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Manchin and Sinema Are Still Not on Board the S.S. Biden

The House has passed a stripped-down version of Joe Biden's social infrastructure bill, but the usual suspects are holding it up in the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said that he wouldn't vote for the bill until his beloved bipartisan infrastructure bill was signed into law. Now that has happened, Manchin is still not willing to commit to voting for the other bill. He wants to pare it down some more and make sure it is fully funded without any gimmicks. Even if Democratic senators agree to all his changes, the Senate parliamentarian will have to vet it and the Congressional Budget Office will have to score it. One insider said that the chance of these things happening in 2021 is maybe 20-25%. So the squabbling will go on until next year, with the public seeing the Democrats as incapable of governing as a consequence of it.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is not taking Manchin's charades lying down. She wants to be the one to dictate what the Democrats can and cannot do. She said she plans to negotiate with her Senate colleagues about the bill to make it more to her taste. When asked about what she wanted in the bill, Sinema refused to discuss that with reporters. She said that negotiating through the media was not the best way to get her changes to the bill in there. She's not going to give up, since she knows she has a veto over everything the Democrats want—unless Manchin gets there first. The ringtone on her cell phone is music from the musical "Hamilton" that accompanies the lyrics "you don't have the votes."

Sinema wants different things than Manchin, which complicates matters for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Manchin is concerned about the bill increasing the debt and driving inflation up. Sinema is strongly opposed to raising the corporate tax rate by even a single point—even though she voted against the Republicans' bill to cut it from 35% to 21% back in 2017. She is also opposed to raising taxes on the rich. But if taxes can't be raised, then Manchin will balk because the bill is not fully funded and could drive up inflation. If the Democrats had 51 seats in the Senate, they could afford to appease one of the two and ignore the other one, but they don't so they can't. Putting together a bill that simultaneously pleases both Manchin and Sinema is going to be tricky.

At least Sinema is a team player in one area, though. She has praised the coronavirus vaccine in personal terms. She said that she is fully vaccinated and this has allowed her to visit her immunocompromised aunt, whom she hasn't seen in a year and a half. She has encouraged all Arizonans to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. (V)

Secretary of State Races Will Get Top Billing in 2022

Normally races for secretary of state are sleepy affairs and rarely get any attention at all. Not so next year. They are as important as Senate races, and in some states, are actually more important than Senate races. The reason, of course, is that democracy itself is now at stake. Donald Trump wants the secretaries to call races for the Republicans (especially for himself if he runs in 2024) and to ignore what the voters want. So who the secretary of state is, not the voters, may determine who "wins" elections in a state. Needless to say, that makes who the secretary of state is crucially important. Twenty-seven states will be electing a secretary of state next year. The Crystal Ball has a good rundown of them. Here is a brief summary of them by category:

Republican-held seats with a competitive GOP primary and a competitive general election Democratic-held seats with a competitive GOP primary and a competitive general election Democratic-held seats without a competitive GOP primary but possibly a competitive general election Republican-held seats without a competitive GOP primary but possibly a competitive general election Republican-held seats that are probably not competitive in the general election Democratic-held seats that are probably not competitive in the general election

In some states, the secretary of state is an appointed position, which means the secretary of state will always be of the same party as the governor. States in this category include Florida, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Finally, in Maine and New Hampshire, the state legislature appoints the secretary of state. (V)

Eastman Takes the Fifth

The Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attempted coup has subpoenaed lawyer John Eastman, a key figure who was at the Willard Hotel on Jan. 6 concocting arguments as to why overthrowing the government by force was perfectly legal. Eastman has now invoked the Fifth Amendment as a reason to decline showing up for testimony. That's not going to fly, and Eastman surely knows that. Claiming the Fifth Amendment does not suddenly nullify a subpoena. At best, it means that after you show up you can decline to answer a specific question if the answer could be used in a criminal proceeding against you. It is not a blanket pardon for not showing up at all. Eastman isn't the first potential witness who is pleading the Fifth Amendment, either. Former Trump Justice Dept. official Jeffrey Clark beat him to the punch. The Committee is never going to accept this, tell them it is sorry for bothering them, and move on to the next witness.

The subpoena also asks Eastman for documents. The courts have established that the Fifth Amendment barely applies to documents at all. For example, if someone is accused of being a counterfeiter, he can refuse to answer a question about how he paid for a specific $1,000 purchase with fifty $20 bills when he hasn't been near an ATM machine in 10 years. On the other hand, if the prosecutors subpoena all the cash in his wallet, he has to turn the bills over, even if they incriminate him.

In addition to claiming that the Fifth Amendment gives him cover for not showing up at all, Eastman is claiming that the Committee doesn't have enough Republicans so it is unfair and he doesn't have to show up for that reason. Cue some regular criminal who refuses to answer prosecutors' questions because the team of prosecutors isn't sufficiently ethnically balanced for his taste. Good luck with that one.

Does Eastman have any claim to trying to hide behind the Fifth Amendment at all? Probably yes. He addressed the rally that preceded the attack, along with Rudy Giuliani, and if he urged the attendees to break the law, that might well be a crime. So he could possibly get away with not answering specific questions about crimes he committed that day. However, there are plenty of questions that probably wouldn't qualify for protection, such as: "Did you speak to Donald Trump on Jan. 6, and if so, what did he tell you?" That might not implicate Eastman in a crime, although it could implicate Trump. The Fifth Amendment allows you to be silent about things that might be used as evidence against yourself, but not about things that might be used as evidence against someone else.

Now the ball is in the Committee's court. Very likely he will be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, thus joining Steve Bannon and Clark, who are already in that boat. No doubt others will follow. (V)

Steve Bullock: Democrats Need to Get Out of the City More

Steve Bullock, a Democrat who has won three statewide elections in very red Montana (AG + governor x2) and lost one (Senate), has written an op-ed in The New York Times telling Democrats to get out of their cities and meet with rural voters if they want to win elections. Simply conceding all rural voters to the Republicans is not a good idea because there simply aren't enough dependable urban voters to win elections consistently and in some states there aren't enough under any conditions. But if Democrats would do a better job of talking to rural voters, they could win statewide in purple states and even in some cases in red states, as Bullock did three times.

His first point is that Democrats have a strong tendency to be condescending to rural voters and treat them as dumb yokels who don't understand how they should live and think, but who can be enlightened by woke urban Democrats who know how things truly are. That doesn't work. It really doesn't. If Democrats want to consistently win elections outside of deep blue states, they need to come to understand this.

It isn't that hard. Specifically, Democrats have to stop talking about grand ideological narratives and start talking about things that the voters care about: good jobs, a safe place to live, good schools, clean water and air, and a better life for kids and grandkids. That shouldn't be so hard. "Obamacare" is a way to save rural hospitals, free pre-K is a way for mothers to hold jobs, as is expanded day care. Climate change is not only a threat, but also an opportunity to create good jobs constructing, installing, and maintaining solar panels and wind turbines. There are many more examples like these that don't require Democrats to say things they don't believe. But they have to show up, listen, be sincere, and not just think about urban voters.

One thing Bullock didn't mention, but could have, is talking about how hunting deer for food or sport is fine, but you don't need an AR-15 or an AK-47 to hunt deer. That's not sportsmanlike. If you can't bring down a deer with a standard rifle, you need to work on your marksmanship. Bullock believes that with the right candidates and the right message, Democrats can do much better in rural areas, as he did. They don't have to win every vote in rural areas to win statewide, but increasing their votes by 10% in rural counties could mean the difference between winning and losing statewide races.

The comments from readers were something else again. Remember, these are Times readers and ones who are active enough to post comments to articles. Here are a few of their thoughts:

Not all the 1,000+ comments were like these, but a fair number were. If you turn on your condescension meter, it will go full tilt in response to some of them. Bullock sees this as the problem, not the solution. His point is that Democrats must explain to rural voters why having free pre-K for their kids and bringing high-speed Internet to their communities will help them, not tell them that they should first stop electing morons and wackos. "Make the rubes cry again—Reelect Biden in 2024" may be a satisfying bumper sticker in San Francisco, but it is not the way to win North Carolina. (V)

Maybe "Roe" Won't Save the Democrats

Now that a week has passed since the Supreme Court hearing on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, a Politico reporter went out and talked to a dozen Democratic strategists, pollsters, and officials. The question was whether a decision to overturn or pare back Roe v. Wade would save the Democrats' hide next year. The short answer is: "If the Court merely votes to uphold the Mississippi law, then no. If it fully repeals Roe, then maybe.

Julie Roginsky, a former top aide to Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ), said: "I wish we lived in a world where outrage mattered. But I think we live in a post-outrage world, and voters today are affected only by that which directly affects them, which is why the economy, affordability and cost of living is such a major issue for so many people."

There is a fair amount of evidence supporting this view. After the Supremes allowed the Texas law that bans abortions after 6 weeks to take effect, Terry McAuliffe (D) made it the centerpiece of his campaign in Virginia. He said: "It will be a huge motivator for individuals to come out and vote." It wasn't and they didn't. Exit polls showed only 8% of voters listed abortion as the #1 issue facing Virginia. Nor was it an issue in the New Jersey gubernatorial election.

It is certainly true that a majority of Americans want abortion to be legal—and it has been like this for 50 years—but abortion is not the top issue for Democrats, although it is the top issue for some Republicans. In an Economist/YouGov poll released 2 weeks ago, the pollster asked about multiple issues. The percentage of people who said the issue is very important or somewhat important is given below.

Issue Total Urban Suburban Rural
Jobs and the economy 96% 96% 95% 95%
Taxes 92% 91% 94% 91%
Health care 92% 94% 92% 90%
Crime 91% 91% 92% 90%
Education 91% 91% 91% 80%
National Security 90% 90% 90% 88%
Civil Liberties 87% 91% 85% 85%
Civil Rights 85% 90% 82% 81%
Foreign policy 83% 85% 82% 82%
Criminal justice reform 82% 88% 80% 80%
Immigration 81% 81% 81% 80%
Guns 78% 77% 78% 79%
Abortion 73% 79% 72% 71%
Climate change 68% 78% 68% 61%

The conclusion is: Every issue is important! The crosstabs break down the poll along every conceivable axis, but we have chosen to show the urban/suburban/rural divide here (on account of the item on Bullock above). Actually, rural voters really aren't that different from urban voters, suggesting that if Democrats were to get out there and explain to people what they stand for, they might pick up some votes, despite Fox News blaring "Democrats are evil" 24/7 (but see below).

But when the pollster asked people to list their #1 priority, the top five were: jobs (18%), health care (17%), climate change (14%), immigration (8%), and taxes (8%). Abortion was tied with national security and education for seventh place, with 5% of Americans listing it as the top item.

So this poll gives the answer to "How come Americans are in favor of abortion being legal yet they vote for Republicans?" The answer is abortion is only one issue among many and it is the top issue for only 5% of the population.

One thing that the strategists said is that a full and outright repeal of Roe will have a much bigger effect than just changing the cutoff from 24 weeks to 15 weeks. Chief Justice John Roberts understands this perfectly. That is why he wants a narrow ruling simply saying the Mississippi law is allowed. Then half the states will adopt that and the others won't. A full repeal would be much more of a game changer. Roberts knows that when Alabama passes a law changing the cutoff to 12 weeks, in 3 years it will land on his desk and he can just say: "12 weeks is also fine." By boiling the frog slowly, abortion can be killed without an uprising that would hurt the Republicans. But for Roberts' plan to work, he needs the cooperation of the three Democratic appointees on the Court. If they simply take the position that the Mississippi law is unconstitutional, then the other five conservatives are likely to go for a full repeal, generating a much bigger backlash. And even then, whether this will be enough to offset redistricting, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and history is impossible to say.

The ruling will almost certainly come in late June. Some strategists think that the issue will be forgotten by November. One Republican strategist said: "We've got nine news cycles a day." Of course, this may be wishful thinking on the part of that strategist. Some Democratic strategists had a completely different take. They want the Democrats to say all the Republicans care about is banning abortion whereas Democrats care about improving peoples' lives. In short, a fair amount could depend on whether Roberts succeeds in getting four more votes for his incremental position. Or, at very least, peeling off one conservative vote to block a conservative majority and to make his opinion the controlling one. Cajoling conservative justices will take all of Roberts' considerable ability, since just changing the cutoff date by 9 weeks (at least temporarily) dashes their dream of finally aborting Roe. (V)

Does Fox News Matter?

Political junkies are generally obsessed with either Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow and think what they are complaining about really matters. But does it? Does Fox News really matter? Cable news' business model is generating outrage day after day, but does it actually make a lot of difference? Politico's Jack Shafer took a look.

Shafer started by noting that in the newsroom at Politico, there are 30 monitors tuned to cable news 24/7. The top editors have even more. So far the bathrooms don't have cable news on 24/7, but that might be next. After all, a reporter taking a bathroom break would hate to miss breaking news that the president has just pardoned a turkey. But given Politico's business, all these monitors sort of make sense, at least if the sound is turned off.

Now some basic facts. Fox, MSNBC, and CNN combined have 4.2 million viewers during prime time. In contrast, ABC, CBS, and NBC each have a news broadcast every evening, and their combined viewership is 21.5 million, five times as large. Country music radio pulls in 31 million listeners a day. Netflix has 74 million subscribers. The population of the U.S. is 330 million, of whom 260 million are adults (18 or over). This means that the three cable news networks reach about 1.6% of the adult population every day. As Shafer put it, if country music were to suddenly vanish in a rapture, there would be a lot of ornery people around. But if all three cable news networks were to go dark, more than 98% of American adults wouldn't even notice.

The people who watch the cable news shows tend to be very involved and make a lot of noise and post a lot to Twitter, but each of them gets only one vote, just like the low-information voters. The media tends to magnify the cable shows because when one of the hosts says something outrageous, journalists often see that as newsworthy, even when it is not.

One thing the cable shows do that gives them a disproportionate influence is they formulate talking points that others can take away. However, when a Fox viewer quotes Carlson to a friend, the friend (if he missed Carlson) probably already knows the basic outline of the message and the Fox viewer probably doesn't have any Rachel Maddow friends to "inform" (and the other way around).

So why do cable news shows exist when they have relatively small audiences? It turns out they are quite profitable. It is estimated that the three cable news networks earn a combined $4 billion a year. The median age of MSNBC viewers is 68, and for Fox it is even higher. These people have lots of time and a fair amount of disposable income, so advertisers for certain products are interested in reaching them. For this reason, they are not going to go away any time soon, but their impact tends to be somewhat overblown given that 98% of adults are not paying attention to them. (V)

Some Advice for the Democrats from a Lifelong Conservative Republican

Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist, has pretty good conservative credentials. She has written for top conservative publications, including William F. Buckley's National Review, Bill Kristol's The Weekly Standard, and PJ Media. She has also supported Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party in Israel. But she soured on Donald Trump early in his political career. She is now offering Democrats some suggestions for winning in 2022 that don't depend on SCOTUS murdering Roe:

For a (former) conservative Republican, she seems to be giving the Democrats a lot of good advice. Whether they can break the habit of making everything about Trump and all the problems the country has remains to be seen, though. Old habits die hard. (V)

More Republicans than Democrats Are Dying of COVID-19

Look at these scatterplots put together by NPR, especially the one on the right. Each dot represents one of the roughly 3,000 counties in the U.S.

Vaccinations and deaths by county based on vote for Trump; non-Trump
counties have larger vaccination dots, Trump counties have larger death dots

While there is no regression line, it is obvious that in the one on the right, the Trumpier a county is, the more people have died from COVID-19 there. Does voting for Trump cause death? Probably not. Remember, correlation is not causation. As the scatterplot on the left shows, the Trumpier a county is, the fewer people are vaccinated. And the more people who are running around unvaccinated, the more people die.

According to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, an unvaccinated person is three times as likely to identify as a Republican than as a Democrat. In fact, partisanship is now the best predictor of whether someone is vaccinated or not. It wasn't always this way, however. Earlier in the pandemic, Black folks and young people resisted vaccination, but now most of them have gotten their shots. At this point, 91% of Democrats are vaccinated vs. 59% of Republicans.

This has consequences. Lethal consequences. The vast majority of the 150,000 deaths since May have been among the unvaccinated—that is, among Republicans. If one examines the pool of unvaccinated people since April, initially the pool had roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. But now 60% of the unvaccinated are Republicans and only 17% are Democrats. Here is a graph showing how the vax gap has grown over time.

Partisanship of the unvaccinated over time. In 
April, the number of Republicans and Democrats was close to equal, at around 40%, with 20% for independents. Since then, the independents
have stayed steady, the Democrats have consistenty gone down and the Republicans have gone up, creating a 60-17-17 breakdown now.

Misinformation seems to be the major factor in the gap. The pollsters read people four false statements about COVID-19. A full 94% of Republicans believed at least one of them and 46% believed all four. Only 14% of the Democrats believed all four. The most widely believed false statement is: "The government is exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths." Currently the actual number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. is at least 808,000. Worldwide it is 5.3 million. Will the differential death rates affect the 2022 elections? Probably not, because most of the deaths are occurring in very Trumpy counties that will still go Republican, even with slightly smaller numbers of Republican voters. (V)

"Democracy Has Failed"

Harvard's Kennedy School has released a new poll of 18-29 year olds. It is not full of youthful optimism. In fact, it is not full of any optimism at all. Slightly over half of the young adults (52%) say that democracy has failed or is in trouble. Only 34% say it is healthy or somewhat functioning, and of these, only 7% say America is a healthy democracy. That is not exactly an endorsement. Apparently all the people who say young people don't follow politics are wrong. It sounds like they are glued to C-SPAN, watching the Senate all day long.

The poll also showed that 35% expect a new civil war and 25% expect at least one state to secede from the Union. Republicans are more likely to believe this than Democrats. Half of the respondents feel depressed, women more than men. Only a third believe that America is the greatest country in the world.

What is also an important takeaway is the educational level of the 18-29 year olds, since educational level correlates well with political views these days. Nearly 60% do not have a college degree and are not pursuing one. About 22% have a bachelor's degree and another 20% are trying to get one. Those with a college degree, or who hope to get one, approve of Joe Biden 54-44% but Biden is deeply under water with the other ones, 41-57%. This looks like a big win for the Republicans, but it is not. Only 22% identify as a Republican. Most see themselves as moderates or independents. Both parties have a chance to win them over, but so far neither one is doing well at all with this cohort. (V)

Truth Social Raises $1.25 Billion

After being kicked off most social media companies' platforms, Donald Trump is starting his own, Truth Social. This one is likely to last longer than his blog, which lingered all of 29 days before he pulled the plug. The new one is well funded, with $1.25 billion raised for the project. That is not chump change, although if this one lasts a couple of months and then goes the way of the blog, the investors will certainly feel like chumps. The SEC filing is expected today.

It is slightly surprising that investors have pumped so much money into the project given Trump's very long list of business failures including casinos, an airline, steaks, bottled water, mortgages, a magazine, a "university," and vodka. In fact, most of his business ventures other than (some) hotels, condos, and golf courses, have failed spectacularly. Not only that, but he has a habit of taking investors' money, pocketing it, getting out, and leaving them holding the bag. Still, the money is apparently there for another project.

Of course, the money is only part of the picture. Now Trump has to come up with the content. He has said he wants an uncensored version of Twitter, among other things, but that will never work. If he sets up a platform like that, on Day 1 thousands of Trump haters will sign up and begin sending out anti-Trump tweets, which will be called "truths" on the new platform. Either Trump will have to allow that or he will have to start censoring people and kicking them off the platform, which is precisely what he accuses Twitter of doing. It will also become a cesspool of hate almost overnight. How is that going to make money?

One possible explanation is that it is all about the grift. Have we mentioned that before? We forget. Now that Trump has $1.25 billion lined up, his goal may be to get to keep as much as he can of that haul for himself and to hell with the social media platform. If he can manage to keep 10% of the investment and then burn through the rest while the platform ultimately fails, he'll consider the project a huge success, an even better moneymaker than the casinos he looted and then left to crumble. The site is expected to go live in the first quarter of 2022. (V)

Bob Dole Is Dead

Robert Joseph Dole, a giant of the Senate, will now definitely not achieve his dream of becoming president of United States. He died in his sleep yesterday at 98. He had multiple health problems in recent years, including advanced lung cancer. He served his country faithfully for nearly 80 years.

Dole was born in 1923 in Russell, KS, whose population was then about 2,000. It is 120 miles northwest of Wichita, more or less in the middle of nowhere. Yet from humble beginnings, Dole went on to become one of the towering political figures of 20th century American politics. He grew up during the Great Depression and enlisted in the Army at 19, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was seriously wounded while trying to save another soldier's life. He spent 39 months in and out of hospitals as a result. His right arm was permanently disabled and his left arm was minimally functional. He received high military honors for his bravery in the face of enemy fire during the Allies' campaign in Italy.

After World War II, Dole got a law degree, eventually entered politics, and was elected to the U.S. House in 1960 at the start of the Kennedy administration. After four House terms, in 1968, he moved up to the Senate, where he served four terms, including a stint as majority leader.

At the start of his Senate career, Dole was known as Richard Nixon's hatchet man, but over time he mellowed and became a mainstream conservative. He frequently worked with the Democrats to get legislation passed, especially legislation that helped veterans and people with disabilities. He also helped rescue Social Security in 1983. At the peak of his political power, he was more interested in counting votes than in ideology and he was never interested in nursing grudges or settling scores. He was very good at putting together coalitions to get bills he liked passed.

Dole was the Republican vice presidential nominee on Gerald Ford's ticket in 1976. In 1980, 1988, and 1996, he tried to get the GOP presidential nomination himself. The third time he got it, but was crushed by Bill Clinton in the Electoral College, 379 electoral votes to 159. Dole was known for his acerbic wit. After his loss to Clinton he said: "I slept like a baby. I woke up crying every two hours." A few months later, at the White House, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his World War II service. At the ceremony, he began: "I, Robert J. Dole do solemnly swear ..." as though he were taking the oath of office. Then he said: "Sorry, wrong speech. But I had a dream that I would be here this week, receiving something from the president, and I thought it would be the front door key." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is no Bob Dole.

After leaving politics, Dole remained a loyal Republican, but often criticized the party as moving too far to the right. In 2020, he clearly stated that Biden won. He didn't believe there was any election fraud and said he was "sort of Trumped out." He was a tough partisan, but in the end, he always put country above party. They don't make them like him anymore. (V)

A December to Rhymember (Parts 3-4)

We didn't think about the fact that our limerick Advent calendar doesn't really mesh with the weekend content. So, we'll have to double up for several additional weekdays to make up for that. Oh, well.

Here is the initial entry:

And now, two more pieces of chocolate, starting with one from Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) countryman, D.H. in Waterloo, ON, Canada:

Ted Cruz left Alberta for Texas,
Before he could start to vex us,
Was it part of a plot?
No, it was not,
But we're all glad he's not living next to us.

And another from K.K. in Seattle, WA:

Instead of facing a cold winter doom
Senator Cruz fled Texas for Cancun
When asked why
Ted didn't lie (!)
"I wanted to feel some sun on my moon"

In short, whenever Ted Cruz leaves a place, it's an occasion to be commemorated in verse. One can only imagine what the limericks will look like when he departs this Earth.

There are limericks targeting other politicians, of course, but we thought we'd run through a few of the Cruz-focused ones first. We're also still accepting entries. Note, in particular, that there are certainly some Democrats, some media figures, and some politicians of generations past who are a good choice for a poke in the eye. (Z)

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