Panetta Compares Afghanistan Exit to Bay of Pigs
U.S. to Advise Boosters for Most Americans
Nevada Lt. Governor to Take White House Job
Misinformation at Public Forums Vexes Social Media
China Sends Ominous Message to Taiwan
Bonus Quote of the Day
• Biden Is Pro Electric Car--and also Pro Gasoline Car
• Trump Rules the House--but Not the Senate
• Trump Got It
• One-Third of Native Americans Are Not Registered to Vote
• Schmitt Is Not the Adult in the Room
• Five Senators Haven't Decided Whether They Will Run for Reelection in 2022
• Democratic Choice Will Be Tiebreaker on New Jersey Redistricting Commission
• Buttigieg Is an Amazingly Good Politician
It just looks like Saigon. If people had to pick two or three photos that captured the Vietnam War well, one of those would surely be the helicopter transporting people off the roof of an apartment building in Saigon (then being used as a secret, but apparently not-that-secret CIA HQ). All Joe Biden can hope for now is that nobody gets a good shot of the end of the war in Afghanistan, which came much faster than anyone expected. As soon as the U.S. withdrew, the Taliban took over the country. Yesterday the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized Kabul without the Afghan army even trying to resist. Twenty years of the U.S. trying to build a nation in Afghanistan didn't last a week once the U.S. troops were gone. The $88 billion that the Pentagon spent arming and training the Afghan army went up in smoke in a couple of days.
The collapse was unbelievably quick and total. By yesterday evening, the Taliban leaders were giving television interviews from the presidential palace. The Pentagon sent 1,000 U.S. troops to the Kabul airport to try to protect the Americans they are trying to get out of the country safely.
The ramifications are just starting to reveal themselves. People were lined up at ATMs to withdraw their life savings in cash before the Taliban turns the machines off. Many people were leaving the country as refugees and will be trying to get into other countries, many of which do not want any more immigrants—especially not poor Muslim immigrants. Women are going to be forced to wear clothes that cover them up completely. Men are going to be forced to grow long beards. Mosque attendance will be compulsory. Music, films, and other entertainment will be banned. The opium trade will flourish, as this is a big source of revenue for the Taliban.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC news yesterday: "This is manifestly not Saigon." It just looks like it, what with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country and posting to his Facebook page: "In order to avoid a flood of blood, I thought it was best to get out." He knows the blood in question would have been his, had he not beat a hasty retreat.
It is likely that there will actually be a peaceful transfer of power. Think: Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, when there was a peaceful transfer of power from the Confederacy to the Union after one side unconditionally surrendered to the other. So was it in Kabul yesterday. There is some reason to believe that the Taliban will let the U.S. evacuate Americans if they want to avoid endless drone strikes in the weeks ahead.
Now the spinning will begin. The administration has four talking points ready to roll:
- This is not Saigon
- The White House was prepared for this
- We couldn't wait any longer
- This is all Donald Trump's fault
All of them are going to come under fire. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) told MSNBC: "It does feel like [the fall of Saigon] today." And she's not the only one. Republicans are going to have a field day with this. Of course, Blinken and others are going to say: "Would you have preferred that more Americans got slaughtered?"
As to being prepared, there were no good solutions. If 20 years of American support and training under both Democratic and Republican administrations couldn't do the job, why should anyone have expected that 22 years or 25 years of support would have ended any differently?
About not waiting any longer, clearly another year was not in the cards, but it is possible that the administration could have negotiated with the Taliban and gotten another month or two for a graceful evacuation. The Taliban probably would have accepted that out of fear that a hard "no" would have resulted in drone strikes on Taliban sites all over the country. That said, the photo-ops might have been prettier in that scenario, but the end result likely wouldn't change: Americans are likely going to escape the country either way, and the people of Afghanistan are in for a brutal time either way.
And some of it definitely is Trump's fault. He told the American people that the Taliban was a partner for peace. He set in motion the withdrawal. There was no turning back. Also, by and large, the American people have had it with endless wars in the Middle East.
How this affects domestic politics largely depends on how the Taliban act in the next few days. If they are smart, they will allow all the Americans to withdraw without any bloodshed and maybe even take Afghans who helped them, as well. If they then concentrate on oppressing women and forcing men to live like they did in the 8th century, but prevent any terrorist groups from operating in the country, the U.S. will leave them alone. Pity for the Afghans, but if 20 years of help and $88 billion in military aid couldn't make them capable of defending themselves, probably nothing can. If this transpires, Biden will be able to crow: "I got us out of that swamp safely." If the Republicans counter with: "We should have stayed another 20 years," they will lose that battle. On the other hand, if the Taliban kill a lot of Americans as they are evacuating, Biden will get the blame and there is nothing he can do about it. He probably should have sent another 10,000 soldiers there just to shore up the withdrawal process. (V)
Joe Biden is definitely a car guy, but he wants it both ways. On the one hand, he supports a massive increase in the use of electric cars. But he is also imploring OPEC and Russia to pump more oil to lower gas prices and is issuing permits for drilling on federal land at a pace exceeding what Trump did. Progressive Democrats are happy with the first part and very unhappy with the second part. They want gas prices to skyrocket in order to make electric cars more attractive, but Biden knows that soaring gas prices are political suicide. So he is caught between the policies he wants and the need to win elections in order to carry them out.
Of course, the President is taking flak for trying to have it both ways. Deirdre Shelly, an organizer for the Sunrise Movement, a grassroots environmental group, said: "Biden can't be the climate leader he thinks he is if he's lobbying oil states to produce more fossil fuels." Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said: "[I]ncreasing oil production guarantees that we will suffer far worse climate disasters than what we're seeing right now." Biden's team helpfully pointed out that losing the House or Senate in 2022 over gas prices would be a huge blow to his climate agenda. It's unfortunately true. Unless the Democrats keep control of the House and Senate, the Republicans will block all of his action on climate change starting in 2023. Biden is fully aware of this and thus is trying to have it both ways.
Also irritating to climate activists is that the bipartisan infrastructure bill contains a much greater emphasis on fixing roads and building new ones compared to Biden's original plan, which would have emphasized trains and public transit. The Democrats can pour more money into those items in the reconciliation bill, but they can't reduce the spending on roads in the bipartisan bill. Many activists feel that there can't be real progress on stopping climate change unless people drive less, so spending money to make driving cheaper, easier, and more convenient is counterproductive. They don't see the politics here, but Biden certainly does. (V)
Donald Trump's influence on Congress varies enormously between the chambers. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is Donald Trump's puppet, licks his boots in public, and is willing to do whatever his master wants, regardless of the consequences. Many members of his caucus don't actually like Trump, but are scared witless of opposing him in public. Over in the Senate, by contrast, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dislikes Trump, is not afraid of him, is increasingly willing to make that clear in public, and does what he thinks is best for his caucus, with or without Trump's approval. The influence gap between the two chambers is striking.
Case in point is the infrastructure bill. Over one-third of the Senate Republican conference voted for it, including McConnell. That's not going to happen when the vote is taken in the House. The Republican conference might even be unanimous against it. How come?
One reason is that McCarthy is basically a coward, whereas turtles have hard shells. McCarthy probably understands that having the Republicans get some of the credit for improvements to infrastructure is better for his party than the Democrats doing the whole thing in the reconciliation bill with Republicans getting no credit, but he is afraid that Trump will criticize him and he can't take that. McConnell couldn't care less what Trump thinks or says. He does what he thinks will help get his old job of majority leader back and Trump be damned. Trump had some power over McConnell when he was president, but he has zero power over McConnell as ex-president and the Minority Leader knows that.
Another reason is that two-thirds of the senators are up in 2024 or 2026 and are making a bet that The Donald's influence on the voters will be much less by then. In contrast, every House Republican has to face the voters next year and none of them want Trump actively supporting a primary opponent.
Finally, many House districts are so gerrymandered that members from them never fear losing a general election. They fear only a primary from the right. This means that they don't care what Democrats in their districts want. While the Senate represents a gerrymander of the entire country, enough states are potentially competitive that if a senator votes against a bill the public really likes, they have to worry about Democratic and independent constituents more than House members do.
This said, Trump still has some influence in the Senate. Four members of McConnell's leadership team voted against the bipartisan bill: John Barrasso (WY), Joni Ernst (IA), Rick Scott (FL), and John Thune (SD). All of them want to climb the leadership ladder and know that full-blown opposition from Trump could be an impediment. (V)
The 2020 census data was released last Thursday, but 5 years ago, Donald Trump intuited what was going to be the big story in it. The census showed that the majority of the country's 3,143 counties lost population while a small number grew strongly. The ones that lost people are largely rural, white, and conservative. The ones that grew are the ones containing substantial cities, are younger, and are more ethnically diverse.
Imagine that you are living in a dying county where all the young people leave as soon as they finish high school. And you read about bustling cities that are full of people that don't look like you and/or have different values from yours but seem to be thriving, whereas nobody seems to give a hoot about what happens to you. One can easily imagine these people becoming bitter and angry and easy prey for someone who said his mission was to make America great again—that is, bring back the old days. Trump, a billionaire New Yorker who was in the high-end real estate business, and who was about as different from the people being left behind as one could be, got it. He understood their feelings better than Jeb!, Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) or any other politician and offered himself as their leader. He also threw in some white supremacism and they had a deal.
Trump still understands that his audience is the people in the dying counties. For example, his super PAC is called "Save America," with the emphasis on trying to stop the demographic and other changes the country is going through. While the nature of his appeal is visible in retrospect, it wasn't in real time. If it had been, someone a lot more plausible than a New York City-based real estate magnate would have noticed and done it first. Some senator or governor from a state that was bleeding people and going nowhere would have been a much more plausible spokesman for these people. But Trump realized the potential here before anyone else and rode that horse to victory in 2016.
Of course, it is possible that leaders of the Republican Party sensed what Trump did but didn't think that hitching their wagon to a dying breed was a good long-term political strategy. Better to appeal to people in business and people in suburbs who didn't like being taxed to pay for welfare given to minorities in inner cities. On paper, that made sense. Besides, that was where the money was. But Trump never sat down and carefully weighed the "suburban strategy" vs. the "rural strategy." He went with his gut and got it right, at least in the short term. (V)
The status of Native Americans is a bit bizarre. On the one hand, the U.S. government has negotiated numerous treaties with various tribes, treating them effectively as sovereign nations. On the other hand, since 1924 all Native Americans born on reservations have been U.S. citizens and since 1957, they have been allowed to vote. But fully a third of them are not registered even though that is allowed in every state.
In close elections, every vote matters. Navajo and Hopi tribal members in Arizona cast 60,000 ballots in 2020, most of them for Democrats. Many of them were disgusted with Donald Trump and his white supremacist views. Without the Native American votes, Biden would have lost the state. Another state where Native Americans play a big role is North Carolina. If more of them had voted there, Biden might have carried the state.
Biden understands that and is trying to work with them on issues of concern to the tribes, including voting rights and the environment. The American Rescue Plan sent $31 billion to tribal governments, so he is definitely putting his money (well, the taxpayers' money) where his mouth is. Tribal leaders have noticed. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said: "It's as much about the respect as it is about the dollars."
For Biden and the Democrats, the difference between winning and losing in some states in 2022 and 2024 could depend on getting more Native Americans registered and getting them to the polls. While some tribes lean Republican, on the whole Native Americans are Democrats. So, for Biden and the Democrats, the difference between winning and losing in some states in 2022 and 2024 could depend on getting more Native Americans registered and getting them to the polls. But many states have put up hurdles to make it harder for Native Americans to vote. In Montana, North Dakota, and some other states, the nearest polling location is often an hour from reservations—and many Native Americans do not have cars. States have also restricted absentee voting and, even where that is possible, are passing laws that no one can collect ballots from multiple people except close relatives. Other states have banned the use of tribal ID cards as a legitimate form of ID for voting, even though the U.S. recognizes tribal governments as legitimate governments. Many Native Americans have no other form of ID.
A number of tribal leaders are pleased that Biden became the first president to appoint a tribal member to the cabinet. Sec. of the Interior Deb Haaland, who oversees tribal relations with the federal government, is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe. They call her "Auntie Deb" and are very proud of her. (V)
The GOP Senate primary in Missouri for the seat Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is vacating has an interesting cast of characters, including a former governor who tied up a woman and took nude pictures of her against her will, a guy who (illegally) pointed a gun at peaceful protesters near his house, and the state's attorney general. The latter, Eric Schmitt, was supposed to be the adult in the room. Maybe not.
Schmitt has released a video. It is all about Trump, who is not, it should be pointed out, running for the Missouri Senate seat. Here is the video:
It starts out with a clip of Trump saying that if we [the Republicans] don't find out how they [the Democrats] cheated, we won't win in 2022 or 2024. Then there are some voiceovers about how the [2020 presidential election] was rigged. Finally Schmitt comes on for a couple of seconds saying that one of his jobs is to defend election integrity. Cut to a TV anchor saying that Schmitt is leading a group of state attorneys general trying to overturn the election. Next comes a section in which Trump says China must be held accountable for releasing the coronavirus followed by a statement from Schmitt agreeing with Trump. Then more Trump, who is now saying the country has been gripped by violent mobs, followed by Schmitt saying how he has been working with Trump to fight the violent mobs. The visual here is people climbing over Trump's unbreachable wall. Next, another clip of Trump saying how he will make America great again in a way that would have made Mussolini jealous.
This could have been a Trump ad. Normally, a sitting AG would talk about all the terrible criminals he put behind bars, the gangs he rounded up, and so on. The only things Schmitt is advertising are how he sued to overturn the election, how he sued China, and how he has worked with Trump on the America First agenda. If you want to see how fascism with an American flavor looks, watch the ad. It really makes the guy who wanted to shoot the Black Lives Matters protesters and the guy who took the nude photos of the woman he tied up look pretty tame by comparison. What has happened to the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower when a guy who was drummed out of office for sexual assault is the moderate candidate? (V)
The 2022 Senate map is still surprisingly unsettled. In some states, like Missouri (above), battles between the sexual abusers, gun nuts, and neo-Fascists are in full swing. But in four states, Republican incumbents haven't yet said whether they are going to run for reelection. One Democrat hasn't decided either. Needless to say, the chances that any seat flips change, often fairly radically, if any incumbent retires. Control of the Senate could easily come down to what happens in these races. The story is different in each of the five. Here is a summary of Politico's rundown on the five races.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) hasn't said yet whether she will run. Her problem is that Donald Trump hates her with a white-hot passion.
She doesn't believe he won the election and she voted to convict him in his second Senate impeachment trial. Oh, and she was one of
the key players in drawing up the bipartisan infrastructure bill that he opposes.
What's not to hate there? Trump hates her so much he has even endorsed an opponent he never heard of, knows nothing about, and whose name he
probably can't pronounce: Kelly Tshibaka. A complicating factor is the new top-four open primary followed by a ranked-choice general election.
There are scenarios in which Murkowski wins, in which Tshibaka wins, and maybe even in which a Democrat wins. It's hard to game this one when we
don't even know who the Democrat will be, let alone the fourth candidate. And if Murkowski decides she's had enough, it will get very wild and woolly.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will be 89 on Election Day 2022 and 95 at the end of another term. Even in Senate years that is getting on.
Grassley is very popular and if he runs, he will win easily. The average
for an 88-year-old man is 4.7 years. So statistically, he would not be expected to live to the end of another term. Does
he want to die in the saddle? He has said he will decide by October. If he decides to call it a day, there are plenty of
Republicans in statewide office who could run, not to mention House members. Grassley's grandson is also a strong
possibility. The Senator is unbeatable but with someone else, it may matter who the actual candidates are. Former
representative Abby Finkenauer has declared for the Democratic primary, but if Grassley calls it quits, there will be
- South Dakota: Sen. John Thune (R-SD) is the minority whip. He could one day become leader
of the GOP caucus, if he hangs on long enough to attend Mitch McConnell's farewell party, which hasn't been scheduled
yet. If Thune runs, Trump will strongly oppose him and back someone else in the primary. South Dakota is a very red
state, so the Democrats' only realistic hope here is that Thune retires, some other Republican wins the primary, and
that Republican turns out to have a major skeleton in his closet that comes out in the fall. Think: accused ephebophile
Roy Moore, whose Alabama Senate run was wrecked once he was accused of being an ephebophile by several women.
- Vermont: Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) is much beloved in Vermont. He won his last three general
election races by 46, 78, and 28 points, respectively. Everyone in the state has probably met him multiple times. There
is no question that he will win in a romp if he runs. The problem is that he is 81 and the governor of Vermont, Phil
Scott, is a Republican. If the Senator eats too much of that creamy local ice cream to demonstrate his loyalty to the
state, has a heart attack, and dies, the Republicans will pick up a seat (at least until the special election that is
required) that they would struggle to win outright. Leahy's younger than Grassley, but still no spring chicken. If he
decides to retire, Scott will probably run and might win. If Leahy runs, Scott probably won't challenge him. Tough call
- Wisconsin: This is the biggest unknown of them all. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) pledged that
he would serve only two terms. The second one ends on Jan. 3, 2023. Will he break his promise and run for a third term? He
hasn't said. It is also not clear whether the Republicans are better off with him or without him in the race. He is
extremely Trumpish in a state that Joe Biden won. If Johnson runs, the winner of the Democratic primary is going to make
the entire campaign about his Trumpyness—in particular, the Senator's willingness to overturn the 2020 election results. On
the other hand, in a swing state, the Democrats also have a better-than-average shot at an open seat.
The Chair of the NRSC, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), said he is confident that all four Republicans will ultimately throw their hats in the ring. Other Republicans are not so sure. And Grassley is the only one who has even given a hard date for when to expect an announcement. (V)
Republicans are going to gerrymander the living daylights out of the maps in Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio. The only big states where Democrats can do the same are Illinois and New York. One biggish state where they could possibly pick up a seat or two is New Jersey. However, New Jersey has an independent 13-member commission that draws the map. Note that we said "independent," not "nonpartisan." The way it works is that the state's top Democrats pick six members, the state's top Republicans pick six members, and the 12 members pick the tiebreaker. If they can't agree, which is practically guaranteed given the partisan nature of redistricting, the state Supreme Court picks the lucky #13.
Well, the 12 members couldn't agree and the state Supreme Court just selected retired state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, a graduate of Harvard Law School who works at a law firm with ties to the state Democratic establishment. Wallace is Black. He beat out Marina Corodemus, a former state judge who is not Black.
Democrats are very happy with Wallace. Several of their representatives, including Josh Gottheimer, Andy Kim, Tom Malinowski, and Mikie Sherrill, are in shaky districts, and would like them beefed up. They would also love to pick up NJ-02, an R+1 district currently occupied by turncoat Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ). If the commission makes the district a bit bluer, then the chance of taking back the seat will rise.
In the end, the six Republicans will draw a map favorable to themselves and so will the six Democrats. Then Wallace gets to make the call. Democrats are hoping he will side with them. (V)
He went from nowhere to somewhere faster than the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan, and since then Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has demonstrated that his rise was no mistake and that he is a force to be reckoned with. He had no national—or even statewide—experience when Joe Biden tapped him for the cabinet. But in a scant six months, he has learned the ropes and is now one of the most important cabinet officers.
Part of his ascent has been due to the fact that infrastructure is the area that Biden has chosen to push the hardest, and roads, rail, airports, and harbors all are within the scope of his department. But a lot of it has also been due to his skill dealing with others in the government. He has picked the brain of Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) to find out which senators are close to Biden and which are not. He even courts Republicans and gets along fine with the famously irascible Rep. Don Young (R-AK). He went for a bike ride with Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). He understands that good personal relations make it a lot easier to deal with people, even people who don't agree with him on all the issues.
He also sees himself as the chief salesman for Biden's plans on infrastructure and is constantly on television. He is a fixture at dinner parties, Zoom meetings and photo ops. He gives out his phone number to members of Congress freely. Buttigieg also has good relations with leaders from minority communities. If a reporter from the East Cupcake Middle School Gazette wants an interview with him, she'll get it. And if she wants to conduct the interview in Spanish, or French, or Arabic, or Dari, no problem.
Buttigieg is extremely focused and knowledgeable and answers questions directly and authoritatively, with little mumbo jumbo. He sticks to his script and rarely, if ever, makes a gaffe. He's also a gifted public speaker, which certainly helps. And he is good at forging relationships with people who are in power now or who may be later on. For example, he recently grabbed some tacos with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Buttigieg-AOC in 2032? Finally, he's got an excellent political spouse/surrogate in Chasten Buttigieg. Mayor Pete's definitely going to be a force in the Democratic Party in the future. (V)
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Aug14 Saturday Q&A
Aug13 Let the Games Begin
Aug13 The Sh*t Hits the Taliban
Aug13 SCOTUS to Students: Get Vaxxed
Aug13 Hochul Running for Reelection
Aug13 This Week in Schadenfreude
Aug13 It's a Snap Eh-lection
Aug13 Donald Kagan, 1932-2021
Aug12 The Reconciliation Bill Is Not Home Free Yet
Aug12 Judge Orders Trump's Accountants to Give Congress His Tax Returns
Aug12 Dominion Sues the Rest of Them
Aug12 Biden Could Be the Democrats' Last Chance At Winning Back Noncollege White Voters
Aug12 Redistricting in the Big Southern States May Help the Republicans to a House Majority
Aug12 The Government Is Broken
Aug12 Republican Governors Risk Becoming the Face of Anti-COVID Measures
Aug12 Greg Abbott Is Not Ron DeSantis
Aug11 We Told You He's a Dick
Aug11 Onward and Upward on Infrastructure
Aug11 Winning By Losing?
Aug11 Rep. Ron Kind to Retire
Aug11 A Government "Designed for Failure"
Aug10 The Infrastructure Two-Step
Aug10 Trump Buys Some Time on the Tax Front
Aug10 Texas Democrats Buy Some Time on the Voting Front
Aug10 Tim Scott for President?
Aug10 Cuomo Tries to Save His Bacon
Aug10 It's Getting Harder for the Unvaxxed...
Aug10 ...Or Maybe It's Not Getting Hard at All
Aug09 Senate Moves Closer to Passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill
Aug09 Indiana University Students Ask Supreme Court to Block Vaccine Mandate
Aug09 DeSantis Goes All in for the Anti-Mask, Anti-Vaxx Voters
Aug09 California Republican Party Won't Endorse in the Recall Election
Aug09 Iowa Update
Aug09 Democrats Will Test 2022 Strategy This Year
Aug09 Republican Candidates Position Themselves in North Carolina Senate Race
Aug09 Warnock Leads Potential Challengers in Georgia Senate Race
Aug09 In Like a Lamb
Aug09 What Is the Purpose of the AFL-CIO?
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