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Trump Buys More Time for Himself

Donald Trump got bad news on Tuesday night, when Judge Tanya Chutkan told him that since he's no longer president, he's no longer entitled to executive privilege, and cannot keep the 1/6 Committee from seeing records from his administration. He got further bad news on Wednesday, when Chutkan denied a request for an injunction on her ruling while Trump appealed. That left the former president with about 36 hours, 24 of them a holiday, to find another judge to grant the injunction. Otherwise, NARA said they would start sending the records over to the Committee this afternoon.

On Thursday, despite the holiday, Trump's lawyers managed to pull a rabbit out of their hats. It's only a small rabbit, since it's not that hard to get an appeals court to issue a temporary injunction, but it was a rabbit nonetheless. A three-judge panel U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted the request yesterday afternoon. The panel, with Biden appointee and possible future Supreme Court justice Ketanji Brown Jackson taking the lead, took great pains to make clear that their decision says nothing about the merits of the underlying case, and was undertaken only in service of the court's prerogative to hear the case. Oral arguments in the case were also fast-tracked to Nov. 30.

So, Trump gets a reprieve, at least for now. But how much of a reprieve is it? That depends on two questions. The first is whether he can eventually find a level of the court system that will rule in his favor. It is hard to imagine that he's going to find that at any of the lower levels, since the Court of Appeals is bound by existing precedent, and that precedent is very clear on this point.

Trump might find a favorable audience with the Supreme Court, but we are inclined to doubt it. A couple of the justices, like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, are "unitary executive" adherents, and may decide that not only should sitting presidents have basically unlimited powers, but former presidents should, too. Although it would be awfully hard for them to justify why the former president (who wants the records kept secret) should have more power than the current president (who wants the records given to Congress). Meanwhile, the liberals are sure to rule against Trump, while most of the other conservatives on the Court do not appear to be in the bag for him (despite his expectations otherwise with the justices he appointed), and may welcome this opportunity to signal their independence. At very least, they may not be willing to bend over backwards to create new presidential prerogatives out of whole cloth.

Assuming that Trump cannot secure a favorable ruling, then the other question is the only one that matters: How long can he drag this out? His dream would be to wait out the current Congress, hoping that the Republicans take control of the House and then dissolve the 1/6 Commission. However, he is running out of cards to play. The three-judge panel will likely issue their ruling in early December. At that point, assuming it is adverse, Trump will ask for an en banc hearing of all of the D.C. Appeals judges. Maybe he gets it, maybe he doesn't. Once that step has either been resolved, or has been denied to the former president, then it's on to the Supremes, who may or may not agree to hear the case.

In other words, there is a lot of potential variability here, depending on whether he's got one, two, or three more chances to plead his case. There's also a lot of variability based on whether the various judges who hear his pleadings decide to speed things up or to operate on a normal timetable. It's certainly possible he could run out the clock on this Congress but, again, we doubt it. Since this is a pretty major issue, he almost certainly gets the Supremes to take the case, and he'll probably get his en banc hearing, too. But the issues here are pretty clear-cut, and the need for timely decisions is evident, so the case probably doesn't linger for much more than a few weeks or a month at either of those levels. The holidays are coming up, so that may buy Trump a bit more time, but he should probably consider himself lucky if he manages to drag things out beyond the middle of February. And there is certainly a version of events where he runs out of options by early-to-mid-December.

Meanwhile, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is supposed to appear before the 1/6 Committee today for a deposition. He says he won't be there until Trump's privilege case is resolved. The Committee responded that if he doesn't show, they will find him in criminal contempt. Presumably, he will follow through on his threat and they will follow through on theirs, and sometime next week AG Merrick Garland will have another file on his desk that he cannot ignore forever. (Z)

Does Joe Biden Have an Inflation Problem?

Let's start with something we're sure of: Inflation is very high right now. According to its latest monthly report, issued on Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that there has been 6.2% inflation over the past year. That is the highest figure since November 1990.

A second thing that we're sure of is that seemingly everyone is talking about it right now. Republican politicians naturally see the issue as one they can wield against the Democrats and the White House. A certain Democrat in the Senate (bet you can't guess which one) suggested this is proof that Congress can't afford to get reckless when it comes to the reconciliation spending bill. Meanwhile, seemingly every outlet in the land had at least one item this week, if not several, about how bad inflation is and how that's horrible news for the President. For example:

That's a pretty broad range of media outlets, and they are all saying the same basic thing.

Now we get to the thing we're not sure about: Are they right that Joe Biden has a big problem on his hands? We see arguments in either direction:

On one hand: We are somewhat skeptical that, except with a few indicators like gas prices, voters are acutely aware of inflation. If they don't tend to notice slightly larger tax refunds, why would they notice slightly higher prices for chicken thighs, celery, and wheat bread? Especially since both producers and stores take pains to keep prices level as much as is possible.

On the other hand: If everyone is talking about how bad inflation is, that will tend to make it into an issue, whether inflation actually remains bad or it improves.

On one hand: If the two infrastructure bills are passed and are successful, then that might change the narrative.

On the other hand: If the inflation news causes Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and/or Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to hit the brakes even harder, or if it gives them political cover to torpedo the reconciliation bill, then that could be a disastrous setback for the President.

On one hand: The man who was president the last time inflation was this bad was George H.W. Bush, and his approval ratings clearly weren't hurt by the inflation news in November of 1990. In fact, they shot up shortly thereafter:

Bush was at 58% in November 1990,
and was up in the 80s a few months after, before dropping to the 40s in the last couple years of his term

On the other hand: The reason Bush's ratings shot up was the wave of nationalism that came with the successful Persian Gulf War. After the "glow" of the war faded, he was dragged down... by the economy.

On one hand: Biden is well aware of the problem, and has a year to fix it before the next election. And he's going to choose a new chair for the Federal Reserve in the next week or two—that person has more power to combat inflation than any other on the face of the planet.

On the other hand: Recognizing that the inflation is caused primarily by pandemic-related supply chain issues, economists aren't so sure there is much that the government can do.

Looking over this list, the arguments for "Houston, we've got a problem" seem to be stronger than the arguments for "Nothing to see here." And yet, we have a hard time accepting that one not-so-great report from BLS presages doom for the White House. Still, we give you both sides of the argument, as we see them, so you can decide for yourself. (Z)

Biden to Appoint Infrastructure Czar

According to the Library of Congress, which tracks legislation, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (a.k.a. the bipartisan infrastructure bill) hit Joe Biden's desk on Monday. He hasn't signed it yet, for reasons that are unclear. Maybe Donald Trump took all the White House pens with him when he left, so he could sell them to suck... er, to supporters.

Anyhow, Biden has 10 days, not including Sundays and holidays, to take care of business. That means that he will surely sign in the next several days, since next Saturday is the deadline. Perhaps there are negotiations going on behind the scenes involving the reconciliation bill. Or perhaps he wants "The Bill is Now Official" to be the last big headline before Thanksgiving week commences. Even if all the White House pens are gone, Biden must have a few pens in a drawer in his house in Delaware, right? (NB: It turns out he's waiting for Congress to be back in session so that photo ops can be staged.)

In any event, we noted earlier this week that passing and signing the bill is just the first step, and that implementation will be even more important, and even harder. We observed that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg appears to be quite competent, but it would seem that the Secretary is not enough. Well aware of the challenges ahead, and mindful that his administration needs to get this just right, Biden is reportedly planning to appoint an infrastructure czar/guru/chief/sultan/mogul.

The White House did not announce who will be appointed, and it's not clear how far along the administration is in the process. When Barack Obama was president, and he was in need of someone to do this job for his $787 billion stimulus package, he chose... Joe Biden. So, maybe Kamala Harris gets the call; her approval ratings are poor right now, so she could certainly use the boost. Failing that, it will undoubtedly be one of Biden's seemingly limitless supply of close friends he's known since the 1970s.

The primary job of the czar will be to see to it that funds are distributed equitably, and that corruption is kept to a minimum. And it's expected that when and if the reconciliation bill passes, a second person will be appointed to perform the same task for that money. So, maybe the bill(s) will make a difference for voters, and for the administration's political prospects, and maybe not. But if they fail, it won't be for a lack of trying to get it right, which stands in sharp contrast to the sloppy, lacking in follow-through, "once I've sent a braggy tweet I'm over it" approach of the previous administration. (Z)

"Cancel Culture" Means Nothing

There are quite a few concepts in American political discourse that have become grossly distorted over time, such that their main purpose today is to make a subjective political judgment seem to be objective. Among those concepts is "judicial activism," "socialist," "terrorist," "free speech," and "treason." This is not a terribly profound insight, but nonetheless, it is clear that "cancel culture" is now squarely on that list (it probably always was, but it definitely is now).

A new poll from The Hill/HarrisX queried respondents as to whether "cancel culture has gone too far." And 71% of all respondents said it has, including 76% of Republicans, 70% of Democrats, and 68% of independents. At the same time, 48% of respondents, including 50% of Republicans, 43% of Democrats, and 52% of independents said that they've heard "only a little bit" or "nothing at all" about cancel culture. That means that roughly one-quarter of people, across the political spectrum, think cancel culture has gone too far despite having heard little to nothing about it.

This same disconnect appears in specific situations. For example, Aaron Rodgers, the jerk who quarterbacks the Green Bay Packers, decided that he didn't want to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but that he didn't want to tell the truth about that fact, either. So, he engaged in word games (claiming he was "immunized" because he took ivermectin and a bunch of other stuff), the team played along, and unwitting people were put at risk. The lie was exposed when he got the disease. But rather than apologize, he went on a podcast show and whined about being "canceled" while comparing himself to Martin Luther King Jr. That would be the same MLK Jr. who was beaten and arrested by police many times, and who was cut down in the prime of his life by a white supremacist assassin. And that would be the same Aaron Rodgers who will take a week off to recover, and then who will go back to plying his trade before an adoring crowd while collecting his roughly $2 million/game paycheck. Those situations sound almost identical, right?

On the other side of the coin are people who engage in clear-cut cancel culture and who don't give a damn, or even seem to be aware of their hypocrisy. The recent example here, not surprisingly, is Donald Trump, who has done plenty of complaining about "cancel culture." And during a speech on Monday night, he called for Republicans to boycott any companies that "don't believe in conservative principles." Note that the definition of cancel culture that The Hill/HarrisX read to people was "the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure." Trump's plan would seem to qualify.

In short, to the extent that "cancel culture" means anything, it means "I don't like people who disagree with me expressing or acting on that fact." Cancel culture can only be perpetrated by "the other side," and when "the other side" does disagree, it doesn't matter one whit if there's any actual canceling going on.

And so, the terrorists win again. And the socialists, too. (Z)

Do Pennsylvanians Like Snake Oil?

Yesterday we had an item about the soap opera that the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate Republican primary has become. The current frontrunner is former Army Ranger Sean Parnell, who has the support of Donald Trump, but who is also in the midst of a court case in which his ex-wife is arguing that he's an abusive jerk. Establishment Republicans would very much like to recruit business executive David McCormick. He can self-fund, has a stellar resume (Marine Corps veteran, former Treasury Dept. official, etc.), and there's no evidence that he's a spousal abuser. On the other hand, he's no longer a resident of Pennsylvania, he might not excite Trump's base, he's likely to be attacked by Trump himself since he's not "Trump's guy," and he's not sure he wants to run.

In case this does not already seem like the new season of The Surreal Life, reportedly the race may be close to attracting a new entrant. That would be Dr. Mehmet Oz, who was once a respected cardiothoracic surgeon, but is now much better known for The Dr. Oz Show, on which he often promotes pseudoscientific quackery. Not always, mind you, but often. Apparently, he's already begun hiring staffers and started networking with Pennsylvania GOP movers and shakers.

On one hand, this sort of transition makes some sense. After all, quacks and politicians have more than a few things in common, and Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) already demonstrated how to transition from "doctor with questionable ethics" to "member of Congress." On the other hand, does Oz really want to change careers at the age of 62, particularly to something he knows nothing about, and that would entail a cut in pay of more than $19.5 million annually? This makes more sense as a publicity stunt than as a real bid for office.

If Oz does run, he'll have some obstacles to overcome. He's not going to get a warm welcome from Trump, for sure. Further, he's a Muslim, and many Republicans are not great fans of Muslims. He's also got the carpetbagger issue that McCormick has, excepting that Oz's years of residence in Pennsylvania came when he was in med school. So, he's more than three decades removed from having a connection to the Keystone State.

We'll see what happens, but this could definitely turn into one of the strangest Senate races in recent history, one even stranger than the one involving the pedophile/ephebophile judge, or the one involving the football coach with a grade-school-level understanding of U.S. government, or the one involving a tea partying former witch. Note that those three (Roy Moore; Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-AL; and Christine O'Donnell) are all Republicans. Democrats have their odd candidates, too, but they tend to run for governor or for president, for some reason. (Z)

This Is Why We're (Probably) Stuck with Daylight Saving Time

There is little question that switching the clocks twice a year (unless you live in Hawaii, or outside of the Navajo Nation in Arizona) comes with significant costs. Roughly 30 Americans die annually from car accidents attributed to the effects of the changeover. It costs businesses several billion dollars annually, due to miscommunications about timing and deadlines, due to lost productivity from workers whose sleep schedule was interrupted, and due to the need to pay someone to change over all the clocks.

In short, it's pretty clear that the United States should just pick one system and stick with it. But which system? Permanent Standard Time (ST) or permanent Daylight Saving Time (DST)? That's where the problem comes in. Broadly speaking, public health advocates strongly favor ST. They argue, with evidence, that ST is much more in line with humans' circadian rhythms, and that awakening on a DST time schedule has significant negative health outcomes, long term, including a greater risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

On the other hand, DST is generally better for the economy. People tend to shop when it's light out, so the more hours of prime daylight, the more shopping there is. There are also outsized effects on particular industries. For example, DST increases the profits of the barbecue industry (yes, apparently there is a barbecue industry) by several hundred million dollars per year because people don't generally barbecue in the dark. Golf courses say that DST increases profits by about 10%, since the extra hour of primetime light is enough for 3-4 more rounds of golfers. Banks like DST because the more business hours that occur in daylight, the fewer robberies there are.

So, no matter what choice Congress might make, a lot of people are going to be unhappy. Meanwhile, per a new article from Politico, fans of DST and fans of ST are already in the middle of a pitched and bitter rivalry. It hasn't exactly taken on partisan overtones yet, but it's surely just a matter of time. Donald Trump will say he's always preferred DST, which is just one letter different from DJT, after all. Then his acolytes will promptly fall into line behind him and deride ST as a socialist plot cooked up by the deep state. The nation's Democrats will quickly become the world's biggest fans of ST, and there you go.

For a politician, the status quo is far less damaging to their prospects than doing something that will infuriate some sizable portion of the population. And that is presumably why the amendment to switch to permanent DST, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is languishing, and has yet to come close to becoming law. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

Jenna Ryan is a real estate agent in Texas, a Trump fanatic, and one of the people who breached the Capitol on 1/6. It was not too hard to figure out that she did this, since she posted videos to social media as she was heading to the insurrection, bragging about her plans. Then she posted photos of herself at the insurrection, and entering the building. In short, we're not talking about the sharpest tool in the shed, here.

Once the event was over, and the adrenaline had subsided, and it was clear that the authorities did not look kindly on what had happened, that might have argued for quieting down, deleting any problematic social media posts, and not putting up anything else that might be incriminating. But that is not what Ryan chose (see tool, not the sharpest). Instead, she doubled and tripled down on the braggadocio, tweeting things like: "Definitely not going to jail. Sorry I have blonde hair white skin a great job a great future and I'm not going to jail."

That sort of defiance delights Donald Trump's base, particularly the racists among them. So, her tweets were widely quoted and retweeted. Of course, federal prosecutors also had her twitter handle, and they know that judges don't much care for defendants who say things like that. So, when it came time for sentencing, the U.S. Attorney made certain that the tweets were brought to the attention of District Judge Christopher Cooper. The Judge was not amused, and gave Ryan a 60-day sentence.

Obviously, 60 days isn't a whole lot, though it's pretty stiff as compared to most of the other sentences handed out to 1/6 insurrectionists, and it's certainly more than "not going to jail." Ryan's actions on that day certainly did not reflect well upon her, but the arrogance, the presumption, and the raw display of privilege were really the icing on the cake. One wonders if she will keep that "great job" she has, given her notoriety, as well as the fact that she won't be reporting for work from Jan. 1 to Mar. 1. Either way, she's now preparing for a visit to the pokey, and her balloon full of hot air has been pricked. Certainly occasion for a little schadenfreude. (Z)

We are figuring out publication details, but we will definitely be working on the list of readers' favorite movies over the weekend. So, if you want to add your opinion, there's still a bit of time. We're happy to have the title of your favorite movie, or your two favorites, or your ten favorites, or your dozen favorites. As noted, we're going to do great/important movies next, so this one is just about your personal favorites.

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