largest party. D66, where Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) would fit in comfortably, came in second at 14.8%. The anti-Muslim PVV was third at 10.9%. The Christian Democrats (CDA) were fourth at 9.7%. None of the other 13 parties that won seats in the parliament hit even 7%. And there were 17 parties that didn't get any seats.

Now the hard part starts. No party will work with the PVV. Everyone in it, especially the leader, Geert Wilders, is a complete pariah. From the preliminary totals, which are subject to change, it looks like VVD + D66 + CDA combined have 74 seats in the 150-seat parliament. That's two short of what they need for a majority. If it remains like that when the final count is in, they are going to have to work with one of the smaller parties, which is likely to demand an arm and a leg for its cooperation (e.g., some of its key platform points in the program of the new government plus a disproportionate number of cabinet posts). Such is the nature of having lots of parties. Of course, if the VVD + D66 + CDA manage to eke out 76 seats, they can go it alone. However, then any time one member opposes something, it's toast. Not so different from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) opposing something, really.

After the 2017 elections, it took 225 days to put together a majority coalition. This time it may be easier because there are three "large" parties that are pretty close to a majority at 74 seats. That means that there are many potential partners who could supply two more seats. This reduces the potential clout of each one because then when one of them demands three cabinet positions, Rutte can say to them "Thank you for your offer, but I am going to talk to one of the other half-dozen or so smaller parties that aren't so extreme or demanding."

Politico Europe has a story on the election in English. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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