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Senate Moves Closer to Passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

This weekend, the Senate took a couple of key procedural votes to advance the bipartisan infrastructure bill. On Saturday, there was a 67-27 vote to invoke cloture on an attempted filibuster. And on Sunday, there was a 68-29 vote to end debate on the bill.

Not all Republicans are happy, of course, and Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) in particular did everything he could to drag his feet. However, barring the unexpected, this sausage is now ground up, stuffed into casing, twisted into links, and ready for market. It is expected that the final Senate vote, which Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made clear would take place before the senators are allowed to leave town for the summer break, will come late tonight or early tomorrow. Few of these folks want to deal with a hot and humid Washington August any longer than they have to.

There was some bickering, and some horse-trading this weekend over potential amendments. The most notable is one that requires brokers in cryptocurrencies to report sales to the IRS, the same way that stockbrokers are required to report sales of stocks. The IRS could then levy capital gains taxes on profits from trading in cryptocurrencies, something that is anathema to the cryptocurrency industry. The amendment failed, but the Senate is likely to revisit this subject in the future.

Once the bill passes the Senate, it will go to the House for a vote. Several moderate Democrats in the House are pressuring Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to bring it up for a vote immediately. What they are not saying, but clearly mean, is that they will vote for the bill, hope it passes, and call it a day. Then they can safely vote no on the much bigger reconciliation bill that will come later. Since no Republican in the House (or the Senate) will vote for the reconciliation bill, that would kill it. Pelosi understands their game quite well and wants to take the vote on the two bills on the same day, with the reconciliation bill going first. If the moderates kill it, she won't bring the bipartisan bill up for a vote. So effectively, she is going to force the moderates to make a choice: both bills or no bill. It is doubtful that the moderates can trick her, although they will try. She wasn't born yesterday.

Since the reconciliation bill hasn't passed the Senate yet, and since the details haven't even been hammered out, the senators are not yet free to flee Washington. There will be much pressure on Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and other flies in the ointment to make clear what they want, and to get on board the S.S. $3.5 Trillion. Some House Democrats, and many Republicans in both chambers, will not be pleased to see Pelosi sit on the bipartisan bill while she waits for the reconciliation bill to be sent over. But she knows that if you can't stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen. She's handled plenty of heat in her career, even August heat in Washington, and she'll handle it this time, too. (V & Z)

Indiana University Students Ask Supreme Court to Block Vaccine Mandate

As private organizations are increasingly requiring vaccination to enter their property, the lawsuits from anti-vaxxers aren't far behind. One high-profile suit was filed by eight students against Indiana University, which requires all students and employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of coming on campus. The eight students refused to get vaccinated and sued the university. An Indiana judge ruled that the university had a legitimate interest in protecting the health of its students and employees, so the requirement was legal. The judge said that the students had ample opportunity to get an education elsewhere if they didn't like the conditions Indiana University was imposing.

The students' case was brought by James Bopp, a right-wing activist lawyer who has fought against same-sex marriage, other LGBT rights, and many additional things people on the right don't like. He also actively fought to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Needless to say, he quickly appealed the judge's ruling. He took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which is based in Chicago. Last week, he lost there, too. The appeals court cited a 1905 Supreme Court ruling, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, in which the Court ruled that individual liberty is not absolute and that the state could indeed force everyone to be vaccinated against smallpox. All three of the judges in last week's appeals court decision were Republican appointees.

Now, Bopp is appealing that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that the students have been denied their equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. This case is somewhat different from Jacobson, because Indiana University is not a state. However, it is a public university that is run by the state of Indiana and whose authority has been delegated to it by the state legislature. So to some extent, the legal question is whether an institution created by a state can impose the same sort of requirement that a state can. Note that what Indiana University is requiring is weaker than what was required in Jacobson. In that case, refusal to be vaccinated was a crime punishable by a fine of about $150 in 2021 dollars. In the IU case, refusal means you have to find a new school to attend.

The six conservative justices will be in a bit of a bind if the Court takes the case. On the one hand, the conservative justices like to grant Republican-controlled state legislatures whatever they want (e.g., partisan gerrymandering and restrictive election laws). That would argue for ruling that an institution created by the state legislature can exercise some of the powers of the state if that is what the legislature intended. Also, stare decisis gives the Court the option of saying that forced vaccinations to protect the public health was decided in Jacobson and that still holds. On the other hand, the Court also loves to give conservatives what they want, and what the conservatives want is to overturn Jacobson so people can refuse to be vaccinated and still get served by universities, stores, restaurants, theaters, etc. that require vaccination.

There are some additional twists and turns here that will complicate the lives of Bopp, his anti-vaxx plaintiffs, and the folks who are in support of this lawsuit. The Indiana University school year starts on August 23, which is just a couple of weeks away. Unless the students are willing to gamble with a semester (or a year, or more than a year) of their college careers, they would have to bow to the policy and get vaccinated. If all eight of them make that choice, Bopp might be left with no case, since there would no longer be an injury to be made whole. He could try to find other students to replace the Indianans (or is it the Kickapooers?), but those folks would have the same basic constraint.

The other problem is that Jacobson is only somewhat relevant here, and even if it is struck down, that doesn't necessarily mean anti-vaxxers have won the day. That case, which is more than 100 years old, was about mandatory, state-administered vaccines. In other words, people were required to get themselves jabbed, the same way people are required to pay taxes. All that Indiana University, and many other public and private entities, want to do is discriminate against those who are unvaccinated. And it is entirely legal to discriminate against people if (1) they are not members of a federally protected class, or (2) there is a rational basis for the discrimination.

To take an example, Disneyland can and does bar people shorter than 46" from riding their Indiana Jones Adventure attraction. This is OK, and is covered by both exceptions to anti-discrimination law, since (1) people shorter than 46" are not a federally protected class, and (2) there is a compelling reason for the limit, namely that it would not be safe for people shorter than 46" to ride the ride, since the restraints would not fit them properly. Indiana University is in the same situation, since "unvaccinated people" are not a federally protected class, and since there is a rational basis for the rule.

If the Court takes the case, the ruling could be of enormous consequence. They could rule narrowly, considering only government/public entities, or they could rule broadly, considering private entities as well. Either way, if they want to give a win to anti-vaxx forces, they would absolutely have to stand on their heads, but you never know, they might. If so, then they would be significantly reinterpreting the Fourteenth Amendment, almost certainly giving people more power to ignore certain rules because they don't like them.

A ruling in favor of the anti-vaxxers would also either weaken or completely gut vaccine requirement measures, and would help to extend the pandemic, with all the consequences that entails. Those consequences include more deaths, more economic upheaval and, quite likely, more schools (especially universities, which have large rooms full of many students) making the choice to return to remote instruction. There have been a number of studies and op-eds that argue that the amount of "learning loss" due to roughly 1½ years of at-home education has been substantial, has hit disadvantaged students the worst, and may be irreversible if the at-home coursework continues for another year.

In terms of the politics, in the "anti-vaxxers win" scenario, there is a very good chance that movement conservatives will laud the Court and the Party that packed the Court with conservative justices. Everyone else, on the other hand, is likely to take note of the consequences and blame the Party that controls the White House (because that's how people who don't follow politics closely usually roll).

On the other hand, if the Court takes the case and rules against the anti-vaxxers, then the consequences will be quite different. Not only will vaccine requirements be sustained but, more broadly, there will be legal and political support for extending them or enforcing them more aggressively, as well as for other pandemic-control measures (like, say, mask mandates). Conservatives would be furious, and governors who are trying to kowtow to Trumpers with their "no mandates" theater would have to decide if tilting at windmills is a good look.

Given how hot this potato is, and that the Court is not in session right now, our guess is that the justices punt this one and refuse to take the case. But they're full of surprises, so you never know. (V & Z)

DeSantis Goes All in for the Anti-Mask, Anti-Vaxx Voters

And speaking of "no mandate" theater, in case you had any thoughts that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was going to run for president in 2024 in the Jeb! lane, well, forget it. He is 100% focused on the anti-mask, anti-vaxx crowd to lock up their votes in the Republican primary, conceivably even against Donald Trump if the latter has been wounded (for example, by one or more indictments or convictions). It looks like vaccinations are going to take over the space previously occupied by abortion and same-sex marriage on the right, and DeSantis wants to make sure every Republican knows which side he is on, public health be damned.

His latest foray into the vaccination wars is an executive order that allows parents to move their children to another school if they face "COVID-19 harassment," which includes being told to wear a mask, take a coronavirus-related test, or be vaccinated. It also includes any kind of segregation, in which unvaccinated children are separated from vaccinated children. In particular, any parent whose child has faced this kind of situation can apply for a Hope scholarship, which will pay for tuition at a charter or private school of the parents' choice. This scholarship program was designed to get children who were being bullied out of the school where the bullying was taking place. It wasn't really designed to allow students to avoid mandates from the CDC, state board of education, or local school district.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has warned schools and politicians not to politicize rules designed to protect public health. Good luck with that when DeSantis (and also Gov. Greg Abbott, R-TX) see politicization of schools as the key to their reelections and future political ambitions. CNN's Jim Acosta has suggested renaming the Delta variant of the coronavirus the "DeSantis variant." He also said people shouldn't have to die so some politicians can own the libs.

Both DeSantis and Abbott are playing with fire here. While the Republican base is cheering them on, saying freedom from vaccination and masks is a constitutional right, those much-desired college-educated suburban voters want to protect their kids and are probably pretty unhappy putting them at risk to help the governors' political ambitions. Making the schools unsafe could be the last straw for suburban voters who haven't left the Republican Party yet. So what DeSantis and Abbott are doing could help them in the Republican primary but hurt them badly in the general election. That said, from DeSantis' point of view, if he can't win the 2024 GOP primary, it doesn't matter how well he would do in the general election, so the focus now is making Republicans love him, and that means fighting masks and vaccinations rather than encouraging them.

While Republican governors are grandstanding for the benefit of their base, the private sector is moving in the other direction. Many restaurants and bars, in particular, are imposing a requirement on patrons that they show proof of vaccination upon entry. They are doing this to protect employees, reassure customers that it is safe to visit, and help prevent another lockdown, which devastated them last year. However, Florida and other states have passed laws making such requirements illegal, so it will probably be up to the Supreme Court to sort this one out.

In fact the legal wheels are already turning. Norwegian Cruise Line has ships that sail from Florida and the company wants to make sure 100% of the passengers and crew have been vaccinated, both to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks and to convince skittish potential passengers that taking a cruise is safe. So the company went to court to overturn the law. Yesterday, it won round 1 when a federal judge ruled that it could require proof of vaccination, thus (temporarily) tossing out the Florida law. Of course the ruling will be appealed first to the circuit court and then to the Supreme Court. As more and more cases involving vaccination bubble up to the Supreme Court, sooner or later, the Court is going to have to take one or more of them and make a decision. It should be noted that the Indiana University case and the Norwegian case are different in an important way. In the former, the issue is whether an institution created by the state legislature can use state power to demand vaccinations before rendering service. In the latter, it is about whether a private company can do so. It is at least conceivable that the Supreme Court could rule "yes" in one case and "no" in the other in an attempt to please everyone (which won't work). (V)

California Republican Party Won't Endorse in the Recall Election

A total of 46 people have filed to run for governor of California in the event that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is recalled. Of these, 24 are running as Republicans. The California Republican Party had been planning for weeks to endorse one of them, but at the last minute decided not to endorse anyone. In part it was afraid that picking one of the 24 might cause Republican voters who favored one of the other 23 to think the fix was in and not vote at all. Also, if the Party picked one, Newsom might frame the race as me (D) vs. him (R) and turn it into a regular partisan election, rather than a two-part recall election.

The rules the Party set in advance made an endorsement difficult to start with. For one, for the state convention to endorse someone, that person would need 60% of the vote, not 50% + 1. Second, delegates could vote for "no endorsement." If the goal of the rules was to prevent an endorsement that might split the Party, it worked.

Polls seem to show that conservative radio host Larry Elder is the top pick if Newsom is recalled and Newsom is already acting as if he were running against Elder. He has pointed out that Elder is against having a minimum wage law and is a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic. To the extent that voters see it as a two-person race (which it is not) and don't like Elder, they may vote to keep Newsom to prevent Elder from winning.

Absent an endorsement from the state party, the Republican field is very fragmented. There is no runoff, so if Newsom is recalled and Elder or someone else has the most votes, even if it is only 20%, that person will be the new governor. If the vote to recall is just above 50% and all the Democrats who voted to keep Newsom scatter their votes among several Democrats and the Green Party candidate for the replacement, then it is possible that the new governor might get in with only 10-15% of the total vote. That is not much of a mandate and would no doubt cause the state legislature, where Democrats have supermajorities, to try to start running the state by passing laws over the governor's veto, rejecting all gubernatorial nominees, etc.

Further, if the new governor has nothing even vaguely approaching a mandate and the legislature wants to play hardball, it can simply pick something the new governor did, claim that it is illegal, and impeach and convict him or her. Democrats have 74% of the votes in the Assembly and 78% of the votes in the state Senate. Although California is one of the handful of states that chooses a brand-new governor in the case of a recall, per state law, it handles an impeachment and conviction in the same manner as if the governor had died or resigned. So, in the event of conviction, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (D-CA) would become governor. (V)

Iowa Update

No, this is not an update on the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucus. We still don't know for sure who won that one. It is about the 2024 Iowa Republican caucus. The Democrats might yet move Iowa to the back of the pack in 2024, but the caucuses are run by the parties, so the Republicans can let Iowa go first, no matter what the Democrats decide to do. Do you know who Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA) is? If so, consider yourself an expert on 2024 politics. If not, here's the scoop. Let's start with Iowa's congressional map:

Iowa's congressional map, which is pretty evenly
divided into four distinct quadrants

This is probably the first district map we have posted in years that wasn't gerrymandered. The district lines all run along county lines. Each county is in one and only one district, in its entirety. The districts aren't the same size because they were drawn to have equal populations, not equal areas. Quite amazing! Well, maybe not. Iowa was actually one of the first states to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and put it in the hands of non-partisan public servants.

Anyway, IA-01 and IA-02 have PVIs of D+1. IA-03 is R+1. So all three are swing districts. But IA-04 is R+11 because it has only one (smallish) city, Sioux City. It is very rural, very evangelical, and very Republican. A third of the state's Republican voters live in IA-04. Consequently, if the path to the White House runs through Iowa, the path to Iowa runs through IA-04, at least for Republicans. Any Republican wishing to sit in the big chair needs to win that district big time.

So as a result of the 2011 compromise map, the congressman who represents IA-04 and who probably knows the district better than anyone else is someone every presidential wannabe needs to have on speed dial. That fellow is Feenstra, who knocked off the bigoted Steve King (R) in the 2020 Republican primary and went on to crush J.D. Scholten (D) in the general election. For all Republicans with presidential aspirations, Feenstra is now Mr. Iowa.

Feenstra understands his new popularity quite well. He said: "To me, it is a small area, but it is the pulse of Iowa. That is why I think a lot of candidates like to come through the area." Mike Pence has already paid a visit to Feenstra and Nikki Haley is coming soon. So are Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Mike Pompeo. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has talked to Feenstra about a visit. The Representative isn't quite a kingmaker, like Jim Clyburn (D-SC) apparently is, but his endorsement could put a potential candidate over the top in the first nominating event, so all the candidates want to be friends with him. So far, he is not taking sides, but by 2023 he might, with major implications for the country. If Feenstra's horse wins the Iowa race, he or she becomes the instant favorite for the nomination. (V)

Democrats Will Test 2022 Strategy This Year

Democratic leaders know that Donald Trump was a great motivating force to get their voters to the polls when he was on the ballot. The big question for them now is whether invoking his name will also motivate their voters, even if he is not on the ballot. They are going to test that proposition in the three gubernatorial races this year: the regular elections in Virginia and New Jersey, plus the recall in California.

In all three they are bringing Trump up strongly in their ads and campaigns as a boogeyman. In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe (D) is constantly reminding voters that his opponent, Glenn Youngkin (R), is a Trump loyalist. When Joe Biden stumped for McAuliffe last month, he made the same point. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) has been running a digital ad slamming his opponent, Jack Ciattarelli (R), for supporting "Trump's extreme agenda." In California, Gavin Newsom recently got a judge to approve his write-up in the guide all voters will get in advance of the Sept. 14 recall election. In it he paints the entire recall process as a power grab by Trump and his supporters. Californians are also being subjected to a commercial, being shown on many different stations, in which Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) talks about how the recall is the doing of the Trump wing of the Republican Party. It is strange that California Democrats did not recruit one of their own senators for the ad, but maybe Dianne Feinstein is too unpopular, and Alex Padilla is not well-known enough yet.

The Democrats aren't making all three elections entirely about Trump, though. They are also talking about Democratic achievements, such as Joe Biden's pandemic relief package and the child tax-credit policy. No doubt they will be polling all three races closely and asking not only how the respondent plans to vote, but also why. If "to beat Trump" comes up a lot, count on a repeat strategy in 2022, otherwise, maybe not so much. (V)

Republican Candidates Position Themselves in North Carolina Senate Race

The North Carolina open-seat Senate race is going to be a humdinger, probably even more competitive than Pennsylvania's (because the Keystone state is sort of bluish) and Georgia's (because there is an incumbent running for reelection there). Consequently, both parties are having competitive primaries. Let's look at the Republican one today, as it is full of infighting already. Five Republicans have filed for the race, but only three are serious: Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), former representative Mark Walker, and former governor Pat "Bathroom Bill" McCrory:

Mugshots of Ted Budd, Mark Walker, Pat McCrory
all of them white guys who appear to be in their fifties or sixties

For months, Donald Trump's daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, teased a run, but in the end declined. Mark Walker was the first to get in. He is a long-time, dyed-in-the-wool Trumpist. Then Budd jumped in. For reasons best known to Trump (or maybe not), Trump almost immediately endorsed Budd. This was certainly a big surprise to Walker, who is Trumpy as hell and expected the endorsement. In fact, everyone in the state was blindsided, including Budd. Both Walker and Budd supported the lawsuit to overturn Joe Biden's victory, so that wasn't the crucial factor.

Endorsement or no endorsement, Walker is planning to position himself as the Trumpiest candidate. Of course, Budd, with the endorsement now in his pocket, is going to say the same thing. They are already calling each other names and generally brawling. Walker has the least to lose, so he is going to be the most aggressive. He also has strong supporters in former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and firebrand Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC).

The problem for the Republicans is that both of them might be too far right to win a general election in the purple state of North Carolina. That's where McCrory comes in. He is not as Trumpy as the other two. In fact, Trump considered him for a job in his administration and rejected him. But much of the Republican establishment in D.C. wants McCrory as the candidate. Yes, he signed the notorious "bathroom bill" that requires people to use public restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate, but he may be the least bad Republican candidate in the race. Also, he has won (and lost) statewide election before, while the others haven't. National Republicans believe that being labeled as very Trumpy will be a big hindrance in the general election, which is why they favor McCrory in a state Trump won by only 1.3 points in 2020.

If McCrory wins the nomination, the Democrats will try to paint him as a bigot on account of the bathroom bill. That worked in 2016, when now-governor Roy Cooper (D-NC) beat him in the general election, and it could work again. Of course it is still very early in the cycle and the Democrats have a big primary battle going on as well, so it is much too early to handicap the general election race. (V)

Warnock Leads Potential Challengers in Georgia Senate Race

Another top Senate race will be Georgia, where Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is running for reelection. The big unanswered question here is who the Republican nominee will be. Donald Trump is pushing hard for it to be former football player (and current Texas resident) Herschel Walker (R). Senate Republicans have told Walker to stay on the bench. Walker has a track record of abusing his former wife and lying about his finances. Senate Republicans fear that if Walker runs, Warnock, man of God that he is, will not mention this stuff, but independent super PACs flush with out-of-state money will tackle Walker hard and make him fumble. Just imagine a Democratic commercial featuring Walker's ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, telling the viewers how Walker threatened multiple times that he was going to kill her. How's that going to go over with women voters? It might even make Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) look like a decent fellow by comparison.

At last we have a bit of polling data on the race. Walker has 72% approval and 7% disapproval among Republican voters. In contrast, former senator Kelly Loeffler (R) is at 56%/21% among Republicans. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black (R) is a near-total unknown, with 67% of Republicans having no opinion of him. This suggests that Walker might be able to get the nomination. However, it is doubtful that many Georgians know about his past (other than the football part). Democrats certainly aren't going to bring this up during the primary, that's for sure. If Loeffler runs, she might do it, although it is tricky because she has some dirty laundry, too (insider stock trading). So she has to be careful about going nuclear; it could backfire.

Now the general election polls. If it is Warnock vs. Walker, Warnock is ahead 48% to 46%. But again, this is before the $30 million worth of ads telling every man, woman, child, and animal in Georgia that Walker threatened to kill his ex. If it is Warnock vs. Loeffler, Warnock is ahead 47% to 44%. If it is Warnock vs. Black, Warnock wins 46% to 38%, but this is before Black introduces himself to the public.

On the whole, these are favorable numbers for Warnock. However, keep in mind that Georgia's new voting laws make it much harder to vote, and this will affect people in Fulton County more than it will affect rural voters. Also, turnout typically falls in the midterms, even without taking into account the new laws. For the Democrats, the best case scenario is that Trump tells Walker that he will pour money into his campaign, Walker jumps in, Trump stiffs him, and ads financed by out-of-state Democrats tar Walker so badly that even with the new laws, he goes down in flames. But this requires a lot of things to go right for the blue team. (V)

In Like a Lamb

We pointed out that this was imminent, and now it's come to pass: The Democratic senatorial primary heated up on Friday with the announcement of Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) that he's running for the open Senate seat there. He will now slug it out with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA). This is not Hillary vs. Bernie, part 905, because Fetterman isn't Bernie and Lamb isn't Hillary.

It will be a somewhat unusual race because neither candidate is a generic Democrat. Fetterman is a goateed, tattooed, motorcycle-riding giant with a degree from Harvard who could probably work as security for the Rolling Stones if he kept the Harvard bit secret. He is very outspoken, somewhat progressive, and has a genuinely working-class background. Lamb is the scion of a family that has been politically active for generations (his grandfather was majority leader in the state Senate), has an Ivy League law degree (Penn), and was a decorated Judge Advocate in the Marine Corps. He is much more moderate than Fetterman. But he also flipped a Republican district when he first ran for the House in 2018 and would definitely get some Republican votes in the general election.

Also worth noting is that there are a few more Democrats in the mix, including 31-year-old Black state representative Malcolm Kenyatta, who has the support of some progressives, and physician Val Arkoosh, the only woman in the race. But Fetterman and Lamb are clearly the main players here. If the race is close, Kenyatta and Arkoosh could pull enough progressive votes from Fetterman to hand the nomination to Lamb, who could probably win the general election, but wouldn't be the senator the progressives want. If Pennsylvania had ranked-choice voting, that wouldn't happen, but it doesn't. A lot depends on whether progressives vote for the candidate they like best (and risk a Lamb victory) or go for Fetterman, who is not as progressive as Kenyatta and Arkoosh, but could actually be elected senator.

Fetterman's campaign slogan seems to be: "I am not Joe Manchin." He wants to abolish the filibuster and carry out the Democrats' program. In contrast, Lamb actually held a (virtual) fundraiser with Manchin. Fetterman is much better known than Lamb, having been elected to statewide office, whereas Lamb is known only in the Republican suburbs northwest of Pittsburgh.

The Republican side is equally crowded, but with much lower-profile candidates. The main candidates are wealthy real estate developer Jeff Bartos, author Sean Parnell, chiropractor and wealthy Republican donor (and former ambassador to Denmark) Carla Sands, and businessman Everett Stern. None of them have ever been elected to public office. But there is still time for a somewhat heavierweight Republican to jump in. That said, the Republican bench in Pennsylvania is not especially deep, so the best the Party is going to do is probably a member of the U.S. House, either current (Dan Meuser, Glenn Thompson) or former (Ryan Costello, Charlie Dent). (V)

What Is the Purpose of the AFL-CIO?

Last week's death of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is going to force the 12-million strong union organization to think about what it is there for. Very bluntly, is it primarily a political organization whose mission is to lobby for pro-worker and pro-union laws at the federal and state level? Or is it there to help organize more workers and get them to join unions? On the one hand, Republicans are actively trying to pass anti-union laws at all levels, so pushback is needed (purpose 1). On the other hand, only 7% of private-sector workers are unionized, far less than in other countries, so signing up more members (purpose 2) is a real possibility.

Trumka was largely in favor of #1 and got some results, including a more worker-friendly revision of NAFTA and an infrastructure bill (or maybe two) that will create millions of jobs for blue-collar workers. But when picking a new president, the AFL-CIO has to decide what its priorities are.

The main law Trumka wanted hasn't been enacted yet, and may never be unless the Democrats keep the House and get a bigger majority in the Senate in 2022. It is the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), which would prevent employers from forcing employees to attend anti-union meetings and would increase fines for violating labor law. The bill passed the House in March and Joe Biden supports it, but Republicans are unanimously opposed to it and will filibuster it to death unless the Democrats do something about the filibuster.

If getting legislation through the Senate is practically impossible, the other route (getting more union members) may be more promising. There are many industry sectors that have (almost) no union presence, but could have one, including the tech sector. Gig workers, low-wage workers, and undocumented immigrants also have potential for being unionized.

This choice has clear political implications. If the goal is to get more labor-friendly laws, then a fair amount of the organization's budget can be devoted to electing labor-friendly politicians. If the goal is to get more members, then taking part in elections will not be a priority.

Another big question for the next AFL-CIO president is whether to ally the organization with groups that support compatible causes, like civil rights, immigrants' rights, or environmental causes. The idea would be to work with them, support their causes, and try to get them to support labor's priorities in return. This was actually a popular and effective approach for unionists in the 1960s. Trumka tried it, but politically conservative unions (especially in the building trades) nixed that, saying the group's purpose was to get better economic conditions for members.

The new president will simply fill out the rest of Trumka's term, which lasts another year. Then a new permanent leader will be chosen for a full term. A likely choice to fill out Trumka's term is Liz Shuler, who is the current acting president. If she does a good job, she might become the favorite for a full 4-year term. The group has never had a female president, but unions are changing, with many affiliated unions increasingly having large numbers of women as members, including the American Federation of Teachers, National Nurses United, and multiple unions for government employees. Also, much of the potential growth for unions is in the service sector (where women are well represented), as opposed to manufacturing and construction. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug08 Sunday Mailbag
Aug07 Saturday Q&A
Aug06 A More Respectable Coup
Aug06 Truth, Justice, and the American Way, Part I: The 1/6 Commission Isn't Fooling Around
Aug06 Truth, Justice, and the American Way, Part II: Cyber Ninjas May Get Kunoichi'ed
Aug06 The Missing Piece of the Florida Puzzle
Aug06 Aspiring California Governors Debate
Aug06 We're Not Lyin', Lamb Is In
Aug06 The Readers Have Spoken
Aug06 This Week in Schadenfreude
Aug06 Richard Trumka, 1949-2021
Aug05 Senators Have nearly 300 Amendments Ready for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill
Aug05 Trump Lawyers Try to Block Tax Return Handover
Aug05 Democrats Scrounge for Cash to Pay for Infrastructure
Aug05 Who Is Kathleen Hochul?
Aug05 GETTR Is GETTING Actual Terrorists
Aug05 Ohio Senate Race Heats Up
Aug05 Governor of Tennessee Supports Paying for Vaccinations
Aug04 Cuomo Is a 21st-Century Dick
Aug04 The Establishment Strikes Back
Aug04 Biden to Extend Eviction Moratorium
Aug04 House Democrats Need to Work on their Messaging
Aug04 Speaking of Questionable Gubernatorial Behavior...
Aug04 It's Not Just Speculation Anymore
Aug04 World's Longest International Border Remains Closed For Now
Aug03 Eviction Crisis On Tap
Aug03 Well, This Was Entirely Predictable, Part I: Red State/Blue State COVID Gap Is Widening Quickly
Aug03 Well, This Was Entirely Predictable, Part II: Trump Will Fight Release of Tax Returns
Aug03 Well, This Was Entirely Predictable, Part III: Maricopa, Dominion Tell Cyber Ninjas to Pound Sand
Aug03 Two More MPD Officers Take Their Lives
Aug03 Ohioans Head to the Polls
Aug03 California Crazy
Aug03 Democrats, Republicans Follow Each Other's Fundraising Leads
Aug02 McConnell Supports Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill
Aug02 Manchin: No Guarantee the Reconciliation Bill Will Pass
Aug02 Trump Brought in $56 Million for Republicans in First Half of 2021
Aug02 Treasury Dept. Must Give Congress Donald Trump's Tax Returns
Aug02 Kinzinger Wants to Subpoena McCarthy and Jordan
Aug02 McCarthy Says He Wants to Hit Nancy Pelosi If He Gets the Speaker's Gavel in 2023
Aug02 Georgia Republicans Start a Formal Review of Fulton County Election Officials
Aug02 COVID-19 Is Running Rampant in Florida
Aug02 GOP to Herschel Walker: Stay on the Bench
Aug01 Sunday Mailbag
Jul31 Saturday Q&A
Jul30 Half-Measures are Better than No Measures
Jul30 Schumer Says He "Has the Votes" for $3.5 Trillion Infrastructure Bill...
Jul30 ...Meanwhile, Trump Hates the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill
Jul30 Abbott, Garland Headed for a Showdown
Jul30 What Is Kinzinger Up To?
Jul30 Californians Want Recall Rules Changed