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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Team Biden Prepares to Move on to Bigger (and Better?) Things
      •  Biden's Cabinet Is Complete
      •  The Significance of Warnock
      •  Two Candidates Toss Their Hats into the Ring...
      •  ...And Two Candidates Remove Theirs
      •  Sidney Powell Tries to Save Herself
      •  Israel Will Try Again Today

Team Biden Prepares to Move on to Bigger (and Better?) Things

You might think that it would be hard to top a $1.9 trillion outlay. After all, that is quite a lot of money. However, the White House and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill are preparing to really back up the money truck the next time. We're talking an outlay to the tune of $3 trillion. The details are, as you might imagine, still in flux. However, the general idea is to put together a bill that funds a lot of Democratic priorities, including infrastructure, clean energy, immigration, education, and childcare. The spending would also, as a byproduct, create a large number of well-paying jobs.

It is likely that Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough will be putting in some overtime once the proposal comes together. Biden and the Democrats will try to reach bipartisan agreements on some of these things, but the blue team is not optimistic that the red team will actually work with them. There's also the possibility that the filibuster will be trimmed back, of course. However, the operating assumption is that the $3 trillion bill will likely have to be passed with budget reconciliation. So, the administration is trying to figure out what things will pass muster with MacDonough as legitimate budget items. Since this may be the Democrats' last chance to use reconciliation before the midterms (when they could lose control of one chamber or the other or both), they are going to shoot for the moon.

This news should make the Republicans nervous, for at least three reasons. The first is that it's probable that a lot of Democratic initiatives will become law, and the GOP won't be able to stop it. The second is that the White House is not planning to put $3 trillion on the nation's credit card; they will offset some (perhaps most) of the cost with tax increases on wealthy people and corporations, which means the Republicans' #1 policy priority will suffer a huge setback. The third is that poll after poll continues to show that more than 70% of voters like the COVID bill. A Robin Hood-style bill that takes from the rich and helps the not-so-rich in a whole bunch of ways? That could easily clear 70% as well, and should please not only Democratic voters, but also some of the populist types who voted Republican in 2016.

As you would expect, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) cranked up the spin machine as soon as he heard the news, decreeing: "We're hearing the next few months might bring a so-called infrastructure proposal that might actually be a Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing, left-wing policies." Surprising he didn't squeeze the word "socialist" in there somewhere. In any case, the Minority Leader has certainly had some amount of success with stamping his feet and stonewalling as much as is humanly possible. But, as we said last week, we think he's misplaying his hand here. The Democrats are unusually unified right now, are worried that their window to get stuff done might close, and have literally just demonstrated, with the COVID-19 bill, that they are willing to push the rules to the limits. If Republicans play nice, Biden & Co. would certainly give them some concessions because the President so badly wants to be seen as a unifier. But if they go the McConnell route, they are likely to get steamrolled, and then they will be running in the 2022 midterms against (very likely) two bills with broad approval. (Z)

Biden's Cabinet Is Complete

As expected, Mayor Marty Walsh (D-Boston) was confirmed yesterday. That means that while a couple of cabinet-level posts are still vacant, the cabinet itself (and thus, the presidential line of succession) is now complete.

In a surprise, given these polarized times, Biden is actually the first president to get his entire cabinet confirmed since Ronald Reagan. In between those two presidents:

  • George H.W. Bush's first Secretary of Defense-designate, John Tower, was rejected by the Senate.
  • Bill Clinton's first two AGs-designate, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, withdrew from consideration.
  • George W. Bush withdrew the nomination of his first Labor Secretary-designate, Linda Chavez.
  • Barack Obama had three withdrawals, HHS-designate Tom Daschle, and two would-be Commerce secretaries, Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg.
  • Donald Trump withdrew the nomination of his first Labor Secretary-designate, Andrew Puzder.

It makes sense that Biden, a 50-year Washington insider who is still personal friends with half the Senate, would navigate this challenge very well. Of course, he did have to withdraw the nomination of Neera Tanden, but OMB Director is a cabinet-level position, and not a cabinet position.

Meanwhile, now that the cabinet is complete, let's see how we did with our guesses. Recall that Jennifer Granholm (Energy), Alejandro Mayorkas (DHS), and Denis McDonough (VA) were announced before we got to writing up those positions, so we speculated on just 12 of the 15 cabinet seats.

Department Appointee Our #1 Pick Made Our List?
State Antony Blinken Barack Obama Yes, #5
Treasury Janet Yellen Lael Brainard Yes, "Other Candidates"
Defense Lloyd Austin Michèle Flournoy No
Justice Merrick Garland Doug Jones No
Interior Deb Haaland Deb Haaland Yes, #1
Agriculture Tom Vilsack Heidi Heitkamp No
Commerce Gina Raimondo Meg Whitman No
Labor Marty Walsh Bernie Sanders Yes, #3
HHS Xavier Becerra Michelle Lujan Grisham No
HUD Marcia Fudge Keisha Lance Bottoms No
Transportation Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg Yes, #1
Education Miguel Cardona Lily Eskelsen García No

So, we only hit the bullseye twice, with Haaland and Buttigieg. That said, we usually put the most prominent possibility in the top slot, not necessarily the most likely possibility. We didn't actually think Obama would be tapped for State, or Sanders would be tapped for Labor, to take two examples, and we wrote that at the time.

In addition to the two bullseyes, we also managed to put the eventual appointee on our list another three times, which means we whiffed completely seven times. In baseball, 5-for-12 would be Ty Cobb-level good (a .416 batting average). In cabinet prognosticating, well, it reminds us that a president-elect's priorities are quite difficult to gauge. Further, even when a person appears to have risen to the top of the list, it could be that the incoming administration is just putting a trial balloon out there (as appears to have been the case with, for example, Meg Whitman), or that the candidate had the job but then blew it for some reason (as appears to have been the case with, for example, Michelle Lujan Grisham). (Z)

The Significance of Warnock

When Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) won election to the Senate, alongside his now-colleague Sen. Jon Ossoff (also D-GA), the immediate significance was apparent: The Democrats would have a majority in the upper chamber. A razor-thin majority, to be sure, but even a razor-thin majority was enough to demote then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to allow the Democrats to take over the committee chairs, and to facilitate the passage of some significant Democratic legislation (see above).

All of that makes Warnock's election very consequential. However, there may be another effect that is just as important, namely proving that Black Democrats can win major statewide elections in the Deep South. It is true that current lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax and former governor Douglas Wilder both won statewide in Virginia, but that's not the Deep South. And it's true that Stacey Abrams nearly won the governor's mansion in Georgia, but in the end, she came up short. There are also a handful of second-tier statewide offices in the South that were won by Black Democratic candidates, including Georgia AG (Thurbert Baker, 1997-2011) and North Carolina State Auditor (Ralph Campbell, 1993-2005).

Anyhow, all these folks probably helped pave the way for the Senator. However, Warnock's U.S. Senate win is the highest-profile electoral victory ever for a Deep South Black Democrat. And now that he's blazed a trail, others may soon follow. An examination of the Senate is useful here. Between the end of Reconstruction and the election of Warnock (a total of 144 years), only eight Black people served in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is from the Deep South, but is a Republican. More importantly, then-governor Nikki Haley appointed Scott to fill the seat of the departing Jim DeMint, so the first time he ran for election to the Senate it was as an incumbent, which makes it a lot easier than running as a challenger. Six of the remaining seven were Democrats, and all of the remaining seven were from very blue states (three from Illinois, two from Massachusetts, and one each from California and New Jersey). Further, two of those seven (Mo Cowan from Massachusetts and Roland Burris from Illinois) were appointed, and did not stand for reelection.

In other words, for close to a century and a half, Black candidates have not had much success in breaking the Senate's glass ceiling—even in blue states, and definitely in Deep South states. But following Warnock's victory, Black Democratic candidates have publicly expressed interest in running in six different Southern U.S. Senate contests (Deep South or no). To wit (as of the moment):

  • North Carolina (3): Cheri Beasley, Erica D. Smith, Anita Earls
  • Kentucky (1): Charles Booker
  • Alabama (3): Terri Sewell, Anthony Daniels, Christopher England
  • Georgia (1): Raphael Warnock
  • South Carolina (1): Angela Geter
  • Florida (2): Val Demings, Shantele Bennett

Among states that have a Senate contest this year, only Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma (if we define "South" broadly) miss the list, although those three contests have a grand total of zero, one, and one Democratic candidates of any sort right now. And if we broaden "South" a little more, then Missouri joins the list, with Mayor Quinton Lucas (Kansas City) having expressed interest in the open seat.

There is still plenty of time, of course, for candidates to drop in and for candidates to drop out. However, Democratic operatives have long wondered if the key to unlocking the South is Black Democratic candidates, since they might draw Black voters to the polls who might not otherwise vote. Thanks to Warnock, it appears that we are going to find out. North Carolina, in particular, could be very interesting, as nearly one-quarter of that state's populace is Black, and the last three Democrats to run for the Senate from that state (all of them white) lost by just 2 points (2020), 6 points (2016), and 1.5 points (2014). (Z)

Two Candidates Toss Their Hats into the Ring...

'Tis the season for candidates to launch their 2022 runs. After all, how can we have an electoral cycle that's limited to just one calendar year? That would be insanity. On Monday, two different Republicans made it official, and announced bids for office that everyone knew was coming.

To start, Eric Greitens (R), the former governor of Missouri, went on Fox News to announce that he will indeed try to win the seat that is being vacated by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). Republicans fear that Greitens could be a Kris Kobach-like candidate; Kobach was popular enough to win the gubernatorial primary in next-door Kansas, but far-right enough and scandalous enough that he lost the general election to a Democrat. Greitens is a little less far-right than Kobach, but a little more scandalous, having been enmeshed in an ugly affair involving adultery and alleged efforts by him to blackmail his paramour, leading to his resignation as governor.

And then there is Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who announced that he will try to win the right to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who is retiring. Brooks ran in the special election in 2017, and was outpolled by child molester Roy Moore. The Representative expressed interest in running for that same seat in 2020, but bowed out when polls made clear he would be trounced by now-Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). In other words, quite a few Alabama Republicans don't seem to like the cut of Brooks' jib.

The good news for Brooks, however, is that he's likely to land Donald Trump's endorsement in a very Trumpy state. The other declared Republican in the race, former Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard, might have gotten it, but she did a little too much bragging about how close she is to the former president, and how his support was in the bag. This made Trump cranky, and so he told Blanchard to buzz off. If Brooks does get elected to the Senate, he's going to out-Cruz Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and out-Hawley Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO). Just in case the upper chamber is not already dysfunctional enough. (Z)

...And Two Candidates Remove Theirs

While there was movement Monday into the U.S. Senate races, there was also movement out of some other races. First of all, in New York, Rep. Tom Reed (R) was making noise about a run for the New York governor's mansion, pointedly attacking Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) for his bad behavior. One small problem, however: It turns out that Reed has engaged in the same sort of behavior. After he expressed interest in a run, former lobbyist Nicolette Davis told The Washington Post that Reed made an unwanted pass at her in 2017 that involved inappropriate touching of both her thigh and her brassiere. On Monday, the Representative apologized for his behavior, said that liquor was to blame, and said he would not run for governor, or for reelection to his current seat.

The district that Reed will vacate, NY-23, is in western New York and is R+6. Donald Trump won it easily in both 2016 (by 15 points) and 2020 (by 11 points). However, before Trump (B.T.?), Mitt Romney won it by 1 point (2012), Barack Obama won it by 1 point (2008), and George Bush won it by 4 and 2 points (2004 and 2000). So, it could possibly swing in the Democrats' direction if they can find a good candidate, and if the GOP vote declines without Trump on the ballot.

Meanwhile, last week, we talked about how some members of Congress could fall victim to redistricting, finding themselves without a viable district to run in, or else finding themselves up against another incumbent. We now have our first victim of this process, as Rep. Filemón Vela (D-TX) announced that he will not stand for reelection under the new map that Texas is going to draw later this year.

Vela's district is TX-34, which is D+10 and is the farthest east among the districts that border Mexico. That would generally be pretty safe, and Vela won five elections there by at least 14 points. However, in the Lone Star State, Republicans control the redistricting process, and they've made clear they plan to target Vela. The likeliest way to do that is probably to blend a chunk of TX-34 with next door TX-15, a D+7 district represented by Democrat Vicente Gonzalez, and then to put the remaining chunks of TX-34 and TX-15 into a newly created red-leaning district to the north of both, forcing Vela to face off against Gonzalez. Whatever the Texas GOP has in store, Vela doesn't want to be a part of it, so he's out.

We continue to track retirements here. Thus far, there have been five senators to throw in the towel versus three representatives, which is undoubtedly a reflection of the greater amount of time and money needed to mount a Senate campaign as a non-incumbent. In other words, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), the heat is on. (Z)

Sidney Powell Tries to Save Herself

Wild-eyed lawyer Sidney Powell tried to save Donald Trump's presidency almost single-handedly, filing dozens of suits that claimed fraud and lots of other chicanery. She was singularly unsuccessful and, presumably, wasn't paid for her efforts. Instead, her rewards for this "service" are that she's been hit with a billion-dollar lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems (DVS) and she's also likely to face disbarment proceedings.

Powell's counsel has filed her defense in the Dominion case, and—given that she's really dug a hole for herself—it's a clear attempt to fashion a silk purse out of a sow's ear. To use their own words, they assert that, when it comes to the allegedly defamatory statements, "reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact." Defense counsel notes that they therefore concur with the plaintiffs' assertion that Powell was making "wild accusations" and "outlandish claims" that were "inherently improbable" and even "impossible."

Let us recall, at this point, the elements of defamation:

  1. A person has to make a statement of fact that is false.
  2. They have to know it was false, or be reckless in failing to verify its truthfulness.
  3. That statement has to be communicated to a third person.
  4. The target of the false statement has to suffer harm as a result.

Powell is hanging her hat here on the first element. What her attorneys are trying to argue, in essence, is that their client's wild and crazy assertions about the elections were either opinion, or a form of performance, or both, and so cannot be regarded as "statements of fact."

There are some rather significant problems here, though. It is one thing for Alex Jones, an entertainer, to make this argument in court (and he has). But Powell is a lawyer, and one who made her assertions in open court and in legal filings, both contexts where she was ethically bound to be factual. Further, finding evidence that outsiders took her assertions seriously will not be difficult. After all, the sitting president of the United States parroted her arguments, as did dozens of members of Congress, and countless others. One could spend many, many days (months? years? eons?) printing articles and comments from the Internet from people who took Powell's words seriously.

Meanwhile, Powell has all but surrendered her Bar card, since she's now admitted to making statements in court and in court filings that she knew to be untrue. That disciplinary hearing should last about two minutes. And thus she becomes the latest person (and the latest lawyer) to stick their neck out for Donald Trump, and to be left high, dry, and in big trouble. (Z)

Israel Will Try Again Today

Last week, we wrote about the Netherlands as a case study in some of the problems that can arise with proportional representation. However, the Dutch have nothing on the Israelis, who have only a limited time to form a governing coalition before they have to give up and hold another election. In the last two years, the process has twice failed outright, and a third time produced an arrangement that quickly crumbled. And so, the Israelis will try again today; their fourth election in two years.

This election, perhaps even more so than the others, is a referendum on PM Benjamin Netanyahu. He can no longer run on his close relationship with the United States, since Donald Trump is out of office, and the Netanyahu-Joe Biden relationship is frosty. So, the Prime Minister is instead running on COVID-19; Israel has been wildly successful at vaccinating its population (more than 80% of adults are now fully inoculated). On the other hand, Netanyahu's opponents argued that he bungled the year leading up to the vaccinations, causing needless deaths and economic turmoil.

Polls of the race have it too close to call. Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party is likely to take at least 30 seats, and the other conservative parties he has generally allied with are likely to take at least 20; the conservatives' total of 50 seats is 11 short of the 61 needed for a majority in the Knesset. The anti-Netanyahu parties, led by Yair Lapid's centrist Yesh Atid Party, are likely to win at least 55 seats. That means that about 15 seats will be up in the air. Control will depend, first of all, on turnout, and on how many smaller parties clear the 3.25% threshold needed for representation. And once the dust settles, then things could very well hinge on former Netanyahu aide and ally Naftali Bennett and his Yamina party. On one hand, Bennet/Yamina share the same conservative policy goals that Netanyahu/Likud do. On the other hand, Bennett now despises Netanyahu after the two men had a falling out. Basically, imagine if Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) got to choose between Trump and Biden for the presidency, and you get the picture.

The White House will be watching this election carefully, of course, because the administration would like to re-engage with the Palestinian peace process, and they would much prefer to do so with an Israeli PM other than Netanyahu. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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