• Democrats Have Quite the To-Do List
• Obstruction Is Their Business, and Business Is Good
• Let the Conspiracies Begin
• Florida Republicans Embrace Their Inner Elbridge Gerry
• McConaughey Is Out
• Carrie Meek, 1926-2021
There is a pretty serious competition between a dozen or so members of the House Republican Conference to say the most outrageous and offensive things they can possibly get away with. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) pushed her luck a bit too far, dabbling a bit too much in antisemitism, and got censured and kicked off her committees. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) followed in Greene's footsteps, posting a badly-done anime clip to his Twitter account that showed him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and attacking Joe Biden.
Now, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) may be set to join the club. It's no secret that she's a huge Islamophobe, and over the weekend a video surfaced in which the Congresswoman said some pretty awful things about her colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN). The most cringeworthy remarks were slurring Omar as a member of the "jihad squad" and "joking" that it's safe to get on an elevator with Omar as long as she's not wearing a backpack (in other words, all Muslims are potential suicide bombers).
Omar was (rightly) upset, and called for the House to take action against Boebert. Boebert, for her part, appeared to recognize that she had pushed things too far. So, she issued an apology on Twitter:
I apologize to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar. I have reached out to her office to speak with her directly. There are plenty of policy differences to focus on without this unnecessary distraction.— Rep. Lauren Boebert (@RepBoebert) November 26, 2021
The promised phone call took place on Monday. It apparently went poorly, however, as Omar did not feel Boebert was actually remorseful, and cut the call off. This led Boebert to promptly hop on Instagram to complain that "hanging up on someone is part of Cancel Culture 101." Wow. We had no idea we were "canceling" all those telemarketers over the years.
House Democrats did not seem eager, on Monday, to censure yet another Republican member. Whether that was from fear of political blowback, or because they think Islamophobia is not as bad as animated death threats/antisemitism, we do not know. We also don't know if the botched phone call, and Boebert's petulant reaction to it, will inspire greater enthusiasm for the third censure of the year.
Even if this doesn't end up as (yet another) headache for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), though, it could end up as one for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). He aspires to be Speaker if the Republicans retake the lower chamber, and achieving that will require some (or many) votes from the wackadoodle faction of the Republican conference. So, he's kowtowed to the Greenes, Gosars, and Boeberts of the world many times. It would seem, however, that the moderates are getting tired of this, since the original statements are an embarrassment to the Party and McCarthy's glad-handing of the bigots doesn't help things.
This weekend, an anonymous member of McCarthy's conference spoke to CNN and warned that the Minority Leader is "taking the middle of the conference for granted...McCarthy could have a bigger math problem with the moderates." This unnamed person said they, and many of their colleagues, are tired of the extremists being allowed to do and say whatever they want, that the two wings of the Republican conference are on a "collision course" and that "our side isn't going to take this much longer."
Meanwhile, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) appeared on CNN to blast Boebert's remarks:
I have time after time condemned my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for racist tropes and remarks that I find disgusting and this is no different than any others. As a member of Congress and seeing such division in our country, we all have a responsibility, both elected members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and the American people in our communities and at work in our communities and everything else to lower—we have a responsibility to lower the temperature and this does not do that.
Mace was somewhat restrained in her comments, refusing to criticize McCarthy directly, and engaging in a bit of bothsides-ism by pointing out that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has said offensive stuff, too. Still, this plus the CNN piece over the weekend serves notice that there just might be trouble in GOParadise, and that an internecine civil war could be brewing.
James Carville, a long-time Democratic strategist, had a somewhat different take on this whole flap. He said: "These are not quality people. Let them dwell in their own stupidity." He also noted: "The response cannot be: 'We see your crazy and we'll raise you another crazy.'" In other words, Carville fully understands that nothing is going to change Boebert's mind, the people in her district probably like her because she is who she is, and getting dragged into the gutter with her for a mud-wrestling match is potentially a very bad idea for the Democrats. His message is: "Just ignore Boebert or she'll be back with more tomorrow." (Z)
Tomorrow is the first day of December, and so the first day of the rather brutal marathon that is in front of the Democrats. In roughly 20 days, they are going to try to make their way through a to-do list that is 26.2 miles long.
What's on tap? Well, here are the biggies:
- The Budget: The short-term spending bill that was passed in October expires on Friday,
so a new bill will have to be worked out or the government will shut down. Ideally, it would be a full budget covering
the next fiscal year, but that's about as realistic as Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-NY) arriving for work on a
unicorn, bought with gold from the leprechaun he caught while having tea with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
- Defense: Because both parties agree with lavishing money on the military, and are afraid of
being called unpatriotic if they don't, the defense spending bill is usually the first part of the annual budget to be adopted.
That is expected to be the case this year, too.
- Debt Limit: There's also the small matter of the debt ceiling, which is going to be reached
on Dec. 15, and which is going to start to roil the economy around Dec. 10. Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
have been negotiating, but only they know how much progress has been made.
- China: Schumer also wants to pass a bill meant to push back against China, and to allow the
U.S. to pull even with the Chinese in a bunch of ways. The legislation, known as the Innovation and Competition Act,
has bipartisan support,
so maybe the Majority Leader can pull it off.
- Build Back Better: The $1.7 trillion or so reconciliation bill is on the front burner, as everyone waits to see what Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) will, and will not, vote for.
And all of this is on top of usual business, like confirming judges. There are also some potential wildcards for December, like a possible need to do something in response to the new variant of COVID-19.
Though the new month hasn't even started yet, it's off to a bad start, as Republicans are threatening to filibuster the defense bill unless Schumer allows amendments (i.e., pork). They could easily decide they don't care all that much about pushing back against China, either, which would throw another wrench into the works.
That said, looming deadlines have a wonderful way of forcing people to get things done. Congress isn't going to allow a lengthy shutdown (or a short one, most likely), they're not going to let the debt ceiling be reached, and it's inconceivable that they don't get some version of Build Back Better passed. So, the Democrats are likely to bat at least .600 when it comes to the list above, and maybe .800 or 1.000. But Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are certainly going to earn their paychecks as they do it. (Z)
We have spent much time, and many pixels, trying to figure out what is going on with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. On some level, Manchin's propensity for throwing up roadblocks in front of the Democratic agenda makes sense since he's a lifelong centrist from a ruby-red state. But it doesn't make total sense, since he sometimes seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. For example, he wrote an op-ed about the Build Back Better bill that made no mention of cost, but then just a couple of weeks later said his top number was $1.5 trillion, that it's always been $1.5 trillion, and that he's been clear on that point. Strange that it wouldn't merit a mention in the op-ed, then.
Sinema, of course, is even more of a mystery. She used to be a fire-breathing rabble-rouser, to the left of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). She represents a purple state and was elected on the strength of many progressive votes. And she has been unwilling to say publicly what her goals are, or why she's taken the positions she's taken. If you represent 7 million people in Congress, you forfeit the privilege of keeping your cards close to the vest, all the time.
A recent piece from David Smith, who is the lead Washington correspondent for The Guardian, suggests an explanation for the senators' behavior: It's all about the Benjamins. Specifically, the senators are raking in the bucks for their campaign war chests, a development largely fueled by the generous support of right-wing donors. Through Q3 of this year, Manchin had collected $3.3 million in donations, as compared to $230,000 over the same timeframe last year. Sinema's haul as of Q3 2021 is $2.6 million, which is a far sight better than the $1 million she brought in during the first three quarters of 2020.
This is not definitive, but it's certainly enough that plenty of Washington watchdogs are tossing out the c-word (corruption). The famously corrupt 19th century politician Simon Cameron once declared that "An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought." Given this month's to-do list, we should get some pretty good evidence as to whether Manchin and Sinema have been bought, and will stay bought. (Z)
The first report of the new COVID-19 variant was made on November 24. On November 26—in other words, last Friday—the World Health Organization designated the new variant as SARS-CoV-2 Omicron. And it took Republicans less than 48 hours to start spreading conspiracy theories. There are at least five of them that have gained wide circulation:
- It's a Democratic Plot, Part I: It was "Doctor" Ronny Jackson, currently a representative
from Texas, who was the first prominent person to put this one out in the world. He
that Omicron is a Democratic plot, cooked up to force the passage of vote-by-mail laws.
It's hard to count how many different kinds of stupid this is. To start, how did "the Democrats" manage to plant the virus in Africa? And if their goal was to influence elections, why make a move 3 weeks after the 2021 elections and 49 weeks before the 2022 elections? Further, pretty much all the states where Democrats control the show have already adopted liberal vote-by-mail laws. The holdup in other states is not a lack of motivation/justification, but the presence of Republican control of one or more parts of state government.
- It's a Democratic Plot, Part II: Just in case you didn't think it could get dumber, you
were wrong, since this one is even more absurd than what Jackson is peddling. There are folks on some of the truly wacky
websites and cable channels who say that the Democrats did develop the Omicron variant, but it wasn't to influence
elections, it was to...distract attention from the trial of Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, which began
this week. It would seem that some people have watched the movie
Wag the Dog
a few dozen too many times.
It is not clear to us what the Democrats' motivation here would be. Is it that Maxwell is and/or Epstein was a Democrat? We're not even sure what Maxwell's politics are, or Epstein's were. Is the idea that Bill Clinton was connected to Epstein, and so the Democrats are covering for him? These conspiracy theories are hard to parse sometimes.
- It's a Fauci Plot: This one is still harder to make sense of, and yet is about as
reprehensible as it gets. Several prominent right-wingers, with Fox's Lara Logan taking the lead,
that Anthony Fauci is responsible for Omicron, that he did it to scare people, and that he's a modern-day Josef Mengele.
We cannot tell if Logan, et al., are implying that Fauci wants to experiment on human subjects (as Mengele did), or if they are just buffoons who know nothing about Mengele other than that he was a doctor and a Nazi. In any event, it was not long ago that such an irresponsible statement would have meant termination at any cable news channel, or even at any cable "news" channel. But these days, with the Fox/OAN/Newsmax race to the bottom, there is nothing that is beyond the pale, as long as it won't trigger lawsuits. It might actually be nice to see Fauci sue Logan for defamation; he certainly has a case (though damages would be hard to prove).
- What's in a Name, Part I: This one is moronic—literally. Some right-wingers are
pointing out (correctly) that 'Omicron' is an anagram of 'Moronic,' and suggesting (laughably) that this is evidence the
Democrats are "putting one over" on Republicans. These are, of course, the same folks who read all kinds of nutty things
into the pronouncements of Q, despite the fact that Q hasn't actually posted anything new in over a year.
- What's in a Name, Part II: Meanwhile, some of the more educated folks on the right, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) taking the point, have noted that in choosing "Omicron," WHO skipped over the Greek letters "Nu" and "Xi." WHO explained that "Nu" was skipped because it could create confusion among English-speakers (What happens when the Nu-variant is no longer the new variant?), and Xi was skipped because it's a common surname and WHO has a policy of trying to avoid stigmatizing large numbers of people with their disease names. Cruz, however, has discerned the "truth," which is that WHO is kowtowing to Chinese president Xi Jinping. Personally, we are hoping that if there is another variant, WHO labels it SARS-CoV-2 TedCruz. That won't run afoul of their policies, and would show they are not afraid of offending prominent politicians.
In any event, we would suggest there are two lessons here. The first is that, on the day the U.S. did indeed surpass 800,000 deaths, it is clear that this thing is never, ever going to be depoliticized. Republicans have discovered that there is electoral gold in COVID conspiracies, just as there is in screaming socialism or claiming that Christians are persecuted. And now that this particular Pandora's Box is open, it's not going to be closed.
The second lesson is that, more and more, it becomes clear that Donald Trump wasn't nearly as consequential as he seemed. All of this Omicron-variant blather is happening without his input. He obviously wasn't leading on the pandemic-denial and anti-masking stuff, he was kowtowing to the only position acceptable to his base. The same looks to be true when it comes to racism, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, and a host of other issues. He may have shown that politicians can get away with turning dog whistles into dog bullhorns, but the extent to which he actually influenced his base—beyond persuading some of them to turn angry words into violent actions—appears to be very limited. They made him; he didn't make them. (Z)
A couple of months ago, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature released a first draft of new congressional district maps. They were somewhat conservative, in an effort to keep the state's Republican districts safe, and would have established 16 Republican-leaning districts, 11 Democratic-leaning districts, and 1 toss-up.
There is a case to be made that, given how evenly divided the state is between Republicans and Democrats, the House delegation should be basically equal. But that's not reality, as the current delegation is 16R, 11D (once Alcee Hastings' seat is filled). So, Democrats were basically happy with a map that maintained the status quo, and gave them a reasonable shot at the new seat that Florida gets.
Who wasn't happy? Florida Republicans, of course. Although they are ostensibly conservatives, they don't like their gerrymanders conservative. They were looking at the aggressive gerrymanders in places like Ohio and Texas and drooling. So, the Florida legislature came up with new draft maps, which were released Monday. The distribution of people in Florida makes it implausible to give 80% of seats to the Republican Party, as in Ohio, but the new draft maps would likely translate to a 17-11 or 18-10 Republican-dominated delegation.
It's possible the new maps will stick, and it's possible they won't—nothing's official until it has Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) signature. However, if the new maps do hold, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) is going to feel the squeeze, as she will have to choose between running in a Republican district or running in a heavily Black district (she's Vietnamese-American). In a couple of years, though, given the state's partisan balance and ongoing demographic change, Florida Republicans could become a cautionary tale as to why you don't push your luck too much when it comes to the gerrymander. (Z)
It's still not entirely clear what actor Matthew McConaughey's politics are. However, given his connections to Hollywood, his strong support for drug legalization, and his penchant for naked bongo drumming, "Democrat" is as good a guess as any. If he had entered the Texas gubernatorial election, as has been bandied about for nearly a year now, and had declared as a member of the blue team, that would have been another hurdle for Beto O'Rourke to overcome. As if O'Rourke didn't have enough challenges ahead of him already.
Yes, we are assuming that if McConaughey had entered the race, he would ultimately have gone down to defeat. He was polling behind O'Rourke, and that was with the actor as a cipher, and unknown. Once he started staking out actual positions on issues, he would likely have sunk further. Fundraising was also going to be a problem, and so too was hiring campaign staff. There's also a better than average chance that the bongo drumming incident would have come back to haunt him, or that he has additional, as-yet unknown, skeletons in his closet.
It would appear that McConaughey did a similar assessment, because he announced yesterday that he's not going to pursue a bid. Clearly he was thinking about jumping in, or he would have given the Full Sherman months ago. And maybe he'll eventually enter the arena; a Ted Cruz-McConaughey Senate race would certainly be interesting. After all, you'd have someone who spends all of his time pretending to be someone he's not, facing off against an Academy Award winner. But for now, at least, McConaughey will remain a private citizen. (Z)
There have been 11,101 people who have served at least one day in the House of Representatives. Slightly more than 2,000 of those are still living, which means that in the past 234 years, a current or former representative has passed away roughly once every 10 days. That means that not all of them get the attention, when they shuffle off this mortal coil, that their current/former high station might warrant. Once in a while, however, it's worthwhile to pause and take note when a former representative passes, even if they weren't necessarily nationally famous. Such is the case with Carrie Meek, who died Sunday at the age of 95.
Meek was the granddaughter of slaves and the youngest of 12 children born to sharecropper parents. She was the first member of her immediate family to graduate college, taking her degree from Florida A&M University in 1946. Well, it's Florida A&M University now; back then, it was Florida A&M College for Negroes. She aspired to a graduate degree, and since Black Floridians were barred from postgraduate education in Florida until the 1960s, she went to the University of Michigan and earned a Master's of Science.
Meek spent 30 years as an educator and university administrator before deciding to try her hand at politics. She was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1979; the second Black woman to serve in that body. In 1982, she became the first Black woman to be elected to the Florida Senate, where she served for a decade, and where her signature issues were education and affordable housing.
At 65, Meek determined that rather than file for Social Security, she'd run for the U.S. House. In 1992, you could count the number of Black members of the House on your hands and toes, as there were just 20 of them. However, district maps redrawn after the 1990 census, and shaped by the provisions of the pre-gutted Voting Rights Act of 1965, created much opportunity for aspiring Black politicians, such that 16 of them were elected in 1992. Meek, the recently deceased Alcee Hastings, and former representative Corrine Brown simultaneously became the first Black members of the House elected from Florida since Reconstruction. Other members of Meek's freshman class include Reps. Maxine Waters, Jim Clyburn (D-SC), and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). "They always said the day would come when we would be recognized for our character," said the representative-elect on the day of her victory, in an obvious reference to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
Commencing her House service at the age of 66, Meek displayed the energy of a person 30 years her junior, serving on numerous committees and securing much funding for her home state, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. She was an outspoken advocate for senior citizens and for Haitian immigrants, and earned the admiration of, among others, John Lewis. "We see showboats and we see tugboats. She's a tugboat. I never want to be on the side of issues against her," he once observed. Meek got some notoriety in 2000 when she formally objected to the awarding of Florida's electoral votes to George W. Bush. No senator joined with her, so nothing came of the objection, though she was excoriated by right-wing media and politicians. And yet, in 2020, she was invoked by some of those same folks as justification for objecting to Joe Biden's electoral votes. Some might call that hypocrisy.
After five terms in the House, having never lost an election (she was 12-0 in her career), Meek was succeeded by her son Kendrick. She remained a resident of her district for her remaining 19 years, and that is where she was when she passed on Sunday. Her story reminds us that slavery wasn't all that long ago, and that it was only very recently indeed that politics (and most education) ceased to be for whites only. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov29 A New Milestone Is Here
Nov29 Is Trumpism Contagious?
Nov29 Michael Cohen: Allen Weisselberg Is Not the Key to Prosecuting Trump
Nov29 Ketanji Brown Jackson Is on the Panel Reviewing Subpoena Case
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Nov29 Beto O'Rourke Is Hit By Fundraising Scams
Nov29 Will the Select Committee Leave One Stone Unturned?
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Nov28 Sunday Mailbag
Nov27 Saturday Q&A
Nov26 Republican Gerrymanders Have Locked in Control of Key State Legislatures
Nov26 Maybe the State Courts Could Save Democracy
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Nov26 This Week in Schadenfreude
Nov26 Hooray for Hollywood: Readers' Favorite Films (Nos. 10-1)
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Nov24 Dubious Polling, Dubious Journalism
Nov24 Why G.K. Butterfield Retired
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Nov23 It's the Economy, Stupid
Nov23 1/6 Committee Wants to Get Stoned
Nov23 Trump-Backed Senate Candidate Goes Belly Up
Nov23 Two More House Retirements
Nov23 RNC Is Helping to Pay Trump's Legal Bills
Nov23 Two Fox News Contributors Resign in Protest
Nov22 Update on Redistricting
Nov22 Sinema Is Adamantly against Modifying the Filibuster
Nov22 Biden Replaces DeJoy Champion on Postal Service Board
Nov22 Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself?
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Nov22 Biden Pardons Two White Male Turkeys
Nov21 Sunday Mailbag