It is all well and good to treat Dec. 15, or Dec. 25, or Dec. 31 as a "deadline" for Congress to get one or more important things done. After all, deadlines have a way of lighting a fire under people, and compelling them to take care of business. But while the end of the calendar year is a big deal in election years (since the new Congress takes its seats on or about Jan. 3 of the year after), it's not actually all that significant in a non-election year. That is to say, there is no special difference between Dec. 31, 2021 and Jan. 1 (or Jan. 5 or Feb. 5 or Mar. 22), 2022.
Yesterday, Joe Biden conceded this point in a big way, as he acknowledged that Build Back Better, the $1.7 trillion (or so) partisan infrastructure bill that will have to be passed using the reconciliation process, is going to have to wait until 2022. In a statement, the President said he and Senate Democrats will get back to work "as early as possible." The Washington insider translation of that: "February or March."
There appear to be a number of reasons that Biden & Co. tapped the brakes. In no particular order:
No doubt this delay is a setback for Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), but we shouldn't overstate how big a setback it really is. Nor should we dismiss the possibility that the blue team takes lemons and makes lemonade with some time to do things more carefully, and some time for "cooling off," as one senator put it.
Following Biden's announcement, both the right-leaning The Bulwark and the left-leaning Slate had pieces on the theme "The Democrats should start listening to Joe Manchin," although the authors had different arguments for doing so. Tim Miller, writing for The Bulwark, observes that Manchin knows what does, and does not, please the exact sort of voters the Democrats are aiming for here, so perhaps they should yield to his advice. Jordan Weissman, writing for Slate, opines that the Democrats' strategy of funding a bunch of programs short-term, and hoping they become too popular to kill, is very risky. He thinks that Manchin is correct in pushing for a smaller number of programs that are funded long-term, and are therefore more likely to last and to become a permanent part of the social safety net.
Both of those pieces might well be headlined "In defense of Joe Manchin." To that, let us add our own observation in defense of Joe... Biden. There are many Democrats, including some in the Senate, who would like to see him out front right now, rallying the troops. That may be satisfying, but it's unlikely to change the calculus right now, for the reasons outlined above. In the end, the man knows a thing or two about how to get things done in the U.S. Senate. He served there for the better part of four decades, he helped steer the Affordable Care Act through that body as vice president, and he helped secure passage of massive COVID-relief and infrastructure bills this year. It is not easy to delay gratification, but President probably deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the question of "What in the heck is he doing?" If Build Back Better goes up in flames, that is the time to get out the pitchforks and torches. (Z)
Newton's third law says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. He was talking about the physical world, not American politics (the latter would have been a nice trick since the Constitution was written 60 years after he died). Still, the rule tends to apply in both arenas, with the fight over abortion rights the latest exemplar from the political realm.
The states of Texas and Mississippi have conspired, of course, to shut down all of the abortion providers located within their borders. The Texas law may or may not survive long-term, but it's in effect right now, and so is stopping women from getting abortions as we write. The Mississippi law looks very much like it could survive, reading the Supreme Court tea leaves, even if it is currently not being enforced. So, those who wish to make certain that women have reproductive choice appear to have both short-term and long-term fights on their hands.
The Biden administration is, of course, pro-choice. And it has already done just about everything that it can to push back against these laws in court, challenging the Texas law (unsuccessfully thus far) and participating in the Supreme Court hearing about the Mississippi law. On Thursday, the FDA announced the administration's latest pro-choice move: making "permanent" the new rules for distribution of mifepristone, misoprostol, and methotrexate (a.k.a. abortion pills).
Mifepristone has been available in the United States since 2000, with the others coming into use a bit later, and for most of that time, the FDA required that patients receive the pills from the prescribing physician in person. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the requirements were loosened, allowing patients to receive the pill via mail. That's the rule change that will now be made permanent, although with some red tape still in place (patients have to sign a special form and doctors have to register with the manufacturer of whichever of the drugs they are prescribing).
This is a clear counter-move to what's going on in Mississippi and Texas. For women who don't have financial means, and who don't live close to a state where abortion remains legal (and there are no states near Mississippi that meet that description), reasonably easy access to mifepristone, et al., could solve a lot of problems. Planned Parenthood and other reproductive-rights organizations know this very well, and so are working hard to make it as easy as possible for women in need to jump through the necessary hoops.
Naturally, this change in policy is going to result in a counter-move from the opponents of abortion rights, who are already promising a "50 state" campaign. There are two obvious angles of attack. The first, which is already in effect in many states (including Texas), is to try to make it illegal to receive or use the pills within state borders. The challenge here is giving such laws actual teeth. State law enforcement—like, say, the Texas Rangers—can get a warrant to seize and open mail if they have a good-faith reason to believe that a crime is being committed. In the absence of such a warrant, laying hands on people's mail is a federal crime, even for a Texas Ranger.
It is not easy for state officials to get a look at mail while it is in federal hands, and thus to establish the legal foundation for a warrant. One possibility is for Texas, et al., to extend the bounty system, rewarding folks—like, say, anti-abortion mail carriers—who tattle on abortion-pill recipients. A second option, which can be implemented alongside the first, is to make the penalties for receiving the pills really, really onerous. The general idea is that pill users might not get caught often, but the ones who do will serve as an extreme cautionary tale. For example, "Jane Roe was prosecuted for receiving mifepristone, and is now serving 20 years."
The other point of attack for anti-abortion states and activists is the FDA itself. We have referred to the rule change as "permanent" several times (note quotation marks), because as soon as the next Republican president takes office, they will try to wipe the new rule off the books. That could be as soon as January 20, 2025, by which time the legal landscape could be very possibly be much more hostile to abortion rights.
Again, though, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So, as anti-abortion states and activists try to clamp down on pills via mail, Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice activists will have arrows that they can pull out of their quivers. Already, they are working to set up pill-providing clinics in abortion-legal states, right along the border of abortion-illegal states. This basic model is in use all over the place, though more often used for things like ammunition, guns, fireworks, casino gambling, and lottery tickets. There is a reason that the three biggest lottery-ticket sellers in the country are all located less than a mile from the Utah border.
In addition, the pro-choice folks have their own army of lawyers who know a thing or two about filing these sorts of lawsuits. In particular, if a new president tries to overturn an existing FDA policy, they have to have a clear justification for doing do. Donald Trump never had the patience for such annoyances, which is why many of his rule changes were shot down by the courts. Maybe the next Republican president, if it's not Donald Trump, will be more careful about dotting the i's and crossing the t's, but maybe they won't. Either way, they will probably need to have a compelling reason for implementing new rules if they hope to make their approach "permanent."
The upshot of all of this is this: There are two very important battles being fought right now: Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Center (Mississippi) and Whole Women's Health v. Jackson/United States v. Texas (Texas). And sometime in June, give or take, we'll know how those battles turned out. But whatever the outcome, the war is far from over. (Z)
The members of the House 1/6 Committee know that while their task is mostly a judicial proceeding, it's also an exercise in PR. Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) & Co. obviously want to punish as many people as is possible, but they also want to put the message out to voters: "Trump and his supporters are bad people who tried to overturn an election. Don't vote for them!"
To that end, the Committee is doing a pretty good job of leaking evidence, bit by bit, that is allowing them to get a lot of headlines across many different daily news cycles. The latest revelation is a text message that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) sent to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows while the insurrection was underway:
On January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence, as President of the Senate, should call out all the electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all—in accordance with guidance from founding father Alexander Hamilton and judicial precedence (sic). "No legislative act," wrote Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 78, "contrary to the Constitution, can be valid." The court in Hubbard v. Lowe reinforced this truth: "That an unconstitutional statute is not a law at all is a proposition no longer open to discussion." 226 F. 135, 137 (SDNY 1915), appeal dismissed, 242 U.S. 654 (1916).
You know a legal argument is strong when, instead of the Constitution or any other federal law, it relies on a 200-year-old essay written by someone who never held elective office and an obscure 100-year-old court case that is not precedential since it was decided by the Southern District of New York and did not reach the Supreme Court. Oh, and even then, the text misrepresents both of these things, as Federalist No. 78 and Hubbard v. Lowe both addressed judicial review, and had nothing to do with Congress or the vice president being entitled to take the law into their own hands.
Initially, the Committee released only the portion of the text that appears before the dash. Jordan complained that doing so completely changed his meaning, and the Committee promptly released the rest. You can read for yourself and if there's a difference between "Mike Pence should overturn the election results" and "Mike Pence should overturn the election results, and here's a couple of citations that we are going to pretend support that assertion." Jordan also said that he didn't write the text, he just forwarded it to Meadows. That is true (it was written by Joseph Schmitz, who worked in the George W. Bush administration), but it's hard to see how that changes anything. It's not like the text was a funny meme sent for the LOLZ; it was clearly meant to give Meadows and his then-boss ammunition to be used in twisting Mike Pence's arm.
In other words, you have a sitting member of Congress who literally sat in his office and plotted the overthrow of a legal, valid presidential election. There have been a total of 20 members expelled from the House, the first 18 got booted for fomenting insurrection and the other two for taking bribes. What Jordan did was surely worse than what the latter duo did, and it's exactly the same as what the former group of 18 did. By all rights, then, he should be booted out of office. Whether he will be is anyone's guess, but it would take 70 Republican votes to turn the trick, so don't hold your breath. (Z)
This Sunday, we answered a question about the possibility of Democrats moving to a sparsely populated red state like Wyoming with an eye toward turning it blue, or at least purple. That generated some letters on the subject on Sunday. The general consensus: Not impossible, but tough to accomplish unless it happens naturally.
In view of that discussion, we bring you this op-ed from Ohioan Craig Calcaterra. He's sort of the yin to our yang, in that we write about politics and occasionally mix in some baseball, while he writes about baseball and occasionally mixes in some politics. Calcaterra observes that, in Ohio, there's not much going on to attract new Democratic residents to the state. However, there is plenty going on that's serving to drive out the Democrats who already live there.
Calcaterra starts with the observation that both of his near-college-age kids are going to hightail it out of the Buckeye State at the first available opportunity. He continues:
My kids are not alone in this, of course. Like a lot of Midwestern states, young people have been increasingly leaving Ohio for large cities like Chicago and Atlanta, rapidly growing cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas, and, of course, the traditional urban power centers on the coasts. Ohio has been hit particularly hard by this kind of brain drain and the state's failure to attract young, diverse professionals to replace those who leave.
The issue is that while Ohio and other states pay lip service to being a great place for young people to live, with low taxes, affordable housing, etc., the Republican-dominated government also implements laws and policies that many people find abhorrent: anti-LGBTQ+ laws, limits on abortion rights, hostility to clean energy, voter suppression, mucking around with education, resistance to COVID-19 vaccines and countermeasures, etc. A lot of young people just don't want to live in that sort of political environment.
Over time, the "brain drain" that results from this will do serious harm to the economies of Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, etc., possibly even turning them into larger versions of West Virginia or Kentucky (i.e., states wedded to an economic model that is half a century out of date). This is somewhat bothersome to some leaders in those states. On the other hand, anything that makes it easier for the GOP to dominate state politics is seen as a positive. So, there isn't that much effort being put into retaining these younger voters.
Anyhow, this seemed a useful addendum to the question/letters from the weekend. Not only does a "Make Wyoming/Montana/Idaho/Mississippi Blue" scheme run into the problem that young people/Democrats/young Democrats don't want to live in states like those, but it also runs into the issue that some sizable percentage of the new arrivals will be offset by left-leaning folks who are fleeing in search of bluer pastures.
The other side of the coin is that if enough Midwesterners go to Atlanta or Austin or Charlotte, then Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina will get more purple or maybe even blue. Gerrymandering works fine for the House, but not at all for the Senate. (Z)
When Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) announced his new anti-Critical Race Theory initiative this week, he did it at The Villages, a massive (larger in area than Manhattan) retirement community. Not all of the 80,000 or so residents are Trump fanatics, but a large percentage of them are, and they tend to be home on weekdays, so it's a great place for a Republican politician to stage photo-ops/impromptu rallies, and DeSantis has partaken of the opportunity numerous times (so too have Donald Trump, Sen. Rick Scott, R-FL, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, among others).
Given that The Villages is ground zero for Trumpism in Florida, it's also ground zero for "stop the steal" and for spurious claims of voter fraud. Or maybe not so spurious, because news broke on Thursday that voter fraud has been found in the Sunshine State, and it's been found very close to home for residents of the retirement community. In fact, it's been found in The Villages itself. The bad news is that it's only three cases, and all three look to be Trump voters.
Since the three cases haven't made their way to court yet, the specifics of the three voters' double ballots are not yet known. However, two of the three are registered Republicans and the third is unaffiliated. All are white, and all three have railed against the authorities for pressing charges. All three have posted pro-Trump messages to their Facebook pages. So, the weight of the known evidence points to a troika of MAGA movement members.
If any or all of the trio is shown to have committed fraud on behalf of the former president, it won't be the first time a Trump supporter has gotten popped. Donald Kirk Hartle, of Nevada, voted for Trump in his own right, and also on behalf of his deceased wife. Edward Snodgrass, of Ohio, cast ballots for Trump for himself, and also for his dying-but-not-dead father. Bruce Bartman, Richard Lynn, and Ralph Thurman, all of Pennsylvania, followed suit, excepting that the former two voted for Trump on behalf of their dead mothers (shades of Psycho), while the latter voted on behalf of his (living) son. Thurman also cost Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX) $25,000, as Patrick was compelled to pay out the $25,000 he'd promised to anyone who could prove a case of voter fraud (the Lieutenant Governor forgot to exclude cases where a Democrat could prove voter fraud against a Republican).
The E-V.com Schadenfreude Department (the Editor for Schadenfreudal Matters, Associate Editor for Schadenfreudal Matters, and Legal Counsel for Schadenfreudal Matters) likes it when people behave hypocritically and get caught red-handed. It's even better, however, when they also serve as the exceptions that prove the rule: Voter fraud is very rare and, when it does happen, it's almost always detected and punished. And it's Republicans doing it. (Z)
Last week, we wrote an item about the new chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, doing our best to parse the meaning of his rise to power, but also inviting more knowledgeable readers from Germany (and its environs) to write in with their insights. That worked out pretty well, so in the item we wrote on British PM Boris Johnson yesterday, we made the same request. Here are some of the responses; the first two arrived shortly before we put today's post up, and include the very latest developments:S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK
I thought it best to take up your request for comments on the fate of Boris Johnson after the result was declared of the by-election in the North Shropshire constituency on Thursday.B.C. in Hertfordshire, England, UK
Since 1885, this deeply rural seat, or its predecessor, has been held by the Conservative Party, excepting a handful of months in the early 1900s. Their majority in the last general election was 23,000, after they obtained 63% of the vote. After Thursday, things look a little different. The Conservative share of the vote plummeted to 31% and the perennial third party in U.K. politics, the Liberal Democrats, won with a majority of nearly 6,000. This is the biggest swing in a by-election between these two parties for 28 years.
The by-election came about it unusual circumstance when the sitting MP resigned after been found to have been lobbying the government on behalf of companies for which he was a paid consultant. The initial response of the government, led by Johnson, to these findings was not to endorse them (resulting in the MP being suspended for a month), but to try to change the basis of the investigation!
Even so, the by-election appears to have been dominated by the electors' view of Johnson. The "Partygate" issue you referred to featured prominently, but a whole host of sleaze and corruption issues have accumulated around Johnson personally (receiving money from donors to refurbish his apartment at Downing Street) and his government in general (for example, creating a special channel where Conservative MPs could recommend companies bidding for pandemic related contracts without usual competition rules applying—the sums involved run into billions). And this is before we get to the highest inflation in 13 years, pending tax rises, broken promises on infrastructure upgrades, a botched initiative on social care and a near complete absence of all those benefits promised "post Brexit," most of which are closely associated with Johnson.
Johnson has a well-deserved reputation of being a "teflon" politician (once described as being like a "greased pig"). He has an equally well deserved reputation for lying in his political, professional and personal lives. The barely disguised venom across much of the media in recent weeks suggests the latter is now coming to the fore, as does the North Shropshire result.
The Conservative Party has a long record of self-preservation, and this includes an unsentimental approach to party leaders who are viewed, regardless of past achievement, as having become a liability. Johnson appears to be in that position right now and, although he might survive an initial challenge to his leadership, the odds of him leading his party into the next General Election have diminished significantly.
I waited to comment on your Boris Johnson story because there was an important by-election in England yesterday (North Shropshire) and the result is potentially crucial to Johnson's future.T.R. in Exeter, England, UK
And... Johnson's Conservative Party lost! The small Liberal Democrat Party won the election with a comfortable majority of 6,000, overturning a 23,000 Conservative majority. Although the Liberal Democrats are often the beneficiaries of mid-term protest votes (which rarely signify long-term change to the political outlook) this is one of the biggest swings ever seen. Even a fraction of this swing, replicated nationally, would see many Conservative MP's lose their seats, possibly including Johnson himself.
North Shropshire (a rural constituency with no big cities, no universities and an affluent, almost entirely white population) is about as conservative a place as you could imagine. Granted, there was a special factor here, but it's one from which Johnson can take little comfort: The seat was open because its Conservative incumbent resigned after being caught pocketing hundreds of thousands of pounds in contravention of cash-for-lobbying rules, a problem which Johnson himself made immeasurably worse by trying (and failing) to re-write the entire Parliamentary disciplinary system to save his buddy. This all blew up a few weeks ago and sparked a seemingly endless stream of corruption scandals surrounding Johnson and the Conservatives.
My estimation is that Johnson is finished. No U.K. government has ever survived corruption and sleaze scandals on this scale, and it's only going to get worse: there is plenty more to come on affairs such as the lockdown-breaking Christmas (and other) parties (there are more being revealed daily) and "Wallpapergate" (Who exactly paid for the massively expensive refurbishment of the Prime Minister's Downing Street home, and did Johnson lie about the funding?).
The Conservative Party is notoriously ruthless with lame-duck leaders, which Johnson undoubtedly now is. Over the next few weeks there will be endless speculation about the number of letters of no confidence in the leader sent by MP's to the Chairman of the Conservatives' 1922 Committee (the process by which the party gets rid of its leader; if it sounds ridiculous, that's because it is). The Chairman (currently the saurian Sir Graham Brady) has not exactly helped Johnson, announcing that he will be accepting "letters" by e-mail over the Christmas Parliamentary recess.
My prediction is that Johnson will be gone by the spring, and that he will also resign his Parliamentary seat in west London and revert to being a third-rate journalist and after-dinner speaker. Also expect to see him on TV on some island somewhere, eating spiders and having bugs shoved up his ass. He will be replaced as Conservative leader (and hence Prime Minister) by the current Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, who is very popular with the (tiny) Conservative Party membership. Truss is a schizophrenic personality who is unable to decide whether she is the reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher or the next Queen of England. Either way, it is often said of her that she is so dense light bends around her. She is unlikely to revive her party's electoral fortunes. Come the next election in 2-3 years, the dull but worthy Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer is the most likely to become Prime Minister, probably heading a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and/or the Scottish Nationalist Party. A country desperate for a dose of dull-but-worthy after the chaos of Brexit and Johnson will breathe a sigh of relief.
So there you have it: my view on politics across the pond. It's probably wise to place your bets on the diametric opposite of everything I have predicted!
Boris Johnson will survive, at least in the short term, because there is no obvious candidate to replace him. He has been unusual in appealing both to traditional Conservative voters, and also to voters in the "red-wall" seats (red being Labour in this country) in the north of England, which went Conservative at the last election for the first time ever. Regarding the polls, governments are used to being behind mid-term, Labour have only pulled ahead in the last few weeks, and they are not as far ahead as they should be at this stage in the cycle. Conservative MPs are famously regicidal, but they know all this very well. Johnson will need to make a few more missteps, and things will have to stay bad for a long time, for them to risk ditching him.S.F. in Dundalk, Ireland
I live in Ireland rather than the U.K., but we get all their media (if we care to pay attention) and I would argue that looking in from the outside can, if anything, make it easier for us to get an accurate and fair reflection of what's happening.S.F. in Oglethorpe, GA
Basically, the Tories have sold out everything they could ever claim to have stood for. The opposition are led by Sir Keir Starmer. Who? Exactly. Labour are losing support in the North due to Brexit (supposedly), but I would posit that that isn't the full issue. Local councils have had funding cuts, social care has been pretty much destroyed (started by Labour 10+ years ago). The issue of race or religion likely will go against Labour in their "traditional heartland" over the next decade or two. The "traditional" and "working class" Labour supporters have seen the party pivot and become, if anything, woke-r than any mainstream U.S. parties. They waste council funds and time talking about pronouns and race while, literally as seen in a couple of recent cases, kids are being killed in their homes. People seem resigned to services disappearing and it's like they've lost any will to fight. The Labour movement is dead in the water and thanks to the UK's first-past-the-post system it's basically a 2-party system.
Being Irish, I think the vast majority of my countrymen see Boris Johnson as the personification of Tory-ness. During The Troubles, unlike in the U.K., we saw the local news reports, the British news reports, and the Irish news reports. We know what they do. We all saw well in advance they would screw over the "Loyal" DUP in Northern Ireland to attain their glorious Brexit. Hell, Edward Carson (Irish Unionist leader), literally a hundred years ago said "What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power." It's almost too perfect a quote but I heard it well before Brexit was a thing.
Brexit and Boris, to most Irish, are just the Tories and Britain as a whole devolving to where we had a suspicion (which we didn't like to have) that they truly feel comfortable. I don't think anyone can blame an Irishman for being cynical about the British. Throughout the Brexit negotiations and the ineptitude on display, along with their incredible arrogance, all us Irish thought was "See, everyone? This is what we've had to put up with." At the end of the day it's up to the Tory media as to which straw will break the camel's back. Boris has been inept and basically a joke from the very start but it doesn't matter.
And since you mentioned my home town of Dundalk (somewhat ironic given events hereabouts during The Troubles) maybe wiping the floor with Tottenham Hotspur; not likely. But 40 years ago, in the European Cup Winners' Cup, Dundalk FC managed a 1-1 draw against Tottenham before Tottenham won the second match 1-0. Not bad for a team of semi-pro players!
As a lifelong Tottenham Hotspur fan ("Tottenham until they kill me"), and seeing as how Spurs have had five of their last six matches postponed for snow (once), and COVID outbreaks (their last four, including yesterday), I have little doubt that Dundalk, even though Irish club football is weak and doesn't even play at this time of year, would walk it over my Spurs right now. On the plus side, Tottenham has a bunch of players who might be eligible for jobs at No. 10 should BoJo manage to hang on.
We'll have more on Sunday, as there were some other very interesting comments. We just don't want to overdo it at any one time. (Z)
We've received so many submissions that are interesting, provocative, and/or funny that this is almost certainly going to continue all month (on weekdays, that is). Here are the previous entries:
Today is another triple, and is also a little meta, featuring verses that are about...verse. First up, S.S. in Etobicoke, ON, Canada, who declares "equal time required for iambic pentameter":
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is D.C, and Biden is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious Trump,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou, the prez, art far more fair than he.
Next, a limerick about limericks, sent in by Q.J. in Edmonton, AL, Canada:
Do all of you not get the verse?
An iamb, two anapests first,
then repeat, then two lines
each with an'pests two times,
then one more line just like the first!
And finally, a haiku about haikus, from S.G. in Van Nuys, CA:
A proper haiku
notes the season at the end.
It's cold. Ted Cruz sucks.
Actually, when it's cold, Ted Cruz flees to Cancun. Then he sucks. (Z)