If Congress had not been able to get its house in order (or, perhaps more accurately, its Senate), then the federal government would have shut down last night. However, after posturing from the Ted Cruzes and Mike Lees of the world, both chambers were able to pass a stopgap spending bill that will keep the government operating until February 18.
Cruz, of course, is a U.S. senator from Canada...er, Texas. However, he would like to be a U.S. president from Canada...er, Texas. To make that happen, he believes he has to win back the hearts and minds of the Trump faithful, some of whom still don't trust him after his Trump-bashing performance at the 2016 Republican National Convention. The Senator has no qualms about placing his own political aspirations above the good of his party or his country, and so he partnered with Lee (R-UT) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) to cook up a "look at me" stunt. What the trio (and several of their allies) wanted was to add an amendment to the spending bill that would have eliminated the funding that is necessary for Joe Biden's private-sector vaccine mandate, which is set to take effect in January (unless the courts say otherwise).
There is no chance that Biden would have signed the bill with that sort of poison pill in it, since he believes (with good reason) that the vaccine mandate is essential. Cruz, et al., said they were willing to shut down the government if they could not get what they wanted. However, many members of the Senate Republican Conference, starting with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), were not on board, thinking—probably rightly—that the Republicans would get the blame (as they did the last time Cruz engineered a government shutdown). The compromise, worked out with the understanding that a Cruz-led filibuster would promptly be subject to cloture, was that Cruz & Co. got to introduce their "kill the mandate" amendment to the bill, with passage requiring only a majority vote.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) did some bellyaching about the vaccine mandate, and it was at least possible that he might have crossed the aisle to vote with the Republicans. In that case, if the GOP senators had stuck together, then the amendment would have passed, the bill would have been unacceptable to Biden, and things would have gotten ugly. However, Manchin did not jump ship, and two Republicans were not present to vote (John Thune of South Dakota and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee). So, the amendment failed 50-48, then the bill was passed, and finally everyone in the Senate joined hands for a rousing chorus of "All You Need Is Love." OK, maybe that last part didn't happen.
Ideally, the 2½ months until the next imminent budget crisis will give Congress time to work out an actual budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Don't count on it, though. The Republicans have a whole bunch of things they want done, and while they are in the minority in both chambers, they have the filibuster in one back pocket, and in the other back pocket the fact that these stopgap funding bills end up extending Donald Trump's last budget, as opposed to implementing Biden's first budget. So, if the Democrats won't yield on some key points, Senate Republicans in particular are more than happy to have the opportunity to do some bellyaching every 2-3 months, and then to vote to effectively keep Trump's spending priorities in place for another stretch. (Z)
It is true that we have often wondered what the modern Republican Party stands for, and have wondered if it stands for anything. However, it is not our viewpoint that is reflected in the headline, it is the viewpoint of one Addison "Mitch" McConnell. As the Party gears up for the 2022 election cycle, the Minority Leader does not want to put together any sort of legislative agenda to pitch to voters. Instead of talking about what Republicans stand for, he wants his party's candidates to spend 100% of their time talking about how awful the Democrats are.
There's a fair bit of logic to this. First of all, it's worked for the Republicans in a McConnell-led midterm election before (2014). Second, it really is the case that the Party doesn't stand for a whole lot of things anymore, and the things it does stand for are not broadly popular. Third, McConnell got very little legislating done even when the GOP had the federal trifecta. He knows he's not going to get anything done with a Democrat in the White House, and he doesn't want to be bound by promises he cannot keep. Fourth, the current leader of the Republican Party is Donald Trump. There is zero chance he can be persuaded to stick to a "here's our plan" script. On the other hand, "attack the Democrats" is his default setting. So, on some level, McConnell is taking lemons and making lemonade (or maybe oranges and making orange juice).
Not everyone is on board, though. House Minority Leader (and aspiring Speaker) Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is a Newt Gingrich disciple and wants to put together a "Contract with America"-style pledge. This also makes some amount of sense, since the House can pass things with a bare majority, and then blame the Senate filibuster when nothing happens. It's the same thing that happens now. Of course, coming up with an agenda is much easier than actually getting his members to stick to talking about that agenda. Gingrich, one must remember, was pretty good at herding cats, whereas McCarthy is much less so. Further, Gingrich had to deal with far fewer whackadoodle members than McCarthy does (though, curiously, they both had to deal with former wrestling coaches who played key roles in sex abuse scandals).
Anyhow, McConnell's decree is yet another reminder, if you needed one, that politics watchers will need to stock up on coats and galoshes, because a Panama Canal's worth of mud is going to be slung next year. (Z)
It's not a secret that the list of things Donald Trump cares about looks something like this:
Still, even after all these years in the spotlight, he continues to surprise with the depths of his selfishness. The latest tale of id gone wild comes courtesy of former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, who has a memoir he's peddling, and who leaked a portion to The Guardian (UK). In the excerpt, Meadows confirms that when Trump said he got his first positive COVID test just an hour before heading to the hospital on Oct. 2, 2020, he was lying through his teeth. In fact, he got a positive result a week earlier, on Sept. 26, followed by a negative, and then by another positive.
OK, so Donald Trump lied. Not exactly man bites dog, is it? However, the key here is that Trump therefore knew on Sept. 29 that he had received a positive test and there was an excellent chance he was contagious. And Sept. 29 was the date of the first presidential debate. Trump refused to submit to the pre-debate COVID test the candidates had agreed to, and then proceeded to risk exposing Joe Biden—then a man of 78—to the disease.
Obviously, unless Biden is also a liar and is also hiding the truth about a positive diagnosis, then nothing happened and no actual harm was done. But if the then-candidate had fallen ill, and in particular if he'd suffered severe damage or death, that really could have been trouble for Trump. There are most certainly state laws—including in Ohio, the location of the debate—that make it a criminal offense to spread disease, either deliberately or through extreme recklessness.
Trump has never gotten in any trouble for his superspreader rallies, despite calls for him to be prosecuted, in large part because the people who attended and became ill knew what risks they were assuming. Biden, by contrast, did not, and Trump took deliberate steps to mislead Biden as to the risk. Further, since the future president did abide by the pre-debate COVID test agreement, it would have been pretty easy to demonstrate that the source of the infection was Trump. It would have been pretty tough to get to murder, as our headline suggests, but not impossible. And certainly, a lesser homicide charge could have been on the table had Biden succumbed due to Trump's actions.
Because Biden did not succumb, this story is just another for the "Trump is an unbelievably selfish jerk" file. That said, it actually does have some relevance going forward, though it's probably not the relevance you'd expect. Going back to the source of this news, the excerpt appeared the exact same day that Meadows agreed to testify before the 1/6 Committee. And committee member Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is about as shrewd a legal mind as you'll find outside the UCLA campus, has already made a rather important observation: "It'd be very difficult for [Meadows] to maintain 'I can't speak about events to you, but I can speak about them in my book.'"
So, the former chief of staff may already have given up most or all of his potential executive privilege/Fifth Amendment claims. He, or at least his lawyers, presumably know this, and it is very possible it affected his approach to the 1/6 Committee. He might be thinking: "I don't want to spend the money and effort on a fight that I can't win." Or it might be: "If I'm going to have to testify anyhow, I might as well go big and really spill my guts, because that will help sales." We'll see how he plays it once he shows up to chat with Schiff & Co., but the notion that he's actually going to cooperate just got a little more plausible. (Z)
As long as we're on the subject of former Donald Trump chiefs of staff, John Kelly was also in the news this week. The retired general chatted with The Atlantic for a piece that is actually focused on Mike Pence's 2024 presidential hopes. However, the quote that got all the attention was about Trump: "He'll continue talking about it; he may even declare, but he will not run. And the reason is he simply cannot be seen as a loser."
Kelly is not the only former Trump insider to say that, either. In fact, he is not the only former Trump insider to say it in the last week. Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, speaking to The Guardian, echoed Kelly, almost word for word: "His fragile ego cannot stand to be considered a two-time loser."
There are, of course, Trump insiders—like, say, pollster Tony Fabrizio—who insist that he's definitely running. So, you just don't know. Heck, Trump himself probably doesn't really know. However, Kelly and Cohen both know Trump (and his ego) well, and yet they barely know each other. For them to reach the exact same conclusion is surely at least somewhat instructive. Oh, and John Bolton—who knows a thing or two about giant egos in general, and about Trump's giant ego in particular—has also offered a similar opinion.
With that said, we're not likely to know if this trio is correct for quite a long time. All of them concur that he loves the spotlight and he loves the moneymaking opportunities, and once he's no longer a potential candidate, those things will almost completely disappear. So, they all expect him to keep up the "I'm probably running" bit for as long as is possible, even if he does eventually bow out of the race.
At some point Trump will have to fish or cut bait. That may be the date of the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary or earlier. The longer he holds out, the worse it is for the Republican Party, since when it finally becomes clear he is not running, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and a bunch of others will have to scramble real fast to collect donations, acquire staff, and more. If that has to be done in a huge hurry, it will be a mess and not help the Republican Party. But what does Trump care about the Republican Party? (Z)
We said yesterday that the time for some of the petty hoodlums in Donald Trump's orbit to pay the piper would soon be upon us. We did not realize quite how quickly that would be the case, however.
On Thursday, the nine so-called "Kraken lawyers"—among them Lin Wood and Sidney Powell—who lodged frivolous election challenges in four states, were hit with a hefty fine. It actually came from (U.S. District Judge Linda) Parker, not the piper, but either way it starts with a 'p' and ends with an 'er,' so close enough. The total fine is a bit over $175,000, split nine ways, so each counselor will have to write a check for a bit less than $19,500.
It doesn't end there, however. Parker also referred the attorneys to the Bar for discipline, which could very well mean disbarment. And most of them have numerous other legal challenges on their plates. The other states where they peddled their legal snake oil want money, too, and Powell in particular is also being investigated for running a phony PAC and is being sued for millions by Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems. We suspect that while she's spending all that time in various courthouses, she'll also be paying a visit to a bankruptcy judge.
When it comes down to it, these folks are part and parcel with someone like Dr. Oz and other physicians who hawk dubious cures in search of money and fame. They had the privilege of joining professions that are governed by a very clear set of ethical standards. If they weren't interested in playing by those rules, they should have found another way to make money. But instead, these shysters and these quacks took the enormous trust that was placed in them and used it in self-serving and incredibly damaging ways. So when one (or more) of them gets some comeuppance, it's definitely time for some schadenfreude. (Z)
Yesterday, we inadvertently stumbled into a "themed" day, as we noted at the end of the post. In case you're interested in how such a thing tends to unfold, the subjects for yesterday's items were chosen, with the baseball lockout item last and the Supreme Court arguments first. A fair bit of time was spent thinking about the headline for the SCOTUS piece, and an effective way to communicate that three factions had emerged. Words like triune, triumvirate, trinity, trilateral, tripartite, triad, troika, triptych, delta, deltoid, cuneate, and hastate were considered and dismissed as being too obscure or else inaccurate. Then "triple play" occurred to us, which left us with baseball in the first item and baseball in the last item, and it was all over but the shoutin' from there.
Here's the list of baseball references:
There are a few others scattered about that one could make a case for, but these are the ones that were intended.
This was just a light diversion, along the lines of the connect-the-dots books that make up the holdings of the USC library system. We'll be putting together something a bit more challenging for next week, as year-end teaching duties subside. (Z)
The week before last, we asked readers to submit politically themed limericks in response to a This Week in Schadenfreude item about Ted Cruz, wherein the Senator tried to insult Joe Biden with a "There was a man from Nantucket" tweet, apparently not realizing that he was complementing Biden on his...presidential endowment, as it were.
Anyhow, we got quite a few good ones, and didn't want to overdo it by trying to run them all in that week's mailbag. The concept that we came up with, as an alternative, was to turn the limericks into the online version of an Advent calendar. When (Z) was much younger, his grandmother (the same one who made predictions every year in the "new fall shows" issue of TV Guide) always got an Advent calendar for each of the grandkids where the daily treat was a small chocolate. So, for the second time this year, she's the inspiration for some blog content. And we'd propose that you think of these limericks as a daily piece of metaphorical chocolate, perhaps serving as a palate cleanser after a day of less-than-delightful news.
There is one small problem, though. We looked up when the Advent begins this year and misread the answer. It does begin on December 3...in 2023. This year, it began on November 28, as it turns out. So, we'll do double duty for a few days until we're caught up. It's ok, (Z) usually got his Advent calendar a few days late, so there was double-chocolate catching up back then, too.
And with that out of the way, here's one from E.S. in Maine, NY:
A boy senator who was a hack
Was obsessed with all that he lacked
Jealous of Joe's size
He moans and he sighs
And begs Donny for his cojones back
And here is one from B.T.B. in Tallahassee, FL:
Ted Cruz gets along really swell
As the junior senátor from Hell
To his threats to secede
We all cheerfully plead,
"Can't you take Oklahoma as well?"
Not all the limericks were about Cruz, but it seemed right to start with two about him, since he got the ball rolling. As a bonus, (Z)'s grandmother, if she was still among us, would hate Cruz with the heat of a thousand suns.
And as long as we're on the subject of content from readers, we'll be hard at work on the next round of movie content this weekend. So, if you have a film, or a list of films that you think are great/important and that people should see, then get them in. It does not matter if your films were already mentioned on the readers' most enjoyable film list; we were anticipating overlap and, in fact, have some plans related to the expectation that would happen. (Z)