• Hirono, Duckworth Want (and Get) More Asians in the Biden Administration
• Here Come De Judge(s)
• The Significance of Johnson
• Poll: Newsom Appears to Be Safe
• Israeli Gridlock Likely to Continue
In the last week, there have been two more high-profile mass shootings. The first took place in Atlanta, at three different spas. Given that six of the eight people killed were Asian-American women, this one certainly looks to be racially motivated. The second took place in Colorado, and resulted in 10 more deaths, including a police officer. The suspect in the second shooting is named Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, so let the "Muslim terrorist" presumptions from right-wingers begin (see, for example, this piece headlined "Radical Muslim Terrorist Kills 10 in Colorado Mass Shooting, Media blames White Trump Supporters"). In truth, Alissa relocated to the United States as an infant, has been in the country for 20 years, and appears to be someone with untreated mental issues, and not a political radical.
Following the two shootings, which have of course received vast coverage, all of the various political actors are playing the roles that you would expect them to play, because they always play them in situations like these. Joe Biden has called for Congress to pass several gun-control measures, including stronger background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has seconded that sentiment, and promised that two bills passed by the House will come up for a vote in the near future.
Meanwhile, Republicans have played their roles, as well. We are not sure which is a bigger cliché: (1) "thoughts and prayers" or (2) accusations that the Democrats are shamelessly utilizing mass shootings for political benefit. So that we don't have to decide, how about we give you an example of a Republican politician who quickly checked both boxes? That would be Sen. Rafael "Ted" Cruz (R-TX), who jumped on Twitter immediately after the Colorado shooting to offer his thoughts and prayers, and then gave a speech in the Senate the next day accusing the Democrats of partaking in "ridiculous theater." Of course, Cruz' allies in the media are happy to partner with him in this. To take one example, Fox News' Tucker Carlson just published an op-ed headlined "The left, mainstream media turn Boulder shooting into yet another racial powder keg." He also wonders how long this can continue before Democrats tear the country apart. Pot, meet kettle.
Anyhow, Cruz, Carlson, and their ilk are ultimately going to triumph here, because the pro-gun folks always do. The filibuster guarantees that no significant gun-control legislation will get through the Senate, since the modern-day Republican Party would never let it happen (it's been a long time since the Brady Bill passed with significant bipartisan support). And even if the filibuster were to be eliminated, the result would still be the same. There are just too many Democrats that come from gun-friendly states (think Jon Tester, D-MT, or Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ, or Joe Manchin, D-WV). Indeed, Manchin has already come out and said he does not support the bills that Schumer is planning to put forward.
Beyond the firewall that is the United States Senate, there are other issues in play, too. We've often observed that most Republican politicians don't really want abortion outlawed, because abortion is a powerful wedge issue for the Republican Party. Well, we also suspect that most Democratic politicians, even those from anti-gun states, don't really want gun-control legislation, because gun control is a powerful wedge issue...for the Republican Party. That is to say, many Democratic voters say they want gun control, but they don't make that a priority when voting. On the other hand, there are vast numbers of Republicans (including many infrequent Republican voters) for whom guns are issues #1, #2, and #3. If the Democrats were to somehow pass a gun-control bill, Republican politicians and pundits across the land would wield that like a cudgel. "See? We told you the bleeding-heart, socialist, communist, hippie, anti-American Democrats were coming for your guns!" they will say. The next election would be brutal for the blue team.
In short, the risk/reward calculus simply does not add up for the Democratic Party. Further, even if the Party's elected officials were willing to take a bold risk—not unlike Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law—there is another major impediment: The Supreme Court, which is currently very gun-friendly. The moment that any gun-control legislation was passed, two dozen Republican state attorneys general would sue, the case would quickly reach SCOTUS, and SCOTUS would likely strike the new law down. Politicians are not known for their willingness to sacrifice their careers for the greater good, but even if a bunch of Democrats were up for that, it's hard to justify for a law that's not likely to make it even to the next presidential administration.
When Joe Biden ran for president, he promised to "pursue" executive action on gun control from his first day in office. He has done little to explain what that means, and he hasn't actually done anything on that front so far. Maybe, given all the attention given to this week's shootings, he'll feel compelled to do something. But given the issues outlined above, don't be surprised if whatever he does is fairly anemic, or if he ultimately decides to do nothing at all. (Z)
The Atlanta shooting might not result in meaningful changes to America's ultra-permissive gun culture. However, it has gotten people talking about anti-Asian racism, which often gets overlooked in the United States. That, in turn encouraged the two Asian Americans currently serving in the Senate—Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)—to insist that the Biden administration needs much more Asian-American representation, because VP Kamala Harris is not enough. The two senators warned that until this was addressed, they would withhold their votes in support of other Biden nominees.
The timing was a little bit odd, since the threat came on the same day that Vivek Murthy—an Asian American—was confirmed as surgeon general. Nonetheless, the White House sent a couple of aides to the Hill to discuss the matter with Duckworth and Hirono, and reached an agreement to add a senior Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison to the President's management team. The whole dust-up lasted less than 6 hours.
This certainly highlights the difference in styles between this administration and the previous one. Biden is a consensus builder, and Tuesday's maneuvering is a textbook example of the kind of behind-the-scenes backscratching he's been a part of for decades. By contrast, if a Republican senator had dared threaten Donald Trump in that way, it would have been war. Trump would have been on Twitter within minutes, and Fox News within hours, lamenting how the senator in question is a RINO and how they are not serving their voters well and should be sent packing in the next election. Of course, because Trump wielded his power in this way, few Republicans would have dared to challenge him the way Duckworth and Hirono challenged Biden. Even politicians who were retiring (Bob Corker, Jeff Flake) wouldn't do it. Even once Trump was a lame duck and had egged on an insurrectionist mob, most Republican officeholders still wouldn't challenge him.
Both styles have their advantages, and both certainly have their adherents among presidents. The two Roosevelts couldn't get on Twitter, because it didn't exist in their time, but crossing either of them was nonetheless a poor idea. By contrast, a Dwight Eisenhower or a Bill Clinton was much more open to pushback from members of their parties. LBJ was a curious combination of both; he was a consensus-builder, but one who demanded that dirty laundry remain 100% private.
Anyhow, the Biden style can certainly work. We'll have to wait and see how well it works for him in particular, although his 55% approval rating and passage of one major bill (and counting) suggests he's off to a good start. The Trump style can work, too, but it does not seem to have worked all that well for him. Yes, he was elected president, and yes, he has a fanatical base. However, the problem with being a controlling jerk is that everyone who does not love you pretty much hates you. Trump-hating voters tossed him out after one term, Trump-hating insiders saw to it that his White House leaked like a sieve, and Trump-hating politicians would love to see him jailed (and some of them, Republican and Democratic, may just make that happen). (Z)
Yes, that headline is indeed a reference to Laugh-In. Fans of television who were born before 1960 or so, you're welcome.
Anyhow, when Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump took office, each of them quickly unleashed a list of nominees to the federal judiciary. Joe Biden is now 64 days into his presidency, and thus far, he's made no nominations. Given the object lessons that Americans have received in the last few years about the significance of the judicial branch, a lot of Democrats—and, in particular, a lot of progressive Democrats—are wondering: What gives? (See here, here, and here, for example).
This is an easy enough question to answer, although there are multiple answers, not just one:
- Vacancies: Given the 21st-century GOP's John Adams-like
for ramming through as many conservative judges as possible (or for blocking as many liberal judges as possible), even into
the lame-duck period for a president/Senate, Biden begins his term with fewer seats to fill than any of his five
predecessors. The Dept. of Justice publishes a monthly summary of judicial vacancies on the first of each month; here is the
total number for the Feb. 1 immediately following these presidents' inaugurations:
President Judicial Vacancies Clinton 109 Bush 81 Obama 59 Trump 117 Biden 57
It's not a coincidence that the only other recent president to have a relatively short list of vacancies was Barack Obama, another Democrat who served after Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) rise to power.
- Full Plate: While Biden has a relatively short list of court seats to fill, he has an
unusually long list of other pressing issues to deal with, from the pandemic, to an economy that is in a delicate place,
to a border crisis, to the various dumpster fires that Trump appointees left behind at the various executive
departments. It's not terribly surprising that "appoint some judges" was not at the top of Biden's list (even though
it's still near the top).
- Lack of Obstacles: Another reason that most presidents tried to hit the ground running,
judge-wise, was that there was plenty of opportunity for opponents, particularly those from the other party, to gum up
the works. That is much less a concern now, since the filibuster for federal judges
in 2013, while
died during the Trump presidency. As long as Biden can keep his caucus unified behind his judicial picks, they will be
seated fairly promptly.
- Vetting: To a large extent, the Bush/Trump approach to finding judicial appointees was to
call the Federalist Society and say "give me a list!" The Clinton and Obama administrations tended to do a little more
legwork, but nonetheless allowed the American Bar Association (ABA) to weigh in with suggestions and to do most of the
vetting. Either way of doing things tends to make it pretty easy to find nominees quickly. That's doubly true if a
president's appointments tend to fit a particular demographic profile. For example, 80% of Trump's picks were men, 75%
were white, and just shy of 70% were both.
The Biden administration will not be using the Federalist Society, of course. And it won't be relying on the ABA either, reasoning (with good cause) that tends to produce a lot of candidates who are either former prosecutors or members of big, rich law firms (or both).
- Approach: Consistent with the previous item, Biden
a very diverse range of nominees. That's "diverse" in the sense it is normally used—race, gender, etc.—which
was also a goal for the Obama administration. However, it's also "diverse" in the sense of coming from different
professional backgrounds. Think civil rights lawyers, or public defenders, or folks who attended non-Ivy League law
- Caution: There are also many reasons for the White House to dot every i and cross every t. Biden is mindful that, lacking many other tools for blocking his nominations, the GOP is going to crank up its propaganda apparatus, and he wants to give them as little material to work with as is possible. Further, since he needs all 50 Democratic votes, he has to find candidates that are acceptable to a Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), but also a Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Finally, there are many federal judges who are on the precipice of retirement right now, some of them Democratic appointees, some of them Republican appointees. Those folks are more likely to lay down their gavels if they are assured of being replaced by capable, well-vetted appointees.
In any case, the wait will soon be over. Biden reportedly has his first list of judicial nominees ready to go, and will release it soon, either this week or next, with District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson sure to be the headliner, as she is tapped to replace AG Merrick Garland on the D.C. Court of Appeals (and, tacitly, assumes a position in the on-deck circle to replace Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, should he just so happen to announce his retirement). (Z)
Yesterday, we had an item headlined "The Significance of Warnock," in which we discussed how Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) could be the vanguard of a wave of prominent Black Democratic officeholders. Now, let us offer the yin to the yang of the Warnock piece: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) as part of the vanguard of prominent centrist-turned-pro-white-grievance Republican officeholders.
Let us begin this discussion with some examples. Consider if someone said any of the following things:
- "When someone knocks on my door at night, I'm much more likely to open it if they are white than if they are
- "If someone is walking behind me on the sidewalk, I worry if they are Black. If they are white, no problem."
- "White people sometimes have bad breaks, and need unemployment checks. Most Black people on unemployment, however,
just don't want to work."
- "Black people are much more violent than white people. Have you seen the crime statistics?"
- "Why are Black people always complaining about racism? If there's anyone who gets held back by their race these days, it's white people."
All of these statements are overtly racist. Every single one of them would be more than enough to get (Z) fired if he were to utter them in a California classroom (assuming they were not being used as illustrative examples, as they are here). And yet, Johnson did not bat an eye last week when he decreed that he wasn't the slightest bit nervous during the Capitol insurrection, but he would have been if the rioters had been members of Black Lives Matter. Either he was saying that the mob on Jan. 6 was only interested in targeting minority members of Congress, or he was saying that only Black protesters are violent. Whichever it was, it could have come straight out of the John Birch Society playbook.
And that brings us to the significance of Johnson. When he was elected to the Senate, a bit over a decade ago, he was a centrist and a pragmatist. Now, as conservative columnist Michael Gerson points out, Johnson has drifted far to the right, particularly on race. Maybe this is who Johnson always was, and now he just doesn't feel the need to be careful about what he says anymore. Or maybe he's consciously drifted rightward in an effort to remain near the ideological center of the Party (the same way Joe Biden has drifted leftward). Either way, he's gotten no serious pushback from his colleagues, either on his verbiage from last week, or on other recent less-than-racially-enlightened statements. Put another way, to use Gerson's description, Johnson is part of the GOP mainstream. This is a trend that Donald Trump both inherited and encouraged, of course, helping to complete the transition of the Republican Party into the party of white grievance. That's not to say that every present-day Republican is motivated by race and racism. However, to paraphrase a slogan from after the Civil War: "Not every Republican is an aggrieved white person, but every aggrieved white person is a Republican."
This has put the GOP in the position of pulling off a delicate balancing act. On one hand, the angry white folks are such an important part of the base that they have to be accommodated. On the other hand, "racism" is socially unacceptable for most Americans, and has been for half a century. And the basic solution for Trump, Johnson, and other Republicans has been to conceptualize racism as that term was understood back in the 1960s (when many of them came of age). They accept that lynchings and attacking protesters with police dogs and jailing Freedom Riders were wrong. But then, the government stepped in, and those things stopped happening. Racism solved!
A big part of carrying off this argument is not only to legitimize the grievances of modern-day straight, white folks, but also to downplay the concerns of modern-day non-straight-white folks since, after all, racism and all other forms of bigotry effectively ended in 1965. Hence, Johnson's willingness to frame the Capitol insurrectionists as well-meaning patriots, but to simultaneously slur the members of Black Lives Matter as a bunch of violent troublemakers. It is also remarkable how rapid the right-wing pushback is today against even the faintest hint that unequal treatment of non-straight-white folks might still be a problem. We saw, for example, the Trump administration effort to write its own version of U.S. history in response to the 1619 project, or the fury over the Dr. Seuss books, or the anger over Mr. Potato Head.
The interview that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry gave to Oprah Winfrey serves as a recent, and quite remarkable (re-markle-ble?) example. In that interview, Meghan proposed that at least some of the hostility towards her, both within Buckingham Palace and without, is due to her being part-Black. That immediately turned the whole thing into a political football, particularly on the right, where folks were suddenly falling all over themselves to defend the monarchy. Of particular note was a town hall held by the Heritage Foundation and entitled "The Crown Under Fire: Why the Left's Campaign to Cancel the Monarchy and Undermine a Cornerstone of Western Democracy Will Fail." If George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were still alive, we bet they would be surprised to learn that the British monarchy is a cornerstone of western democracy.
Note that this item is not a criticism of the Republicans; it's just a breakdown of an important dynamic in modern American politics. Every time there's another "cancel culture" outrage (which seems to happen weekly, if not more often), well, there's a reason why right-wing politicians and pundits go there. And we have absolutely no idea how this ends up, merely that the modern GOP is now quite far down this particular rabbit hole. Gerson, who finally left the Republican Party over his view that they have become racist, thinks that they will be stuck in this loop for a good while, to their detriment at the ballot box. (Z)
Probolsky Research, which is headquartered in Orange County, CA, is one of a handful of California-centered polling firms. With not a lot of demand for their services at this point in the election cycle, the firm decided to do a poll on Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), and found that when it comes to the recall, he currently has little to worry about. Among likely voters, 52.5% said they would vote against recall if the election was held right now, while only 34.6% said they would vote in favor of recall.
Perhaps more significantly, the issue has taken on a decidedly partisan character, which is exactly what Newsom has been working for. More than 80% of Republicans want him gone, compared to just more than 10% who would like him to stay. Among Democrats, 66% want him to stay and just 16% want him to be shown the door. And independents are pretty evenly divided, with 40% favoring the recall and 43% opposing. Inasmuch as registered Republicans are only the third-largest faction in the state (24% or so of voters), trailing independents (30%) and Democrats (46%), those numbers just won't get it done for the GOP. They need independents to break much more decisively against the governor, and they also need more Democratic defectors. Note also that Probolsky has a slight Republican lean, so Newsom's number may actually be a little better than this.
With that said, the recall hasn't even been officially certified yet, and there hasn't been any serious maneuvering, especially on the Democratic side. So, things could change. Billionaire and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer is making noise about a possible run as the Democratic alternative, should Newsom be recalled, and says he's about to conduct a poll to gauge Californians' interest in a Steyer candidacy. One suspects that poll will "discover" that Californians would love, love, love a Gov. Steyer. If so, take that result with many grains of salt; Steyer's presidential campaign went nowhere, and he's not especially popular in California, nor with the progressives that would ostensibly form his base. Among his liabilities are: (1) a reputation for overworking and underpaying his staffers while also verbally abusing them, (2) his billionaire status, and (3) an apparent belief that his billionaire status qualifies him for the most powerful political jobs in the land despite a total lack of experience.
If a real threat to Newsom emerges, it is more likely to be in the form of a Mexican-American centrist from Southern California. His polling among Latinos is weak, he's much more popular in the northern part of the state than in the (much more populous) southern part, and he's more aligned with the progressive wing than the centrist wing. We're talking someone like Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA), who is currently Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus and is serving her ninth term representing parts of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. She's given no indication she's interested in changing jobs, but if she were to put herself forward as the Democratic alternative to Newsom, that would make him sweat a little. (Z)
Another Israeli election, another (likely) period of gridlock. People in that nation headed to the polls yesterday and gave a clear victory to...nobody. PM Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party did a little bit better than expected, and looks likely to win roughly 33 seats in the Knesset. However, of the three exit polls conducted by Israel's major television stations, two projected a legislature that is split evenly (60-60) between pro- and anti-Netanyahu forces, while the third projected a slim 61-59 majority for the anti-Netanyahu parties. The odds are good that a fifth election is in the near future.
From the vantage point of the Biden administration, and its hopes for restarting the Palestinian peace process, the results were not encouraging. Palestinian hardliners, including Netanyahu himself, did better than expected. If the final results return a conservative government, Biden will not have an amenable partner to work with. If the final results return no government, then Biden won't have any partner to work with. And if the final results return a more centrist government, then Biden might have a partner, but one whose government will be hanging by a thread, and who will have to be mindful that Israeli public opinion has moved in a hard-line direction. None of these three scenarios suggests a clear path forward for the White House. That said, 14 presidents in a row have wrestled with this problem without much success, so a failure to make progress is par for the course. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar23 Biden's Cabinet Is Complete
Mar23 The Significance of Warnock
Mar23 Two Candidates Toss Their Hats into the Ring...
Mar23 ...And Two Candidates Remove Theirs
Mar23 Sidney Powell Tries to Save Herself
Mar23 Israel Will Try Again Today
Mar22 Republican Attorneys General Are Suing Biden for...Everything
Mar22 Why McConnell Really Fears Abolishing the Filibuster
Mar22 Durbin Doubles Down on Filibuster Reform
Mar22 Weisselberg's ex-Daughter-in-law Is Talking to Vance
Mar22 Report: Trump Will Start a New Social Media Platform
Mar22 Trump Force One Is Grounded
Mar22 Grassley and Johnson's Indecision Is Freezing Key Senate Races
Mar22 Former North Carolina Justice Will Run for Burr's Senate Seat
Mar22 Dead Congressman's Widow Is Elected to Replace Him
Mar21 Sunday Mailbag
Mar20 Saturday Q&A
Mar19 Vlad Is Mad
Mar19 100,000,000 and Counting
Mar19 Today's Appointments News
Mar19 Senators Gang Up
Mar19 What Insurrection?
Mar19 Untruth and Consequences
Mar19 Keep It Up, Joe!
Mar18 Poll: Voters Love the New COVID-19 Relief Law
Mar18 ... But Florida GOP Politicians Are Fighting over It
Mar18 House Republicans Are Also at Each Other's Throats
Mar18 Republican State AGs Already Planning to Sue over the COVID-19 Relief Law
Mar18 Biden Will Finally Hold a News Conference
Mar18 Redistricting Is Complicated
Mar18 Biden Will Soon Learn Where the Buck Stops
Mar18 Senate Approves Katherine Tai for USTR 98-0...
Mar18 ...and Isabel Guzman for SBA Administrator 81-17
Mar18 In the Netherlands, the Voters Have Spoken, Now What?
Mar17 Russians, Iranians Tried to Interfere with 2020 Election
Mar17 Governors in Trouble, Part I: Gavin Newsom
Mar17 Governors in Trouble, Part II: Andrew Cuomo
Mar17 Filibuster Theater: Biden and McConnell
Mar17 The Five Types of Republicans
Mar17 Ohio Senate Race Likely to Feature a "Hillbilly"
Mar17 It's Hard to Stand out in Today's GOP
Mar17 They Were Trump Before Trump, Part IV: James Gordon Bennett
Mar16 Biden's Headaches, Part I: The Border
Mar16 Biden's Headaches, Part II: The Budget
Mar16 Biden's Headaches, Part III: The Winter Olympics
Mar16 Haaland Is Confirmed
Mar16 Democrats Now Waging Full-Frontal Assault on the Filibuster
Mar16 Iowa Voters: Grassley Must Go!
Mar16 Booker May Challenge Paul in Kentucky