Biden’s Approval Rate Has Barely Budged
U.S. Drops Threat to Block Russian Gas Pipelines
Biden Says Fox News Had an ‘Altar Call’
Biden Defends the Filibuster
White House Debates New Masking Push
Cuba Protests Ignite 2024 GOP Primary
• Pelosi Accepts McCarthy's Picks
• Federal Judge Blocks Arkansas Abortion Ban
• Trump Ally Arrested
• Buccaneers Visit White House
• This Week's 2022 Candidacy News
There is a fair bit of bleak news on the pandemic front. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is running wild, with the result that infections are way up in nearly all states. Mask mandates, at least in those states where they are politically viable, may be back soon (and, in fact, are already back in some places, like Los Angeles County). And the CDC announced yesterday that, thanks primarily to the pandemic, U.S. life expectancy dropped a staggering 1.5 years last year.
Unless the lockdowns are to resume, there is only one path forward, and that is more vaccination. The U.S. fell a bit short of Joe Biden's 70% goal for July 4, and—particularly in some states—has very clearly hit the wall, wherein the great majority of unvaccinated people are that way by choice, and are going to be very difficult to persuade to change their minds. An Axios-Ipsos poll, released Monday, puts the problem in stark relief. They asked people about various things that might compel them to get vaccinated:
|Concession||That'd Do It||Probably Not||Definitely Not|
|Vaccine available at doctor's office||26%||16%||55%|
|Paid time off to get vaccinated||24%||11%||63%|
|Discussion with community volunteer||15%||13%||70%|
|Celebrity vaccine endorsement||14%||14%||70%|
In short, those who believe the Justin Bieber PSA is going to be a game-changer have another think coming.
There are three basic problems: (1) for many, the vaccination has become politicized, and taken on Trump vs. the World overtones; (2) for many, disinformation about the vaccines is shaping their decisions, and (3) for many, their pro-Trump/anti-"the libs" political inclinations are being enabled and reinforced by disinformation.
There is little the government can do about the first problem, but the disinformation problem is maddening, and certainly feels tantalizingly solvable. A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) reveals that nearly two-thirds of false information comes from just 12 people. The most famous of the group, which is being called the "disinformation dozen," is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., but the other 11 also have large followings.
Of course, these folks would not have large followings if not for social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook. Twitter tends to do rather better at policing and removing anti-vaxx falsehoods, Facebook not so much. It is no surprise, then, that a frustrated Joe Biden slammed Facebook late last week, declaring that "They're killing people!" Eventually, the White House backed off and softened that, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki explaining that the president just meant "We're in a battle with the virus."
As a sidebar, The Hill—which, remember, tends to produce opinions written from a right-wing perspective—had a piece headlined "Unscripted remarks start to haunt President Biden." They even had quotes from a few anonymous Democratic insiders in which they expressed their "concern" with the President's "gaffes." Maybe these folks have been getting lessons from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). In any event, we're not really buying either half of that headline. The Hill gives no actual hard evidence that Biden is being hurt by his words, and his approval rating is holding firm in the low 50s. Meanwhile, these alleged "gaffes" allow Biden to get something out there, where it can marinate for a day or two, before he (or one of his staff) walks it back. Sure, like any politician, he misspeaks sometimes (e.g., "you ain't Black"). But it's time to recognize that sometimes when he does it, particularly on a Friday, where the statement can linger for 48 hours, it's most certainly scripted.
In other words, we think Biden knew exactly what he was doing when he said what he said about Facebook. And he's right to point a giant finger at the social media giant, as that platform is chock-full of anti-vaxx stuff, and they do a terrible job of policing or removing it. That's not just our perception, either. The CCDH report reveals that 95% of COVID-19 misinformation stays intact on Facebook. Further, 73% of that comes from the disinformation dozen. If the social media platform really and truly wanted to combat the problem, then suspending those folks and removing any content from them would go an awfully long way.
Presumably, a denouement of some sort (or several denouements) will soon be upon us. The social media platforms, Facebook in particular, may conclude they are playing with fire, either in terms of alienating users or risking regulation, and may get serious about actually getting rid of the false information. And the state and/or federal governments may soon be forced to re-implement some sort of none-too-popular restrictions, especially with the school year looming. That will not make people happy, especially given the sense that the pandemic was behind, and not ahead.
What happens if things really get out of hand? Biden does have some options but they won't be popular. He could sign executive orders requiring an officially approved vaccination certificate from anyone trying to
- enter any federal building, park, or property
- enter an airplane, train, bus, or boat that operates interstate or internationally
He could also actively encourage governors and mayors to enforce similar rules within their states and cities. If they did, blue states would be protected, people in red states would get sick and die, and not so many red staters would be able to make it to blue states unless they drove in their own car. It would be extremely unpopular in red states, probably reasonably popular in blue states, and mixed in swing states. It would be an extremely difficult call for him, but doing nothing also has huge political risks. (Z)
On Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made his five selections for the House Select Committee on the January 6 Insurrection. And on Tuesday, with the committee almost ready to begin holding hearings, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her colleagues said they would accept the Minority Leader's choices.
The basic sentiment among Democrats was that the GOP House Conference has so many bomb throwers (at least a couple of dozen), and so many Trump sycophants, and so many members who voted to overturn the election (about 140) that it was too much to hope for five completely acceptable Republican members. At very least, many House Democrats observed, McCarthy did not choose five bomb throwers, and did not choose Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) or Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who are both suspected of complicity in the attacks.
The Committee is still stuck with at least two bomb throwers in the persons of Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN). The latter will serve as ranking member, while the former has not been shy about his plans. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he said that the major question that needs to be answered is why security was so lax on that day. That certainly is an important question, although Jordan already has an answer in mind that is different from the one most other people would have: It's Pelosi's fault.
Put another way, Jordan is a law school grad, and he knows that people want to assign blame for the events of 1/6. So, he and Banks are ready to work hard to point the finger at Pelosi and the Democrats, and to keep from blaming Dear Leader Donald, or any other Republicans, or the Capitol Police. Given the rather significant propaganda apparatus they have at their disposal, they should have no trouble convincing about 30% of the population that when a bunch of Republicans invaded the Capitol in order to block the election of a Democratic president, and the Republican then-president sat on his hands for three hours immediately after encouraging that invasion, the Democrats were really the ones responsible. (Z)
As everyone knows, the various red states would like to ban abortions. Or, at very least, their leaders want it to look that way, so that their voters will be pleased. To that end, quite a few of those states have passed laws that make it basically impossible to get an abortion unless it's within 6 hours of conception, the procedure is performed on the same day as a blue moon, the woman can recite pi to at least 314 digits, the doctor is shorter than 4'10" or taller than 7'4" and the paperwork is countersigned by a rabbi, a left-handed shortstop, and at least one member of the cast of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."
Arkansas passed such a law (though in their case it's a Hindu mystic instead of a rabbi), and on Tuesday, District Judge Kristine G. Baker confirmed what we already knew, namely that such bans are not legal under federal law, as currently constituted. So, she blocked the Arkansas law, becoming the second federal judge to make such a ruling this year, after District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis in South Carolina.
This is all part of the plan, of course. The folks in Arkansas, and South Carolina, and half a dozen other red states that have passed restrictive abortion bans fully expected to get slapped down at the district level, since district judges are bound by existing precedent. The end game is to get these cases before the Supreme Court, where existing precedent might just get changed. The Court has already agreed to hear a case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the Mississippi statute is upheld, it would be a big change to existing law, since 15 weeks is well before fetal viability. It is possible the Arkansas and South Carolina appeals will be rolled into the Mississippi case, as sometimes happens with SCOTUS jurisprudence. Either way, however, we are a little less than a year from learning if the 6-3 conservative Court plans to declare open season on Roe v. Wade.
But once again, you should be careful what you wish for. You might get it. If Roe is overturned or hamstrung so much that half the states can de facto undo it by laws like Arkansas', that will mostly affect women and young people—groups that skew Democratic. Turning them into one-issue voters who will walk over broken glass barefoot to vote is probably not what the various Southern governors have in mind. (Z)
Brace yourself, because you might otherwise faint due to shock, but a close friend and ally of Donald Trump was arrested on Tuesday and charged with seven felony counts.
Once you have taken a deep breath and had time to recover, we can tell you that the latest Trump insider to be popped is Tom Barrack, who chaired the former president's inaugural committee, and who is now in possible hot water for unregistered (and thus illegal) foreign lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal agents.
Of course, the real surprise here isn't that a Trump associate is in trouble with the law; he's the eighth person to be so charged, and at least the third to be charged with unlawfully lobbying on behalf of a foreign agent (Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn also got in trouble for this, and Rudy Giuliani could be next in line). The real surprise, actually, is that there haven't (as yet) been more Trump intimates charged with this particular crime. Consider the following observations, all of which we would regard as indisputable:
- Trump has, for decades, had a tendency to surround himself with shady characters.
- While president, Trump did little to nothing to cure himself of this habit. There was lots of upside for him, since
shady people could do his dirty work for him, while at the same time he had lots of leverage over them thanks to the
pardon power. Meanwhile, there was little downside, since his base didn't care if his underlings were shady, and didn't
punish him for it by withholding their money or votes.
- For shady associates who wanted to "get while the gettin' was good," the most valuable commodity they had to offer was access to the president. And while corporations pay well for that sort of access, it's nothing compared to what foreign governments can and will pay.
In short, the circumstances were absolutely ripe for this kind of behavior.
We shall see what comes of this. Few people care too much about the fate of Barrack. However, many people care about the fate of Donald Trump, and would like to see him pay some real price for the bad behaviors he engaged in himself, or that he enabled in others. The former president is, of course, very good at leaving others holding the bag, so the odds are good that Barrack's troubles do not attach to him any more than the troubles of Manafort, Flynn, or the other crooks in the administration did.
On the other hand, there are three differences here worth noting: (1) the pardon power is no more, (2) Giuliani and Barrack could exert pressure on each other to sing and to save their own hides, and (3) the inauguration that Barrack oversaw also appears to be shady and is also being investigated, specifically with regards to the possibility that illegal foreign contributions were solicited/hidden/laundered. So, it's not impossible this could be the first chapter in something bigger. (Z)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were an underdog heading into this year's Super Bowl. However, they are members of the National Football Conference, also known as "The Conference of Champions (and the Detroit Lions)," and that was enough to carry the day, as they steamrolled the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9. In so doing, they followed in the footsteps of the mighty Green Bay Packers, who beat the Chiefs in the very first Super Bowl, albeit by the even more lopsided score of 35-10. The Packers' win was long enough ago that the game hadn't even been named "Super Bowl" yet.
Anyhow, the immense glory of the Green Bay franchise notwithstanding, the actual news here is that the Buccaneers visited the White House yesterday. This is the first time since 2017 that a Super Bowl champion was invited to visit the president...and actually showed up, intact. Quarterback Tom Brady, who himself skipped a visit in the Trump years, and also one in the Obama years, even went so far as to joke about his team's surprise win: "Not a lot of people think that we could've won. In fact, I think about 40% of the people still don't think we won. You understand that, Mr. President?" Biden responded by nodding and saying that he does indeed understand. Brady kept going, adding: "We had a game in Chicago where I forgot what down it was. I lost track of one down in 21 years of playing and they started calling me Sleepy Tom. Why would they do that to me?" The quarterback used to be friends (or, at least friendly) with Trump. Not anymore, apparently.
We bring this up because it's been a long time since these sports-teams-to-the-White-House visits have been basically apolitical. During the Obama years, there were generally a handful of football and baseball players who skipped them, in protest of his "socialism" and/or his "divisiveness." And during the Trump years, relatively few non-white players were willing to show up, which sometimes caused embarrassing situations where some small fraction of a team attended, and other situations where Trump pulled the invitation in a fit of pique.
At very least, the near-perfect attendance of the Tampa Bay team, including Brady, suggests that attempts to make Biden as controversial as Trump/Obama just haven't worked, and that he's nowhere near as toxic as his two immediate predecessors were (each of them with different groups of voters, of course). It is possible that the visit even suggests that people in general have grown tired of the constant sniping and pot-shotting, and that there is some desire for a return to the occasional civic ritual where politics can be put aside and everyone can be on the same team for a few hours. (Z)
It's been a couple of weeks since we ran down the latest news in terms of hats being thrown into various rings. Here are some of the more interesting developments on that front in that time:
- U.S. Senate, Wisconsin: If Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) steps down, keeping his two-term promise,
then this represents an excellent opportunity for an ambitious Democrat looking for a promotion. If Johnson does not step
down, given his out-of-step-with-Wisconsin arch-conservatism, it may be an even better opportunity.
Either way, the sharks are already circling. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) officially jumped into the race on Tuesday. He's the state's first Black lieutenant governor, and would be the state's first Black senator if he wins the election. Of course, only 7 states (or 8, depending on whether we say "elected" or "seated") have ever been represented by a Black senator, so that particular ceiling is waiting to be shattered in quite a few states.
There are already seven other Democrats who are running, most notably state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry. One would not expect running a basketball team to qualify someone to be a U.S. Senator, but it worked for Kelly Loeffler in Georgia (admittedly, thanks to a gubernatorial appointment), as well as...former Bucks owner Herb Kohl. Plus, the Bucks won their first championship in 50 years last night, so if ever the time was ripe, it's right now. And if the Bucks go back-to-back, which is certainly possible, they'll win title #2 just about a month before the Wisconsin primary.
- U.S. Senate, Arkansas: Sen. John Boozman (R) is pretty popular, and won reelection back in
2016 by 23 points. So, challenging him as he runs for a third term would seem to be foolhardy. Maybe former NFL player
(and U.S. Army veteran) Jake Bequette (R) took a few too many hits to the helmet, because he's going to
give it a shot.
Bequette will run to the right of Boozman, arguing that the Senator is not Trumpy enough. The former Arkansas Razorback
and New England Patriot says that he wants to stop the process of America being "taken over by radical socialists."
Because if there's anywhere that shows evidence of the insidious influence of creeping socialism, it's ruby-red
- U.S. Senate, Missouri: Although the Missouri seat will be open, it's pretty safe for the
Republicans unless disgraced former governor Eric Greitens (R) gets the nod. Then, the Missouri GOP could be in a
similar situation as the Alabama GOP was with accused pedophile Roy Moore (R), the failed politician who tends to sue
folks if they mention that he is an accused pedophile.
Anyhow, a very interesting candidate has just entered the race in the person of Ronald Deets (R). His candidacy announcement, which can be found on his website, is entitled "Why a Mentally Ill Millennial from Missouri is Running for US Senate." In the announcement, he makes clear that he's going to run as a Republican on a very lefty agenda, in hopes of taking the party back from the Trumpers; that he's going to do what he can to remind people of the shortcomings of the other candidates in the Republican field; and that he's going to work hard to destigmatize mental illness (in his case, autism and C-PTSD). That's a more admirable to-do list than most longshot candidates.
- U.S. House, Florida: FL-13 has a PVI of EVEN, and current occupant Charlie Crist (D) is
jumping ship to run for his old job as governor. Those facts, plus the possibility of a new district map that shifts the district
a few points in favor of the Republicans, and massive support from the NRCC, have piqued the interest of a lot of would-be
GOP replacements for Crist. And on Tuesday, former lobbyist Amanda Makki (R)
for the race. Anna Paulina Luna, a veteran, was already in. That means that the top two Republican vote-getters from 2020
are back for another tilt (Luna came out on top last time before losing to Crist). Maybe one of the two will get over the
hump this time, now that their Democratic opponent won't be a former governor of the state. On the other hand, though
the district is EVEN, Crist won by 7 points.
- U.S. House, New Hampshire: One of New Hampshire's districts, NH-01, is R+1. The other, NH-02, is
D+1. So, the stage is set for spirited races in both. Karoline Leavitt, who used to work for Donald Trump, has decided she might
as well run in the one that's slightly Republican-leaning, and so
for NH-01 over the weekend. She describes herself as an "'America First' warrior for President Trump," and says she will fight
the "radical" Democrats. She joins a Republican field that already had four other candidates, and in a district that, while
R+1, went for Joe Biden by 6 points, and is currently represented by a Democrat, Chris Pappas, who is running for his
- U.S. House, New Jersey: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. And again. And
again. Tom Kean Jr. (R) has been the Minority Leader of the New Jersey Senate since 2008 and a member of the legislature
since 2001, and his old man was governor from 1982-90. Kean Jr. thinks that's an excellent résumé for a
potential member of Congress, but in 2000, 2006, and 2020, the voters of New Jersey did not agree. This week, he
that he hopes to win the right to a rematch with Rep. Tom Malinowski (D), who beat Kean Jr. by just one point (50.6% to
49.4%) in 2020.
As reader J.K. in Short Hills pointed out this weekend, Malinowski is likely to draw the short straw when the Garden State redraws its maps. Kean Jr. is clearly expecting to capitalize on that since, in contrast to his previous runs, he's announced that he's not going to run for reelection to his seat in the state Senate.
- Governor, Illinois: On Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D)
made it official
and said he would be running for a second term. He also indicated his intent to sign a political ethics and
accountability bill, while decreeing that his second term would be dedicated to "kitchen-table issues."
The good news for Pritzker is that he's the Democratic incumbent in a very blue state. The bad news is that an Illinois governor has not managed to serve two full terms since Republican Jim Edgar did it from 1991-99. Since then, it's been a bunch of one-term-and-outs, interrupted by a one-and-a-half-terms-and-then-prison. Right now, the Republicans don't have a serious candidate to challenge the Governor. However, Rep. Adam Kinzinger is clearly considering it, and as one of the leading anti-Trump Republicans, he might just make a race of it if he jumps in. Don't forget that Pritzker's immediate predecessor, Bruce Rauner, is a Republican.
- Governor, Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown (D) is term limited, and Oregon is quite blue overall, so there
will be many Democrats jockeying to replace her. While he hasn't made it official yet, New York
Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is
the possibility of being among them.
Kristof is obviously very sharp, having graduated Harvard, been a Rhodes scholar, and won two Pulitzers. He is also dialed-in in terms of the issues, and his brand of leftism will resonate with the large contingent of progressive Democrats in the state. However, these situations where people move directly from the cheap seats to the big seat don't generally work out too well. See, for example, Donald Trump or Jesse Ventura.
- Governor, Massachusetts: If Gov. Charlie Baker (R) runs for reelection, he's a near-lock
to claim the Republican nomination, and he's a heavy favorite to win a third term. However, he is keeping his plans to
himself, which means the Republican side of the race is in a holding pattern.
Well, unless you are former state Rep. Geoff Diehl (R), that is. Diehl has decided he has little to lose by getting into the race, and that he'll have a head start if Baker does indeed step down. So, Diehl (who already lost a U.S. Senate race to Elizabeth Warren, D-MA) announced his candidacy earlier this month. He's a very Trumpy Republican, which should go over great in a state that went for Joe Biden by 33 points and Hillary Clinton by 38. If those trendlines hold, then Diehl should be in great shape right around, oh, 2050 or so.
That's the way it is, at least for now. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul20 Meanwhile, Over in the Senate...
Jul20 Rating the Competitive Senate Races
Jul20 A Note to Amateur Actuaries
Jul20 DACA Is in Trouble
Jul20 The South Will Rise Again?
Jul20 The Sun Will Rise Again?
Jul19 Rundown of the Senate Battles
Jul19 Vulnerable Senate Democrats Are Pulling in Big Bucks
Jul19 House Democrats Are Also in Good Financial Shape
Jul19 AP Investigation: Almost No Voter Fraud in Arizona
Jul19 Poll: Voters Like Democratic Voting Plans, Not Republican Plans
Jul19 Republicans Are Betting on Critical Race Theory to Win Back the Suburbs
Jul19 Republicans Won't Accept More IRS Enforcement as an Infrastructure Revenue Source
Jul19 Forty-one Candidates Qualify for the California Recall Election
Jul19 Jesus and John Wayne
Jul18 Sunday Mailbag
Jul17 Saturday Q&A
Jul16 Is There a Doctrine in the House?
Jul16 Bush Comes Out Against Afghanistan Withdrawal
Jul16 The Cart Before the Horse
Jul16 Take Me Home, Country Roads
Jul16 What Do Republicans Believe? (Capitalism Edition)
Jul16 McCarthy Heads to Bedminster
Jul16 Didn't We Already Know This?
Jul16 Didn't We Already Know This, Too?
Jul16 Another Reason Recall Elections Are Dumb
Jul16 (Un)Mark Your Calendars
Jul15 Biden Lobbies Congress
Jul15 Manchin Is Open to the $3.5-Trillion Reconciliation Bill
Jul15 McConnell Blasts the Reconciliation Bill
Jul15 More Than 150 Companies Back the John Lewis Act
Jul15 House Republicans Raise More Cash than House Democrats
Jul15 Poll: DeSantis Is 2024 Favorite among Republicans If Trump Doesn't Run
Jul15 Vaccination May Be the Next Front in the Culture Wars
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Jul15 Tucker Carlson: The Voice of White Grievance
Jul15 House Republican Losers Want Rematches
Jul14 A Speech Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
Jul14 Senate Democrats Say They Have a Deal on Reconciliation
Jul14 Two More Trump Books Dropped Yesterday
Jul14 Flake Tapped for Turkey
Jul14 Cheney's Huge Fundraising Haul Suggests That She's in Trouble
Jul14 Kemp, Georgia Republicans Lost Their Balls, Blame Democrats
Jul14 Can You Say EGOT?
Jul14 Today's Schadenfreude Report
Jul13 East Bound and Down
Jul13 Infrastructure Reconciliation Bill Picks Up Speed
Jul13 Who Is the Biggest Threat to Abbott?
Jul13 California Voters Will Just Have to Guess...