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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Branches Out
      •  Biden Will Announce Infrastructure Plan Today
      •  Just Assume the Russians Are Reading Everything
      •  Matt Gaetz In Hot Water
      •  While You Weren't Looking...
      •  Another Poll, More Good News for Newsom
      •  DNC Gets Ready to Tinker With the Rules

Biden Branches Out

Before this week, Joe Biden concerned himself primarily with the many pressing items before the executive branch. There was occasional dabbling in the affairs of the legislative branch, while the judiciary was something of an afterthought. Not anymore though; on Tuesday, he unveiled his first 11 picks for the federal bench.

The headliner, as expected, is Ketanji Brown Jackson, whom Biden tapped for AG Merrick Garland's former seat on the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. If Associate Justice Stephen Breyer retires (or if any other justice leaves the Supreme Court), Jackson is the heavy favorite to become the first Black woman appointed to the Supreme Court.

Biden's two other appeals court nominations—Tiffany Cunningham for the Federal Circuit and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi for the Seventh Circuit—are also Black women. Meanwhile, Zahid N. Quraishi, nominated to the New Jersey District Court, will become the first Muslim to serve as a federal judge if confirmed. And to replace Jackson on the D.C. District Court, Biden chose Florence Y. Pan, who would become the first Asian-American woman to serve on that court. In short, ethnic and cultural diversity was among the orders of the day.

Consistent with his stated plan, Biden also went for diversity in terms of background. Several of his nominees have served as public defenders or in equivalent roles (Jackson, Jackson-Akiwumi, Maryland District Court nominee Deborah Boardman, New Jersey District Court nominee Julien Neals, and New Mexico District Court nominee Margaret Strickland). Others have worked for the Department of Justice (Pan, Quraishi, Maryland District Court nominee Lydia Griggsby, and Colorado District Court nominee Regina Rodriguez). And Rupa Ranga Puttagunta, nominated to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, has had a long career in family law. Further, and also consistent with Biden's stated plan, of the 11 nominees, only three took their law degrees at Ivy League institutions (Jackson and Cunningham are Harvard alumnae, and Jackson-Akiwumi attended Yale).

Although Biden took a while to get here, he promptly blasted past his immediate Democratic predecessors. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter had all nominated one or two judges by this point in their terms; Biden is now just short of a dozen. That's more of a Republican play, at least according to recent presidents' precedents, as both George W. Bush and Donald Trump preferred to unveil their nominees in bunches. This served to keep the attention on any one nominee from getting too intense, and also assured that the Senatorial judge-approving machine always had raw material to work with. Biden also borrowed a page from the GOP playbook by picking some very young judges; several of his picks are in their 30s or 40s.

In short, the list should please Democrats, particularly those from the progressive wing of the Party. Republicans are none-too-happy, but they know how the game is played, having played it at grandmaster level themselves for much of the last decade. (Z)

Biden Will Announce Infrastructure Plan Today

Joe Biden previewed this in his press conference last week, and now today is the day. He'll be in Pittsburgh to lay out his plan to overhaul America's infrastructure.

The price tag is going to be hefty—$2 trillion over 8 years. On the other hand, given that these days, Congress seems to drop a couple of trillion every few months, maybe $250 billion per year isn't that hefty after all. Certainly, the matter has become somewhat urgent, as the United States' infrastructure has been neglected for a generation. Plus, infrastructure spending tends to pay solid dividends for the government in terms of increased commerce and thus higher tax revenue.

The plan is certainly ambitious; it not only calls for rebuilding roads and highways, but also for improving existing waterways. If you've got a mule, and her name is Sal, you'll undoubtedly be happy to hear that last part. Biden also envisions expansion of rural broadband Internet service, along the lines of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Rural Electrification Act. And he wants to spend money on research in areas where the U.S. has lagged China and other countries, like improved batteries for electric vehicles. And, while on that subject, he also would like to see the construction of 500,000 EV charging stations. Oh, and the proposal also has money to clean up and repurpose abandoned coal mines. Wonder who that might be in there for? (Hint: Enatorsay Oejay Anchinmay, Day-VWay)

Biden had a reasonably easy time getting the COVID-19 relief bill passed, and he shouldn't have too much trouble getting his 11 judges confirmed (see above). With this infrastructure bill, however, things are going to get quite a bit tougher. Republicans, of course, are furious. Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) went on Twitter and slammed the plan as "a Trojan horse for more liberal spending & higher taxes." Of course, he doesn't much matter, nor do the other Republicans, since their votes don't appear to be available anyhow.

Keeping all the Democrats on board is another matter. And that is going to be no small feat. The progressive wing of the party is not too happy with Biden's plan, thinking it not ambitious enough. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), for example, tweeted that the proposal is "not nearly enough" and "needs to be way bigger." Of course, "bigger" would require money, and that is a huge challenge here. Several Blue Dog Democrats in both chambers have made clear that they will only vote for the bill if it's funded with tax hikes, and not by increasing the national debt. However, many other Democrats are leery that a tax hike would throw a wrench into the economy, and cause people to sit on their $1,400 checks rather than spending them. Other Democrats are actually pushing for a repeal of the limit on state and local taxes (SALT) deductions, and say that their votes might not be available without that repeal. These folks come from states, of course, where SALT deductions are a big deal (New York and New Jersey, in particular). If the SALT rules are changed, that would actually reduce federal tax revenue.

In short, you have some Democrats who want higher taxes, some who want no change, and some who want reduced taxes. That will not be an easy needle to thread. And, as a reminder, the blue team has a margin of error in the House of just 3 votes right now, and a margin of error in the Senate of 0 votes. (Z)

Just Assume the Russians Are Reading Everything

For the second time in five years, the federal government has admitted that Russians compromised the State Department's mail servers and gained access to thousands of messages. Team Putin targeted the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (in other words, the portion of the world where Russia is located, our staff geographer tells us). Reportedly, none of the stolen messages were classified.

Since the White House is not saying any more than is absolutely necessary, there is much here that is unknown. Like, was this related to the SolarWinds breach, or was this a separate incident? And, exactly what information did the Russians get, and what might they have done with it? And, who is handling e-mail security at the State Dept., Mickey Mouse? In theory, this should conclude the obsession with Hillary Clinton's e-mails, since her server may have been breached on Barack Obama's watch, while in this case the e-mails were definitely breached on Donald Trump's watch. Don't hold your breath waiting for Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, et al. to give up one of their favorite bugaboos, though. (Z)

Matt Gaetz In Hot Water

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has spent the last year worrying about his association with former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, a friend of the Representative who looks to be a bad guy. Specifically, Greenberg has been charged with 14 federal crimes, including stalking a political rival, using government property to create fake IDs, and sex trafficking a minor. Because he violated the terms of his bail, Greenberg is currently a guest of the government as he awaits trial.

Needless to say, association with someone that radioactive is a real problem for a politician, particularly if there are convictions. Most voters, Republican and Democrat, have little tolerance for sexual crimes against minors, as Roy Moore learned firsthand in Alabama a couple of years ago. So, Gaetz has been trying to distance himself from Greenberg.

Things just got a lot worse for the Congressman, though, as The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Gaetz himself is also under investigation for sex trafficking (and, for that matter, statutory rape). The specific claim is that he transported a 17-year-old girl across state lines, had a sexual relationship with her, and gave her money for living expenses and gifts. If the charges are true, and Gaetz' guilt can be proven in a court of law, then he would be sent away for a very long time.

Gaetz, as is his wont, claims that he is an innocent victim of a vast conspiracy to extort him. His words: "Over the past several weeks my family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name. We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI's direction to catch these criminals." He also said that "I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward."

We'll see if Gaetz is telling the truth, but it's worth pointing out: (1) He's made a career of playing fast and loose with the facts; (2) the investigation of Gaetz was launched by former AG William Barr, who is hardly a member of the deep state; (3) the FBI refused to confirm Gaetz' claim about the wire; (4) the existence of extortion doesn't necessarily mean that the original crime never took place; and (5) the remark about "generosity to ex-girlfriends" certainly rings false to us.

Even if Gaetz is exonerated in a court of law (or is never charged), he could still have a real problem in the court of public opinion. The next time he runs for office (assuming he does), his opponents are likely to bring this up once or twice. And again, voters tend to have very little tolerance for things like this. It's possible, depending on how things unfold, that he could keep his job representing the R+22 FL-01. But his future presidential aspirations, which were both obvious and dubious, are surely dead as a doornail now. (Z)

While You Weren't Looking...

When it comes to ramming conservative priorities through GOP-controlled legislatures, Georgia is getting all the attention right now thanks to the anti-voter-rights bills that became law there last week. This has given some cover to Arkansas, which has adopted two anti-LGBTQ measures with hardly anybody even noticing. Apparently testing the waters, the Arkansans started with a bill that banned trans women from participating in women's high school sports. And then, once that one became law without any difficulties, they returned to the well and passed the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act (MEDA), which decrees that medical professionals are "not required to participate in a healthcare service" if doing so would violate their religious or moral beliefs.

MEDA's stated purpose is to allow doctors to opt out of performing abortions. However, beyond the dubious ethics and legality of such a protection, it's also the case that Arkansas has already passed a law that outlaws all abortions except in cases where the mother's life is in danger (fetuses conceived as the product of rape or incest would have to be carried to term). In other words, MEDA hardly seems necessary if the concern is abortions. And so, it certainly looks like its real purpose is to allow physicians to deny treatment to LGBTQ folks.

Naturally, the lawsuits are coming. And the Arkansans have written their law so cavalierly that they're going to have trouble prevailing. In contrast to similar laws in places like Mississippi and Alabama, MEDA does not specifically prohibit any form of discrimination. So, a doctor could say "I don't treat Jews" or "I don't treat women" or "I don't treat Black people" and they would theoretically be covered. That runs contrary to federal law, of course, hence the problem for Arkansas once this gets before a judge.

In any event, some of these red-state legislatures are eventually going to get their very retrograde laws before the Supreme Court. Maybe laws about abortion, or about discrimination, or about voting rights, or about guns, or some combination of the above. And then, John Roberts & Co. are going to have to think long and hard about how far they are willing to go. Not only is the Supreme Court's reputation at stake, but it is also the case that one more good push could get a majority of Democrats on board with court packing, or with creating a Constitutional Court, or with some other measure meant to defang SCOTUS. (Z)

Another Poll, More Good News for Newsom

Last week, Probolsky Research released a poll that showed that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) looked likely to survive the imminent recall attempt. Probolsky is a somewhat middling house, though. The Ann Selzer of California pollsters is the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). And guess what? PPIC released a poll on Newsom on Tuesday, and they think he'll survive, too.

A rundown of PPIC's main conclusions:

  • Partisan Divide: Democrats support Newsom 79%-15% and independents support him 53%-42%. And so, even though Republicans want him gone, 79%-19%, the math works out such that 56% of voters overall favor keeping Newsom while only 40% want to toss him overboard.

  • Newsom Is Still Fairly Popular: The Governor has a 77% approval rating among Democrats, 49% among independents, and 18% among Republicans. Overall, that translates to a 52% approval rating.

  • Biden Has Coattails: In news that will gladden the hearts of Democrats everywhere, Joe Biden is popular in the Golden State (60% approval) and his support is helping prop Newsom up. The blue team would love to see that dynamic play a role nationwide in the midterms.

  • Pandemic Progress: Also helping Newsom is Californians' perception that things are going well on the pandemic front. Nearly 80% of voters say the worst of COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. As you can imagine, there is a lot of overlap between the "things are going well, pandemic-wise" crowd and the "let's keep Newsom" crowd. This is another dynamic Democrats would love to see in the midterms: The pandemic has receded, so let's not throw the bums out.

  • 2021 is not 2003: Although Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks otherwise, PPIC observes that Newsom started out more popular than recalled former governor Gray Davis ever was, and that Newsom is considerably more popular right now than Davis was when he faced recall voters 18 years ago. Furthermore, echoing an observation we've made, the 2021 GOP doesn't have a Schwarzenegger on the bench, ready to go. Well, unless 90-year-old Clint Eastwood decides he might like the job, perhaps. Do ya feel lucky, punk?

There's still time for things to go south for Newsom, of course. But at the moment, he has to be feeling almost as good as the UCLA men's basketball team. And far, far better than the USC men's basketball team. (Z)

DNC Gets Ready to Tinker With the Rules

Soon, the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee will gather to review the bylaws that will govern the process by which the Party chooses a presidential candidate in 2024. Initially that review was supposed to be completed, but because of the pandemic it was pushed back. On Tuesday, Party pooh-bahs said that the review is definitely still on, though.

Once they get down to business, the Committee is expected to focus on three things. The first is a further reduction in the power of superdelegates. Indeed, they really should consider getting rid of them entirely, since their wings have been clipped so much, and since it would split the Party in two if the superdelegates actually became the deciders. The second order of business will be de-caucusing the caucus process for those few state parties that still insist on handling things in that way. Basically, the national party wants it to be easier (less time and travel) for voters who want to participate.

The third item of business is where the potential fireworks will be. In short, a large number of Democrats, including many of the Party's heavy hitters, are tired of two small, overwhelmingly white, not terribly representative states getting to weigh in first. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), for example, has a swell idea: Maybe South Carolina should go first! Former senator Harry Reid of Nevada thinks that's intriguing, but has an even better idea: Maybe Nevada should go first! Meanwhile, the Iowans and New Hampshirites are not going to give up their special status without a fight (which they care enough about that they have passed state laws trying to protect their place in line). And, of course, there are other states who also feel they have a strong claim on moving up in line.

Anyhow, doing something about the superdelegates and about the caucuses should be pretty easy, since those are relatively low-stakes issues. But blowing up the primary calendar? Well, get your popcorn out. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar30 What Is Going on in Georgia?
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