Senate page     Dec. 16

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Is This The 1/6 Committee's Endgame?

When it comes to the investigation being conducted by the House 1/6 Committee, there are at least two things that aren't much of a secret. The first is that the members of the committee would really like to nail Donald Trump to the wall, not only because they dislike him, but also as a warning to future fomenters of insurrection. The second is that actually nailing him to the wall may not be that easy, since he's pretty good at letting his underlings be the ones who actually stick their necks out, and since existing law does not envision a president leading a coup from the Oval Office.

This week, Committee Vice-Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) has, it would seem, laid one of her cards on the table, wondering "Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress' official proceeding to count electoral votes?" In other words, is he guilty of obstruction of Congress? If so, that can carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Were Trump to get the maximum, that would almost certainly be a life sentence.

There are three elements to this sort of obstruction charge; a person has to (1) take an action, (2) that affected an "official proceeding," (3) with "corrupt intent." Already, this particular charge has come up in the trials of some the 1/6 rioters. And the angle taken by their lawyers has generally been "counting the votes is not an official proceeding, it's a ceremonial occasion." That's a curious assertion for folks who wanted to hang Mike Pence for failing to award the election to Trump. And it's been shot down by at least one federal judge, namely Dabney Friedrich.

With the former president, the element that is probably the biggest stumbling block is not #2 ("official proceeding"), but instead #1 (take an action). Since Trump did not personally storm the Capitol, Cheney and the committee are apparently thinking about arguing that his inaction is responsible for letting things get out of control, and that is enough to meet the first element of the crime. Of course, if he specifically told the National Guard to stay away, or otherwise blocked some countermeasure from being implemented, then we'd be back into the realm of an action, rather than inaction.

Anyhow, this is why Cheney and the Committee say they need to talk to people like Mark Meadows. And now that the Committee's thinking has become a little clearer, it means the stakes are raised for would-be givers of testimony, as well as for Trump himself. (Z)

Senate Democrats Are Pushing Hard to Change the Filibuster Rules

For those who might like to see some voting rights legislation get through the Senate, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has held several brief meetings on the subject this week with a small group of colleagues, namely Jon Tester (D-MT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), and...Joe Manchin (D-WV). And Manchin, at very least, has not stormed out of those meetings. In fact, he said: "We're talking about that. Talking about everything, the rules. How do we make the Senate work better? How can the Senate function the way it was designed to function?" That certainly sounds like a fellow who is warming up to the idea of a carve-out.

And now the bad news. The other blue fly in the ointment, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), responded to this news by issuing a statement through a spokesman that declared that while she supports voting reform, she also "continues to support the Senate's 60-vote threshold," which she says serves to "protect the country from repeated radical reversals in federal policy which would cement uncertainty, deepen divisions, and further erode Americans' confidence in our government."

Perhaps the senator has not noticed that divisions are already deeper than the Marianas Trench, and that Americans' confidence in the federal government is lower than, well, the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Perhaps it has also escaped her attention that virtually every parliamentary system in the world works on the principle that the party (or parties) that have a majority in the legislature get to implement their agenda, even if that agenda is a 90-degree, or a 180-degree turn from the status quo. Most parliamentary systems seem to work fairly well, certainly better than the U.S. government is working right now.

That said, the Senator's statement also said that "it is time for the Senate to publicly debate its rules, including the filibuster." So, maybe she doesn't really believe what she's saying, and she's just looking for political cover before "reluctantly" supporting a change. Undoubtedly, her colleagues will point out to her that she can have the filibuster, or she can have voting reform, but she can't have both, and it's time for her to decide which is more important. They will probably also point out to her that if she does not like divisiveness, it is the current system that promotes it, because it makes possible a strategy where all you have to do is keep your base angry and thus motivated, and that is enough to claim 41 seats in the Senate. And finally, Schumer will gently point out that she's not the only Democrat who can win in Arizona, and if she doesn't join Team Blue pronto, she's going to find herself facing a well-funded primary challenge from Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).

In short, Manchin has always seemed like the real obstacle here, and it looks like he may be gettable. If he is indeed gotten, we would guess Sinema eventually falls into line, one way or another. (Z)

DeSantis Announces His Christmas Stunt

If you're a Republican politician these days, one way to score points with your voters is to spend time whining about the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools. Because, after all, what about the children? Never mind that CRT isn't actually taught in public schools; it's the thought that counts. Anyhow, you could call this the Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) approach.

A different way to score points is to do an end run around the Supreme Court, and to deputize citizens to enforce laws that the state government cannot itself enforce. You know, like empowering people to sue anyone who "aids and abets" an abortion, like a Planned Parenthood counselor, or a supportive friend, or an Uber driver. You could call this the Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) approach.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) looks in the mirror every morning, he sees a future president (we suspect he stays away from that little portrait of himself up in the attic, though). And the Governor knows that he's gotta come up with new and better stunts all the time, in order to outdo his equally ambitious GOP brethren. Mid-December is prime time for him to unveil something, because he wants to make a bunch of headlines at a time when news is slow and his name will linger in people's minds. And so, it's not the least bit surprising that DeSantis announced his latest creation on Wednesday, a bill he calls "The Stop WOKE Act."

You can probably infer the general tone and tenor of the proposed legislation from its name. To get into specifics, DeSantis has taken inspiration from Frankenstein, or maybe Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and managed to fuse together the "best" elements of the Youngkin approach and the Abbott approach. To wit, the Governor wants parents to be able to sue schools if those schools dare to teach CRT to their kids. As a bonus, he also wants employees who are subjected to "harassment" by being subjected to sensitivity and racial awareness training to be able to sue.

Obviously, cans of worms are being opened left and right here. Considering DeSantis' specific proposal, what if a teacher teaches something very broad, like "slavery was bad"? That is something that CRT scholars would agree with, though it's not a sentiment that is unique to CRT by any means. Would that be enough to justify a lawsuit? And if a lawsuit did take place, would the teacher have to defend themselves, or would it be the responsibility of their school district?

More broadly, what's happening here is exactly what everyone predicted would happen when the Texas law was allowed to stand. State governments that have a policy goal (or goals) that can't be accomplished within the bounds of the Constitution are handing things off to private citizens. Whether it's California doing an end-run around the Second Amendment, or Florida doing an end-run around the First, it's all the same thing.

Given this, SCOTUS surely has no choice but to strike the Texas law down. Even if the five staunch right-wingers agree with its ends, they just can't look the other way when it comes to the means. We suspect that DeSantis has reached the same conclusion, and that he's just getting in on the opportunity while it still exists. (Z)

Voter Fraud Is Almost Nonexistent

Critical Race Theory is not the only minor phenomenon that the Trump wing of the Republican Party has turned into a major boogeyman. Voter fraud is on that list, too. And just to make sure that the talk of fraud is much ado about nothing, the Associated Press decided to take a close look at the matter. Their conclusion: There's no "there," there.

The AP put six battleground states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—under the microscope. And what they found was a grand total of 475 potential cases of fraud. Note that qualifier, because while 475 ballots out of 25,175,820 (.002%) is a very small number, the actual impact is much smaller. Some of those 475 were mistakes rather than attempts to perpetrate fraud, such as people who were on probation and did not know they were not eligible to cast a ballot. Others involved people with identical names, who may or may not have been the same person. More importantly, nearly all of the 475 were identified before they were counted and, in any event, they were almost equally divided between votes for Donald Trump and votes for Joe Biden.

Put another way, only 1 in 53,002 ballots was even plausibly questionable. To put that in context, here are some things that have a better chance of happening:

  1. Getting struck by lightning at some point during your life (1 in 13,500)
  2. Making a hole-in-one if you are an amateur golfer (1 in 12,500)
  3. Bowling a perfect game if you are an amateur bowler (1 in 11,500)
  4. Finding a 4-leaf clover in a field of clover (1 in 10,000)
  5. Living to age 100 (1 in 3,400)
  6. Getting a perfect score on the SAT (1 in 3,370)
  7. Catching a foul ball at a Major League Baseball game (1 in 835)
  8. If you are pregnant, giving birth to identical twins (1 in 400)
  9. Dying on your birthday (1 in 342)
  10. Being audited by the IRS this year (1 in 180)

Now, if you are not pregnant, then giving birth to identical twins is considerably less likely than a case of voter fraud. Orders of magnitude less likely, in fact.

In any event, the point is that just in case cold, hard evidence was needed, we now have it: Voter fraud played absolutely no role in the 2020 presidential election. (Z)

When Fox Says "Jump," Oz Says "How High?"

Michael Smerconish is the temporary (?) fill-in on CNN for the now-fired Chris Cuomo. And, by chance, Smerconish bumped into Mehmet Oz (R) at a Christmas Party over the weekend. Like any self-respecting journalist, Smerconish tried to score an interview with the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate. And the host says that Oz declined because "it would upset everybody at Fox... I'll come on your show after the primary."

The obvious storyline here, assuming Smerconish is telling the truth (and why would he lie?) is: Wow! Talk about the tail wagging the dog. If you're going to run for office as a Republican these days, you must keep Donald Trump and Fox happy, even in a purple-to-blue state. Nobody else matters, not even the voters whose votes you might just need in the general election. This, not to mention the departure of Chris Wallace, arguably the last actual journalist at the cable channel, is why we often avoid adding "News" to their name. Fox is simply not a news operation in any meaningful sense; it is an organ of the Republican Party.

The under-the-radar storyline, meanwhile, is this: We struggle to grasp why a longtime TV host with a salary in the eight figures would all of a sudden, at the age of 61, become interested in a longshot attempt at a political career that pays just six figures. Ok, yeah, he may want a new challenge, or he may want to try to change the world. Except that being a member of the Party of Trump is not a great way to accomplish either of those things right now, because junior Republican senators promptly turn into grunts upon being elected (see Tuberville, Tommy).

On the other hand, Fox's lead medical expert, Dr. Marc Siegel, is approaching 70 and might be close to calling it a career. Perhaps Oz is auditioning to be his replacement. Given his propensity for peddling snake oil and woo, the doctor would be a pretty good fit for Fox. He could either do hits on Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and other shows, or they could give him an hour of his own to peddle politics and medical nonsense. Could be a lot less work for a still-generous paycheck. So this Senate campaign could just be an audition. This is just wild speculation on our part, but we'll see if we are eventually proven right. (Z)

Jackson to Bow Out of North Carolina Senate Race

Yesterday, we wondered if, in the 2022 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina, state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D) might be a stronger general election candidate than Cheri Beasley (D), but a weaker primary candidate. Reader L.S. in Greensboro, N.C., who is very dialed in to Tar Heel State politics, sent us a message pushing back against that:

I do think you underrate the fact that Cheri Beasley has already run statewide three times. She won a Court of Appeals election, defeating an incumbent, and a state Supreme Court election. She then lost her attempt to win the chief justice post (to which she had been appointed) by 401 votes out of nearly 5.4 million cast. While the first two elections were theoretically nonpartisan, in fact every voter in the state was sent a voter's guide. You generally could tell which candidates were really Republicans by seeing which had been endorsed by the John Locke Foundation! So we all generally knew which party each judge represented.

I agree that state Sen. Jackson is a strong opponent, but I wouldn't underrate the general election prospects of someone who has already received nearly 2.7 million votes in a statewide election. And remember that was an election in which both Donald Trump and Sen. Thom Tillis (R) won the state (although Gov. Roy Cooper, D, and AG Josh Stein, D, also won for the Democrats, which is why it makes so much sense that we'll likely have 11 Republicans and 3 Democrats representing us in the House of Representatives if the recently adopted maps aren't thrown out by the courts!).

It would seem that L.S. is not the only one who rates Beasley's prospects very highly. Jeff Jackson does, too. So much so that he unexpectedly dropped out of the race yesterday. It's not official yet, but he's already called donors and broken the news, so it's just a matter of time until the press release goes out. Apparently, Jackson did not feel he could keep up with Beasley on the fundraising front, and was also concerned that she had rolled up most of the major endorsements in the race.

It is exceedingly probable that there is more to this story than is publicly known. A possible, albeit less likely, explanation is that Jackson has some sort of skeleton in his closet that was on the cusp of emerging. A much more likely explanation is that DNC chair Jaime Harrison and/or Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Gary Peters (D-MI) persuaded Jackson to throw in the towel, very possibly in exchange for future support in some other election. For example, Roy Cooper will be term limited in 2024, and that year should feature an environment much more friendly to Democrats.

This means that Beasley has cleared the decks of any serious opposition, and is likely to sail to the Democratic nomination, barring the entry of some other heavy-hitter into the race (Stein? Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles?). There is sometimes a benefit to a competitive primary if a candidate is not battle-tested and if they don't have much name recognition. Those things don't apply to Beasley, as L.S. points out, so it's great news for her that she can sit back, collect money, avoid taking damage, and avoid pivoting too far left or right while Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), former representative Mark Walker (R), and former governor Pat McCrory (R) slug it out on the other side of the contest. (Z)

Is BoJo about to BoGo?

By the standards of the Trump administration, this would be positively quaint, but by British standards, it's apparently a huge deal. Last December, the world was in the midst of one of the most serious phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, on the orders of the Boris Johnson administration, the U.K. was subject to a very strict lockdown. However, Team BoJo apparently did not feel those rules applied to them, and so there was at least one Christmas party (on Dec. 20) and possibly several other gatherings where pandemic rules were flouted. These gatherings included some amount of joking, caught on tape, about how very much the rules were being trampled upon.

Needless to say, it's not a good look for a politician and his administration to be caught red-handed while behaving hypocritically. It's worse to be caught joking about it. And it's even worse still when the issue in question just so happens to be rearing its ugly head again—the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is now the most common variant in the U.K. and is running roughshod through the population.

It's enough that members of Johnson's own Conservative Party are hopping mad, and want to hold him to account. By the standards of the Trump administration, this would be positively unheard of, but by British standards, it's apparently possible. The Prime Minister held a series of votes on COVID-19 containment measures, and though they were approved, it was on the strength of opposition votes. A total of 99 Tories rebelled, which is very significant in British politics. It's even more significant when you consider that the size of Johnson's majority is just 79 seats.

Media on both sides of the pond are sounding the alarm for Johnson's premiership. Some sample headlines:

In addition to this scandal, and the burgeoning Omicron variant, Johnson has also got the residue of other, ongoing scandals to deal with, along with general unhappiness over his Brexit plans, and cratering approval numbers. In fact, the latest from YouGov has him at 29% approval and 64% disapproval, which is 35 points underwater. That's Donald Trump territory. Heck, it's worse than Donald Trump territory.

That said, we cannot help but notice how many times the imminent demise of Trump was predicted incorrectly, and how many times the imminent demise of Johnson has been predicted (particularly in his early days in office), thus far incorrectly. So, is he a dead Boris walking? We don't feel we know enough about the situation to make a prediction. However, we do have a fair number of readers who live in or near the U.K., so perhaps some of them will share their views. We'd ask our British Affairs consultant, but he's currently a guest of the local constabulary after a wee dustup with our Gaelic Affairs consultant. Seems there was a minor disagreement over whether or not Dundalk FC would wipe the pitch with Tottenham Hotspur. (Z)

A December to Rhymember (Parts 19-20-21)

Onward and upward. Here are the previous entries:

We had some literary criticism of the limericks yesterday. Today, some pushback. Apropos to the item above, we'll let a Brit, G.S. in Basingstoke, England, UK, have the first word:

A Manhattanite pedant, B.N.,
Was quick to pick up their pen
"This pure English verse,
You've immured in a hearse,
But then I should probably do well to remember that America has coined plenty of 'creative' interpretations of the English language through misspelling of words like labour and favour and an inability to distinguish nouns from verbs with words like defence and calling football 'soccer' and pavements 'sidewalks' and therefore in this season of goodwill to all men I will be more zen."

Dunno, G.S., we think that last line might have too many syllables. Anyhow, here's the opinion of R.S. in Milan, OH:

There once was a reader from Nantucket
Who looked at this game and said, "Chuck it!"
But the limericks survived
And, more so, they thrived
So he just shook his head and said ... Well, forget it ...

And for the first time in this series, we're going for a triple, finishing with a haiku from C.E. in San Francisco, CA:

They're just limericks.
People need to lighten up.
Also, Ted Cruz sucks.

In the end, a proper assessment of Ted Cruz is really what's important here, right? (Z)

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