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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2020: (None)
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Political Wire logo Gaetz and Greene Pick Up Where Trump Left Off
Colleges Crack Down on Unvaccinated Students
Anti-Taliban Fighters Claim Victories
Afghanistan Tests Biden’s Campaign Promise
Taliban to Face Cash Crunch Ruling Afghanistan
Trump Ally Removed from ‘Election Integrity’ Effort

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Holds Forth on Afghanistan
      •  Three Senators Test Positive for COVID
      •  Man Arrested for Threatening to Bomb Capitol
      •  In California, the Drama Intensifies...
      •  ...And in Arizona, the Drama Nears Its Denouement...
      •  ...While in Texas, the Drama Ends
      •  This Week's 2022 Candidacy News

Biden Holds Forth on Afghanistan

We led with Afghanistan for the first four days of this week, so let's just finish the quinate. (There's a word you don't see every day.) On Thursday, Joe Biden sat for his first interview since the Afghanistan withdrawal began and quickly went south, so as to give his views on certain key questions.

Here are the main points raised during the interview, which was conducted by ABC's George Stephanopoulos:

  • Oops!: The interview began with Biden being grilled repeatedly about his overly rosy assessment of the prospects for the Afghan government/army once the U.S. withdrew its support. The President said that nobody foresaw a collapse that rapid. That's fair enough, but it doesn't really answer the question, since pretty much everyone foresaw that the Afghans would collapse eventually. In other words, Biden still has no answer for why he said what he said a couple of weeks ago.

  • It Had to End: On one hand, Biden reiterated—as he always does these days—that his hands were tied by the agreement Donald Trump's administration reached with the Taliban last year. On the other hand, the President said that it was clear that any more time and resources spent on Afghanistan would do no good, and that he would have sought to end the war even without the Trump agreement in place. The latter admission serves to underscore what a mess the situation was, but also relieves Trump of at least a little responsibility, since it means The Donald's "peace" agreement only established the "when" and not the "what."

  • No Organized Retreats: Biden observed that something like this is always going to be chaotic. That's a self-serving statement, yes, but Stephanopoulos could not argue otherwise, and we've written the same thing a couple of times this week.

  • The Current Mission: The President said the U.S. is still working to extract about 15,000 American citizens and 50,000-60,000 Afghans (he asserted that the 80,000 figure that's been bandied about is too high). He also noted that it's going well so far, nobody appears to have been executed, and that he will use U.S. troops as needed to get everyone out.

  • America's Reputation: In response to Stephanopoulos' observation that the Chinese are laughing at the U.S. and telling key players in the Far East (South Korea, Japan, etc.) that the Americans cannot be trusted to keep their word, Biden said that of course the Chinese are trying to get some propaganda value out of this, and that the U.S. has honored its agreements so many times that the nation's allies know that Americans are trustworthy.

  • Future Threats: Asked about a possible resurgence of ISIS/Al-Qaeda, Biden said that was a risk, but that the U.S. would be watching carefully. He also made the observation, which seems fair to us, that there are even bigger threats to America, like those in Syria and East Africa, but nobody talks about those.

Biden's approval rating has been on a clear downward trajectory this week, and he realized he needed to get out ahead of certain parts of this story, especially since his speech on Monday did not have the desired effect on the American people. On the whole, we would say he did pretty well for himself, and got some useful talking points out there.

There's one other bit of news on this front; someone dug up footage of Biden from 1975, back when he still had a full head of hair, in which he expressed strong opposition to the evacuation of Vietnamese refugees from Saigon. Since he now supports the evacuation of Afghan refugees, the general notion here is that he's a hypocrite. However, the Afghans are folks to whom the U.S. owes a specific debt of gratitude, and who might well be executed if they remain in Afghanistan, specifically because of their connection to the U.S. Neither of those things were true of the great majority of the Vietnamese evacuees. On top of that, people do change over the course of nearly half a century, and the view of issues when sitting on Capitol Hill is sometimes very different from the view when sitting in the White House. In other words, we don't buy it that the old footage is terribly damning for Biden. (Z)

Three Senators Test Positive for COVID

Another day, another high-profile politician testing positive for COVID-19. Actually, on Thursday, it was three of them. In the span of a few hours, Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Angus King (I-ME) all announced that they had tested positive for COVID.

Is this just the start of something big and unpleasant for the membership of the upper chamber? It's possible; the Senate has been in recess for about a week, and given the incubation times, it could be the case that the trio got COVID from their colleagues, or gave it to them. On the other hand, senators interact with a lot of people, so it could just be a coincidence. Presumably, if there are other senators affected, they'll announce by the end of the weekend.

As to the lessons that people might take from this, it's going to be pretty easy for everyone to confirm their pre-existing notions. All three senators are immunized, and expected to make a full recovery, and so pro-vaccine folks will observe that the vaccine really does protect against the worst parts of the Delta variant. On the other hand, anti-vaccine folks will observe that even if you get vaccinated, you can still get sick, so what's the point? It might be nice if the senators' story inspired a few more folks to get the shot, just to be safe, but we're not sanguine about that. Damned confirmation bias. (Z)

Man Arrested for Threatening to Bomb Capitol

Speaking of influence, Floyd Ray Roseberry is a 49-year-old man who has clearly hit a rough patch in life, who has obvious mental and emotional issues, and who is very, very angry. And yesterday, he decided that the best way to deal with all of this was to fire up his Facebook account and to host a livestream in which he drove onto the grounds of the Library of Congress and threatened to blow up the members of the legislature with a bomb in his truck. The LoC and the Capitol are next to each other, with about 1,000 feet between them, so the potential danger was real. However, when Roseberry was arrested, it turned out that while he had bomb components, he had no working bomb. It is unknown where he might have gotten the idea that violence against Congress was a good idea. In completely unrelated news, footage has already surfaced of Roseberry participating in a pro-Donald Trump "stop the steal" rally held a week after last year's election.

This is news that should horrify everyone, most obviously the members of Congress, who have now seen their life and limb threatened twice in the last 8 months. Not every member was horrified, however. It did not take long before one of the half-dozen or so usual suspects, from whom we've come to expect this sort of thing, was on Twitter to tacitly express support for the would-be bomber. It might take you a few guesses to get to the right person—was it Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)? Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO)? Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ)? But you might also nail it on the first guess, and even if you didn't, eventually you'd get to Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL). Here's the tweet:

It would seem that if the price of fighting the socialists is that a few members (all members?) of Congress have to die, then it's a fair tradeoff.

Many of Brooks' colleagues (almost all of them Democrats) condemned his tweet. But the only people whose opinion matters to him are the voters of Alabama, who might well make him one of their senators next year. Will they hold him accountable for such an outrageous and dangerous statement? Not likely. And until there is a political price to be paid, Brooks and Greene and Boebert and the rest will keep saying these things. The risk is that the next person, unlike a Floyd Ray Roseberry or a Cesar Sayoc, is actually able to build a bomb and actually detonates it. Such a possibility was unthinkable 30 years ago, but then Timothy McVeigh came along. And McVeigh was radicalized by a political climate that, while divisive, was nowhere near as bad as today's political climate. (Z)

In California, the Drama Intensifies...

When you are just a radio host (or a reality TV star, for that matter), you can say and do a bunch of outrageous stuff and avoid much in the way of recrimination. But once you become a serious candidate for high political office, there's a target on your back, and everyone and their sister is digging for dirt on you. Would-be California governor Larry Elder is learning that lesson firsthand.

Elder is a shock talker who has been spewing noxious stuff for literally decades. And as it became clear that he might just sneak into the California governor's mansion through the back door, it occurred to quite a few folks to search for possible incriminating information by...listening to recordings of his show. Real James Bond-type stuff.

Over the years, Elder has said many things that would be considered racist, if uttered by a white person. He's Black; so, can't use those as ammo. He has also said many things that would be considered sexist, if uttered by a man. He is, in fact, a man,! Among his "greatest hits": he has said that women "exaggerate the problem of sexism;" he has suggested that PMS is just in women's minds; he asserted that "women know less than men about political issues, economics, and current events," making them easy for Democrats to manipulate; and he decreed on Twitter that the women participating in the 2017 Women's March were too ugly to be sexually assaulted.

Not helping Elder on this front is that his ex-fiancee, Alexandra Datig, has gone public with details of their relationship. She alleges that he was often high, he threatened her on a regular basis, and he brandished a gun in her direction on one occasion. Datig said that she fled the relationship because she feared for her safety, but that Elder and his attorneys intimidated her into signing a non-disclosure agreement and a separation agreement before they would leave her alone.

As you might expect, Elder denies everything. It's not entirely a she-said, he-said situation, however, as Politico has laid hands on a copy of the NDA and the separation agreement, and confirmed Datig's description of both documents. It's probably also worth noting that people with nothing to hide are not known for forcing their former romantic partners to sign an NDA. Obviously, Datig chose to break the agreement; she said there is "too much at stake" for her to remain silent.

So, will this damage Elder? Well, much of his support comes from people who listen to his radio show and/or are Donald Trump superfans, and so clearly have no issue with this sort of behavior. That said, if Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is indeed recalled, the election for the choice of successor could be a nail-biter between Elder and Democrat Kevin Paffrath. And if Elder loses even a small fraction of his support, that could be decisive. Further, Democrats/independents who are cranky with Newsom could be persuaded to switch their recall votes to "no," just because of the risk of putting an alleged abuser into the governor's mansion. (Z)

...And in Arizona, the Drama Nears Its Denouement...

Cyber Ninjas can't sit on their "report" about 2020 presidential voting in Maricopa County, AZ, forever (as much as they might like to do so at this point). And so, it will be unveiled very soon; possibly today, but more likely next week.

In anticipation of the release, two key individuals fired preemptive strikes on Thursday with documents of their own. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) issued a detailed report listing all the things wrong with Cyber Ninjas' operation, and the differences between the Ninjas' audit and a real audit conducted by professionals. And Stephen Richer (R), county recorder for Maricopa, circulated an "open letter" to Republicans, slamming the Ninjas as incompetent, and explaining exactly why they deserve that sobriquet.

There is absolutely no doubt that the fix was in when Cyber Ninjas began their work, but now...we don't know exactly what they'll do. They are going to be forced to "show their work"; a judge ruled yesterday that any documentation produced by the audit is a public record, and must be made available. If the report is a fantasy, and the audit records make that obvious, they'll be the butt of jokes for...ever. They'll be unhireable by potential clients; the (Ford) Edsel of consulting firms. Further, as you might have noticed, the lawsuits are flying fast and furious these days. Depending on what claims they make, and which people/companies they point the finger at, they could quickly be the subject of their very own billion-dollar defamation suit, joining a club that already has Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, OAN, Newsmax, and Fox as members. And, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, you'd never want to be in a club that has those folks as members.

Anyhow, the point is, Cyber Ninjas might just have to play it straight—say they didn't come up with much, very possibly blaming the Democrats, the deep state, George Soros, the Man, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Canada for being denied access to Maricopa County's routers. We'll see soon. (Z)

...While in Texas, the Drama Ends

It pretty much had to end this way, and on Thursday it officially did. The Texas Democrats who fled to Washington, DC, in a very high profile case of quorum jumping, have surrendered.

It was impractical for the rebellious members of the Texas state House to remain on the lam for much longer. A few weeks' separation from their daily lives, particularly in the middle of summer, was possible. Carrying that on for months (or longer) would have imposed too much of a burden, financially and otherwise. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), etc., who oppose the changes to the filibuster that would be needed to pass voting rights legislation, are not going to change their minds anytime soon, if they ever do. The fact that they're not even in Washington right now, since the Senate is in recess, makes trying to lobby them even more pointless. On top of that, the day was coming, sooner or later, when Texas officials would act on their authority to arrest the jumpers.

And so, the more restrictive voting rules will be enshrined into Texas law, and sooner rather than later. Maybe even by the end of the weekend. At that point, we will see if the new rules survive the inevitable court challenges, or if Manchin/Sinema finally change their minds. (Z)

This Week's 2022 Candidacy News

The various races across the nation are continuing to take shape. After all, it's a mere 445 days until Election Day 2022.

  • U.S. Senate, Nevada: It's going to be a barnburner. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) is one of her party's most vulnerable senators (along with Raphael Warnock) in 2022, given Nevada's purple-ness and unhappiness about COVID. Things got worse for her this week when a Republican heavyweight jumped into the race in the person of Adam Laxalt. He's won statewide before (he was Nevada AG, 2015-19), and he's got wide name recognition, in part because his father (Pete Domenici of New Mexico) and grandfather (Paul Laxalt of Nevada) were both U.S. senators (Paul was also governor). Whether Adam's ultra-Trumpiness will be a pro or a con in Nevada is not yet clear, but either way, he's a serious threat to unseat Cortez Masto.

  • U.S. Senate, Missouri: You can't beat someone with no one, as we have written many times. The seat currently held by the retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R) could be vulnerable if the Republicans choose the wrong person (like disgraced former governor Eric Greitens) and the Democrats choose the right one. Unfortunately for the blue team, they have yet to recruit a top-flight candidate, and one of their favorite possibilities, namely former governor Jay Nixon, just announced that he's not interested.

    On the other hand, the Republican side of the contest has no shortage of contenders beyond Greitens. Rep. Billy Long is the latest to toss his hat into the ring. He had a meeting with Donald Trump before making the announcement, and came away with the impression that he is the former president's favorite candidate. Trump has yet to endorse, however, and it's likely that candidates will have to spend 6 months kissing the ring before he blesses one of them.

  • U.S. Senate, Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson's (R) seat is one of the two most likely to flip next year (along with Pennsylvania). And so, the aspiring Democratic candidates are coming out of the woodwork. Joining the race in the last week or so are Milwaukee alderwoman Chantia Lewis and activist Steven Olikara. The former is Black, centrist, and an experienced officeholder; the latter is Indian, progressive, and a political newbie. They're intriguing, but will lose to one of the heavyweights in the field, most likely Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D).

  • U.S. Senate, California: There was a chance that Rep. Ro Khanna (D), one of the darlings of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, would take on the more centrist Sen. Alex Padilla (D), who was appointed to the seat when VP Kamala Harris vacated it. However, Khanna announced that he is out. So, Padilla should cruise to reelection.

  • U.S. Senate, Ohio: The Republican senatorial primary in Ohio is going to be a huge battle, but until this week, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) had the Democratic field all to himself. No more. Now lawyer Morgan Harper has jumped in. She is a Columbus native, Black, and a progressive. She ran for the House in 2020 and was defeated by Joyce Beatty in the Democratic primary in OH-03, a horribly gerrymandered D+19 district that is evenly split between whites and minorities.

    Ryan got a big head start and has already raised $2.2 million. He also transferred $1 million from his House account to his Senate account. Ryan has also been endorsed by Beatty. Now that there are two candidates in the race, we expect progressives to endorse Harper and establishment Democrats to endorse Ryan.

Those are the big Senate developments; we'll do some House races early next week. (Z & V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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