It took a week for vaccine passports to grow from a backburner issue into one of the biggest political footballs in the country. Joe Biden knows a no-win situation when he sees one, and is not prone to tilting at windmills. So, it comes as no surprise that, on Tuesday, the White House officially punted on the issue.
This development was hinted at over the weekend, when Anthony Fauci said he doubted the federal government would play much of a role in implementing vaccine passports. Maybe that was just a very educated guess, though it's more probable he had insider information. In any event, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday: "There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential."
That means that the matter will be left up to the states and/or private businesses. So, Republicans should be thrilled, right, since they are big fans of states' rights and of the free market? Maybe not so much. What we're seeing right now can only be described as vast overreactions from the right (to the point that they might even be called hysteria). Consider this tweet from hysteria master Donald Trump Jr.:
If you’re a republican in office and you’re not vocally and aggressively opposing “vaccine passports” it may be time to find another career.— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) April 6, 2021
This concept could be the greatest affront on our freedoms in recent history and if you don’t see that it’s a problem.
We could have sworn that possible gun control legislation was the "greatest affront on our freedoms in recent history." And impeachment. And the other impeachment. And voting by mail. Perhaps we misunderstood. It's also interesting that five years in, he still hasn't figured out that "Republican" is capitalized.
Of course, Trump Jr. is not in power, and can't do anything meaningful to put his opinions into action. The same is not true of Republican governors. Late last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) issued an executive order that bans the use of vaccine passports statewide, and forbids businesses from requiring them. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) followed suit. So much for letting the free market decide.
Obviously, DeSantis and Abbott, the former aspiring to the presidency and the latter aspiring to...getting reelected (?) are engaging in political stunts in order to please the base. One wonders how happy the state's businesses will be with these mandates, however, if they have no legal and effective way to guarantee diners, or shoppers, or customers of other sorts that they are safe? One also wonders what will happen if Texans, or Floridians, or citizens of other red states (where additional vaccine passport bans are surely coming) want to do business with a national or international concern that requires proof of vaccination? Cruise ships and airlines, in particular, really can't afford to take chances, and are not likely to yield and adopt a laissez-faire attitude on this subject because a few Southern governors say so.
Further, one also wonders if these gubernatorial executive orders are actually legal. We are not experts in Florida or Texas state law, but if these were federal executive orders they would be entirely invalid, since the President of the United States is not empowered to bend private businesses to his will by fiat (with a few exceptions, like invocation of the Defense Production Act). It seems improbable to us that a state like Texas, which is so leery of government power that it created one of the weakest governorships in the country (the lieutenant governor is actually more powerful) would confer upon its chief executive this sort of authority. But again, we don't know for sure.
As long as we're at it, let's talk about the legality of barring access to those who are unvaccinated. We've already had at least half a dozen questions about the distinction between that and, say, discriminating against people of color. The distinction is actually very clear. Businesses are free to refuse service to whomever they want, on pretty much any basis they want, unless their target is a member of a legally protected class. On the federal level, that means that discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability is largely verboten. Some states have added additional classes to the list, most commonly sexual identity. So, if a business wants to kick someone out for being too tall, or being too fat, or being too ugly, or being a communist, or being unvaccinated, or being a Bears fan, then those are all ok (heroic, even, in the latter case) because those aren't protected classes.
Note also that we said largely verboten. Some discrimination against protected classes is acceptable as long as there is a "business necessity" for doing so. For example, an employer can set a maximum age for a job that requires good reflexes. Or a women-only gym, meant to create an additional comfort level for those who are working out, passes muster. Or a theatre is allowed to consider only men to play the role of Hamlet, if it's mounting a traditional staging of the play. "The unvaccinated" are not a protected class, and even if they were, it would be easy to argue that "business necessity" justifies discriminating against them.
Anyhow, we shall see what kind of legs this issue has, particularly now that it's no longer a cudgel to be wielded against the Biden administration. Undoubtedly, blue states like New York and California will move forward with the development and implementation of their voluntary vaccine passport verification systems. One imagines that some of those will cross state lines, as it would be rather hard for DeSantis, Abbott, et al. to ban a phone app. As to businesses, don't be too surprised if they challenge the governors' XOs in court, or they work around them, perhaps by creating vaccination incentives (5% off your check if you voluntarily prove you're vaccinated!), or maybe by creating different seating sections for different folks. It used to be "smoking or non-smoking," but maybe now it will be "vaccinated or unvaccinated." (Z)
As long as we're on the subject of California and pandemic-related public-policy, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) announced on Tuesday that, if current COVID-19 trends hold, the state will be "fully reopened" on June 15.
As with the Republican governors' vaccine passport bans, this has the feel of a political stunt more than anything else. June 15 is, roughly speaking, about a month before Newsom will be subject to a recall election (the date hasn't been set yet, but it's about 60 days after all the signatures on the recall petitions are verified, and California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says the process is almost complete). The Governor appears to be safe, based on multiple polls of California voters. Still, "reopening" the state will deprive the Republican argument of some of its venom.
We put "reopening" in quotations for a couple of reasons. First, because Newsom did not explain precisely what that means, though he did make clear that it definitely doesn't mean that all COVID-related precautions will be lifted. For example, "common-sense risk reduction measures," like mask-wearing requirements, will remain in place. Further, many of the pandemic-related rules actually come from county or municipal governments, or from individual concerns like universities or private businesses. Unlike Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis, Newsom will not presume to dictate terms to those folks, who will thus be free to continue whatever policies they feel are best.
There's one other bit of news on the recall front that we'll wedge in here. Reports are that reality TV star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner is exploring a run for the governor's mansion. The thinking here is clear: She's got sky-high name recognition, and she might get some crossover votes from Californians who would like to break a glass ceiling by electing the nation's first trans governor. We are skeptical she will actually mount a campaign, though. In part, this is because she is something of a dilettante who has talked about running for high office (such as the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Alex Padilla) several times before, and has never actually taken the plunge.
More significantly, once she does some polling, she's going to learn that she's nowhere near as popular as Arnold Schwarzenegger was (while Newsom is nowhere near as unpopular as Gray Davis was), and that she's going to have trouble attracting the votes of many older voters, many Republicans, and many older Republicans, who aren't so enthusiastic about trans equality (to say the least). There is also zero chance that the Republican establishment gets behind her; this is a party that booted a member of Congress for merely performing a gay wedding ceremony. And so, she'd end up competing against whomever the establishment Republican is, splitting the vote with him or her, and making it all the easier for a Democrat to come out on top in the jungle-style election (assuming the recall is even successful). That's why this just seems like idle talk to us. (Z)
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is the PAC charged with winning/holding the House for the Democratic Party. Usually around mid-March of the year prior to an election year, they produce their first list of House seats that will get the majority of DCCC money, logistical support, etc. And normally, the opening list has about 30 targets. Yesterday, the PAC released its opening list for 2022. Not only did the DCCC wait until a little later in the cycle to do this, they also kept the number of targets atypically low: 21 Republican-held seats, plus one open seat.
Here is the list, including the district, who holds the seat, and the district's current PVI:
|AZ-02||Open seat (Ann Kirkpatrick, D, is retiring)||R+1|
|FL-27||María Elvira Salazar||D+5|
|TX-24||Beth Van Duyne||R+9|
Most of these targets are pretty obvious, and didn't require a professional political operative to identify. The R+6 or higher outliers can be explained thusly:
Anything R+5 or lower is essentially in "toss-up" territory, though some of those folks would also fit on the lists above. For example, Marianette Miller-Meeks won an even closer victory than Tenney did (6 votes), while María Elvira Salazar is a first-termer who knocked off a Democrat and has a habit of saying impolitic things (in particular, she and Owens have both had issues with lambasting things as "socialist" and then being unable to explain exactly what makes those things socialist).
There is clearly much wisdom in keeping the list short. First of all, Hillary Clinton is a recent and bitter example of unwisely aiming at pie-in-the-sky targets at the expense of safer targets. Second, the Democrats are very unlikely to pad their majority in a substantial way. If they maintain a majority, party discipline and whipping every vote will remain the order of the day. And so, better to put all the marbles on holding the majority, however slim, and not worry too much about increasing it. If they can flip a handful of GOP-held seats, that may offset the inevitable loss of some Democratic seats.
Of course, the DCCC is operating in the dark here, to a significant extent, since their people can only guess as to the impact of: (1) the census, and (2) redistricting. That said, outside of the seats in Arizona, Florida and Texas, the DCCC has largely focused on constituencies that are not likely to change much (or, if they do change, will be changed in the Democrats' favor). Still, once the map is more settled, the list above will undoubtedly be revised. (Z)
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), who represented his home state in the House of Representatives for nearly 30 years, has passed away. The cause of death is pancreatic cancer, a diagnosis that he announced in 2019. He was 84.
Though Hastings was a civil rights activist and a long-time member of Congress (dean of the Florida delegation, in fact, at the time of his death), he is sure to be remembered for the more notorious portions of his career. In particular, while serving as a Jimmy Carter-appointed federal judge, Hastings was accused of soliciting a $150,000 bribe. Though cleared of the charges, he was impeached by the House of Representatives and removed from office. He remains a very useful example of two related points that often come up on a site like this one: (1) criminal trials and impeachments are separate matters, and the outcome of one has little bearing on the other, and (2) not all impeachment convictions result in disqualification from office-holding, since Hastings was elected to Congress shortly after being removed from the bench.
Hastings' district, FL-20, is D+31 and is 53% Black, so his seat will eventually be filled by a Democrat, and presumably a Black Democrat. Already, the jockeying has commenced. State Sen. Perry Thurston (D) has already thrown his hat into the ring, and state Sens. Bobby Powell and Shevrin Jones (both D), state Rep. Omari Hardy (D), Broward County Mayor Dale Holness (D), and Broward County Commissioner Barbara Muhammad Sharief (D) are all considering runs. All six are Black; Sharief is additionally the first Black woman and first Muslim to serve as mayor of Broward County.
Until there is a replacement for Hastings, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) margin of error in the House will be even smaller. At the moment, it's 218 Democrats to 211 Republicans, which gives her just three votes to burn right now. It will be 218-212 once Julia Letlow (R-LA) is seated on Apr. 13, which will knock it down to two votes to burn, since ties result in a bill not being adopted. Then, it will be at 219-212 sometime shortly after Apr. 24, when two Democrats vie for the right to replace Rep. Cedric Richmond, who is now serving as Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Florida law is somewhat vague about the timeline on which the state's governor is required to call for a special election. The last two occasions where there was a House vacancy in Florida, it took 3 months and 5 months, respectively, to send a replacement representative to Washington. Given that Ron DeSantis will presumably embrace any opportunity to make Pelosi's life a little harder, a 5-month (or longer) timeline seems probable. (Z)
We would write that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire on Tuesday, except that we think he was already in the fire. In any event, the latest (potentially) damning revelation about the Congressman, reported by The New York Times on Tuesday, was that Gaetz requested preemptive presidential pardons from Donald Trump in the waning days of the latter's term.
Gaetz responded to this report in his usual fashion. Following the original story about alleged sex trafficking, he conceded that he had given generous gifts to ex-girlfriends, but that they were of the appropriate age, and anyone who says otherwise is just a partisan witch hunter. In response to Tuesday's story, he conceded that he had made a pardon phone call to Trump, but that it was to ask for pardons for everyone under the sun, including not only Gaetz but also Joe Exotic and several others, and that anyone who says otherwise is just a partisan witch hunter. He doth protest too much, we thinks. We also thinks that he's admitting to an awfully large portion of the charges against him. And finally, we thinks that people who have kept their noses clean have no need to request pardons for themselves, preemptive or otherwise. The Times report notes that it's not clear whether or not Gaetz knew about the sex-trafficking and improper-use-of-campaign-funds investigations when he asked for the pardon, but he might have. If he did, then it's another mark against him. And if he didn't, then it raises the question: What did he think he needed a pardon for?
Gaetz presumably thought he might get the pardons he wanted because he was one of Trump's staunchest defenders in the House, going so far as to offer to resign in order to lead the second impeachment defense. However, the Trumps know a master bullsh**ter and a user when they see one because they are themselves master bullsh**ters and users. The former president decided that Gaetz was toxic, and needed to be held at arm's length. That's quite an accomplishment; it's not easy to be too toxic for Donald Trump, a fellow who openly consorts with convicted felons, Russian operatives, white supremacists, and Eric Trump, among others. In any event, the pardons were not granted. And since the recent scandal broke, Trump World has been utterly silent on the matter, offering the Representative not one whit of support. He's still got the backing of enough of his constituents to keep his job (for now), but otherwise he's going to go this one largely alone, without the support of his colleagues, the Trumps, or the right-wing media. (Z)
Public Enemy recorded that album more than 30 years ago, but they certainly showed a fair bit of insight into what would happen as the status of minority Americans rose (and, thus, the status of white folks declined, at least in relative terms).
A new study of the Capitol insurrection, from University of Chicago political scientist Robert A. Pape, finds that Public Enemy was right on target. When Pape commenced his study, he presumed that the underlying dynamic of the insurrection was economic insecurity, and that the events of Jan. 6 were, in effect, the final chapter of the story of the 2008 recession. What he actually found, to his surprise, is that the insurrectionists were disproportionately older, more white-collar, and more economically secure compared to other protest movements. And the single greatest commonality is that they tended to come from counties where the share of non-Hispanic whites has declined the most precipitously.
This may have come as a surprise to a political scientist, but at risk of being self-serving, it's not at all a surprise to a historian. Xenophobia has been a part of every single conservative social and political movement in U.S. history, even more obviously so when those movements are also populist. The targets may change, but the xenophobia always remains. One thinks of the Know-Nothings of the 1850s (target: the Irish), the Workingmen's Party of the 1870s (the Chinese), the original Populist Party of the 1890s (Eastern Europeans), the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s (Catholics and Jews), and the John Birch Society of the 1950s to the present (pretty much all immigrants, but particularly those from communist nations). That's not to say that all conservatives are nativists, merely that every conservative movement has had a visible nativist faction.
Pape's finding is also consistent with the political program of Donald Trump. Yes, he was an economic populist, but his thinking on that matter was always a little fuzzy, as he vaguely blamed China/the Democrats/free trade for his followers' economic woes, and he vaguely promised tariffs/more jobs/better trade deals as a solution. On the other hand, his xenophobia was extremely well enunciated, beginning with his very first day as a candidate. He told followers which foreign groups were to blame for their woes (immigrants from Mexico and Central America in particular, Muslims and immigrants from sh**hole countries more broadly and, eventually, Asians thanks to COVID-19). And he had very clear policy proposals for "solving" these problems, namely strict border enforcement, as well as the border wall, which was his signature policy. Further, he installed Stephen Miller, who is xenophobic to the point of being a white supremacist, in an office just down the hall from the Oval Office to take the lead on immigration (and other) policies. Point is, it's hardly a surprise that the folks who were angry and/or fearful enough to travel to Washington, and to submit to Trump's encouragement to attack the Capitol, were more clearly motivated by nativist fears than they were by economic troubles.
Yesterday, we wrote three items about the challenges facing the modern Republican Party, and suggested that the Party has serious challenges when it comes to its relationship with corporate America, with evangelical Protestants, and with the right-wing media. This item might as well have been the fourth in the set. The modern GOP quite clearly has a large and loud nativist element; you didn't need to know about Pape's study to know that. But there has rarely, if ever, been a time in U.S. history where xenophobia was less socially and politically acceptable than it is now, particularly among younger voters. If the Republicans continue to court the anxious old, white men—well, let's just say that's kind of like investing in a buggy-whip-manufacturing concern around the year 1900. (Z)
We have written previously that if the Democrats develop a bench (well, several benches) full of viable Black candidates for office, that could be a game changer for the Party. Particularly in blue-to-purple states, of course, but maybe even some of the redder ones.
The Party took another small step in that direction on Tuesday, with the election of City Treasurer Tishaura Jones (D) as the mayor of St. Louis. She is the first Black woman elected mayor of that city.
The mayorships of the state's two biggest cities are an excellent place to look for candidates for federal office. And now, both of those posts are held by Black Democrats, namely Jones and Quinton Lucas in Kansas City. Lucas may challenge for the seat that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is going to vacate next year, and it wouldn't be too great a surprise if Jones, once she has a bit more experience under her belt, takes a long look at challenging Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) when he's up in 2024 (or, alternatively, pursuing the open seat if Hawley vacates it to run for president). (Z)