McGahn to Sit for Interview with House Democrats
GOP Nominating ‘Traditional’ Candidates So Far
Ohio to Hold Vaccine Lottery
Experts Call for Reforms to Prevent Next Pandemic
West Virginia Lawmaker Switches Parties
The Path to Herd Immunity
• ...And So Do the Democrats (Maybe)
• Biden Has to Love These Polling Numbers..
• And Gavin Newsom Has to Love These...
• Something Has Happened on the Don McGahn Front
• Crunching the Numbers: 2020 Turnout
• Crunching the Numbers: The Bubble
When all is said and done, today could well go down as the Republican Party's very own Fort Sumter. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) will lose her spot as the #3 member of the House Republican Conference, to be replaced by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Although the Wyoming representative is plenty conservative (certainly far more so than her New York replacement), she committed the sin of voting for Donald Trump's impeachment, and then compounded that by committing the unpardonable sin of speaking out against the Dear Leader.
Cheney may be demoted, but she has no intention of letting that silence her. In her final floor address before the ax falls, she was uncompromising:
We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen. And America has not failed. Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy. This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former President's crusade to undermine our democracy.
Is there anything there that could not have been just as easily uttered by, say, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)? Washington is a strange place when he and the daughter of Dick Cheney are 100% on the same page.
As we have noted multiple times, Cheney is playing the long game here. She foresees a time when the GOP will no longer be the cult of Trump, and she wants to be in a position to assume leadership once that era commences. She actually welcomes today's vote, since she feels it will ultimately compel every Republican member of the House to go on the record as to whether or not they believe the Big Lie (and whether they value that over loyalty to their party). There will come a time when Cheney Republicans and/or Democrats will wield those votes like a weapon. For example, Reps. Maria Elvira Salazar and Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), Mike Garcia and Young Kim (both R-CA), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) all represent districts that have a PVI between EVEN and D+3. Think that, during next year's reelection campaigns, they are going to be asked which way they voted?
Further, by demoting Cheney, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has now surrendered nearly all of the leverage he had over her. She has already indicated that, far from quieting down, she is going to be even more outspoken in her criticisms of Trump and his enablers. To paraphrase, once again, Lyndon B. Johnson's explanation for why he never fired J. Edgar Hoover, Cheney is about to be outside the tent pissing in rather than inside the tent pissing out.
It is true that, next year, Cheney will attempt to secure reelection in a very Trumpy state. And there is still a good chance she will triumph, given the benefits of incumbency, the possibility that Trump could be much more toxic 12 months from now, and the likelihood that the pro-Trump vote in the primary will be split. However, even if Wyoming voters send Cheney packing, that's surely not the end for her. Lots of politicians have risen from the ashes after a high-profile defeat, from Abraham Lincoln to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton to Kamala Harris. Surely the Representative can find a nice job in the media or running a conservative think tank (the Heritage Foundation?), so that she retains a platform.
Meanwhile, Cheney's ouster isn't necessarily going to quiet the strife within the House Republican caucus. It was politically necessary to replace her with a woman, and there aren't so many of those among House Republicans. McCarthy backed Stefanik because she's young and telegenic and appears to be on the rise, but also because she's neither 100% Trumpist nor 100% NeverTrumpist. In circumstances like that, it's possible for both sides to view the person as a compromise candidate. However, it's also possible for both sides to view the person as an outsider and "not one of us." The latter is clearly the dynamic that Stefanik will face, which is why she's already committed to stepping down in 2023.
However, promising to just be a placeholder is not enough for the Trumpiest elements of the conference. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), who cheered Cheney's demise, sent a memo to his colleagues on Tuesday in which he ripped into Stefanik. It's a three-pager, and in addition to wondering why the GOP conference is "rushing to coronate a spokesperson whose voting record embodies much of what led to the 2018 ass-kicking we received by Democrats," it spends nearly a whole page listing in detail the occasions where the soon-to-be #3 voted against Trumpublican orthodoxy.
If that were not enough, 100 prominent former Republican officeholders are set to release a letter on Thursday in which they threaten to split off from the GOP and form their own political party. The signatories include Miles Taylor (a.k.a. "Anonymous," the leader of the Trump White House resistance), former governors Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, and former House members Charlie Dent, Barbara Comstock, Reid Ribble and Mickey Edwards.
The splinter movement isn't going to go anywhere, since no sitting politician is going to join the movement. Even Cheney will not, since her goal—again—is to retake control of the Republican Party from within, not to spend her time tilting at political windmills. Still, it all adds up to a political party that is at least as divided as the Democrats were in 2016. We know how that turned out, and that's despite the fact that the Democrats, as the larger party, had a greater margin of error when it came to defectors. Holding the House in 2022 will be no easy feat for the blue team, but if they do it, the path begins with nasty Republican infighting. (Z)
The ugliness going on within the Republican Party does not mean that everything is sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows for the Democrats. They are nowhere near as divided as the Republicans are, but they are dealing with a hot potato right now that could eventually make things very unpleasant. That would be the For the People Act, which has already passed the House on a party-line vote (excepting one Democrat who voted with the Republicans), and which was officially taken up by the Senate on Tuesday.
The first step in the process, as always, was committee discussion and markups. This particular legislation is the purview of the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN). The discussion was contentious, and is of great enough importance that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) attended, which is unusual. In an entirely predictable turn of events, the committee vote ended up 9-9. As a consequence of the organizing resolution passed at the start of this term, that is enough for the bill to advance to a full floor vote.
There is zero chance that the bill can overcome a filibuster. Finding even a single Republican vote is a longshot, since (1) the Party believes that its 2022/2024 hopes rest on making it difficult to vote (more below), and (2) any member who breaks ranks is going to be punished by both Party leadership and GOP voters. The members of the Senate Republican Conference are well aware of the public flaying of Liz Cheney that is taking place at the other end of the Capitol Building.
Unable to attract one GOP vote, much less 10, the ball is in the Democrats' court. They will need two things, which somewhat correlate with each other. First, all 50 Democratic and independent senators have to get on board with the bill. Second, all 50 have to agree to make some sort of change to the filibuster, either eliminating it for voting rights bills, or converting it back into a Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster, or getting rid of the filibuster entirely.
The one Democratic senator who says he is a "no" on both of these questions (the bill and the filibuster) is, of course, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He's flipped and flopped enough on these issues that his end game here is a mystery. Is he just posturing for the voters of his home state, so he can claim he was dragged, kicking and screaming, into supporting the Democratic agenda and the abolition of the filibuster? Is he just trying to land some more pork for his home state? Does he really fear that his reelection bid could be ended by this? Obviously, he knows better than just about anyone how to get elected as a Democrat in a ruby red state. On the other hand, he'll be 76 when he runs in 2024, and he toyed with retirement the last time he ran, when he was only 70. Further, he benefited significantly from things like early voting, which have since been trimmed back by the West Virginia government, and which would be restored by the For the People Act.
The other fly in the Democrats' ointment is Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who appears to be shaky on the voting bill, and who is publicly opposed to changing the filibuster. In some ways, her position is even more of an enigma than Manchin's is. Arizona has cracked down on voting even more than West Virginia has, and Sinema benefited from the old rules even more than Manchin did. Further, the Democrats really have no choice but to deal with Manchin, because he's the only member of the Party who can plausibly win Senate elections in West Virginia. That is not so with Sinema; Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) demonstrated just last year that a strong Democratic candidate can absolutely win statewide. The blue team's bench in the Grand Canyon State is far from empty; Rep. Ruben Gallego and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs could be intriguing candidates. Point is, if Sinema refuses to get on board Team Voting Rights, she could well be primaried, either at the instigation of Democratic pooh-bahs, or of Democratic voters in Arizona.
Anyhow, that—in a nutshell—is the challenge that faces the Democrats. They have to get Manchin and Sinema to back the bill, and to back a change to the filibuster. As we note above, we tend to assume that the two things will go hand-in-hand; Manchin, in particular, is not going to publicly embrace the bill unless he is also willing to do what it takes to get it passed. Because the two senators are playing things close to their respective vests, we have no idea how open they are to being won over. However, we will direct your attention to one important clue. Schumer and McConnell are both Senate insiders, of course, and have information that we don't have. It is improbable they would have spent their day sitting in on a committee hearing (and offering amendments) if they did not both think that passage of the bill was at least possible. (Z)
The polls keep rolling in, and they have lots of good news for Joe Biden. In the newest AP poll, he's got a sky-high 63% approval rating. That is the best number he has registered in that poll, or in any other. However, it's not too much of an outlier; here are the non-Rasmussen polls from the last two weeks:
These are presented in chronological order, from newest (AP/NORC) to oldest (Gallup).
The other number that sticks out in the AP/NORC poll is that 54% of respondents think the U.S. is headed in the right direction at the moment. That is the most positive figure recorded in that particular poll since early 2017. Of course, we all know what happened in early 2017 to cause the majority of Americans to decide the country was not on the right track, so that number has an inherently partisan slant to it. Still, it means that Biden—at least so far—has avoided the dynamic that hurts so many Democratic presidents, namely that their voters become disappointed and disenchanted over time. It happened to Barack Obama, and to Bill Clinton, and to Jimmy Carter.
That said, Donald Trump built a political base that, while relatively small, was more than satisfied with a few nasty tweets, or a rally. After all, Trump was getting something done in those cases—he was "owning the libs." Biden is not going to be able to get away with that. If he wants to keep his polling numbers strong (and to potentially help some Democratic candidates over the finish line in 2022), he is going to have to continue to get things done. He's pulling great numbers on COVID-19 right now, 71% of Americans think he's handling the pandemic well. If the country achieves herd immunity, and gets back to normal, that will go a long way. Beyond that, getting things like the For the People Act (see above) and the infrastructure package passed are going to take every bit of political skill the President has developed in the last half-century.
As long as we've mentioned Trump's tweets, we'll also note something from the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll, which also must gladden Biden's heart, at least on a schadenfreude level. According to their numbers, only 29% of Trump voters said they would be visiting his new blog—er, social media platform—"a lot" (12%) or "some" (17%). That is borne out by the traffic the site has generated in early going; despite a wave of publicity, his most popular "tweet" so far attracted only 16,000 engagements (re-postings to Twitter or Facebook). With only a small (tiny?) audience, and without the fawning feedback that he so loves, the odds are that Trump gets bored with his new toy very quickly. (Z)
As the California recall election grows somewhat closer (it hasn't been scheduled yet, but will probably take place in November), Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is still in good shape according to a new poll from LA Times/UC Berkeley. At the moment, his approval rating is 52%, which is up 6 points compared to this same poll three months ago (although down from his high of 64% in September 2020). More important for the Governor, 49% of voters do not favor a recall, compared to 36% who do, and 15% who are undecided. He's also doing OK these days on his weakest issue, which is COVID-19; 45% of Californians now approve of his handling of the pandemic, while 35% disapprove.
This is also the first major poll to consider Caitlyn Jenner as a gubernatorial candidate, and it confirms what we already strongly suspected: she has no real voter base. The poll asked about four different Republican candidates, and she came in a distant fourth, with just 6% of the electorate saying they are inclined to support her if Newsom is recalled. That includes just 2% of Democrats who say they are so inclined; so much for those break-the-glass-ceiling crossover votes. In contrast to many early-in-the-race candidates, Jenner already has near-universal name recognition, so it's hard to see where any meaningful growth could come from.
And Jenner certainly isn't helping herself with her "campaigning," such as it is. She's basically gone all-in on Trump, despite the fact that California is a very non-Trumpy state, and that the Trumpers that do live there have not forgotten that she broke with the Donald in 2018. In an apparent, and clumsy, effort to thread that needle, she told a reporter that she didn't even bother to vote in 2020, and instead spent the day playing golf. Presumably, Jenner did not want to go on the record as having voted either for or against the former president, but "I didn't vote at all" is not a great look for a would-be governor and "I spent the day golfing instead" comes off as snobby and elitist. Further, Jenner's grasp of civics is apparently so poor that she did not know that it's easy to check whether or not she actually voted. As it turns out, she did. This is not going to help grow that 6%.
Meanwhile, the two leading Republicans are former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and businessman John Cox; in both cases, about 22% of respondents said they would be inclined to support them if Newsom is recalled. Faulconer has been relatively invisible thus far, but Cox—who is wealthy enough to self-fund—has already launched an ad campaign. Taking notice that the state animal of California is the grizzly bear, Cox's pitch is that he is "a beast" (in other words, a bear) who will get rid of "beauty" (in other words, Newsom):
It is about the most tortured attempt at political messaging we've ever seen, and that's before we talk about the production values of the commercial, which appears to have been knocked out in iMovie in about 45 minutes. Also, his assertion that "Gavin's mismanagement of California has been inexcusable" doesn't stand up too well when compared to the $76 billion budget surplus announced on Monday.
Oh, and as long as we're on the subject, Cox has also taken to using a live grizzly bear as a prop at campaign events. As you can imagine, animal rights advocates are none-too-impressed with that choice. And while it's a trained bear, of course, "large wild animal with powerful jaws and sharp claws" and "large, loud crowd" is a potential recipe for disaster. So, the would-be governor probably better retire that bit. Better yet, he should come up with something less cheesy than "beauty and the beast" before he gets sued by Disney.
And finally, one Republican that was supposed to be in the race, but isn't yet, is former Trump administration ambassador/acting DNI Ric Grenell. He was asked about his plans on Tuesday, and said he was still weighing his options, and that he has until August or September to decide. Translation: "If Newsom's approval drops, then maybe, but otherwise I'm out."
In short, Newsom is sailing along and the Republican field is something of a disorganized mess. This election will give politics junkies something to watch during the dog days of summer, but it's hard to see a scenario right now in which the Governor is unseated. (Z)
Exactly what happened, however, is anyone's guess. House Democrats would sure like to chat with former White House counsel (WHC) Don McGahn, specifically to learn what he knows about obstruction of justice. The Trump White House refused to abide by a subpoena, and McGahn refused to rebel against Donald Trump's wishes. Now, however, lawyers working for the Democrats and lawyers working for the Dept. of Justice have hammered out a deal, avoiding the need for the federal courts to weigh in again, something that was scheduled to happen in a week.
Beyond that, however, little is known. Presumably, McGahn will appear before one or more House committees, or House Democrats would not have agreed to drop the matter. Maybe there will be some constraints on that testimony, however; like that it has to be behind closed doors, or it can only address McGahn's time as WHC. While the Dept. of Justice presumably isn't interested in protecting Trump's secrets, it must be wary of setting unpleasant precedents, and also of looking like an arm of the Democratic Party.
Also unknown is exactly how forthcoming McGahn will be. He's strongly implied that he is happy to be frank, once he has executive branch permission. However, we won't know until he actually speaks. And we might not know even then, if his testimony is secret. The only thing that seems reasonably clear is that Trump might be out of office, but House Democrats have not lost interest in looking into possible obstruction of justice. (Z)
The Brookings Institution is one of the oldest think tanks in Washington (founded 1916) and among the most respected. Some call it centrist, and some call it left-leaning, but it's more likely to be cited by politicians on both sides of the aisle than any other think tank. So, when they issue a report, it's worth paying attention.
Since the preliminary census data was released, the folks at Brookings have been burning the midnight oil, to see what insights can be gained when cross referencing that information with the election results. Here is an executive summary of their conclusions:
- Turnout: Turnout was way up overall, but particularly among Asian-American, Latino, and
noncollege white voters. The bad news for the Democrats is that they are still struggling to turn Black voters out at
the rate they did for the two Barack Obama elections. The bad news for the Republicans is that noncollege white voters
are the group among these three that the Party dominated, but is also the one whose relative size is on a downward
- Young People: Young people (18-24) turned out for this election at a higher rate than any
other this century, even the Obama elections. If that becomes a habit, it will be very good news for the Democrats, as
the Generation Z vote broke more than 2-to-1 for the Democrats (65% to 31%).
- States: Nearly all states (44 of them) saw increased turnout relative to 2016, with New
Jersey and Arizona recording the largest increases. There were 15 states where white-college-graduate turnout was down,
while there were 11 states where white-noncollege-graduate turnout was up. The two states where these two trends were
most impactful were Wisconsin and Michigan. There, the displacement of many white college grads by white college
non-grads helped the Trump ticket stay competitive, though of course it wasn't enough to save either state for the
- Sun Belt: Population growth in the Sun Belt helped the Democrats a lot, and was
responsible for their wins in Arizona and Georgia. If current trends hold, Texas will be next to flip.
- The Upshot: The election was kept fairly close by the fact that the rise in minority voters and in younger voters, which favored the Democrats, was pretty much balanced by the rise in white noncollege voters, which favored the Republicans. However, the two former groups are growing relative to the overall population, while the latter group is shrinking. That means that GOP hopes in 2022 and 2024 will rest on keeping young/minority turnout artificially low and/or keeping noncollege white turnout sky-high.
If you put stock in Brookings' analysis—and again, they are basically the gold standard for think tanks—then it becomes a bit clearer why the GOP cannot afford to jettison Donald Trump right now, and also why all the red states (and the purple states controlled by Republicans) are passing voter-restriction laws left, right, and center. Well, OK, maybe not left. (Z)
As long as we're talking numbers, The New York Times has a new bit of visual journalism that tries to show how many Americans are now living in political bubbles. The hook is at the beginning: an input box where you can put in your U.S. address and find out the political balance of your immediate neighborhood (if you're Canadian, you don't need the Times, because 100% of your neighbors are commies). Then, they point out that 38% of Democrats and 18% of Republicans are surrounded overwhelmingly by their fellow partisans.
The piece also briefly addresses some of the causes of bubble development, among them that many Democrats tend to prefer living in cities, which may not be affordable to many Republicans. Meanwhile, many Republicans prefer to live near a Christian church, which is not a priority for some Democrats. Racial segregation is also an issue here; if the Black citizens of a Southern city all live together, and the white citizens all live together, that racial segregation is going to lead to de facto political segregation.
Of course, the downside to this is that it becomes harder for partisans on both sides to understand where the other side is coming from, and it becomes much easier to demonize the opposition. The piece also has a proposal that Joe Biden might pursue in order to address the problem, namely to reform zoning laws, so that suburbs become more friendly to multi-unit housing (and thus more friendly to non-wealthy Democrats, of which there are many).
Speaking of bubbles, we had an inquiry in this week's mailbag, from G.S. in Raleigh, about strategies for talking to Trumpy Republicans before the 2022 election. We've already gotten a number of interesting responses, and we'll print some of them on Sunday. If anyone else has thoughts, the comments mailbox is open. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May11 Joe Meets with Joe
May11 Cybersecurity Is on the Front Burner Again
May11 Gubernatorial News, Part I: Virginia GOP Has Its Candidate
May11 Gubernatorial News, Part II: Newsom Has an Ace in the Hole
May11 Republican Messaging Is Horses**t
May10 Republicans Are about to Replace a Conservative Leader with a Moderate
May10 Biden Will Settle for a Corporate Tax Rate of 25%
May10 Greene and Gaetz Begin "America First" Tour
May10 Texas House Passes Bill That Restricts Voting
May10 The States Are the Laboratories of Democracy
May10 What is the Senate's Long-Term Equilibrium?
May10 Democrats Are Agonizing Over Florida Senate Candidate
May09 Sunday Mailbag
May08 Saturday Q&A
May07 Cheney Situation: Win-Win-Win, or Lose-Lose-Lose?
May07 Trump Who?
May07 Be Careful What You Grift For
May07 FEC Lets Trump Off the Hook(ers)
May07 Democrats Are Unwilling to Light a Fire Under Breyer
May07 Nikki Fried Is In
May07 Keisha Lance Bottoms Is Out
May07 Stacey Abrams Has a Book
May06 Facebook's Oversight Board Upholds the Trump Ban
May06 Trump Endorses Elise Stefanik to Replace Cheney in House Leadership
May06 Trump Rips Pence
May06 Republicans Dump on Big Business
May06 Demographic Change May Not Help the Democrats As Much As They Expected
May06 Biden in Favor of Waiving Patent Protection on COVID Vaccine
May06 Yankees and Mets Will Offer Free Tickets with a Vaccination
May06 The Score: 44 Down, 1,156 to Go
May05 Biden Doubles Down on Vaccination Schedule
May05 Whither the Republicans: George W. Bush
May05 Whither the Republicans: Liz Cheney
May05 Trump Launches His "Social Media Platform"
May05 Trump Legal Blotter, Part I: Barr Memo Is About to See the Light of Day
May05 Trump Legal Blotter, Part II: Giuliani Prosecutors Want Special Master
May05 Florida Politics, Part I: Crist Declares for Governor
May05 Florida Politics, Part II: Special Election Set for January
May04 A Race Against Time
May04 A Biden Misstep: The Refugee Cap
May04 Another Biden Misstep: The Letter
May04 Judgment Day for Trump Is Imminent
May04 Redistricting Is Already a Mess
May04 Be Careful What You Wish For
May04 Jenner Stakes Out Her Territory
May03 Biden Wants GOP Support for His Infrastructure Bill "If Possible"
May03 Manchin Believes that D.C. Statehood Requires a Constitutional Amendment
May03 Republicans Threaten Cheney
May03 Giuliani May Have to Choose between Saving His Own Neck or Trump's