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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Maybe Not a Civil War, but Certainly a Nasty Squabble
      •  It's Criminal
      •  Giuliani Is In...
      •  ...And So Is Demings...
      •  ...And McCloskey, Too
      •  Peduto, on the Other Hand, Is Out

Maybe Not a Civil War, but Certainly a Nasty Squabble

Republican leadership is trying hard to keep things together, balancing: (1) the officeholders who actually like Donald Trump, (2) the officeholders who don't actually like Donald Trump but have to pretend they do because there are so many GOP voters who do, and (3) the officeholders who don't actually like Donald Trump and have decided not to pretend otherwise. Tomorrow, the fissures in the coalition are going to be on full display as the House votes on a commission to investigate the events of January 6.

Let's start with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has joined the "nothing to see here" camp, and who officially came out yesterday with his opposition to creating a commission. His explanation:

Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker's shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation

Translation for those who do not speak wannabe-Speaker-speak: "Let other parts of the government investigate whatever it is that happened; especially since Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to also investigate Black Lives Matter."

McCarthy's opposition is hardly surprising, because a congressional investigation presents all sorts of problems for him:

  • Under the Microscope, Part I: McCarthy actually spoke to Donald Trump via phone on the day of the insurrection. The Minority Leader really, really does not want to testify under oath as to the content of that conversation.

  • Under the Microscope, Part II: Similarly, on Jan. 13, McCarthy said: "The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action of President Trump." Given the way that the Republican political winds have blown since then, McCarthy would rather that be swept under the rug, and not put front and center, as it will be in any report on the insurrection.

  • An Exposed Caucus: McCarthy is not the only Republican who could have uncomfortable questions to answer. Other members of his caucus were in contact with Trump that day, and still others may have helped the rioters plan their attack. Anything that draws attention to those folks will not be helpful when it comes to next year's midterms.

  • The Wrath of the Donald: Donald Trump does not want an investigation. His feelings on the matter are easy to guess, but just in case, he used his faux Twitter account on Tuesday to make it explicit:
    Republicans in the House and Senate should not approve the Democrat trap of the January 6 Commission. It is just more partisan unfairness and unless the murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, and New York are also going to be studied, this discussion should be ended immediately. Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left. Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening!
    McCarthy knows, first of all, that Trump will attack any Republican who supports the commission, making it that much harder for them to get reelected. He also knows that Trump will attack him personally, even if McCarthy has no ability to stop the commission from happening. Recall the vitriol that the former president directed at former VP Mike Pence, or Georgia governor Brian Kemp (R) after they "failed" to overturn the election results.

Anyhow, for all of these reasons, and probably more that we're not aware of, McCarthy is twisting arms left and right to try to secure something close to unanimous House GOP opposition to the bill that will create the commission. It does not appear he will be all that successful, however. Some non-Trumpy members of his caucus, most notably Rep. John Katko (NY), have taken the lead in commission-forming. Further, the bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus, which includes more than two dozen Republicans, came out in support of the plan. We also have a pretty good guess as to what Rep. Liz Cheney's (R-WY) vote will be.

Just as we are not surprised that McCarthy (and some of his Trumpy colleagues) oppose the 1/6 Commission, we're also not surprised that some Republicans (perhaps many) support it. There are a number of reasons they might do so:

  • They have a sense of civic duty.
  • They fear the optics of coming out against the commission.
  • They believe it's happening anyhow, and better to happen with Republican input than without.
  • They would like Trump and his allies to be taken down, even if they won't say so openly, and this could help.
  • They think it will be much harder for Trump to damage them if he can't focus his withering fire on just a couple of people.

These are not mutually exclusive, of course. In any event, the bill is going to pass when the House votes on it, because Nancy Pelosi has the votes from her own caucus. Barring a surprise, they will be joined by at least a couple of dozen Republicans, and maybe more.

At that point, the ball will be in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) court, since the bill will need at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate. He hasn't spoken up publicly, but he remarked privately that he is opposed to the bill in its current form, and he wants to see changes. If he insists on more Republican representation on the commission (which is currently set to have a Democratic majority), then he can probably get that. If he insists that an investigation of events in Portland and Minneapolis be added to the commission's mandate, then he probably can't get that.

There is some pressure on McConnell to play ball here. The list of Republican reasons for supporting the commission also applies to senators, to a greater or lesser extent, and some of them have already come out in favor of the plan. In fact, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) not only supports it, she wants to compel Donald Trump to testify. We suspect that she won't be getting a Christmas card with a Mar-a-Lago return address this year. Six other GOP Senators have also signaled support for the commission: Susan Collins (ME), John Thune (SD), Mitt Romney (UT), Mike Rounds (SD), Marco Rubio (FL), and Bill Cassidy (LA). They won't be getting Christmas cards either.

In addition to the desires of his own conference, McConnell knows full well that the Democrats would be pretty happy with "Mitch wouldn't let it happen" as a consolation prize. That would be a pretty useful talking point in next year's midterms, particularly in comparison to the Republicans' intense interest in investigating things like Benghazi or Burisma. "I guess Hillary's e-mails are more significant than the attempted overthrow of the United States," Democrats will say. Obstructionism on this issue would also give more momentum to those who want to trim back or kill the filibuster.

In any event, the bill should be on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) desk by Thursday, and he's going to bring it up for a vote not long thereafter, so we shall soon find out how the Minority Leader plays his hand, and how his conference plays theirs. (Z)

It's Criminal

The slow movement of the 1/6 Commission from "idea being bandied about" to "possible reality" is bad news for Donald Trump, but it's only the second-worst news he's going to get this week, and by a fair margin. Late on Tuesday night, the #1 news item on that particular list broke, as New York AG Letitia James' office announced that they are joining forces with the Manhattan DA's office, and that the ongoing investigation into the Trump Organization is now a criminal matter.

Team Trump should be scared witless here, and the primary reason is RICO. No, not Suave (and for those who read the mailbag, that song was not a #1, was not in the 1960s, and was not performed by a female singer). The RICO in question here is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was adopted by the federal government in 1970, and was duplicated by many states, including New York, thereafter. Racketeering, to borrow Wikipedia's definition, "is a genre of organized crime in which the perpetrators set up a coercive, fraudulent, or otherwise illegal scheme to repeatedly or consistently collect money or other profit."

Because RICO was passed with an eye toward prosecuting Mafia families, who tend to be pretty good at covering their tracks, the statute is very broad (as are its state-level copies). And among the aspects of its breadth are that the targeted organization need not be inherently criminal in nature; it can be an otherwise legitimate business that sometimes engages in criminal conduct. Further, all sorts of illegal acts are covered. Some of those are the sorts of things that we tend to associate with mafiosi, like the fencing of stolen goods, or running illegal bookmaking (sports betting) operations, or protection rackets ("If you don't pay us money every month, you may find that your business 'accidentally' catches on fire"). However, many of the crimes covered by RICO laws are standard white-collar criminal fare, like "creative" accounting practices, money laundering, electoral fraud, political corruption (like paying elected officials not to investigate you), tax evasion, bank fraud, and taking money for services that you do not intend to deliver.

Given what is already known about the Trump Organization's activities—from playing around with building valuations depending on whether it's a loan or a tax document, to payments to then-Florida AG Pam Bondi and other government officials to make investigations go away, to payments to Trump's porn-star paramours, to Trump University—you think that The Donald might just be a wee bit exposed here? And who knows what else James has found out that caused her office to make this move? Surely they wouldn't have taken this path without good reason for doing so; as we have pointed out many times, prosecutors usually don't pursue anything unless they are pretty confident it's a near-slam dunk. That's doubly true with something as high-profile as this.

And it gets worse. It's not just the owner of the organization that can be popped for racketeering, it's anyone who participated in the criminal behaviors that constituted the racketeering. That means that someone like Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg is now going to be under even more pressure to flip and to dish dirt on the Organization's dealings. It also means that Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and probably Jared Kushner are also exposed.

Note that Letitia James' office has said nothing about their investigation, so we're just supposing here. But it's just about impossible that racketeering is not on the menu now that the investigation is officially criminal. There may be other things, too, of course, though just about anything Team Trump did would fit under the racketeering umbrella. His whole life, Trump has wanted to be wanted, but not this kind of wanted. If he was smart, he would shut up, stop worrying about settling political scores, and start focusing on his defense (or, failing that, his plan to join Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL, in a non-extradition country). But, of course, what are the odds that Trump does the smart thing? (Z)

Giuliani Is In...

It's that time of year. With a mere 539 days until the election, it's time to get your hat in the ring or get left behind. So, the declarations of candidacy are coming in bunches. On Tuesday, Andrew Giuliani, son of Rudy, announced he will indeed run for governor of New York. He made the announcement with the Statue of Liberty in the background, with the result that it looked like a Liberty Mutual insurance commercial. Reportedly, he wanted to use the Four Seasons, but they had a lawn to trim Tuesday afternoon.

Giuliani has no political experience, other than having worked in the Trump White House for a spell after having failed as a professional golfer. In case that, plus the family lineage, does not make clear which wing of the Republican Party young Andrew belongs to, he made things very clear on Tuesday when asked about COVID-19, proudly declaring that he has not been vaccinated. His reasoning is that he already had the disease (true), and that he does not want to be vaccinated until all the antibodies are gone from his bloodstream (huh?).

When it comes to his path to the governor's mansion, Giuliani undoubtedly sees things thusly:

  1. His last name and his outspoken Trumpiness allow him to win the Republican primary, defeating the equally Trumpy Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), plus all other Republican comers

  2. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is renominated by his party

  3. Cuomo is damaged enough by his various scandals that a majority coalition of Republicans and disaffected Democrats carries Giuliani to victory

We would describe this as a long shot, followed by a medium shot, followed by a very long shot.

And as long as we are on the subject of Cuomo, we wondered yesterday whether he would dare to run again after collecting $5 million in COVID-19 book royalties, while conceding that we hardly have our finger on the pulse of New York politics. Reader I.K. in Queens wrote in to share a much more dialed-in perspective:

Thought I'd offer a New Yorker's two cents on your item about Cuomo's book. The response to his book in New York has mostly been a giggle and a shrug. In New York, we tend to elect folks who have a fair share of quirks and a marked affinity for media attention. Cuomo's book, like his unintentionally hilarious "New York Tough" poster, is mostly brushed off as "Typical!" here. I think it's entirely tolerable to New York voters, who will roll their eyes and forget all about it.

Cuomo is nonetheless embattled, with the nursing home and the sexual harassment scandals, so I'm skeptical he'll run for reelection. But this book—however unflattering a light you cast it in, as "profiteering off the pandemic" and "hypocritical"—won't even be a blip on the radar as far as why.

Meanwhile, reader J.M. in Troy, NY, clued us in to the columns of Alan Chartock, who is very dialed in, and who writes frequently about the New York governor. Chartock believes Cuomo will indeed run, because there's no downside in it. If he gains traction, he's an overwhelming favorite for reelection, given how blue the state is. And if he doesn't, he can buy himself a nice island somewhere and bask in the sun while counting his millions.

Of course, the wildcard in the race is...the rest of the Democratic field. Thus far, nobody has announced a challenge to Cuomo, but several folks who could very plausibly knock him off—Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Hakeem Jeffries, Kathleen Rice, Tom Suozzi, and Sean Patrick Maloney—have not declined, either. The challenger who might well get Cuomo to throw in the towel without even trying for a fourth term is, of course, Letitia James. If she runs, though, she's going to have to wait to announce for as long as is possible. If and when she becomes a candidate, any decision she makes in the ongoing Trump investigation will be seen as a political maneuver, which will undermine her work and that of her colleagues. Of course, she may well be thinking in political terms nonetheless, but as long as her run for office is not official, it's a non-issue. (Z)

...And So Is Demings...

The field of Democrats seeking to replace Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), as he seeks reelection next year, is already pretty crowded. Rep. Charlie Crist (D), himself a former Florida governor, has already announced. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried (D) hasn't formally declared, but she has discussed her campaign strategy with reporters in great detail. So, she's effectively in, too. Rep. Val Demings (D) was considering a run as well, but she decided that she likes her odds better in a less-crowded race. So, on Tuesday, she let it be known that she will challenge Marco Rubio in 2022 instead.

Though Demings is probably right that the senatorial path is easier than the gubernatorial one, due to weaker primary and general election competition, it will hardly be a cakewalk for her. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D), who is Vietnamese American and considered a rising star in the Party, has also indicated that she's in. Murphy and Demings will both be going after the moderate vote. Former representative Alan Grayson (D), an outspoken progressive, has also hinted at a run. If his record was clean, he might suck up much of the lefty vote, but he's got serious domestic abuse allegations in his past, so he's not likely to gain much traction if he does run.

Demings is an interesting candidate. Her moderate politics and law enforcement background could win her moderate and independent votes that eluded Rubio's last opponent, Patrick Murphy. On the other hand, these things could also cost her with progressives, who might decide Stephanie Murphy is more to their liking. Demings will also benefit from the national profile that came as a result of her leadership during the George Floyd protests, her management of the Trump impeachment trial (v1.0), and her vetting as a possible running mate for Joe Biden. Additionally, she is a skilled, battle-tested campaigner. If the vote comes down to ethnicity, 14% of Florida voters are Black, whereas less than 3% are Asian. If it comes down to geography, well, both Demings and Murphy represent districts in the Orlando area, so they will presumably split the Mickey Mouse vote.

At the moment, the Democrats have just one statewide elected official in Florida (the aforementioned Fried). Maybe they will change their luck in 2022, and maybe they won't, but if they don't, it won't be for lack of strong candidates. (Z)

...And McCloskey, Too

There are strong candidates, and there are those who are...not so strong. Squarely in the latter category, in our view, is Mark McCloskey, who in many ways embodies the state of the 2021 Republican Party. McCloskey has zero political experience. However, he and his wife are well-practiced in the politics of grievance, having filed countless lawsuits in the last three decades against family members, neighbors, tenants' associations, and anyone else who displeased them. They are also very good at waving their high-powered guns at peaceful protesters, a skill that landed them a prime speaking gig during the 2020 Republican National Convention.

These things are not as valuable for a would-be politician's résumé as, say, coaching a Division I college football team, but McCloskey thinks they are more than enough for a would-be U.S. Senator, and so on Tuesday he announced that he would be running in the 2022 Missouri U.S. Senate race, in hopes of succeeding the retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).

As tough as New York is to read (see above), Missouri is even tougher. On one hand, Missouri voters elected Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who is about as right-wing as it gets. On the other hand, four of seven governors and two of six senators who have served since 2000 were Democrats. Our guess is that most Missourians who might consider McCloskey will give their votes to former governor Eric Greitens (R) instead. After all, he at least has experience serving in office. Greitens is also not averse to hitting below the belt, and so may just bring up that the allegedly Second Amendment-loving McCloskey has litigated many cases against gun manufacturers. In fact, one of the guns the couple used in their famous "pointing guns at protesters" stunt was apparently an exhibit in one of the anti-gun cases.

The GOP establishment will undoubtedly be hoping that McCloskey and Greitens split the nutty GOP vote, allowing Missouri AG Eric Schmitt (R) to ride the sane GOP vote to victory. If Schmitt is not the GOP nominee, then the seat is considerably more likely to fall into Democratic hands. Well, assuming the blue team can find a strong candidate, something that has not happened thus far. (Z)

Peduto, on the Other Hand, Is Out

Pittsburgh held its municipal primaries yesterday, and they produced a mild upset. Two-term mayor Bill Peduto (D) is out; knocked off for his party's (re-)nomination by five-time state representative Ed Gainey (D). Since Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of more than two to one in the Steel City, Gainey is the overwhelming favorite to win in the general election. If so, he will become Pittsburgh's first Black mayor.

We pass this along primarily because, as Florida (in one direction) and Missouri (in the other direction) are currently demonstrating, the Democrats' electoral hopes in swing-ish states are at least partly dictated by whether or not they can find quality candidates. "You can't beat somebody with nobody," as they say. Gainey will immediately claim a prime seat on the Democratic bench in swingy Pennsylvania, and his name will be mentioned the next time there's a Democratic opening in a U.S. Senate or Pennsylvania gubernatorial race. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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