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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  We Told You He's a Dick
      •  Onward and Upward on Infrastructure
      •  Winning By Losing?
      •  Rep. Ron Kind to Retire
      •  A Government "Designed for Failure"

We Told You He's a Dick

A Dick Nixon, that is. Last week, we proposed that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) appeared to be doomed to follow the same script that the 37th president did: Get in hot water, pledge to hold on, learn that impeachment is inevitable because your party has turned against you, and resign. Yesterday, the Governor played his role to a T, tendering his resignation, effective August 24. As chance would have it, Cuomo pulled the trigger just one day after the anniversary of the day Nixon's resignation took effect (August 9, 1974).

In the end, Cuomo really had no alternative. When AG Letitia James (D) released her report detailing the Governor's misconduct, Democrats up and down the line called for his head. It was at least possible that some of them might cool down and change their minds, but that did not happen. Cuomo's aides expected him to dig in nonetheless, but all that would have bought him was a few more weeks in office, until the impeachment became official. As we have pointed out, under the terms of New York law, the governor is automatically stripped of power at that point. Cuomo would get his job back if exonerated, but that wasn't happening for him.

Meanwhile, fighting a hopeless battle would have inflicted a fair bit of collateral damage. It can't be any fun to spend a month preparing for a trial that you know you're going to lose. Further, the Governor's name would have been dragged through the mud, over and over, as his misdeeds filled the front pages for weeks on end. Whatever his post-politics aspirations are, that kind of PR is not helpful. And then there is his family; his children would have been subject to all sorts of media attention, and his brother Chris has been put in a bad place by trying to juggle his familial loyalties and his job as one of CNN's main anchors.

Although Cuomo ultimately decided to fall on his sword, he clearly isn't happy about it, and he certainly did not handle things gracefully. That was a another Dick-like move; in his speech announcing his departure, Cuomo neglected to take much responsibility for his downfall, in the same way that Nixon would only concede that "mistakes were made." The Governor pointed fingers at the media, and at Twitter, and at people's propensity to overreact to certain news stories. He even said he'd "made mistakes," which is only a slight rearrangement of the Nixon formulation. The quote that really encapsulates the whole speech is this one: "In my mind, I've never crossed the line with anyone. But I didn't realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn." So the fault here apparently lies not only with others who made a big deal out of this, but also with others who "redrew" the line.

We aren't the only ones who thought the speech was Dick-ish. For example, New York magazine's headline was "Cuomo's Nixonian Resignation Speech." Even those outlets that did not draw that specific parallel slammed the speech, as he got blasted from all corners. A sampling of headlines (and corners):

We could easily provide dozens more; the point here is that condemnation for the speech was unanimous. If anyone had anything positive to say, we certainly didn't see it.

Unsurprisingly, there was also much crowing on the right, as many folks interpreted the fall of Cuomo as an indictment of the entire Democratic Party. Our favorite piece in this vein was written by Fox media analyst Howard Kurtz, under the headline "The folly of political worship" and the subhead "The trap is that such figures come to be viewed as superhumans who can do no wrong." Cuomo is the main focus of the piece, of course, but Kurtz specifically brings up Donald Trump and Bill Clinton as additional examples, noting that hero-worship allowed them to avoid accountability for their actions. The Trump-loving commenters on that article did not pick up on certain...nuances, and so had much to say about how those "Demonrats" never hold their leaders accountable.

There is much irony in such comments. First, in that a Trump supporter could wag their finger at anyone and accuse them of not holding their leaders accountable. Second, in that Tuesday's events actually indicate the polar opposite of what the Fox commenters were saying, since Democrats did hold Cuomo accountable. Indeed, that one major political party polices its own (at least sometimes) and one does not was one of the major storylines on Tuesday. For example, from the left-leaning outlet Vox came a piece headlined "Why Cuomo resigned and Trump didn't." It includes this passage:

While Cuomo was defying calls for his resignation, he was frequently compared to former President Donald Trump, who did the same. But the key difference is that, even at Trump's lowest moments—the blizzard of sexual harassment and assault accusations against him in October 2016, the scandal over his firing of FBI director James Comey, or either of his impeachments—many Republicans still stood by him. So Trump calculated, rationally and correctly, that he could survive those scandals, and even impeachment (as he twice did).

Why did Republicans stick with Trump throughout all this? Part of the reason is that his unique personalized appeal to the GOP base made elites afraid to cross him. Despite Cuomo's successful run in state politics, he had no comparable cult of personality among ordinary voters. Many feared to cross Cuomo for many years, but once he was badly wounded—by this and other scandals, like that over the handling of data on Covid-19 deaths at New York nursing homes—he could be tossed aside.

The right-leaning outlet The Bulwark had an eerily similar piece headlined "Andrew Cuomo Resigned Because the Democrats Aren't a Cult." From that one:

When the Republican party had an historically unpopular incumbent president and had the opportunity to impeach him and remove him from office not once—but twice!—why didn't they do it? It's not as if removing Trump in 2019 would have made Hillary Clinton president—it would have made Mike Pence president, and this was before he had been unpersoned as a traitor.

The obvious answer is that at the current moment the Democrats are a political party, while the Republicans are a personality cult.

There is just no avoiding the conclusion that as bad as Cuomo's actions were, Trump's were far worse, both in terms of sexual misconduct, and in terms of other areas of bad behavior, like encouraging an insurrection. And yet Cuomo is finished, while Trump served out his term and remains the de facto head of the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, Cuomo's demise means that Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY), whom we told you a little bit about last week, will succeed him in the governor's mansion. New York thus gets its first female governor in the same way it got its first Black governor (and the first legally blind governor of any state), namely as a result of the sitting governor being caught up in a scandal due to their sexual misdeeds and being forced to resign. They have a funny way of breaking glass ceilings in the Empire State, it would seem.

In terms of next year's elections, these developments are probably the worst news possible for James, and the best news possible for aspiring Republican would-be governors. Hochul now gets, for lack of a better term, a probationary period in the big chair, and the visibility that comes along with that. If she does reasonably well, she will presumably be a much tougher opponent for James than Cuomo would have been. Meanwhile, if James and Hochul end up in a knock-down, drag-out primary next year, the winner could enter the general election damaged and/or drained of funds. A Republican governor is still not very likely, but it's more plausible now than it was a week ago. Don't be too surprised if one of the Trumps, maybe Eric, senses an opportunity to sweep in and capitalize here.

Incidentally, we expected that Tuesday's news would inspire some creativity from the nation's headline writers, since Cuomo certainly earned himself a bit of derision, and because the possibilities are so vast. The New York Post came up with a snarky one, of course:

The headline is 'At the end of his

In addition, a few outlets came up with "Cuomo No Mo'," but that was about it. We went with the headline we did, of course, because we wanted to highlight the Nixon angle, and because we try to be a Dick-forward kind of site (admittedly, with some items more than others). However, we're also full service around here, and so we will fill the apparent gap with 10 other headlines we considered:

  • Gone In a New York Minute
  • Rage Andrewin'
  • Oy! ¡Cuomo Vas!
  • Raggedy Andy
  • Term Limited
  • Governor Can't Preserve Status Cuomo
  • You're a Real Prince, Andrew
  • A Dy-Nasty Ending
  • The Big A****le
  • Start Spreading the News; I'm Leaving Today

Perhaps "Saturday Night Live" should hire us to write for Weekend Update.

And finally, some readers are undoubtedly wondering who came out on top of our "guess the date of resignation" poll. First of all, in the "missed it by that much" category are:

  • D.R. in Old Harbor, AK (Aug. 9)
  • J.S. in Powhatan, VA (Aug. 9)
  • L.B. in Brighton, UK (Aug. 9)
  • M.S. in Wamba, TX (Aug. 9)
  • M.D. in San Tan Valley, AZ (Aug. 9)
  • R.C. in Winter Haven, FL (Aug. 9)
  • M.S. in New York City, NY (Aug. 9)
  • K.C. in West Islip, NY (Aug. 11)
  • T.F. in Ridgewood, NJ (Aug. 23)
  • T.R. in Pittsburgh, PA (Aug. 25)

As you can see, we are giving credit for being within a day of the resignation announcement (yesterday), or for being within a day of the "date effective" (August 24). We can afford to be generous when the prize get to keep reading the site, along with everyone else. Meanwhile, nobody actually guessed August 24 (though there were, oddly, September 24 and October 24 guesses). There were three folks who hit the August 10 date on the nose:

  • J.W. in Folsom, CA
  • K.J. in Atlanta, GA
  • S.K. in Queens, NY

As a bonus, J.W. included a time in their e-mail (noon), and nailed that, too (the press conference commenced at 11:45 a.m. ET and concluded at 12:07 p.m. ET). So, J.W. takes the gold, and K.J. and S.K. tie for the silver. Anyhow, that's everything we've got on the Cuomo front. (Z)

Onward and Upward on Infrastructure

As expected, on Tuesday, the Senate passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that it's been wrestling with for many weeks. The final vote was 69-30, with all of the Democrats and independents joined by 19 Republicans. Here, incidentally, are those 19:

  • Roy Blunt (MO)
  • Richard Burr (NC)
  • Shelley Moore Capito (WV)
  • Bill Cassidy (LA)
  • Susan Collins (ME)
  • Kevin Cramer (ND)
  • Mike Crapo (ID)
  • Deb Fischer (NE)
  • Lindsey Graham (SC)
  • Chuck Grassley (IA)
  • John Hoeven (ND)
  • Mitch McConnell (KY)
  • Lisa Murkowski (AK)
  • Rob Portman (OH)
  • James Risch (ID)
  • Mitt Romney (UT)
  • Dan Sullivan (AK)
  • Thom Tillis (NC)
  • Roger Wicker (MS)

There are pretty much three kinds of Republican senators on this list: (1) Republicans from small, poor states that can really use some federal money; (2) Republicans known as moderates, and (3) Republicans who are retiring. Some members are in more than one category, of course—Portman is in group 2 and group 3, for example, while Wicker is in group 1 and 3, and Romney is in 1 and 2.

The bill has $550 billion in new spending, including $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for railroads, $65 billion for the national power grid (sorry, Texas!), $65 billion for expanding broadband access, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $47 billion for cybersecurity and fighting climate change, $39 billion for public transit, and $25 billion for airports. These things are known collectively as "hard" infrastructure.

Joe Biden took some time to pat himself on the back on Tuesday, although his celebration was tempered by two things: (1) all the attention being paid to Andrew Cuomo's resignation (see above), and (2) the fact that the bill can't become law until the House passes it, and House passage is neither imminent nor guaranteed.

Many Republicans—including, oh, 30 or so of them in the Senate—are not happy right now, either because they don't like giving "wins" to a Democrat, or they don't like spending money on things that are not bombs or tax cuts. Some Democrats are also not exactly jumping for joy. One source of irritation, particularly for members of the progressive wing of the party, is that rich corporations and businesses will benefit disproportionately from this new spending, and yet they are not yet being asked to pay more in taxes.

That problem will be one of the things that Democrats try to tackle with the "soft" infrastructure bill, which is supposed to be way bigger in terms of outlay, and, if it passes the Senate, will do so using reconciliation (and thus, will be a strictly party-line vote, with Kamala Harris breaking the tie). Not one to rest on his laurels, particularly when his colleagues are eager to get the heck out of town, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) brought to the floor on Tuesday the $3.5 trillion framework that will be essential to both next year's federal budget and to the Democrats' reconciliation plans. As expected, the upper chamber commenced an hours-long vote-a-rama in which members introduced non-binding amendments, just to get the other party on record, in anticipation of next year's elections. For example, the members were asked to vote on banning the use of critical race theory in the nation's classrooms. That one actually passed—though remember, it is non-binding—because Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted with all the Republicans to pass it.

Eventually, this time-wasting foolishness came to an end, and late Tuesday night, the Senate passed the reconciliation framework 50-49. Now, the various Senate committees will draft legislation to fill in the (massive) gaps in the bill, specifying where all that money is going to be spent, and how the funding will be raised. There are still many hurdles to be overcome, as the devil is always in the details. However, on the infrastructure front, everything is going according to Schumer's plan so far. (Z)

Winning By Losing?

Govs. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Greg Abbott (R-TX) continue to stick by their guns as regards their "liberty is more important than public health" approach to the pandemic. In fact, the Floridian and the Texan both just reiterated their anti-mask-mandate policies, making clear that they apply especially to schools.

There is one wee problem, though: A lot of their fellow citizens aren't willing to play along. When you are a judge, as Bexar County Civil District Court Judge Toni Arteaga is, you might even have some power to fight back. Yesterday, she granted a temporary restraining order, and allowed San Antonio to impose student mask mandates. A similar ruling is expected in Dallas in the next few days. If you are not a judge, by contrast, your best option might be civil disobedience. And that is the choice of many school officials in both states, with Broward County (FL; largest city is Fort Lauderdale) becoming the latest to decide that they are going to do what they want on the mask front, governor be damned.

It is at least possible that widespread judicial intervention/civil disobedience is the best-case scenario for the two governors. That way, they can say they fought the good fight for "liberty," and yet can also have the public health benefits of actually taking the pandemic seriously. Plus, if things get worse, then they can add "activist judges" and "those namby-pamby unionized teachers" to "immigrants" on the "who is to blame?" list.

That said, if this is really the plan, it's a very delicate line to walk. It's not great for a governor's image when people defy them openly, especially if that governor is trying to occupy the ultra-masculine Trump-lane. Further, if masking and other control measures help control the surge, many people will rightly observe that the governors' actions made the pandemic worse, and it was the judges and the rebels who made it better. Further, some of those same folks might observe, as Joe Biden did yesterday, that all of these efforts to impose gubernatorial will on schools and others are rather incongruous with being the party of "small government." And finally, it's not a great look for Abbott, in particular, that as he busily wages cultural war against the pandemic, he was compelled to beg other states for help, as Texas' hospitals are running short on beds, and its doctors are grossly overtaxed.

Meanwhile, as long as we're on the gubernatorial COVID beat, let's jump over to a big, blue state and talk about a different sort of political calculation. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is, of course, bracing for a recall election in about a month, just as the school year will be getting started. Parents very much want their kids back in school. At the same time, they want them to be safe, even with the Delta variant of COVID-19 surging.

Newsom has the relative good fortune that, at very least, he is not beholden to a political party and a former president that sees pandemic-control measures as a fate worse than death. Further, the state's teachers are somewhat at his financial mercy, particularly since it's too late to find another job now, and their union leadership has just given (cautious) assent to vaccine mandates. So, he has decided to require all teachers to either prove they have been vaccinated, or to submit to regular COVID testing.

The California governor is no less calculating than his Florida or Texas counterparts; he knows there are far more "parents who will be happy" voters than there are "teachers who will be angry" voters, so this will be a net positive for him as he heads toward Sept. 14. It's just another reminder of how responses to the pandemic are almost entirely dictated by which party happens to be in control of the government. (Z)

Rep. Ron Kind to Retire

Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) has watched his district, WI-03 get redder over the course of his 13 terms in Congress. It's now R+4, and last year he won in something of a nailbiter, beating political unknown Derrick Van Orden by just 2 points (51% to 49%). The primary issue in that election was Kind's vote to impeach Donald Trump the first time. And now, he's got a second Trump impeachment vote on his ledger. With all of these things being the case, and with the added known unknown that is redistricting, the Representative has decided he's had enough. "I've run out of gas," he said on Tuesday in announcing that he will retire at the end of his term.

With Kind's departure, the Democrats' hopes of holding on to the House just got more tenuous. Even he, with the benefits of incumbency, would have struggled to hold on to that seat. Without him, it's almost certain to flip. Further, if you check the "Congress retirements" link we have at the top left, you'll see that there are now 9 Democrats retiring as compared to 8 Republicans. That's not great, given that the Democrats are sure to lose a few seats to gerrymandering, and will also be contending with the general tendency for the sitting president's party to lose seats in the midterms.

On top of that, only two Republicans are vacating seats that could even plausibly be in play, and even those are R+6 and R+8. By contrast, Democrats are vacating three seats that already have a Republican lean (from R+1 to R+3) and another three that lean barely Democratic (from D+1 to D+3). And again, this is before we consider redistricting. The blue team would be doing pretty well to keep half of those six, and it wouldn't be much of a surprise for them to lose all six. Put another way, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) is going to earn his pay this cycle. (Z)

A Government "Designed for Failure"

Yesterday, Joe Biden finally tapped Elizabeth Prelogar to be his pick for solicitor general. That job, sometimes described as "the most important federal job that nobody knows about," involves representing the federal government in cases before the Supreme Court and other federal courts. It's been 204 days since Biden took office, and nobody seems to be clear why it took so long for him to choose someone.

This highlights a problem that we've written about before, and that is highlighted in an editorial written for The Washington Post by Fred Hiatt, and headlined "The U.S. government is designed for failure. And, a new study shows, it's getting worse." The editorial, and the report the headline refers to, make the point that there are far too many federal jobs that require a presidential nomination and a Senate confirmation. In John F. Kennedy's time, there were 779 such jobs. That was tough for JFK to keep up with, and not just because of his bad back. Today, there are 1,237 such jobs, or 59% more.

Sometimes, the fault lies with the administration. Donald Trump had relatively little interest in properly staffing his administration, had a great deal of interest in score-settling and deeming many people to be unacceptable because they had dared to criticize him in the past, and had very few people talented in personnel matters working under him. So, he lagged for his entire term in office. While Biden has dropped a couple of balls, including the solicitor generalship, he has overall operated at a breakneck speed, relatively speaking. In their first years in office, Trump and Barack Obama both hired about 120 senior federal officers, while George W. Bush hired about 80. Biden, by contrast, has hired over 300 already.

The real problem here lies with the Senate. First of all, they have only so much time, particularly when they are burning hours upon hours on vote-a-ramas (see above) and other parliamentary theater. Second, individual members can and do hold up nominations, often for spurious reasons. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been holding up several ambassadorial picks because he's cranky about the administration's failure to kill a Russia-Germany natural gas pipeline. It is true that Biden has only nominated 323 people to fill the 799 most significant appointed offices, but part of the reason he hasn't nominated more is that there's no point, with a backlog of over 200 appointees still awaiting their day to shine.

There are two obvious solutions here, and both would be consistent with the approach used by every single other democracy. The first is that the Senate needs to exercise less "oversight." In an ideal world, a large number of jobs on the "needing Senate approval" list would be moved to the "not needing Senate approval" list, the approval process for the remaining jobs would be streamlined, and the ability of individual senators to throw a wrench into the works would be taken away. Recall that the logic of Senate approval is that the folks they are reviewing are almost entirely "officers of the United States," which means they exercise some portion of the sovereign power of the federal government. However, military officers, from lieutenants/ensigns on up, are also "officers of the United States." Until someone reaches the rank of major/lieutenant commander, they don't get approved by the Senate, and thereafter promotions are almost always approved pro forma (unless it's someone controversial, or someone being appointed to a very high rank). So clearly, some of the current Senate-approved jobs don't really need to be.

The other solution is to convert some number of jobs from "political appointee" to "career civil servant." Obviously, the president wants an upper management team they are comfortable with and that will work hard to implement their priorities. But there's a pretty good case to be made that, say, ambassadorships would be better off if filled by career diplomats (indeed, a bunch of those posts already are). And even if a job is not converted fully to "career civil servant," it could be converted to a model like the one used for the FBI Director (10 year term, unless specifically fired by the president) or the Federal Reserve Board (appointed by the president, but then serves for 14 years, and can't be fired).

That is not to say that these changes are going to happen—neither senators nor presidents are known for willingly yielding up a portion of their power. But it is to say they probably should happen, because the current system clearly does not serve the American people very well. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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