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Republicans Boot Cheney on a Voice Vote

The only uncertainty about the House Republicans kicking Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her leadership position yesterday was whether the vote would be recorded, so that individual members could be held accountable later. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made sure there was no roll call so no member would have a record to defend. It worked.

Not all House Republicans worship at Trump's feet. Some of them even support democracy. But in the modern Republican Party, supporting honest elections and conceding gracefully when you lose are dangerous to your career. Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) ventured the guess that three-quarters of the Republicans wanted to dump Cheney and one-quarter did not, but a recorded vote would show that the Party is not 100% behind Donald Trump, which would anger him. And nobody in the GOP caucus wants to deal with an angry Trump. The intellectual framework here is that if you are out walking in the woods and come across a bear, you don't throw a small rock at the bear. Or a large one.

Before she was kicked out, Cheney addressed her colleagues and said: "If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I'm not your person, you have plenty of others to choose from. That will be their legacy." Unfortunately for her, at the moment, Republicans do want leaders who will enable and spread destructive lies. Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan are possibly looking down from on high and thinking: WTF? At the end of her speech, Cheney quoted a verse from the Bible: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." Whoever said that the first time obviously was not a Republican circa 2021.

After being demoted, Cheney left the room and told reporters: "I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office." Privately she is working with donors, media people, and others to hold Trump accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection. Father Dick, who still commands respect among those Republicans who like wars in the Middle East, is helping her. Having two very conservative Republicans attacking Trump is likely to be newsworthy for a couple of weeks, and then again during election season next year.

Trump was pleased as punch that he was able to punish Cheney. Punishing his enemies is something Trump really enjoys. It's almost as good as cheating at golf. He said: "Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our country." Six months ago, almost any Democrat could have said that. As Bob Dylan once pointed out, the times, they are a changin'.

Democrats are going to use the moment to yoke Republicans to Trump. Every Democrat running in 2022 is going to say: "A vote for my opponent is a vote for Donald Trump." This might well turn out marginal Democrats, if they think Trump is (effectively) on the ballot. The 2022 election could end up being as polarized as the 2020 election. Meanwhile, by conducting a voice vote, individual Republicans avoided going on the record—for now. However, every single one of them is going to be asked many, many times which side of the issue they're on. Cheney plans to make certain of that, and so do the Democrats.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) suddenly discovered that she loves the Cheneys (Chenies?). This does take some getting used to. Pelosi said: "Congresswoman Liz Cheney is a leader of great courage, patriotism and integrity. Today, House Republicans declared that those values are unwelcome in the Republican Party." Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

The election for Cheney's replacement will take place Friday. The only candidate so far is Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who is actually a moderate who dislikes Donald Trump and made that well known for years. However, in 2019 she discovered that by pretending to think Trump is America's savior, she could become a star. Her act fooled enough Republicans that on Friday she will likely be promoted to the #3 slot in the leadership. But she didn't fool all of them, so she was forced to say that she would leave the job after 1½ years. It's all a show, but most Americans probably won't understand why a newly elected leader would promise to step down not that long after being chosen. (Hint: because her own party knows she is faking it.)

Stefanik's election is not a done deal quite yet. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), a member of the Freedom Caucus, is toying with a run for the job of conference chair. He has a Texas-sized beef with her: She is a closet liberal. He hasn't jumped in yet, but if he does, it will give McCarthy a Texas-sized headache because many conservatives will vote for Roy, destroying any illusion of unity, even if Stefanik gets more votes. In the worst case scenario for McCarthy, the caucus will have kicked out its only female leader and replaced her with a white man. Forget all that "big tent" stuff; at that point, the Republicans would be the party of white men. (V)

The Republicans Are Not Going to Have a Civil War

There are going to be a million stories this week about the "Republican civil war." Writing in Politico Magazine, pundit Jeff Greenfield pointed out that he has seen this movie before and it always turns out the same way. It starts out with some relatively small event, like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) voting to convict Donald Trump on one article of impeachment in 2019. Then the stories about the Republican civil war bloom like flowers in the spring. It rarely happens.

Among Republican voters, none of what happens in D.C. matters. They love their once and "future" leader and that's all they care about. Even in Congress, threats to bolt the Party never go anywhere. There are about 100 former Republican officeholders who will release a letter later today saying they are going to form a new party. It's not going to happen. The media picks up a few tidbits here and there and makes it sound like there is a full-blown mutiny going on. There isn't. A New York Times story on Saturday quoted Barbara Comstock, Jeff Flake, and Sarah Longwell, and Scott Reed all prophesying doom for the Republican Party. Barbara who? Jeff who? None of them speak for the Republican Party. But in state after state across the country, state and county Republican Parties are condemning everyone who has spoken out against Trump. Few, if any, have supported the critics. The unity is amazing. If 50% of the state parties supported Trump and 50% opposed him, there would be a civil war. But with the score 100% to 0%, there won't be, at least not for now.

History is littered with examples of times when pundits (especially on the left) thought the Republican Party was about to implode. It never does. After Barry Goldwater was crushed like a bug in 1964, an awful lot of pundits wrote the GOP's obituary. In 1968, Richard Nixon arose from the ashes and won the next two presidential elections. In 1980, the GOP put a total ban on abortion in the platform. Pundits said that no women would vote for the Party. But somehow, Reagan won 44 states. When Trump first came down that escalator in 2015, pundits said that a crude, bullying liar would get nowhere. When he got somewhere in the early primaries, they said he would tear the Party apart. When four of the five previous GOP presidential nominees refused to endorse Trump in 2016, the pundits were sure civil war was nigh. But somehow Trump got 88% of the Republican vote and unified the party like never before.

The Republicans have many structural advantages now that are not going away, no matter who occupies the #3 slot in the House. They can gerrymander Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and other states to their hearts' content. They are overrepresented in the Senate and the Electoral College. They are likely to control the House going into 2024 and maybe even the Senate. This is not a party on its last legs.

Still, a week is a long time in politics and a year is forever. If Trump is indicted and convicted of something, somewhere in the next year and Joe Biden manages to pass a number of popular bills, those voters who don't really like Trump but thought that Biden was a scary socialist might switch sides. If even 10% of Trump voters do that, he'll be down to something like 42-43%. You don't win elections with numbers like that. Then the Republicans will really have to decide whether they really want him running the show. If that happens, a real civil war could break out within the GOP. But we are not there yet. (V)

Republicans Are Already Calling the Jan. 6 Rioters "Victims"

Barely an hour after the GOP dumped Liz Cheney, several House Republicans tried to reframe the Jan. 6 insurrection against the United States with the rioters as victims. At a hearing held by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) complained about law enforcement asking the public to help track down rioters who committed federal crimes. Gosar said: "Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law abiding U.S. citizens, especially Trump voters." Read that again. Then consider these points:

  • Who used propaganda and lies?
  • Is the FBI now the "national security state?"
  • Rioters breaking into the Capitol are now "law abiding U.S. citizens?"
  • At least Gosar concedes that the rioters were Trump voters

Gosar was especially unhappy with the FBI asking Americans to rat on their neighbors. To make it worse, the Bureau is using photos taken by the rioters themselves, which they posted on social media, to try to catch them. A Justice Dept. spokesman took issue with Gosar and commended Americans for helping the Department try to catch criminals.

Later in the hearing, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) denied that there was an insurrection at all. He said the House floor was never breached. It is true that the rioters never got into the House chamber, but they certainly roamed freely throughout the Capitol, invaded the Senate, and ransacked the offices of members of Congress.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), who is running for Georgia secretary of state, said that only Trump supporters died on Jan. 6 in the insurrection, so they are the true victims. That's not entirely true; Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick also died on Jan. 6. An autopsy revealed that he died of a stroke (which might have been brought on by the stress of being in the middle of a riot, of course). (V)

AG Garland: White Supremacists Are Greatest Domestic Security Threat

Over at the other end of the Capitol, while the Republicans were furiously rewriting history, the Senate Appropriations Committee also held a hearing, presumably to help it determine what it should appropriate money for. AG Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas both testified before the Committee and told the members that white supremacist groups pose the biggest domestic national security threat to the United States. Garland said that the FBI believes that the biggest threat of violence comes from people who are racially or ethnically motivated to advocate for the superiority of the white race. Contrast this testimony to what Reps. Gosar, Clyde, and Hice had to say at the other end of the building.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) asked Garland if the DoJ was investigating the protests in Portland with equal vigor. Garland said that he was pursuing all violations of the law that he knew about. But he also noted that in his long career in law enforcement and as a judge, he has never seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the invasion of the Capitol on Jan. 6. And to the extent that he has to prioritize investigations, that one comes first. So far, the Department has started prosecutions against over 400 rioters, including members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, some of whom are facing conspiracy charges.

Mayorkas faced questions about whether he was doing enough to root out extremists in his own workforce. He said he had established a domestic terror office that would increase its scrutiny of social media to nip any extremist plots in the bud. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) warned him that DHS also has to look for disinformation campaigns on social media run by the Russians. Mayorkas avoided responding, but said he would be happy to tell the senators more at a closed-door hearing. He did note that the threat of terrorism on the southern border is no greater now than it was last year or in any of the previous years. (V)

Biden Hosts a Pro Forma Meeting with the Republican Leadership

Joe Biden hosted the four congressional leaders in the Oval Office yesterday. This is the first time Biden has met with the Big 4 in the White House. The meeting was about Biden's infrastructure plan, and it got nowhere. No one who follows American politics can possibly be surprised. Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) don't even agree on what infrastructure is. Is it only roads and bridges and tunnels, or are the electrical grid and the Internet part of "infrastructure?"

Biden wants to pass a broad $2.3-trillion plan that includes a lot of things you can't drive on or through. The Republicans want a plan of about $500-600 billion that includes only things you can drive on or through. There was no progress at all during the meeting. And then there is Biden's $1.8-trillion American Families Plan, which funds things like day care for children. There is zero Republican support for that, although if Biden were to agree to building roads right through day-care centers so parents could drop off their kids and drive off without getting out of the car, maybe they would consider it.

Another sticking point is how to pay for the bill, no matter its size. Republicans have absolutely no interest in repealing any part of the 2017 tax cut. They would prefer the infrastructure fairy pays for it. But if she balks, they will accept user fees, except an increase in the gas tax. That leaves levying fees on mass-transit riders as the funding mechanism. Except that (1) it won't generate anywhere near enough money and (2) Democrats will never accept that.

In short, the meeting was completely useless, as expected. Today, Biden will meet with the six Republican senators who are the ranking members of the committees that have jurisdiction over his bills. They are John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Mike Crapo (ID), Pat Toomey (PA), and Roger Wicker (MS). Maybe Biden will make more progress with them, but there is no reason to expect that. The Republicans are completely unified behind a key principle: Joe Biden didn't win the election, so we are justified in blocking everything he wants. They want him to fail. Biden knows this, of course, but he has to go through the motions of trying to look bipartisan. That way he can say to the other Joe (Manchin): "Look, I tried." It is kabuki theater at its finest. Everyone knows the plot in advance, but the play is judged on how well the actors performed their designated roles.

Biden knows the script well. After the meeting he said he was "encouraged" by the meeting. This probably means (1) neither of the Republicans threw rotten fruit at him, (2) neither of them spat on him, and (3) neither of them stormed out of the meeting before it was over. These are certainly good signs. But this doesn't mean a deal is around the corner.

On the other hand, maybe McCarthy is smarter than we give him credit for. Right after the pointless meeting he sent out this fundraising message: "I just met with Corrupt Joe Biden and he's STILL planning to push his radical Socialist agenda onto the American people." Maybe the main reason McCarthy even attended was so he could fundraise off it. (V)

Is Bipartisanship Possible on Anything?

There is very little the Democrats and Republicans agree on these days. Motherhood and apple pie? Probably not even that, as it would probably strand on arguments over trans mothers and Republicans confusing "apple" (good) and "Apple" (bad). One area where (in principle) the parties kinda sorta have the same view is on China. Both parties regard it as a threat to America and want to do something to rein it in. Specifically, if there is one thing the pandemic has taught both parties it is that being dependent on China for practically everything is not a good place to be. So, both parties want to rev up manufacturing in America.

The problem is that making stuff in China is cheaper, and absent tariffs, which many politicians from both parties don't really like, some way is needed to make American manufacturing more competitive. One way is to make American products much better than Chinese products. At least some people will be willing to pay more for American products if the American products are clearly superior to the Chinese products—for example, if they last longer, use less energy, function better, or need fewer repairs, just to name a few things. One way to get there is to do more research to develop new technologies that China doesn't have.

A bill to inject $100 billion into U.S. universities to develop technologies China doesn't have was voted on yesterday by the Senate Commerce Committee. Amazingly in this partisan era, it passed the Committee with a bipartisan majority of 24-4.

In theory, this should be a no-brainer: develop new technologies to keep ahead of China. But even that can't get unanimous support. The opposition is being led by the House Republican Study Committee, the largest GOP caucus in Congress. Its plan is to remove tax barriers that keep private industry from innovating. Still, the lopsided majority committee vote suggests that it will at least pass the Senate and probably the House.

A related bill is one sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), called the "Chips for America Act." It provides $50 billion for the semiconductor industry to enhance chip manufacturing in the U.S. to reduce dependence on China. It, too, can probably pass since Republicans never have a problem giving tens of billions of dollars to private companies. They believe that giving unemployment money to individuals saps their will to work, but giving money to private companies does not sap their will to innovate.

In a way, these bills could be a boon to Joe Biden. It seems there is a bipartisan will to do something about China. If these bills pass, he can trumpet (sorry) them as proof that he is working hard to get agreement with Republicans on major issues. That might please the bipartisanship fetishists (ahem, Oejay Anchinmay) around the country and might give him some cover to not seek it on other bills which Republicans strongly oppose. (V)

Ducey Signs Bill to Restrict Voting

Bills intended to make voting harder are percolating in many states. One of them reached the finish line on Tuesday when Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) signed a bill that will make it harder to vote in Arizona, an important swing state that Joe Biden narrowly won. The signing happened only minutes after the state Senate passed S.B. 1485 along a party-line vote, 16-14. Ducey said the law is a victory for election integrity. He also took a preemptive swipe at corporations that insert themselves into politics, telling them to cut it out. While he didn't say so explicitly, he knows that the 2023 Super Bowl and NCAA Men's Final Four are scheduled to be in Arizona and he really doesn't want them pulled out in reaction to this bill.

The bill is not as draconian as bills in some other states, but that is faint praise, indeed. The main thing it affects is the state's early voting law. Arizona voters can sign up to get an absentee ballot sent to them for every election. Until yesterday, that was permanent until the voter rescinded the request. In particular, if the voter decided to throw out the absentee ballot and vote in person (or not vote at all), in some elections, they were not purged from the early-voting list. A voter on the list could skip absentee voting for 10 years and still stay on the list. Over 75% of the state's voters are on the list. Most of them vote absentee.

That suddenly changed when Ducey signed the bill. Now if a voter fails to use the absentee ballot two cycles in a row, he or she will be automatically purged from the list and will no longer get absentee ballots by mail unless he or she requests staying on the list. Even if the voter votes at a polling place in those two cycles, the voter is still purged absent an affirmative statement requesting the ballots continue to be sent.

Democrats said that there was absolutely no need for the law. Large numbers of voters used absentee voting in 2020, and it worked smoothly, so there is no reason to make it harder. House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding said: "Democrats, independents, seniors, Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, women and young people—if you ever believed that your voice and your vote didn't matter, this bill is an absolute reminder that it does." Republicans said the law is needed to clean up the voting rolls so ballots aren't mailed to people who have moved or died.

S.B. 1485 was the first bill this year that makes it harder to vote, but Arizona Republicans are working on a couple of others. They are going to be finalized and debated on in the coming months. (V)

Judge Rules NRA Can't Avoid Lawsuit by Declaring Bankruptcy

The NRA was chartered in 1871 in New York. Its first president was Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, who famously lamented that only one out of ten of his soldiers could hit the broad side of a barn. Union Army records show that for every 1,000 bullets fired, one Confederate soldier was hit. The organization's goal was to improve the population's marksmanship skills, in anticipation of the next war.

The NRA has changed its focus somewhat since then but this bit of history turns out to be important. Because the organization was chartered in New York, fraud and self-dealing within the organization fall under the purview of New York AG Letitia James. And it turns out the NRA has had quite a lot of that under its current leadership. Consequently, James filed a lawsuit against the group last August seeking to dissolve it. The suit accuses the leadership of squandering $64 million in the past 3 years on private jets, luxury hotels, and fine dining. If it had simply spent $63 million on negative ads attacking Democrats and $1 million on fine dining for the leaders, all would have been hunky-dory.

The NRA responded by filing for bankruptcy and trying to recharter itself in Texas. The thought here: That will show James and keep her grubby hands off our guns. The bankruptcy ploy didn't work. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas, Harlin Hale, rejected the bankruptcy petition, saying that it was in bad faith and simply intended to get out from under James' lawsuit. The NRA has plenty of money and is nowhere near bankruptcy. Hale felt that for a solvent organization to file for bankruptcy in order to avoid being sued in a different court is not what the bankruptcy law is for. Hale is a respected judge with years of experience in bankruptcy law. He received an award from the American Bankruptcy Institute in 2019 for judicial excellence. He has also received awards from the Dallas Bar Association and the Texas Bar Association, so it is clear he is not some anti-gun zealot with an axe to grind.

The NRA's de facto leader, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, was not happy and said: "Although we are disappointed in some aspects of the decision, there is no change in the overall direction of our Association, its programs or its Second Amendment advocacy." Adam Levitin, a professor who teaches bankruptcy at Georgetown University Law Center, doesn't think the NRA has much of a chance on appeal. If that fails, it is unlikely the Supreme Court will take the case, since it is about bankruptcy law, not the Second Amendment. In that event, James may well be able to win her case and have the NRA be disbanded and possibly fined a large amount of money for malfeasance. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May12 Republicans Prepare for Internecine Civil War...
May12 ...And So Do the Democrats (Maybe)
May12 Biden Has to Love These Polling Numbers..
May12 And Gavin Newsom Has to Love These...
May12 Something Has Happened on the Don McGahn Front
May12 Crunching the Numbers: 2020 Turnout
May12 Crunching the Numbers: The Bubble
May11 Whither the Republicans?
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