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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Schumer Promises a Vote on the Reconciliation Bill in January
      •  McConnell Is Actively Courting Manchin
      •  Thune Might Retire
      •  Hope Hicks Joins Team McCormick
      •  Jan. 6 Select Committee Wants to Hear from Jim Jordan
      •  FDA Approves COVID Pill
      •  Biden Extends Student Loan Pause
      •  Democrats Get Their New Jersey Congressional Map
      •  A December to Rhymember (Parts 29-30)

Schumer Promises a Vote on the Reconciliation Bill in January

Stop us if you have heard this one before, but on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promised his caucus a January floor vote on the reconciliation bill. Would he really do that if the votes weren't there? Technically yes, because he can switch his own vote at the last minute and then is allowed to bring it up again. However, if he brings it up and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) votes no, the only one who will be embarrassed will be Schumer. Manchin will just say: "I didn't promise to vote for this bill." And another 1,000 West Virginia Republicans will conclude that he is better at stopping socialism than any Republican.

Of course, by then Joe Biden may have conceded and given Manchin what he wants and then the bill may have 50 votes. By every indication, Manchin really does want a bill. He just doesn't want a bill that looks like a Christmas tree festooned with many sparkly ornaments. That doesn't mean he wants to give all the Democrats in the House a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings, even though his state would be the main supplier of that product.

The fundamental problem the Democrats have is that the Party is a loose federation of different interest and identity groups, each of which has a different agenda. So when the bill was constructed, everybody got to hang their favorite ornament on the tree. To get the total cost under $2 trillion for 10 years—which Manchin insists upon—most of the programs expire within a couple of years. Democrats hope that Republicans will then extend them. Probably when they visit Disneyland, they spend all their time in Fantasyland and none in Tomorrowland.

Manchin regards this as smoke and mirrors and wants no part of it. He wants fewer items (meaning many groups within the Democratic Party will be hopping mad) and each of them funded for 10 years. If Biden were to pick, say three or four items, such as pre-K, child tax credit, expanding the ACA, and fighting climate change, and fund each for 10 years, then Manchin would climb back on board but progressives would be beside themselves with anger because they think, with some reason, this could be their last chance to change the country until the next census.

In the end, getting three or four programs established for 10 years and then becoming permanent may be a better legacy for Biden than starting 10 programs and having them all vanish in 3 years. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, released a statement earlier this week listing his priorities: financial security for families, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and climate change. The same day, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), chair of the 97-member New Democrat coalition, said she also wants to do just a few things and do them well. Her priorities are the child tax credit, expanding the ACA, and the climate crisis.

Schumer said: "I know we are all frustrated at this outcome [Manchin saying no to this bill]." That's the understatement of the year. But Schumer is not giving up and is determined to pass a bill. Only it is probably going to have to be Manchin's bill, not that of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Schumer also said he wants to bring up a voting-rights bill. Manchin did write one and the rest of the caucus more-or-less agreed to it. The problem is that Republicans will filibuster it and Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) don't want to abolish or change the filibuster. So Schumer's best shot here is to get that duo to agree to make the Republicans actually filibuster. That is, no more just killing the bill because one senator raises his hand and says: "I hereby filibuster this bill." The procedure would have to be to hand the senator the Alabama phone book and say: "The floor is yours." The hard part will be convincing Manchin and Sinema to accept that. If the Republicans could average 8 hours each (which we think is optimistic since some of them are in their 80s), they could drone on for 400 hours, which is less than 17 days. A delay of less than 3 weeks would be fine with the Democrats, but again, everything depends on Manchin and Sinema, not Schumer. (V)

McConnell Is Actively Courting Manchin

He's not even being subtle about it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now actively and openly courting Joe Manchin to switch parties. To lure him, McConnell is offering to make him chairman of the Senate Committee on Coal (well, technically the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources). It is not clear how much of an inducement that is given that Manchin is already chairman of that committee.

So far, Manchin has said he is not interested. It is very unlikely that he will jump ship since most of his priorities do not align with those of the Republicans at all. For example, he is strongly pro-union and wants to tax the rich. Those aren't exactly McConnell's priorities. Also, if Manchin were to switch, he would face one or more actual, long-term Republicans in the 2024 primary and would very likely lose the primary. At least as a Democrat, he is very likely to make it to the general election since there are no other high-level Democrats in the entire state of West Virginia. It's a very conservative state now, but it wasn't always that way. After all, the state was formed during the Civil War when it broke from Virginia over the issue of slavery, which it opposed. That said, the West Virginians opposed slavery because coal miners and other white laborers did not want to be forced to compete with slave labor, so maybe things haven't changed all that much.

Party switching in the Senate happens, but it is very rare. Arlen Specter was elected to the Senate from Pennsylvania as a Republican in 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998, and 2004. Then he switched to the Democrats and lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak in 2010. People don't like turncoats. Jim Jeffords of Vermont was elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1988, 1994 and 2000. In 2001, he left the GOP and became an independent caucusing with the Democrats. This changed the 50-50 Senate to 51-49 in favor of the Democrats. He didn't run in 2006. Joe Lieberman switched to "independent" when he lost the Democratic primary in 2008, and for his last term was officially an "independent Democrat."

While McConnell would love to have Manchin pull a Jeffords and flip control of the Senate (the other way), it is not going to happen because it wouldn't help Manchin in any way. McConnell surely knows that, but it looks nice for him to appear welcoming, even though it is just political theater. (V)

Thune Might Retire

The Senate is aswirl with talk that Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) might not run for reelection next year. The rumors are strong enough that Mitch McConnell went on a radio show to urge Thune to hang around. All Thune has said so far is: "All in due time." He suggested that he would make a decision by Dec. 31.

Thune is widely seen as McConnell's successor if McConnell ever quits, but turtles can live 150 years, so it could be a while. The Minority Leader is only a little bit concerned about losing the seat; it's true that the state had a Democratic senator (Tim Johnson) as recently as 6 years ago, but he began his career in the 1990s, and since then South Dakota has gotten much redder, such that the Democratic bench is very thin. The bigger problem is that absent Thune, there would be a big fight for the #2 position in the caucus and McConnell doesn't want that, knowing it would devolve into Trumpers vs. non-Trumpers.

Why is Thune even considering retiring? First, Donald Trump hates him and will endeavor to find a primary challenger to endorse. That would mean a serious primary, the outcome of which is far from certain. There are plenty of state senators who would be willing to challenge Thune if they knew that they had Trump's backing. Second, Thune's wife, Kimberly, has had it with commuting between D.C. and Sioux Falls, where they have a house. There is no direct flight, so they have to change planes in Chicago and it takes over 5 hours plus the time at the airports at both ends. Third, they have young grandchildren in South Dakota and would like to see them more often. We should know within a week what Thune will do.

Once Thune has made a decision, only one Republican senator up in 2022 will still have a decision to make. That is Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who said 12 years ago he would serve only two terms. But he has gotten used to the power and prestige of being a senator and doesn't want to give those up. His situation is completely different from Thune's, though. If Thune decides to run, he might get a primary from some other Republicans drunk on Trumpism, but if he wins the primary, he is a shoo-in for a fourth term. Johnson probably wouldn't be primaried by a Trumpist because there is no one in Wisconsin Trumpier than he is, but he could well lose the general election to a Democrat. In fact, Johnson's popularity is so low that many Democrats are hoping that he runs, thinking that beating him will be easier than winning an open seat. That doesn't happen very often. (V)

Hope Hicks Joins Team McCormick

Donald Trump's favorite in the Pennsylvania Senate race, Sean Parnell, dropped out due to an unfolding personal scandal. That left Trump without a candidate. NRSC Chairman Rick Scott (R-FL) is trying to recruit hedge fund executive David McCormick. McCormick doesn't live in Pennsylvania and hasn't for many years, but he can self-fund his campaign, and that is just as good as far as a party boss is concerned. But McCormick can't just have the nomination by asking for it. He will first have to defeat TV doctor Mehmet Oz, who is well known (and widely regarded as a [insert sound a duck makes here]).

While Trump hasn't made a choice yet, Politico is reporting that Trump's close adviser Hope Hicks is joining the McCormick campaign. Trump is closer to Hicks than to any other woman but Ivanka. She would never sign up to work with McCormick without Trump's blessing. This almost certainly means that McCormick will now be the (slight?) favorite for the nomination with Trump, Scott, and Mitch McConnell all supporting him. However, Oz is much better known and can also self-fund, so it could be a real race. At least Oz lives in a state that borders Pennsylvania (New Jersey) rather than Connecticut, so he can argue that he is only carpetbagger-lite, not a full carpetbagger.

In contrast, both of the top Democratic candidates live in Pennsylvania. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman was born and raised there, went to Albright College in Reading, PA, and served as mayor of Braddock, PA, so he will pound either Oz or McCormick on the carpetbagger issue. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) was born in D.C. but grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb. He went to Penn and then Penn Law School and now represents PA-17 north of Pittsburgh. His family has deep roots in Pennsylvania: His grandfather was majority leader of the Pennsylvania state Senate. (V)

Jan. 6 Select Committee Wants to Hear from Jim Jordan

Firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) loves to be the center of attention at congressional hearings. He might soon get the chance to be the absolute star of the show. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the Jan. 6 Select Committee, has sent Jordan a letter asking him to have a friendly chat with the Committee.

Jordan hasn't responded yet. Normally he prefers being the guy asking the questions, not the one to whom the questions are directed. He has admitted to talking to Donald Trump at least once on Jan. 6 and Thompson would like to know what he had to say and also what Trump had to say. Jordan could probably get out of revealing what he said by pleading the Fifth Amendment, but he might not be able to use that when asked what Trump said. After all, revealing what Trump said is not likely to implicate him in a crime although it might implicate Trump.

The smart money is betting that he will do everything possible to avoid testifying and if he has to, to try to plead the Fifth on every question. Jordan is the second member of the House Thompson wants to talk to. The other one is Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), who already said he is not interested in having a chat with Thompson and his Committee and their lawyers. (V)

FDA Approves COVID Pill

A lot of the Democrats' hopes in 2022 rest on getting the country back to normal. And that means beating down the coronavirus in all its variants. Yesterday, there was an important development on that front. The FDA has now given emergency authorization to Pfizer's antiviral pill, called Paxlovid, which is only slightly more memorable than its vaccine name, Comirnaty. Maybe some fresh, virus-free blood is needed in Pfizer's drug-naming department.

Paxlovid does not prevent COVID-19, as Comirnaty does in most cases, but it greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization for people who already have the disease. In high-risk adults, it reduced hospitalizations by 89%. In standard-risk adults, it reduced hospitalizations by 70%. It is not an alternative to Comirnaty, but for people who do get COVID-19, vaccinated or not, it could be a life saver. Literally.

Pfizer said that it believes Paxlovid works well against the omicron variant. It is available only on prescription, so people can't stockpile it for future emergency use. But with the government encouraging people to get self-test kits, people who test positive can now quickly go to their doctor and get a prescription.

Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics also have an antiviral pill, but it hasn't been approved yet.

The new pill does have a downside, though. Some people may now decide that they don't need to be vaccinated, saying: "If I get sick, I'll just take the pill and be cured." That is not smart because the pill is not a cure. It merely increases the chance that a patient will end up sick at home instead of sick in a hospital. With the vaccination, the chance of not getting sick at all is greatly increased. Still, having this pill is another step toward normalcy. (V)

Biden Extends Student Loan Pause

Yesterday, Joe Biden announced that people with a federal student loan would not have to make any loan payments until May 1, 2022. That decision affects 27 million people, most of them U.S. citizens above 18 (i.e., eligible voters). Biden, of course, is hopeful that they remember his help on Election Day. He could extend the loan pause again if he wants to.

Democrats in Congress want to go beyond just delaying payments. They want Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt. That would absolutely get the attention of the former students and probably make them grateful come next November. But there is also a downside to canceling student debt. Those people who held one or more jobs while in college and struggled to remain debt free won't get any benefit from canceling student debt and might just be more than a little ticked off to hear that students who borrowed money now don't have to pay it back. Also, young blue-collar workers who didn't go to college may see this as elitist, seeing this as a giveaway to upper middle-class kids who went to college, got good-paying jobs, and now don't have to pay back the loans they took out. It's a tough call for Biden. So far he hasn't made any move on this front. (V)

Democrats Get Their New Jersey Congressional Map

New Jersey has an "independent" commission to draw its political maps. The commission has 13 members. The majority and minority parties in the state Assembly and state Senate each name two members. The state Democratic and Republican parties also each name two members. That gives six Democrats and six Republicans. Those 12 members pick the 13th member. If they can't agree, each party submits one name to the state Supreme Court, which chooses one of them. This guarantees a highly partisan independent commission, rather the opposite of what independent commissions are supposed to be. It also puts all the power in a single person, the 13th member, who is also chair.

So who is the 13th member? The Democrats submitted the name of former Associate Justice John Wallace, who was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2003 by former governor Jim McGreevy (D). In 2010, his term came to an end and then-governor Chris Christie (R) broke with long-standing tradition and didn't renominate him. Wallace is Black and presumably a Democrat since a Democratic governor nominated him and a Republican governor refused to continue him in office.

It goes without saying that the six Democrats on the commission concocted a map and so did the six Republicans. They each wrapped their map in lovely Christmas wrapping paper and presented it to Wallace. Wallace picked the Democratic map. Somehow, to us, this whole process is not exactly what people who want to take the politics out of map making had in mind, but what do we know about New Jersey politics? In contrast, in California and Colorado, the commissions really are stocked with independent citizens and not overt partisans.

Anyway, we now have the New Jersey map, shown on the right below, next to the current map on the left.

New Jersey congressional maps, the one
in place now, and the new one. They actually aren't all that different; the main difference is that NJ-03 and NJ-04 went from
a north and south orientation to an east and west orientation.

Here are the 12 current members of the New Jersey House delegation:

District PVI Incumbent Dem 2020 GOP 2020 Dem - GOP
NJ-01 D+13 Donald Norcross (D) 62.48% 37.52% 24.96%
NJ-02 R+1 Jeff Van Drew (R) 46.17% 51.93% -5.76%
NJ-03 R+2 Andy Kim (D) 53.23% 45.47% 7.76%
NJ-04 R+8 Chris Smith (R) 38.27% 59.88% -21.60%
NJ-05 R+3 Josh Gottheimer (D) 53.15% 45.64% 7.52%
NJ-06 D+9 Frank Pallone (D) 61.17% 38.83% 22.33%
NJ-07 R+3 Tom Malinowski (D) 50.61% 49.39% 1.22%
NJ-08 D+27 Albio Sires (D) 74.03% 24.58% 49.45%
NJ-09 D+16 Bill Pascrell (D) 65.80% 31.86% 33.94%
NJ-10 D+36 Donald Payne (D) 83.28% 13.90% 69.39%
NJ-11 R+3 Mikie Sherrill (D) 53.30% 46.70% 6.61%
NJ-12 D+16 Bonnie Watson Coleman (D) 65.64% 32.58% 33.06%

So, how much of a gerrymander did the Democrats manage to pull off with this so-called independent commission that was forced to choose one partisan map or another? The new map makes it much easier for Democratic Reps. Andy Kim (NJ-03, currently R+2), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05, R+3), and Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11, R+3). All three were in Republican-leaning districts. Now they are in Democratic-leaning districts. Sherrill picked up some Democratic suburbs of Newark. Gottheimer got some Democratic towns along the Hudson River, including Fort Lee. However, the price paid is that Tom Malinowski (NJ-07, R+3) has a tougher race than he had. It is tougher, but by no means hopeless. Biden won his old district by 10 points and his new one by 4 points.

The new map puts Kim and 21-term Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ-04) in the same district, but Smith will probably move to NJ-04, which contains counties he currently represents.

One thing the new map does not do is get revenge on Jeff Van Drew, who was elected as a Democrat but then switched to the GOP. While the Democrats would no doubt have liked to stick it to him for his desertion, shoring up Kim was more important than getting even with Van Drew, so they bit their lips and gave Kim a couple of Van Drew's Democratic-leaning counties, thus removing Democrats from NJ-02 and indirectly helping Van Drew.

In effect, New Jersey Democrats elected to play defense. They didn't go after the two Republican congressmen at all. Instead, they shored up three of their own members in reddish purple swing districts and took them out of immediate danger. This is the same basic strategy the Nevada Democrats adopted, as we discussed last week. As we have noted many times, partisan redistricting commissions—and this one was as partisan as possible, with Democrats drawing a gerrymandered map and the Republicans drawing a gerrymandered map and then asking a Democrat to pick one—generally have to choose whether to play offense or defense. Depending on the lay of the land and the possibilities available, they pick one. Now we see that in two states where Democrats were (effectively) in charge, they decided that not losing current members had priority over risking everything and trying to grab GOP seats. (V)

A December to Rhymember (Parts 29-30)

Advent is almost over, but are the poems coming to an end? We'll find out soon. Here are the previous entries:

We start with a response to yesterday's entries, courtesy of D.J.M. in Salmon Arm, BC, Canada, who writes, '"Just doing our sacred duty as Americans, eh.'? Them's fightin' words":

J.L. is worried about Canadian ruse
But I think they should lay off of the booze
Stop being a bystander
And fix your gerrymander
Or we'll send you another Ted Cruz

Surely we can all agree that the threat in the last line is taking things just a bit too far, right? No country deserves two Ted Cruzes. Or one, for that matter.

Meanwhile, here's an entry from M.S. in Brooklyn, NY:

Boebert and Gohmert and Greene--
Which one has the nastiest gene?
Whichever you choose,
they hate Blacks, Gays, and Jews.
They give a new meaning to mean.

Oy, vey!

Before anyone writes in to object to the last line as a violation of limerick form, note that M.S. is a professional poet. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec22 Biden Speaks
Dec22 Scott Perry, by Contrast, Declines to Speak
Dec22 Biden Administration Finally Has Its Ambassadors
Dec22 Dominion 1, Fox 0
Dec22 Trumper vs. Non-Trumper Senate Races Already Getting Ugly
Dec22 Iowa May Get a Temporary Reprieve
Dec22 A December to Rhymember (Parts 27-28)
Dec21 The Day After
Dec21 Pandemic: Deja Vu All Over Again?
Dec21 1/6 Committee Turns Inward
Dec21 Trump Sues Letitia James
Dec21 Democrats Get Good News from California...
Dec21 ...But Bad News from Florida
Dec21 A December to Rhymember (Parts 25-26)
Dec20 Manchin Doesn't Want to Build Back Better
Dec20 Democrats Are Hoping They Lose Only 10-20 Seats in the House
Dec20 House Republicans Are Already Planning What They Will Do with the Majority in 2023...
Dec20 ...But Some Republicans Are Worried about Roe v. Wade
Dec20 Omicron Is Going to Take over This Winter
Dec20 Capitol Rioter Gets Sentence of Over 5 Years
Dec20 Another House Democrat Calls It Quits
Dec20 The FDIC Is in Turmoil
Dec20 In Nevada, It's Environmentalists vs. Environmentalists
Dec20 Johnny Isakson Passes Away
Dec19 Sunday Mailbag
Dec18 Saturday Q&A
Dec17 Build Back Better Will Wait Until Next Year
Dec17 FDA Makes More Relaxed Abortion-Pill Rules "Permanent"
Dec17 Rep. Jim Jordan Sent Insurrectionist Text Message
Dec17 Gonna Turn My Red State...Redder
Dec17 This Week in Schadenfreude
Dec17 Is BoJo about to BoGo? Readers Weigh In...
Dec17 A December to Rhymember (Parts 22-23-24)
Dec16 Is This The 1/6 Committee's Endgame?
Dec16 Senate Democrats Are Pushing Hard to Change the Filibuster Rules
Dec16 DeSantis Announces His Christmas Stunt
Dec16 Voter Fraud Is Almost Nonexistent
Dec16 When Fox Says "Jump," Oz Says "How High?"
Dec16 Jackson to Bow Out of North Carolina Senate Race
Dec16 Is BoJo about to BoGo?
Dec16 A December to Rhymember (Parts 19-20-21)
Dec15 Corporations Are Giving to Republicans--Again
Dec15 Trump Loses in Court--Again
Dec15 Debt Ceiling Crisis Averted--Again
Dec15 House Votes to Hold Meadows in Contempt
Dec15 Omicron Is Bad News for the Democrats
Dec15 Name Calling Works
Dec15 Trump: Mike Pence is Mortally Wounded
Dec15 Delaying North Carolina Primaries Could Affect Many Races
Dec15 Nevada Democrats Play Defense