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Political Wire logo Why Tish James Joined the Trump Criminal Probe
White House Pessimistic on Infrastructure Deal
Why the Jan. 6 Commission Deal Fell Apart
Proud Boy Shouted About ‘Taking the Capitol’
Arizona Official Says Voting Machines Should Be Replaced
Putin Warns Would-Be Aggressors

McConnell Now Opposes the Jan. 6 Commission Bill

As of Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was open to a bipartisan commission that would investigate what exactly happened on Jan. 6 and whose fault it was. Yesterday, he came down against it, saying that ongoing criminal investigations are enough. He undoubtedly knows that if a bipartisan commission were to examine all the evidence impartially it would be forced to officially come to the conclusion that everyone already knows: A mob of Trump supporters, egged on by the former president and at least tacitly supported by the Republican leadership in the House, tried to overthrow American democracy and install a quasi-dictatorship instead. McConnell knows that such a report would not be helpful in 2022 so he decided that the formation of the commission had to be stopped. The only mystery here is what took him so long to figure this out. Is he starting to slow down? He'll be 80 in February.

On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) came out against the commission, so the GOP leadership is now unified. The Republican leaders of both chambers don't want to find out what really happened and why. Now Republicans can try to spin it as: "Partisan Democrats want to conduct a witch hunt. We will oppose that with everything we've got." There is one small fly in that ointment, though. The bill for a 1/6 commission came up for a vote in the House late yesterday, a bit earlier than expected, and the final tally was 252-175 in favor of the bill, with 35 Republicans joining all the Democrats. That...complicates the "witch hunt" argument.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he will bring a bill to the Senate floor for a vote, with or without McConnell's blessing. But unless 10 Republican senators want to stick their necks out so Trump can chop their heads off, the bill will die in a filibuster. Some had expressed a willingness to support such a commission, but now with both the Senate and House leadership against it, it is much less likely to happen. After all, loyalty to the Party is far more important than loyalty to the Constitution or the country.

Democrats don't have a lot of options here. Some House committee could hold hearings and write its own report, but Republicans would call the report a sham. McConnell would denounce any report it produced as partisan. Fox News would agree and half the country would call it fake news. But you can count on it that if a Republican narrowly wins in 2024 and Black Lives Matter instigates a riot in order to stop the counting of the electoral votes, by Jan. 7, 2025, every Republican in Congress will have co-sponsored a bill to investigate the riot.

That said, even if the commission does not happen, the matter is still going to get thoroughly investigated by the FBI and other government entities, so GOP obstruction here isn't necessarily a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Further, the Democrats will weaponize McCarthy's and McConnell's intransigence in 2022, using this as exhibit A for who's really running the Republican Party, while also wondering, to anyone who will listen, why Benghazi gets 11 investigations from Congress and a serious attempt to overthrow the government of the United States gets zero. (V)

Trump Lashes Out at Letitia James

Donald Trump is not amused that the investigation being conducted by New York AG Letitia James has morphed from a civil case to a criminal one. Yesterday, he wrote on his blog:

I have just learned, through leaks in the mainstream media, that after being under investigation from the time I came down the escalator 5½ years ago, including the fake Russia Russia Russia Hoax, the 2 year, $48M, No Collusion Mueller Witch Hunt, Impeachment Hoax #1, Impeachment Hoax #2, and others, that the Democrat New York Attorney General has "informed" my organization that their "investigation" is no longer just a civil matter but also potentially a "criminal" investigation working with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. There is nothing more corrupt than an investigation that is in desperate search of a crime.

Where to begin? Probably the first sentence is a good place.

  • Trump didn't learn about this from leaks. James told the leaders of the Trump Organization point blank.
  • Robert Mueller concluded that Russia Russia Russia most definitely did interfere in the 2016 election.
  • Impeachment #1 was due to Trump trying to extort a foreign leader.
  • Impeachment #2 was due to Trump encouraging an insurrection trying to overthrow the United States.
  • Why the quotes around "informed," "investigation," and "criminal?"

Trump goes on and on: lying about James, attacking his former fixer Michael Cohen, bragging about what a great company he built, and declaring what a wonderful president he was. Pure Trump. Is this going to scare James or change anything? No. But Trump has been reduced to a situation where all he can do now is rant on his blog. Maybe it makes him feel better, but it is not going to work. James is going to continue her work no matter what he says or does. Our take is that Trump is scared now. He probably knows that many things his company did were illegal and thought he could get away with it. If the Trump Organization's CFO, Allen Weisselberg, can be pressured into flipping (possibly by granting him immunity from prosecution), he will be able to lead James to all the proof. This is what Trump is scared of, but right now all he can do is rant and wait. (V)

Many Democrats Want to Kill Negotiations with GOP on the Infrastructure Bill

Progressive Democrats see no point in negotiating with the Republicans on Joe Biden's infrastructure bill. But now, even Democrats who aren't leading the progressive movement are starting to say the talks are pointless. For example, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said: "I do not think that the White House should relegate recovery to the judgment of Mitch McConnell, because he will not function in good faith." Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) said that the Republican counteroffers were "ridiculous" and they might as well have proposed paying for infrastructure by holding a "bake sale."

The reason these folks are getting impatient is that there was another failed meeting on Tuesday. Half a dozen Republican senators met with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and got nowhere. The two parties are as far apart as ever and the Republicans are not willing to budge. The Republicans are using the same playbook they used on the Affordable Care Act. Insist upon talking until everyone is blue in the face, but with no intention of coming to a deal. The whole idea is to stall until the Democrats get tired and give up. In the end, the Republicans are not negotiating in good faith because they really don't want an infrastructure bill. And the reason they don't want an infrastructure bill is that they don't want Joe Biden to get a "win" here. The difference with 2010 is that then nobody dared to openly accuse the Republicans of negotiating in bad faith. Now Gillibrand has broken that taboo and called out the Republicans on their strategy.

But the Republicans are going to give it the old college try anyway. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who is leading the talks on the Republican side, yesterday said that she sees a better than 50% chance of a deal, but not before July 4th. A statement like that is intended to get hopes up among bipartisanship fetishists while also priming them that it will take a long time. She didn't give any reason why she thinks there could be a deal, or why it would take so long to figure it out, if there is indeed a deal to be had. The Republicans certainly aren't going to give ground, so she must be assuming that Democrats will eventually become desperate and in due course of time will come begging for a deal, any deal. Capito also said that nothing is off the table when it comes to funding, even though she knows very well that repealing the 2017 tax-cut law is most definitely off the table as far as Republicans are concerned.

Most Democrats would rather pass one giant bill with all the hard and soft infrastructure in the same package. They are getting impatient negotiating with a team that doesn't want a bill. The problem is that to pass a bill using the budget reconciliation process, they need to get Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on board, and those two are still pretending that a deal with the Republicans is possible, even though they probably know it is not. But in politics, appearances matter.

A spokesman for Biden, Andrew Bates, said that the President wants to see progress by Memorial Day. That is hardly an ultimatum. Suppose that the Republicans agree to raise their offer of $568 billion to $800 billion and agree to pay for it by raising the gas tax by 5 cents with the rest financed by increasing the national debt. Is that progress? Would the Republicans then say to Biden that the two sides are getting close, so they should continue talking for another 3-4 months?

Progressives are expecting negotiating to heat up in June, but aren't expecting any real progress. In fact, most of them want the talks to fail so they can get on with passing the bill using reconciliation. The longer the talks go on, the less likely anything serious will come from them. Their motto is "Go big or go home." But until Manchin and Sinema feel they have enough cover for a Democrats-only plan, nothing is going to happen. (V)

Catching Tax Cheats Won't Help Fund Infrastructure Bill

Joe Manchin has said: (1) he doesn't care how much the infrastructure bill costs but he will vote for it only if it is fully funded and (2) he won't agree to raising the corporate tax rate above 25%. Since he gets to decide whether the bill lives or dies, his wishes have to be respected. But not raising the corporate rate to 28%, which Joe Biden wants, means the bill won't be fully funded. So where will the rest of the money come from?

One possibility that has been tossed around is to better enforce existing tax law. Some estimates say that the government could collect up to $1 trillion per year more if existing laws were fully enforced. Biden knows this and has proposed giving the IRS $80 billion a year more because it is estimated that every extra dollar spent on enforcement yields something like $5-7 in new revenue. In addition, once existing laws are enforced better and tax cheats know there is a good chance they will be caught, voluntary compliance shoots up.

Some Democrats have proposed using the extra revenue from better tax enforcement to close the gap and make Manchin a happy man. However, it won't work. Congress' arcane budget rules don't allow it. A budget plan may not count on revenue that isn't there yet. This is a bummer for the Democrats.

Interestingly enough, Republicans ran into the same problem in 2017. They wanted to assume that their tax cut would increase rather than decrease government revenue. They called this particular fantasy "dynamic scoring." It wasn't allowed then either.

Fundamentally, government economists consider revenue changes due to (possibly imaginary) future sources to be too iffy to put into budget calculations. Democrats could get around this by rewriting the rule that says they can't do this, but that would require a consensus that isn't there, and besides, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough probably wouldn't allow it. What the Republicans did in 2017 was to assume the tax cuts would generate more revenue rather than less, but just not write that down anywhere in the bill, so the budget then was based mostly on hopes and fairy dust. In principle, the Democrats could do the same thing, but they are constrained by the fact that they believe in honest government and honest budgets, a constraint the Republicans don't have. So the Democrats will have to find the missing money somewhere else. (V)

Texas Bans Nearly All Abortions

Yesterday, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) signed a bill that would ban all abortions where the fetus is older than 6 weeks. Since many women don't even know they are pregnant at the 6-week mark, the new law will effectively ban practically all abortions in the Great State of Texas. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, but there is an exception if the abortion is needed to save the life of the mother. This is the most restrictive abortion ban in the country and will surely make it to the Supreme Court, which agreed to take up a different abortion case earlier this week. The anti-abortion forces are definitely on the move, which could have huge implications for politics.

Technically, the bill bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected by a medical practitioner. As a result, the bill is often referred to as the "heartbeat bill."

The bill does more than ban abortions. It also authorizes private citizens to sue any abortion provider or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion. If taken to the limit (which is bound to happen), if a pregnant woman books a flight on Expedia from Dallas to Chicago for the purpose of getting an abortion in Illinois, any Texan could sue Expedia for helping to provide an abortion. Needless to say, the courts are going to have to rule on matters like that.

The law is very clever, in a way. Pro-choice groups won't easily be able to sue since there is no obvious target. Planned Parenthood can't sue Texas AG Ken Paxton because he has no role in enforcing the new law. In effect, every citizen is now a private AG.

One obvious issue now is the use of medical abortions. What happens if a woman has a video consultation with an out-of-state doctor and he or she prescribes pills with mifepristone and misoprostol, which end a pregnancy? Armed with this prescription, the woman orders the pills from an out-of-state online drugstore where abortion is legal. Texas can't make the out-of-state doctor or drugstore criminals because it doesn't have jurisdiction over them. Theoretically, it could arrest, try, and imprison the Texas woman for obtaining the abortion, but the blowback of imprisoning a 14-year-old girl who was raped might be unpleasant.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi and Texas laws (and those of other states as well), all of a sudden, for a lot of people, especially women who might become pregnant, abortion could shoot to the top of the list in deciding whom to vote for. In particular, young women who never bother to vote could suddenly become motivated knowing that if they become pregnant against their wishes, they won't be able to get an abortion unless they have the knowledge and money to get one in some jurisdiction that allows them. It could be a great motivator to get young people to vote, something Republicans don't really want.

This law and a Supreme Court decision upholding it could also speed up the process of moving suburban women to the Democrats as abortion replaces taxes as the top issue for many of them. In general, affluent college-educated women are pro-choice, but until now abortion was on the back burner. By putting it on the front burner, the Texas law, if upheld, is going to hurt the Republicans in the suburbs without picking up new votes anywhere else. The people for whom banning abortion was a top issue are already highly motivated and always vote Republican anyway, so there are probably not a lot of new votes to be had for them by making abortion the top issue in 2022. (V)

Florida Opens the Door to Casinos at Trump's Properties

The Florida state legislature just passed a new law that will authorize betting on sports events for the first time in that state, but which also opens the door to allowing Donald Trump to get back into his beloved casino business. Last time around, he ran them in New Jersey and they all went belly up, but with that experience under his belt, perhaps he will do better next time. On the other hand, since it was the investors who lost their money in his previous bankruptcies, maybe he doesn't actually care.

The federal government has to approve the deal, but if it does, starting Oct. 15, people can place sports bets using their smartphones. In addition, the Seminole Tribe, which currently has a monopoly on casinos in Florida, would be allowed to add roulette and craps to its existing casinos, making them full-service casinos. The Tribe would also produce and operate the betting app and take a percentage of the bets for its service.

But a key provision of the bill, which Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) personally negotiated with the Seminole Tribe, would allow casinos to be operated by non-Seminoles provided they were more than 15 miles from any Seminole casino. Why 15 miles? Why not 20 miles or 100 miles? According to our staff cartographer, Donald Trump's money-losing Doral Resort is just over 15 miles from the closest Seminole casino. Consequently, he could open a casino there and the Seminoles would not be allowed to block it. They agreed to that because the other provisions of the law will generate a lot of income for them. Besides, they know that their casinos last and his don't, and additionally they will now be allowed to build three new ones on their reservation in Broward County.

DeSantis loves the deal for a variety of reasons. First, the Tribe is now committed to paying the state $2.5 billion over the first 5 years. Second, Trump will be happy with DeSantis, at least for the moment. Other people might even be grateful to a governor who probably saved their resort from going under, but Trump doesn't do grateful. Still, if Trump runs for president in 2024, he will need a running mate. After Mike Pence's disgraceful performance on Jan. 6 and his unwillingness to violate the Constitution to have Trump usurp the Oval Office, it won't be Trump/Pence 2024. Maybe Trump/DeSantis 2024? Or if Trump decides not to run, his endorsement might come in handy for DeSantis. The only people who lose on this deal are the dumb suckers who are expected to pony up the billions of dollars that the Seminole Tribe expects to rake in, some of which is earmarked for the state, but the rest of which is for the Tribe. (V)

Is the Republican Party Going to Splinter?

FiveThirtyEight has an article on what might happen to the Republican Party now that it has excommunicated Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). It starts out by saying: "The GOP is in a bit of disarray." Here are brief summaries of the four possibilities they see:

  • The GOP splits: It is conceivable that the non-Trumpian elements of the Republican Party get so disgusted by Donald Trump and his lies that they split off and form a new party. If they could get conservative Democrats to join them, it might be viable. At first it would probably help the Democrats win elections, but once Trump fades from the scene, it could become the new dominant conservative party. After all, Cheney is no closet liberal. The chances of this happening are low because although half of all Democrats are moderates or conservatives, they now have a seat at the table in the Biden administration and trading that in for a role in a party that will certainly lose initially might not be an attractive proposition. Nevertheless, it is possible that Trump becomes so crazy that a substantial number of Republican politicians simply say: Enough.

  • Anti-Trumpers run as independents: Republican office holders who are being targeted by Trump in 2022 might just leave the Party rather than lose a primary and run as independents. Two senators are independents, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, so independents can get elected. In 2010, Lisa Murkowski ran as an independent in Alaska and won. These examples show that, under the right conditions, running as an independent is not like tilting at windmills. Also, suppose the actual Republicans win, say, 215 seats in the House, the Democrats win 215 seats in the House, and the Republicans-turned-independents win five seats. Can you imagine the power they will have?

  • Trump or a Trump clone will lead a third party: Trump has said he won't form a third party, but he has been known to change his mind. Also, some other Trumpy person could form a third party that embraces Trump's MAGA politics. It probably would not be a smart move for Trump to do this, but he is impetuous and doesn't always do what is actually best for him. Anyhow, if Trump were to do this, it might work. A Suffolk University poll in February discovered that if Trump formed a new party, 46% of current Republicans would leave the GOP and move over to the Party of Trump (POT), or whatever he calls it. Seems unlikely, but it can't be ruled out.

  • Nothing changes: The most likely scenario for the time being is that Cheney fades away and nothing changes, except maybe she is forced to run for reelection in 2022 as an independent. Republican politicians are too scared of Trump to challenge him directly. The path of least resistance in a situation with a (quasi-)dictator is to keep your head low and outwardly worship the dictator. But if Trumpy Republicans do badly in 2022, that will absolutely be a wakeup call for the Party and change might happen then.

The one factor that is probably holding back change and preserving the status quo is that the anti-Trump Republicans don't have a leader. Cheney is not well known and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) is scared of his own shadow. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) could potentially become the leader of the anti-Trumpians, but she hasn't given any indication that she is interested in that particular assignment. So probably nothing will change right now. But keep in mind, in politics, a week is a long time. (V)

Trump Has Kept His Key Staffers--on the Government's Dime

The Presidential Transition Act provides the former president and vice president up to $2.6 million for office space, travel, printing, postage, and staff for the first 6 months starting Jan. 21 and smaller amounts after that. In the case of Donald Trump, he is spending almost all his time at "home," eliminating office and travel costs. That is a big saving. Bill Clinton spent $350,000 per year for office space in Harlem. Nor is Trump printing or mailing anything. Consequently, he has been able to spend most of his transition money keeping his core staff intact and employed working for him. Some of them even got big raises although others got pay cuts. Among other former White House workers, Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino are still working for Trump and being paid by the government.

As with everything else about Trump's presidency, his post-presidency defies tradition. Previous presidents worked on their libraries, wrote memoirs, or worked on some philanthropic cause. Not Trump. His post-presidency is all about trying to maintain his political power, keep an iron grip on his party, and punish his opponents. No previous president has done that.

Trump's adult children have also saddled the taxpayers with costs. During the first 30 days of his post presidency, the kids billed the taxpayers for $140,000 in travel expenses. They also got Secret Service protection. One inside source said that when the Secret Service protection ends on July 21, there won't be a lot of sadness among the agents guarding Ivanka and Jared. (V)

Ambitious Democrats May Cost Their Party the House

Florida Republicans flipped two House seats in 2020 and may be able to flip two more in 2022—with help from Democrats. In addition, Florida will get one new House seat in 2022 and the Republican-controlled state legislature is going to do its best to make sure it goes to the GOP. Adding three new seats in Florida to the 213 the Republicans have, or will soon have when vacancies are filled, will put them at 216, two short of a majority. Texas' two new seats can probably supply them.

Now about those seats that the Democrats may be handing to the Republicans. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) is giving up his seat in FL-13 to run for governor, a job he once held as a Republican. The district is on Florida's west coast and is very compact and very urban. It includes all of liberal St. Petersburg and conservative Clearwater. The overall PVI is D+2. While the state legislature would love to gerrymander it to make it more Republican, that is not so easy. FL-13 is a peninsula and districts are supposed to be contiguous where possible, so the only option may be to extend it north into FL-12. That is Gus Bilirakis' R+8 district. That might not work, though, because just adding precincts from FL-12 to FL-13 would give it too many people. Maybe the legislature can find a workaround. It will certainly try. Crist is well known and well liked in the district and if he had stayed put, would have been a shoo-in for a fourth term, but with an open seat, even as D+2, the Republicans have a decent shot at it.

The other at-risk district is FL-07, which is across the state from FL-13. It includes all of Flagler and St. Johns counties and bits and pieces of other counties as well as parts of Orlando. Its PVI is EVEN. If Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL-07) runs for the Senate, as expected, Republicans in the legislature are likely to remove part of Orlando and add part of FL-08 southeast of FL-07. FL-08 is R+11. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL-08) can probably spare a few voters in order to flip FL-07. Here is the Florida congressional map:

Florida congressional districts

But in the end, what matters the most is what the new map looks like and whether it is challenged in court. Of course, if Crist is elected governor and Murphy is elected senator, their Party will forgive them for giving up two seats they could have held. But if they both lose their statewide elections (or don't even get the nominations), then it will all be for naught. Note that Florida law prohibits running for two offices at once, so ambitious representatives cannot hedge their bets by running for their current seat and for some new job simultaneously. (V)

Democrats Will Soon Meet in Person

The pandemic isn't over yet, but we are starting to see a bit of normality coming back to Capitol Hill. Specifically, the Democrats will hold their June 15 caucus meeting live and in person for the first time in a year. However, members who don't feel comfortable attending in person can still attend by video. This will be a big change after 90 straight virtual caucus meetings.

Republicans have been meeting in person for months in the Capitol Visitor Center auditorium. Many of them believe the whole pandemic business has been greatly overblown and COVID-19 is just like the flu and is no reason to do anything differently from usual. About a quarter of them are not vaccinated. Since Democrats are in the majority, they get to allocate space in the building and could kick the Republicans out of the auditorium if they want to use it themselves.

On the Senate side, Democrats have been meeting together since April for their usual Tuesday lunch, with one small difference with the past: There is no free lunch. Or any lunch at all, for that matter. Group eat-fests are considered too dangerous, even though (nearly) all the Democratic senators have been vaccinated.

Restrictions are being lifted elsewhere in D.C. as well. Starting tomorrow, businesses will be allowed to operate during normal hours and at full capacity. On June 11, nightclubs, sporting events, and entertainment venues will have all restrictions removed. So life in the nation's capital will almost be back to normal within about 3 weeks. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May19 Maybe Not a Civil War, but Certainly a Nasty Squabble
May19 It's Criminal
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May19 ...And So Is Demings...
May19 ...And McCloskey, Too
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May17 Poll: Cheney Had to Go
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May17 Neera Tanden Gets a Job
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May17 Wood Sinks
May16 Sunday Mailbag
May15 Saturday Q&A
May14 New York Mayoral Candidates Debate
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May14 Kevin McCarthy's Headaches, Part II: Matt Gaetz
May14 Kevin McCarthy's Headaches, Part III: Marjorie Taylor Greene
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May11 Gubernatorial News, Part I: Virginia GOP Has Its Candidate
May11 Gubernatorial News, Part II: Newsom Has an Ace in the Hole