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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  What Is Going on in Georgia?
      •  Get Ready to Hear a Lot about Section 304
      •  This Is Going to Take a While
      •  World Leaders Propose Pandemic Alliance
      •  Past as Prologue: Presidential Retirements
      •  Van Drew Draws Potential Nightmare Opponent

What Is Going on in Georgia?

At the moment, everyone is talking about Georgia and the harsh new voting laws they rushed into law last week. Yesterday, we looked at how things might unfold going forward. Today, let's talk about the Georgia GOP's strategy, and whether they screwed up here.

Of course, when it comes to the strategy of Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) & Co., we're left to hazard our best guess. Thus far, to the extent that any Georgia Republicans have spoken up, it has been to repeat spin about serving truth, justice, and the American Way. They are not going to admit openly what everyone knows: That these rules were undertaken to limit Democratic voting, particularly Black Democratic voting. And they are certainly not going to answer the two main strategic questions we have: (1) Why did they go so far (It's illegal to give water to voters waiting in line? Seriously?)?, and (2) Why did they make their move now, as opposed to waiting until closer to the election?

Do not discount the possibility that there is no strategy, and this is all driven by emotion. Politics is very much about emotion, something that is especially true for the modern Republican Party, and even more true for the Trump-loving portion of the modern Republican Party. It's possible that Georgia Republicans are angry and embarrassed that their EVs went to Joe Biden, their two senators are both Democrats, and everyone is talking about the state trending blue. Further, some of them (e.g., Kemp) could fear primary challenges from Donald Trump. And so, perhaps Kemp & Co. rushed in where wise men fear to tread, and did what their guts told them to, strategy be damned. That would certainly be consistent with the approach of Trump himself.

That said, if we try to divine a bigger plan here, then we can think of three possibilities:

  1. Overton Overdrive: In the original version of the bill, all early Sunday voting was kiboshed, in an obvious effort to kill "souls to the polls" get-out-the-vote efforts in the Black community. Eventually, that was rolled back to apply only to runoffs, a change that was framed as a "compromise." Similarly, the bit about making it illegal to give water to people waiting in line to vote seems a wild overreach, and unlikely to pass legal muster. Possibly the Georgians have deliberately given themselves things to repeal, or have given the courts things to strike down, such that the residue (which will still be very vote suppressive) will seem like a "reasonable" moderate compromise.

  2. SCOTUS: Speaking of the Courts, the conservative wing of the court tends to be very anti-voting-rights, and will be able to uphold anything as long as two of the right-wing justices don't defect. We pointed out yesterday that the Court might be shy about getting involved. However, it could be that the Georgians are confident that they'll uphold the laws, and it's entirely possible that Georgia's Republican pooh-bahs even have inside information to that effect.

  3. Follow Us!: The Georgians may also want to serve as an "inspiration" to other red states, with the idea that what began as one rogue state eventually turns into a "movement."

The next year or so will tell if things work out for the Georgia Republicans, though it's worth noting the white South has overplayed its hand in this area before (see the 1860s, the 1960s, etc.) and gotten smacked down. And early returns suggest Georgia may have pushed its luck a bit too much here. To wit:

  • Bring on the Lawsuits: If nothing else, surely the Georgians knew that a mountain of lawsuits would be coming, and they have. A couple of biggies have been filed so far, and more are coming, with backing by well-heeled organizations like the NAACP and the ACLU.

  • Bring on the Boycotts: Pressure is mounting on Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola, both of them headquartered in Atlanta. The same is true of the PGA Tour (scheduled to hold the Masters tournament in Augusta in April) and Major League Baseball (scheduled to hold its All-Star Game in Atlanta in July). There is also talk of some Hollywood production types pulling out of the state (for example, Tyler Perry's media empire is based there).

    It's still too early to know if these boycott calls will take hold. The Masters, in particular, is run by a bunch of old, conservative white guys who pretty much don't care about anyone else's opinion. That said, if the athletes themselves threaten to hold out (and some already are hinting at that), that creates a big problem for the PGA/MLB. There's also some precedent here. Most obviously, sports leagues/entertainers/businesses put so much pressure on North Carolina after it passed its "bathroom bill" that the state was forced to back down (and then-governor Pat McCrory, R, was swept out of office and replaced by a Democrat).

    If you prefer an older precedent, then we will point out that when white Atlantans refused to buy tickets for a banquet honoring newly minted Nobel laureate Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964, then-president of Coca-Cola J. Paul Austin called a meeting with Atlanta's business leaders in which he declared: "It is embarrassing for Coca-Cola to be located in a city that refuses to honor its Nobel Prize winner. We are an international business. The Coca-Cola Co. does not need Atlanta. You all need to decide whether Atlanta needs the Coca-Cola Co." The banquet sold out within two hours.

  • Bring on the Activists: Speaking of Martin Luther King Jr., he and the Civil Rights movement had their greatest success when they focused on specific, concrete goals (like, say, desegregating a particular school or a particular bus line, or getting a particular law passed). Well, Georgia has now given activists as specific and concrete a target as they could possibly hope for, and the activists are responding. Let us also recall that the best-known and most efficacious voter-rights activist in the country, Stacey Abrams, calls Georgia home.

  • Bring on H.R. 1/S. 1: Similarly, the Democratic Party could not ask for a better justification for limitations on the filibuster so that H.R. 1/S. 1 can be passed. The "no water in line" thing could particularly backfire here, as it gives the blue team a "hook" to use for their arguments, since it's so obviously an overreach and so obviously punitive and mean-spirited. Note, in particular, how outspoken the usually cautious Joe Biden has been on this subject.

Last week, shortly after news of the new Georgia laws broke, we wrote that "As a purely tactical matter, this strikes us as foolhardy." With several days' reflection, our opinion hasn't changed. Maybe Kemp & Co. have a plan, and they will eventually make this stick. But like the North Carolinians a few years ago, or the Southerners a few decades ago, it certainly looks to us like they have bitten off more than they can chew. (Z)

Get Ready to Hear a Lot about Section 304

No, it's not James Bond's assignment (that's 00 Section), or the army rule that Corporal Klinger thinks will get him out of the army (that's Section 8), or the United Federation of Planets' dark ops division (that's Section 31). Section 304 is a passage in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 that reads thusly:

At any time after the concurrent resolution on the budget for a fiscal year has been agreed to pursuant to section 301, and before the end of such fiscal year, the two Houses may adopt a concurrent resolution on the budget which revises or reaffirms the concurrent resolution on the budget for such fiscal year most recently agreed to.

This privilege has never been invoked in the 46 years since the Budget Act was passed. However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) thinks that Section 304 could be his ticket to getting three reconciliation bills passed in a timeframe (2 years) that has previously allowed for only two.

As we have noted many times, Congress is allowed to pass up to three reconciliation bills per year: one on taxes, one on spending, and one on debt limit. The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill applied to the 2021 budget year, and certainly used up the "expenditures" reconciliation for the year, and probably also the "debt" reconciliation. The (approximately) $3 trillion infrastructure/environment/immigration/raise taxes bill will apply to the 2022 budget, and will use up all three reconciliations. Schumer thinks, pending approval from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, that Section 304 will allow his and Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) caucuses to go back, tweak the 2021 reconciliation, and get more goodies through Congress.

It is not entirely clear, at this point, why Schumer wants a third bite at the apple. After all, if the Democrats are agreed on spending/taxation priorities A, B, C, and D, they can just put them all in one bill. There should theoretically be no need for a bill with A and B, and another one with C and D. That said, Schumer undoubtedly has a reason. One possibility is that he wants to pass a mega-spending bill every six months or so, so voters are getting constant reminders of what the Democrats are working on. Another possibility is that super-mega bills are less palatable to Blue Dog Democrats (and their voters) than mega bills. In other words, it might be easier to swallow two $2 trillion bills than one $4 trillion bill.

There is a third possibility that also occurs to us. If you go back and read the text above, you will notice that it doesn't limit the number of revisions to spending bills that may be adopted. It is sort of implied that it can only be done once a year, and Schumer seems to be suggesting that he'd only want to do it once. However, if MacDonough signs off on Schumer's interpretation, the door would potentially be open for the majority party (assuming they control both chambers) to pass unlimited bills on the budget without ever having to worry about a filibuster.

And speaking of the filibuster, this Section 304 maneuvering would not be necessary if Schumer anticipated getting rid of the filibuster entirely. On the other hand, such maneuvering would make sense if the filibuster is only going to be adapted, either into a "talking" filibuster or a "statehood and voting bills are no longer subject to the filibuster" filibuster. Anyhow, it's a small clue into his thinking on that subject. (Z)

This Is Going to Take a While

We have received many questions (and answered a couple of them) about the members of Congress who may (or may not) have helped the insurrectionists scout out the Capitol, and who may (or may not) have been caught on camera doing so. The basic question is: What's taking so long? And our answer was that there is probably a lot of footage to go through, and that the Dept. of Justice tends to cross every t and dot every i before they take action (especially in high-profile cases), and that going after the potential guilty parties in Congress (who would be accomplices) is second on the list after pursuing the actual perpetrators.

It turns out we were right about there being a lot of footage to go through. Thanks to an affidavit filed by Capitol Police General Counsel Thomas DiBiase in one of the cases that has already moved forward, we have an (indirect) idea as to how much. Thus far, the relevant congressional committees and law enforcement officials have received 14,000 hours of footage covering the hours of noon to 8:00 p.m. on Jan. 6.

Obviously, if a Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) or a Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) led insurrectionist scouting missions, the evidence would not be found in those 14,000 hours of footage from Jan. 6, it would be found in footage from some earlier day. But now we know that the Capitol's security cameras capture about 1,750 hours of footage per every hour that passes in real time. If there is, say, a two-day window in which reconnaissance tours might have taken place, and if they might have taken place between, say, 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., then that equates to 42,000 hours of footage that will have to be reviewed.

The same dynamic applies to Donald Trump, incidentally, particularly in terms of his legal exposure in New York. Folks like state AG Letitia James and Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance don't spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars chasing smoke unless they are sure there is fire. However, they also don't bring charges until every canary who might sing has been squeezed, and every loose end has been tied up. Recall, for example, that it took New York 7 years to build its case against John Gotti, but once they were ready to move, he was toast. The case against Trump is not likely to take that long, but 2-3 years is not at all out of the question. The wheels of justice turn slowly. (Z)

World Leaders Propose Pandemic Alliance

Yesterday, the leaders of 23 nations, plus the leadership of the World Health Organization, published an op-ed in newspapers around the world in which they observe that: (1) there are going to be other pandemics, and (2) because germs don't recognize international borders, responding to future pandemics will require multinational cooperation. They therefore propose a treaty alliance that would serve this purpose. The op-ed explains:

The main goal of this treaty would be to foster an all-of-government and all-of-society approach, strengthening national, regional and global capacities and resilience to future pandemics. This includes greatly enhancing international co-operation to improve, for example, alert systems, data-sharing, research, and local, regional and global production and distribution of medical and public health counter-measures, such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.

It would also include recognition of a "One Health" approach that connects the health of humans, animals and our planet. And such a treaty should lead to more mutual accountability and shared responsibility, transparency and co-operation within the international system and with its rules and norms.

We must concede, it reads much more elegantly in English than in German, though not quite as elegantly as it reads in French.

Here is a list of the signatories to the letter:

  • J. V. Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji
  • António Luís Santos da Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal
  • Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania
  • Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
  • Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda
  • Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya
  • Emmanuel Macron, President of France
  • Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
  • Charles Michel, President of the European Council
  • Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece
  • Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea
  • Sebastián Piñera, President of Chile
  • Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica
  • Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania
  • Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa
  • Keith Rowley, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago
  • Kais Saied, President of Tunisia
  • Macky Sall, President of Senegal
  • Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain
  • Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway
  • Aleksandar Vučić, President of Serbia
  • Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia
  • Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine
  • Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-general of the WHO

There are obviously some big names missing. The top four nations in terms of COVID-19 deaths overall (U.S., Brazil, Mexico, India) aren't there. The top four nations in terms of COVID-19 deaths per capita (Czechia, Hungary, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina) aren't there. The nations that probably belong on one of the two previous lists, but are lying about their numbers (Russia, China) aren't there. Canada's not there, either—hmmmm....

The White House has not yet explained the absence of Joe Biden's signature; something like this would seem to be right up his alley. Obviously, it is early in the process. Equally obviously, this alliance won't be too effective if half a dozen major nations, with more than half of the world's population and wealth, don't get on board. If the time comes that Biden decides to be a part of it, he'll have a significant tactical decision to make. A formal treaty would be more concrete, and would have more staying power, but would also require Senate approval for the U.S. to join. Biden would need his caucus to remain unified, and would also need to move pretty fast, in the event the Democrats lose control of the upper chamber next year. Alternatively, an "agreement" (like the Paris Accord) would allow Biden to ignore the Senate, but would be less solid, particularly if Donald Trump or some other Trumpy Republican is elected president. (Z)

Past as Prologue: Presidential Retirements

Yesterday, in our item about Joe Biden's having suggested he is going to run for reelection, we included this paragraph:

It is worth pointing out that the last time a president served a single term and then chose not to run for a second was 140 years ago (Rutherford B. Hayes). When presidents exit the White House, it's almost always because they have hit informal (before 1947) or formal term limits, or they have been defeated in their reelection bid, or they have died. It's not easy to give up power once you have it, particularly now that it's possible to let underlings do most or all of the heavy lifting, if necessary. The upshot is that if Biden retains his current level of popularity, it would be very unusual for him to step down.

We intended to follow that up today with a full discussion, which is what you are currently reading. Let's now take a look at all of Biden's 44 predecessors, and the circumstances under which they departed the White House:

  • Hit Informal (before 1947) or Formal Two-Term Limit (13): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama

  • Defeated in Reelection Bid (10): John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Donald Trump

  • Did Not Finish Term (9): William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon

That covers 32 of Biden's predecessors. Now let's look individually at the 12 who do not fit the above categories:

  • John Tyler: He was a former and future Democrat nominated by the Whigs to "balance" the ticket. When he succeeded to the presidency on the death of the president, he was a man without a party, since the Democrats resented his apostasy and the Whigs resented his Democratic-aligned policy agenda. This left him with no hope at renomination when he left office.

  • James K. Polk: He could have been renominated and reelected, but had promised to serve only one term, and was tired out from his intense work schedule. He died just months after leaving the White House.

  • Millard Fillmore: Like John Tyler, a party hopper who had the allegiance of no party when he became president. Fillmore's personal path went Anti-Masonic, then Whig, then Know Nothing, then Democratic.

  • Franklin Pierce: He wanted to run again, but was so unpopular the Democratic Party said "thanks, but no thanks."

  • James Buchanan: He did not want to run again, knowing full well that presiding over the collapse of the union had made him very unpopular.

  • Andrew Johnson: A third president without a party; the Republicans did not like him because he was not a Republican and the Democrats did not like him because he betrayed them by running as Abraham Lincoln's running mate.

  • Rutherford B. Hayes: A middling term as president, and the dubious circumstances under which he had attained office, made him unelectable and he bowed out after one term.

  • Chester A. Arthur: Arguably a fourth president without a party. He was a Republican, but in his time the Republican party had two major factions. For most of his career, Arthur was a Stalwart, which meant he took orders from party boss and spoilsman Roscoe Conkling. After unexpectedly becoming president upon the death of James Garfield, Arthur surprised everyone by turning into a Half-Breed (a moderate who supported civil service reform). To have been renominated, Arthur would have needed to unify both factions, which was an impossibility under the circumstances. Beyond that, his health was poor by the end of his term, and he didn't much care for being president. So, he was happy to exit stage right.

  • Theodore Roosevelt: Roosevelt is the second person on this list so far who could plausibly have been renominated and reelected, as he was pretty popular when he left office. However, by that time he had served 7 years, and another term would have put him past the "sacred" 8-year limit set by George Washington. Primarily for that reason (including the possibility of voter resentment), TR stepped down voluntarily. He thought better of that decision 4 years later, tried to recapture the White House, and lost.

  • Calvin Coolidge: Coolidge is the third and final person on the list who could plausibly have been renominated and reelected. However, by 1928, he was suffering from severe depression following the death of his son, and didn't want the job anymore. Further, another term would have put him past the 8-year mark, and so raised that issue.

  • Harry S. Truman: He gave serious consideration to another run, which would have put him at close to 12 years in office (he was grandfathered in by the terms of the 22nd amendment). However, he barely eked out a victory in 1948, and was even more unpopular in 1952, thanks to domestic unrest and the ongoing Korean War. So, he opted out.

  • Lyndon B. Johnson: He also gave serious consideration to another run, which would have put him just shy of 10 years in office. However, he had become wildly unpopular, thanks to domestic unrest and the ongoing Vietnam War. He may also have realized that he could not survive another term (and indeed, died of a massive heart attack four years later, one that surely would have been hastened by the stresses of the presidency). So, LBJ opted out in 1968.

In short, for most presidents who stepped down "voluntarily," it wasn't so voluntary. Of the 12 presidents listed above, 9 either had no hope of renomination or no hope of victory, having become unpopular with their own party, or with the American people in general, or both. For the three who left a real, viable chance at reelection on the table, there were special circumstances—a one-term promise for Polk, a two-term gray area for TR, and poor (mental) health for Coolidge.

And so, we are saying the same thing we said yesterday, albeit at much greater length and with much greater detail: If Joe Biden remains as popular as he currently is, and if his health holds, then it would be very unusual for him to pull a Cincinnatus and to yield power after just one term. In fact, it would basically be unprecedented. (Z)

Van Drew Draws Potential Nightmare Opponent

The Democratic Party would very much like to reclaim NJ-02. Its PVI is R+1, which means it is in play, and its representative—Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ)—is an apostate who abandoned the Democrats and went all-in (or mostly-in) on Donald Trump. The Democrats found a solid candidate to challenge Van Drew in 2020 in the person of activist Amy Kennedy, but she ultimately lost 51.9% to 46.2%. The Representative successfully managed to paint her as a wild-eyed radical who wanted to get rid of all police departments. That was not true, but that's how politics works sometimes.

This cycle, the Democrats have a very different sort of candidate in Tim Alexander. Like Kennedy, he's new to national politics. Unlike Kennedy, he's a moderate, a Black man, and a former police officer. He was also, in a case of mistaken identity, beaten and shot at by three white police officers when he was a teenager. If he decides he wants to talk about police reform, he's going to have a rather sizable amount of credibility.

But whether Alexander wants to talk about the police or not, it certainly looks like Van Drew is going to have to find a new line of attack. The "crazy socialist cop-hater" bit isn't going to fly. The Representative also has to think about how things might be different without Trump on the ballot. In any case, NJ-02 is now going to be at the very tip-top of the Democrats' pickup targets list. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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