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A Sleeping Giant Awakens

After Pearl Harbor, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto of the IJN decreed: "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." Ok, he didn't actually say that—it was just a scene from the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! that put his real words into more poetic form. Still, we can't think of a better way to characterize what happened with the Department of Justice yesterday.

For over 4 years, the DoJ has been rather moribund when it comes to policing bad behavior by political actors. Former AG Jeff Sessions was mostly in the bag for Donald Trump. Sessions' successor, former AG Bill Barr, was entirely in the bag. And Barr's successor, acting AG Jeffrey A. Rosen, wasn't on the job long enough (27 days) to even figure out where the bag was. Then, current AG Merrick Garland took the reins, and spent 6 months showing that he is cautious and methodical, and that he can drive Democrats to distraction. That distraction reached a fever pitch after Oct. 21, when the House voted to find Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt after he ignored a subpoena from the 1/6 Committee. Citizens and commentators across the land wondered when—or if—Garland would take action to enforce the subpoena.

Well, wonder no more. Yesterday morning, a federal grand jury indicted Bannon on two charges of criminal contempt. He will surrender to authorities on Monday, and will be before a judge on that day. Each charge comes with a potential sentence of 30 days to 1 year in prison, and a fine of $100-$1,000.

It is no guarantee that Bannon will be convicted. The issues in his case are somewhat complicated (see here for a rundown from LawFareBlog). However, the DoJ does not indict unless they think they have a case that is somewhere between "very strong" and "absolute slam dunk." Further, it's possible that Bannon might not relish the idea of a visit to Club Fed, and could agree to start cooperating fully in order to save his hide.

Either way, the dynamics of the 1/6 Commission's investigation have just changed dramatically. It used to be them and their so-weak-they-are-practically-a-punchline subpoenas versus a bunch of scofflaws who have no shame when it comes to stretching the rules to (and beyond) their limits. Now, it is the 1/6 Committee and the mighty Department of Justice standing against those same scofflaws. House subpoenas just got so much stiffer that it's like they were infused with a whole bottle of Viagra. Note also that if someone shows up, and refuses to answer questions (excepting those that are self-incriminating), that is also contempt. So, two possible lines of resistance just got much more problematic for the members of Team Trump.

This certainly has to change the thinking of the scofflaws. Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows defied a subpoena yesterday morning, as expected, and then the grand jury indictment came down a couple of hours later. Wonder if he is thinking twice about his choices? And even if there are a few folks being targeted by the 1/6 Commission who are willing to risk jail terms, and who have the means to hire two sets of lawyers (one to fight Congress, one to fight in federal courts), those folks are surely the minority. Everyone who's gotten a subpoena at this point, a total of 20 people, knows that they are on their own, and that there won't be help coming from the direction of Mar-a-Lago.

The 1/6 Committee certainly thought they had an ally in the Biden-era DoJ. They might even have known, through backchannel chatter, what was coming. Though we doubt it, because Garland is a straight arrow, and seems unlikely to show his cards until absolutely necessary. Either way, however, the 1/6 Committee has now been sustained, and is vastly more powerful than it was 48 hours ago, because a sleeping giant has awakened. (Z)

Murkowski Is In...

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) dithered a little bit on her reelection bid, presumably to keep the heat—specifically, hot air coming from the direction of Florida—off of her for as long as is possible. On Friday morning, however, she confirmed what everyone expected, and said she will run for reelection to her Senate seat.

This therefore sets up a mega-showdown between the Republican establishment on one side and Donald Trump and his favored candidate, Kelly Tshibaka, on the other. Tshibaka has certain advantages, like she's got Trump's endorsement and, um... uh... er... she's pretty willing to engage in the Marjorie Taylor Greene-style performative stuff? For example, Tshibaka regularly refers to Murkowski as "Biden's Chief Enabling Officer." Does that mean that Murkowski is doing more to enable Biden than... Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)? Apparently so.

Tshibaka has also already had at least one mini-scandal, as she was investigated for receiving a (cheap) residential fishing license that she might not have been entitled to. This served to make the candidate look a little bit shady, but more importantly, it served as a reminder that she's a Johnny-come-lately to Alaska, having moved there in 2019. Murkowski, by contrast, was born in Ketchikan, AK.

The Senator also has a few other advantages. There are incumbency and name recognition, of course. She also has 10 times as much money on hand: $3 million as opposed to $300,000 for Tshibaka. The Republican establishment and the NRSC have already lined up squarely behind Murkowski. Perhaps most importantly, however, is Alaska's new voting system. The top four primary finishers will advance to the general election, and then the general election will be conducted via ranked-choice voting.

It is inconceivable that a sitting U.S. Senator would finish in fifth place in a primary, even a jungle primary. So, Tshibaka won't be able to knock Murkowski off in the first round, as tea partier Joe Miller did in 2010. Then, in the general election, either Tshibaka or Murkowski might get the most first-place votes, but neither of them are likely to break 50% in that round of voting. And once we get into the second-place votes, Murkowski figures to pull away, as she will be the second choice of nearly all Democrats and independents. In fact, it's possible that the Democrats won't put up a serious candidate, so as to make sure she's in the driver's seat. It might be better to guarantee that a moderate Republican who sometimes reaches across the aisle remains in that seat, as opposed to risking that it gets taken over by the second coming of Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

So, Democratic voters shouldn't get their hopes up that this is a pickup opportunity. But they probably should get their popcorn out, so they are ready when the gladiatorial combat between the Trump faction and the McConnell faction gets underway. (Z)

...And Cherfilus-McCormick Scores the Win

The last significant election from Election Day that was still up in the air appears to have reached a resolution. In the race to fill the seat of deceased Democratic representative Alcee Hastings, businesswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D) has defeated Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness (D) in the Democratic primary by a total of...five votes. The district is D+31, so Cherfilus-McCormick will trounce Republican Jason Mariner when they face off on Jan. 11 of next year.

It is at least possible that Holness could push for a recount. However, this result was itself the result of a recount, so Holness would have to come up with a justification for doing another and he would also have to foot the bill. Given that his campaign was scraping the bottom of the financial barrel by the waning days of the campaign, the money might not be there. Further, he's likely to take another shot at the seat in the next election cycle, which begins...oh, on Jan. 12, 2022 or so. If that is the case, better to concede gracefully right now than to have voters think you're a sore loser. (Z)

Saturday Q&A

It turned out to be a big news week, didn't it?

Current Events

D.K. in Stony Brook, NY, asks: Why does Congress not act more forcefully to enforce its subpoenas? As a co-equal branch of government, why must it rely on the DOJ, an arm of the executive branch? Back in the days when Congress generally commanded respect, perhaps the threat of a contempt citation was enough to do the trick and compel people to show up, but those days seem gone. Why not beef up the office of the sergeant-at-arms and give it some teeth? The steady increase of people successfully ignoring these subpoenas with no adverse consequences only weakens their future effectiveness. You shouldn't be able to blow off Congress so easily.

V & Z answer: If the Department of Justice had declined to get involved, we suspect that the 1/6 Commission's backup plan was either: (1) to use the sergeant-at-arms, (2) to pass a law specifically granting Congress the authority to enforce its own subpoenas, or (3) to do both of these things. Now, of course, this appears to be a moot point.

You might note, incidentally, that if #2 had been pursued, it would have required the Senate to pass the bill as well. And you might speculate that such a bill would be filibustered. However, there is a precedent for exempting bills that deal with executive oversight from the filibuster. There's never been a situation exactly like this one (past incidents involved things like arms sales), but it's entirely possible that Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough might have been persuaded that the filibuster does not apply, and that such a bill could be passed with bare majority.

It is also at least conceivable (but probably not likely) that the Democrats could argue "But this reins in Joe Biden" and get 10 Republicans to agree to it just to stick it to Biden.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, asks: Political junkie that I am, when I heard about the latest subpoenas from the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, I went to their website to read the press release. I was delighted to see that they also posted the letters they sent. From them we learn that at least one committee staffer (not necessarily the same one) has read Peril and I Alone Can Fix It, as well as many of the articles in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The National Review, etc., and on the websites of ABC News, CNN, etc.

But what I found most interesting, and what prompts my question, is the order in which they wish to question the witnesses. While most of them are required to provide the respective requested documents by November 23rd (John Eastman has to produce his a day earlier), the order in which they will be questioned (along with your descriptions of them) is:

Can you detect any particular reason for this order? Are the earlier ones more likely to flip and/or provide damaging information about the later ones?

V & Z answer: Undoubtedly, there is a plan. And given that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is a former prosecutor, and knows something about how to build a witness list, we would bet he took a leading role in developing that plan.

As to what the plan actually is, obviously we don't have the information that Schiff and the rest of the committee have. However, we sense two organizing concepts. First, the list seems to be organized chronologically, into "knows about things leading up to 1/6" and "knows about what happened on 1/6 itself."

Second, they clearly front-loaded it with people more likely to show up and back-loaded it with people less likely to show up. Maybe they did that to create some sort of momentum/pressure on people like Eastman and the Millers. Maybe they did it to give maximal time to AG Merrick Garland, in hopes that McEnany, Flynn, Stepien, etc. would be crystal clear about the risks they would be assuming by not showing up. If the latter is correct, then it worked, since now we know exactly what the Department of Justice will do with subpoena defiers.

G.L. in Oviedo, FL, asks: Back in the Former Guy's administration, when there were protests in Seattle, there was a federal law passed making a minimum 1 year (if memory serves) sentence for trespassing on federal property. So, when the Jan. 6 riots/insurrection occurred, I recall thinking that all of the perpetrators were going to get that sentence. However, in your schadenfreude item this week, you noted that Jenna Ryan only received a 90-day sentence. Did the DOJ not prosecute her using the law against trespassing on federal property. Is the law no longer on the books, or did some judge ignore it?

V & Z answer: Judges cannot ignore laws, much as some of them would like to. We would suggest that the issue here is that you slightly misheard, or slightly misremembered, the relevant laws.

To start, Congress does not often impose statutory minimums when it comes to sentencing. Yes, they have done so on occasion, but that's mostly for drug offenses.

More commonly, Congress imposes statutory maximums. And that is the case here. There are various laws that dictate maximum penalties for various offenses involving Congress, the Capitol and the Capitol police. An overview:

  1. Up to 6 months' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine for misdemeanor trespassing in the Capitol, which includes entering or remaining on the floor or in the gallery of the U.S. Senate or House chambers without authorization, damaging or destroying property in Capitol buildings or on Capitol grounds, and/or assaulting an individual in a Capitol building or on Capitol grounds

  2. Up to 5 years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for felony trespassing in the Capitol, which would include the same behaviors described above, but with weapons and/or the use of violence added

  3. Up to 1 year imprisonment and a $300 fine for obstructing, resisting, or interfering with the Capitol Police

  4. Up to 6 months' imprisonment for disrupting Congressional business on the House or Senate floor or in a committee meeting

  5. Up to 8 years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for disrupting Congressional business on the House or Senate floor or in a committee meeting while using violent force or the threat of violent force

Based on what we know of the various cases that have been heard, most defendants seem to be covered by #1. Since maximum sentences are not generally imposed on first-time defendants, something like 2 months for Jenna Ryan seems apropos. Obviously, some of the insurrectionists were armed, or otherwise threatened violence. It's not clear to us if the various prosecutors felt they couldn't prove that part of the case, or if it's just that none of the armed insurrectionists has been sentenced yet.

W.R. in Tyson's Corner, VA, asks: In your item Republicans Are Divided over the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill," you commented that while Donald Trump and a number of House Republicans are calling for the heads of the 13 House Republicans who voted for the Infrastructure Bill, "the 19 Senate Republicans who voted for the bill have (so far) avoided being cannibalized by members of their own caucus." Why do you suppose this is so? Consistency of argument hasn't been a strong point for the Republican Party in the last 20 years, but even so, I just don't understand why the right-wing outrage machine hasn't turned on the 19 Senators who voted for the Infrastructure Bill too.

V & Z answer: Largely speaking, the Republican outrage machine follows Trump's lead. And Trump, along with those politicians who have instincts similar to his, are the ones who have focused their lasers on the House members and not on the Senators.

There are a number of possible explanations for this. One of those is that Trump and his acolytes don't really understand the process, and don't realize that the senators' votes were just as significant as the representatives' votes—maybe more so, since they got the ball rolling and made the bill officially "bipartisan." Another possibility is that Trump and his acolytes have a poor memory, such that they do not actually recall that the bill got a bunch of Republican votes in the Senate, and that it's something entirely different from the reconciliation bill (which won't get any Republican votes in the Senate).

However, we would guess the most significant factor is this: Trump is a bully, and he tends to fight only unfair fights. A member of the House, unless they are in the leadership, or are someone like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), simply does not have the platform a senator has. So, it's much easier to wage asymmetric war against Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), or Rep. Andrew Gabarino (R-NY), or Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) than against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), or Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), or Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID).

Further, Trump likes "wins" and has virtually no ability to defer gratification. He has a very good chance of derailing those 13 House members' careers, and of doing so in a manner of months (or, at most, a year). Trying to bring down a sitting senator is orders of magnitude harder, and he might have to wait 3 years or 5 years to even have a chance.

S.S. in San Luis Obispo, CA, asks: The tone of your item Trump Buys More Time for Himself was quite familiar, as I have been reading similar items for many years on your site that indicate that Donald Trump is in near-certain legal trouble. However, I cannot recall Donald Trump actually incurring any truly painful criminal or civil consequences. Am I forgetting some key case(s), or do the delays and other tactics really work wonders and/or indicate an ineffective legal system? Have you changed how cautious you are in your predictions on cases involving Trump?

V & Z answer: Trump often has the weaker side of legal cases, and he knows it. So, part of his MO is to delay as long as possible, and to hope that the case goes away based on a technicality, or because the opposing side decides it's just not worth it (e.g., Summer Zervos, apparently). However, when that does not work, he usually quietly settles, so as to avoid the embarrassment and the potential risks that come with losing outright. For example, in 2018, he paid $25 million to make the Trump University lawsuits go away. That's a pretty stiff civil consequence, as far as these things go. And that's just one of hundreds and hundreds of suits he's settled.

So, he most certainly has ended up on the losing side of legal cases. And his current legal problems are of a different and more threatening character than most of his past ones. First, he's up against various governmental entities. He cannot out-lawyer them, he cannot out-paperwork them, he cannot intimidate them, and he probably can't write a check to make everything go away. Second, he appears to have gotten a little sloppy in his old age, such that he crossed lines that previously went uncrossed, and he might well have veered into criminal behavior as opposed to mere civil infractions. Third, because of the previous two factors, Trump underlings who were previously loyal may well be willing to turn on him.

For what it's worth, when Trump last faced big-time pressure from the government, it was back in the 1970s, when he got in trouble for housing discrimination. And after dragging things out for several years, he and Papa Fred were forced to prostrate themselves before the government, and to sign a document promising not to discriminate anymore, at risk of civil and criminal penalties. A case from 50 years ago may not be all that relevant now, but it is at least a bit of evidence that his usual playbook doesn't work in these circumstances.

For these reasons, we remain confident in saying he's badly exposed on the legal front. That said, the item you refer to does not involve a penalty, either civil or criminal. The case is procedural, if he loses, then it will just mean that he cannot keep documents from his presidency secret. Trump has lost plenty of these cases, among them the 60 or so election-related lawsuits. So, given that, and the weakness of his "executive privilege" argument, it's not even particularly bold to guess that he's going to lose here.

T.M. in Downers Grove, IL, asks: Could you explain this week's developments regarding the Steele Dossier? Does this lend any credence to Trump's claims of a witch hunt?

V & Z answer: Igor Danchenko, who was a major source for the dossier, was arrested by the FBI this week and charged with lying to them in conjunction with other investigations. Since he was the main/only source for some of the dossier's most outlandish claims against Donald Trump and his campaign, it means the document, already controversial, cannot be relied upon as a source in any meaningful way. Several news outlets have issued updates revising reporting that was based (at least partly) on the dossier.

That said, Donald Trump, his political allies, and the media outlets that favor him expected this to be big-time news, and to be a major exoneration. It clearly has not been that. We would suggest there are several reasons that this is the case:

In short, we don't think much has changed, we don't think Trump has been vindicated in any meaningful way, and we don't think that "witch hunt" is any more applicable today than it was two weeks ago. Recall that in a real witch hunt, there is not only an absence of guilt, but also an absence of substantive evidence. In Trump's case, there was absolutely some amount of guilt, and a substantive amount of evidence over and above that which came from Danchenko.

K.C. in West Islip, NY, asks: I've been following, as I'm sure many have, the Kyle Rittenhouse trial with some great concern. From my vantage point, and as someone with no legal background, it seems like the judge is entirely in the bag for the defense and Rittenhouse will walk because the whole affair is being tilted heavily in his favor. Could you hazard a guess as to how things will transpire in the trial, moving forward? Is Judge Bruce Schroeder making sound decisions based on actual legal grounds or is he as biased as I think he is?

V & Z answer: We're going to answer your questions out of order. To start, unless there is a mistrial, it is likely that Rittenhouse will be convicted of something, perhaps even something that carries a stiff prison sentence (10+ years). It is incontrovertible that he was in Kenosha, WI, illegally, and was carrying a gun he was not legally allowed to carry.

At the same time, it is unlikely he will be convicted of the most serious charges against him (first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide). A finding of first-degree homicide requires that the act be deemed to be willful and premeditated. It is very hard to prove what a person's intent was—especially beyond a reasonable doubt—when they were in the middle of a riot-type situation. And Rittenhouse's lawyers appear to have done a good job of arguing that their client was acting in self-defense, while suppressing evidence (post-Kenosha photos) suggesting Rittenhouse was remorseless, and was proud of what he'd done.

Meanwhile, Schroeder has had some missteps that are not great looks for him in terms of "justice is blind." His cell phone rang during the trial, and revealed that his ringtone is "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood, which is the song played at Donald Trump rallies. He also made a tacky, and arguably racist, joke on Thursday when the court was set to break for lunch: "I hope the Asian food isn't coming... isn't on one of those boats from Long Beach Harbor." More broadly, he's got a reputation as a "law and order" judge. All of these things hint pretty strongly which presidential candidate got the Judge's vote in 2016 and 2020.

That said, the actual choices the Judge has made during this trial are not out of bounds, and are not out of character for him. He did not allow the use of the word "victim" as a description of the people Rittenhouse shot, believing it would be prejudicial. However, Schroeder is known for that particular viewpoint, and has imposed that limit on many trials before. The Judge also chewed out the prosecution for trying to sneak things in that had already been ruled out of bounds, but prosecutors often do that, and they know full well they could get busted for doing it, especially in his courtroom. It's a tactical decision, and it comes with risks.

What it all amounts to is this: Rittenhouse is likely going to get much less punishment than liberals want, and much more punishment than conservatives want. So, both sides will be unhappy. But these outcomes will not be Judge Schroeder's doing or his fault.


E.H. in Donegal, Ireland, asks: Is there still such a thing as an Irish-American voting bloc? Almost all Irish people would see themselves as Democrats, but our cousins across the Atlantic seem to be more ambivalent now.

V & Z answer: In general, these days, "nation of origin" constituencies tend to be most significant at the municipal level. So, for example, Cuban Americans in Miami, Mexican Americans in Los Angeles and San Diego, Somali Americans in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Chinese Americans in San Francisco, and German Americans in Madison and Cincinnati. There are several major American cities where Irish Americans remain an important demographic, most obviously Boston, but also Chicago, Baltimore, and Cleveland, among others. In nearly all cases, the Irish-American voting bloc skews Democratic, but centrist-to-conservative Democratic.

On a national level, Irish Americans tend to be lumped in with Polish Americans, German Americans, and Italian Americans as "white ethnics." These groups share some commonalities, including: (1) an immigration history that dates back to the 19th century, (2) a sizable percentage are working-class, and (3) a sizable percentage are Catholic. As a part-Irish, observant Catholic with working-class roots, Joe Biden would be considered a white ethnic.

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: I am wondering what your purpose was in describing Miriam Adelson as "Israeli-born." The item doesn't so much as mention Israel or U.S. support for Israel. I can't think of any positive reason to provide her country of birth, but I can think of several negative possibilities. Do you believe that people who weren't born here shouldn't meddle in U.S. politics? Do you believe that foreign-born Jews in particular shouldn't meddle in U.S. politics? Do you believe that wealthy Jews, regardless of where they were born, shouldn't meddle in U.S. politics? I'm assuming that the answer to all three questions is a resounding "no," but that leaves me wondering why you mentioned it at all. Would you please enlighten us?

V & Z answer: The point of the item is that it is likely that not much will change in terms of the Adelson family's giving just because Sheldon has passed away. When Sheldon was alive, the primary beneficiaries of the Adelsons' donations were Republicans who strongly support Israel. The fact that Miriam is Israel-born supports the assumption that approach will continue.

A.M. in Olympia, WA, asks: S.K. in Sunnyvale asked you about the odds posted by BetOnline on the 2024 presidential election. You indicated that they have Donald Trump at +225 and Joe Biden +400. This doesn't make sense. The book has no edge. One could place $100 on each candidate and be guaranteed a net profit (i.e., Trump wins you net $125, Biden wins you net $300.) Where's the house edge/vigorish, and what am I missing here?

V & Z answer: There are two things you are missing here. The first is that you are operating under the assumption that either Trump or Biden will win the election of 2024. Given their ages, their popularity at the moment, and the fact that 2024 is a long way away, that is a big assumption. Among the other candidates getting something other than "Hail Mary" odds right now are Kamala Harris (+600, implies a 14% chance to win); Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL; +800, 11%); Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg (+1400, 7%), and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (+1800; 5%).

The second thing you are missing is that if you give a casino money in November of 2021, and let them keep it interest-free for 3 years, they don't sit on that cash. And the amount of money they make in interest on your bet over the course of 3 years is almost certain to be more than the actual vigorish.

J.D. in Olathe, KS, asks: You supposed that a win in New Hampshire's GOP primary would potentially propel Liz Cheney (R-WY) to national attention, though likely not the nomination. What is to stop Donald Trump from demanding that there be no primaries and that he be named the nominee by default, as well as the state parties/RNC acquiescing to said demands?

There were some primaries canceled in 2020, but I was under the operative theory of that being because of the burgeoning pandemic/having an incumbent President. Naive of me to think so?

V & Z answer: It's not naive of you to think so, since Trumpers are willing to stop at nothing when it comes to returning the Dear Leader to power. The lack of a pandemic, and of incumbency, might make that a bit harder to sell to rank-and-file Republicans, and might even lead to lawsuits, but cancellation in some states certainly is possible.

However, it is very unlikely the New Hampshire Republican primary would be canceled. First, because the NH GOP isn't under the control of Trumpers, in contrast to many other Republican state organs. Second, because New Hampshire is very protective of its special "first in the nation" status, and would not want to do anything to undermine that. There was pressure on the New Hampshirites to cancel in 2020, and then-state representative to the RNC Steve Duprey declared: "Under no circumstances will the New Hampshire primary ever be canceled, whether there's token opposition or a serious contest." If that was their position last year, we see no reason to think they'd back off it in 2024.

J.B. in Hutto, TX, asks: You have suggested that the biggest problem for Beto O'Rourke's gubernatorial campaign is his stated support for confiscating guns, even from law-abiding citizens. What about the statement he made in a Democratic primary debate on October 10, 2019, asserting that religious institutions refusing to support same-sex marriage should be stripped of their tax-exempt status? It seems to me that nothing could be better calculated to turn out right-wing evangelical voters, even if their support for Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) is soft, and to push moderate Democrats away.

V & Z answer: That statement certainly won't help him in Texas, and may just find itself into a few commercials if he does indeed run for governor. However, we think the remarks about guns are considerably more damaging.

To start, there is the context. O'Rourke said what he said about religious institutions during a debate. If he feels the need to, he can explain that away as a misstatement in the heat of the moment. The gun thing, by contrast, he said over and over, and with plenty of forethought. It will be hard for him to distance himself from that.

Further, the type of people who are truly offended by the religious institutions comment are never going to vote Democratic anyhow, and are already highly motivated, high-turnout voters. On the other hand, there are plenty of gun lovers in Texas who might be persuaded to vote Democratic, or who might at least stay home on Election Day, who will make a point of showing up and voting for Abbott. The purpose here will not only be to "protect" the guns, but also to make a statement that no politician anywhere, anytime should ever speak badly of the Second Amendment.


R.L. in Alameda, CA, asks: You point out that Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) is running for Secretary of State on an open platform of being willing to cheat in an election; i.e., being willing to find the "missing" votes that current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R-GA) refused to "find" for The Former Guy. Other states have equally reprehensible candidates, as you have pointed out.

My question is this: Why is this completely administrative position an elected partisan in every state? Here, in California, the Secretary of State manages the DMV, handles business licenses, and runs elections, among other things. I recall from the time I lived in Michigan that their SoS had similar duties. Can you offer a primer on why this position is an elected, partisan position? And whoever thought it would be a good idea to allow a partisan elected official anywhere near elections?

V & Z answer: Let us point out, first of all, that it's only an elected position in 35 states. There are nine states (NY, NJ, PA, MD, DE, VA, FL, OK, TX) where the SoS is appointed by the governor, three states (ME, NH, TN) where they are appointed by the legislature, and three states (UT, AK, HI) that don't have the position at all.

The duties of the SoS, and the circumstances under which the office was created, vary across the 35 states where it is an elected position. However, there are a few factors that, in the aggregate, largely explain why those states made the choice they did:

Also keep in mind that there is no way that such a high-ranking position is going to be treated as a pedestrian civil service job, with an application and interviews. Either the person is going to be elected, or they are going to be appointed by a partisan governor/legislature. And while there may be some truly terrible secretaries of state elected next year, will they really be any worse than someone appointed by, say, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) or someone appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), both who govern states where they are given that power?

K.S. in Harrisburg, PA, asks: Periodically, a Republican senator will threaten to hold up a presidential appointment. Aren't all appointments free from being filibustered? If so, why is there a backlog on appointments being confirmed?

V & Z answer: As the Republicans are in the minority, a Republican senator—and let's be honest, we're talking about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) here—cannot filibuster an appointee. That has been the case since 2017, when the last remaining limit on filibustering of appointments (Supreme Court justices) was removed.

However, there are two different ways that a nominee might be approved by the Senate. The first is that the upper chamber goes through the whole confirmation rigamarole, including committee hearings, a hearing before the full Senate, the various procedural votes, etc. This is done for important and/or controversial nominees, including all cabinet secretaries, all judicial nominees, and many others.

The alternative is that the Senate approves a candidate through unanimous consent. That is a single vote, and it renders the much lengthier process unnecessary. When nominees are uncontroversial and/or when their service is important to the functionality of the government, then they tend to be approved by unanimous consent. Most ambassadors are handled this way.

Of course, as the term suggests, unanimous consent requires that the Senate be... unanimous. If a single senator—like, say Cruz—objects, then it is necessary to go through the full confirmation process. At best, that takes a week or two to complete. And if the Senate has other, more pressing, matters, then it can easily add months.

That said, the Senate will be recessing for holidays pretty soon, which will afford Joe Biden the opportunity to install a bunch of recess appointments. If the Senate were controlled by the Republicans, they would hold pro forma sessions every few days to prevent this. But it's not controlled by the Republicans, so Biden will definitely be given a chance at recess appointments, if he wants it.

T.J.C. in St Louis, MO, asks: A few weeks ago I saw a video of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) yelling at Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as they exited the chamber. This week, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) posted a video of him killing fellow Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). If I did any of those things at my workplace, something known as the "Human Resources Department" would intervene. Is there an equivalent in Congress? Or are the inmates running the institution?

V & Z answer: Congress has no HR Department, and the inmates are very much running the institution.

There are two primary reasons this is the case. First, because of the separation of powers, it would be problematic for one of the other branches of the government to take responsibility for personnel in Congress—certainly for the members, but even for staffers. So, that is why the United States Office of Personnel Management can only exercise oversight of executive branch employees.

The second reason is that, given they have sole power to police their own chambers, the members of the House and the Senate are not eager to dictate how their colleagues conduct business because leaving one's colleagues to their own devices is the best way to ensure that you are left to your own devices (academia is much the same). So, for all intents and purposes, Congress has 535 different employers, each with a different set of rules and standards. Employee management is also decentralized in this way in the judicial branch, where each court, and usually each judge, is an HR department unto themselves.

That said, Greene has already been censured, and it looks like Gosar might be, too (since censure requires only a majority vote). Further, we wonder if there will be more cases of members filing lawsuits against their colleagues, as Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) has done in connection with the 1/6 insurrection. Alternatively, perhaps some members will file criminal complaints. We don't know of a specific, recent case of that. However, the behavior of Greene in particular surely has to have some members considering it.


M.G. in Boulder, CO, asks: Last week S.R.G. from Playa Hermosa asked about Great Awakenings in American History. I think many of us might be interested in knowing more about them. What books or resources do you recommend?

V & Z answer: Religious history, like military history, has been somewhat de-emphasized in the academy in the last generation or two. Further, even when there was a bunch of religious history being produced, it was not common to look at "all" Great Awakenings. Scholars tend to do highly focused works, or else to produce broad syntheses. "The two/three/four Great Awakenings" does not fit comfortably on either side of that line.

So, if you just want to read about the Awakenings, we can't do much better than the suggestion from J.C. in Trias, namely William G. McLoughlin's Revivals, Awakening and Reform: An Essay on Religious and Social Change in America, 1607-1977 (1978). It's a little dry, and it obviously does not address anything that's happened since 1980. Oh, and it's out of print, so you'll have to find a used copy.

If you want to read about the most famous, and probably most impactful, Awakening, namely the Second Great Awakening, then take a look at Nathan O. Hatch's The Democratization of American Christianity (1991). This change in American religion played a big role in the rise of the antislavery movement, the temperance movement, and even early women's rights activism.

If you want something more recent, and more comprehensive, then how about Religion in American Life: A Short History (2011)? That is basically a textbook, written by Jon Butler (Yale), Grant Wacker (Duke), and Randall Balmer (Columbia). Given the format, you can pick and choose which subjects and chapters hold your interest. Obviously, it covers all of the various Awakenings.

Of course, if you want some TRUTH, then the book you really want is The Great Awakening: President Donald Trump, the Greatest President of All Times! (2021), by C.D.B. Patriot (we suspect that's a pen name). In any event, according to the companion website, the book takes this as its thesis:

The Great Awakening Is Upon Us & The New Age Of Aquarius And The New 5D World Of Love, Peace, Joy & Happiness! The New Quantum Financial System, Nesara & Gesara, & The Med Beds Will Be Implemented For All Of Humanity In The Near future! The Galactic Federation Of Light Is Here Fighting With The Soldiers To Destroy The Deep State, The Cabal Bankers, The Illuminati And The 3D Evil Matrix Of Darkness, War, Pain & Suffering & Poverty. The Galactic Federation Of Light, Our Galactic Family Is Here Assisting Humanity With Destroying The Old System & It Is Crumbling Right Before Our Eyes. Now The Planet, The New Gaia, Mother Earth Is Being Showered With Light Rays To Raise Humanities Consciousness & Positive Vibrations To The 5D For Our New World.

And really, how can you argue with something like that?

F.L. in Denton, TX, asks: After your mention of the New York City Draft Riots, I began doing a little digging about conscription during the Civil War (on both sides). It was quite the imbroglio! I noticed that there were a great many exceptions (e.g., preachers, pharmacists, etc.), and in the CSA there was the "Twenty Negro Law," whereby someone with twenty slaves would be exempt, and if there were more slaves, the owner could use them to exempt other friends and family (ostensibly to keep the slaves in line). Also, a draftee (on either side) could simply hire someone to take their place. I wonder how desperate for cash someone must have been to take that offer!

You mentioned that only 2% of Union soldiers were actual draftees. However, what I can't find are any hard (or even soft) numbers about Confederate conscripts. Is there even a ballpark estimate, either as gross numbers or percentages, about conscripts in the CSA?

V & Z answer: Generally speaking, substitutes ended up with more money than regular volunteers, either because their fee was higher than the bounty, or because they were allowed to collect the bounty and the substitute fee. Further, it was a somewhat useful way to forge an alliance with a prominent member of the community.

As to the Confederate draft, we don't have great data because an enormous percentage of Confederate records were destroyed by the Confederate government. The Union's draft only produced about 40,000 soldiers for an army of 2 million (not including those who were "motivated" to volunteer so as to avoid being drafted). The Confederate draft was nominally more successful, in part because it started earlier, in part because they made a wider range of men eligible (it was eventually people ages 18-65), in part because it was a bit harder in the South to disappear into a big city, and in part because there largely were not bounties in the South and so the carrot that turned some would-be Union draftees into "volunteers" did not exist.

Anyhow, the generally accepted figure is that the Confederate draft produced about 90,000 soldiers for an army that numbered about 1.1 million. So, that's about 8% of the Confederate Army as compared to the 2% of the Union Army. Generals on both sides did not much care for draftee soldiers, as they were hard to train, they tended to desert or to shirk duties while in camp, and they tended to make themselves scarce during actual battles.

H.M. in San Dimas, CA, asks: I just watched Lincoln for the third time. Love the movie, especially Daniel Day-Lewis. However, being a big fan of biographical sports movies, I know certain liberties are taken at times with the true story. How accurate is Lincoln and what would you say are the best history movies to watch?

V & Z answer: As is the case with historical movies in general these days, and with Steven Spielberg movies in particular, they worked very hard to get the small details right—costumes, hairstyles, sets, props, etc. Heck, they even made a recording of Lincoln's actual pocket watch, which lives in the National Museum of American History, and used that in the movie. And they did a great job of making most of the actors look like their historical counterparts. Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Jackie Earle Haley as Alexander Stephens, in particular, are scary good in terms of how on-target they are. The only person where they came up a bit short is Ulysses S. Grant; when actor Jared Harris appeared on screen, (Z)'s initial reaction was "Who the hell is that supposed to be?" Also, there are no known pictures of W.N. Bilbo (James Spader), so there wasn't much to be done there.

In contrast to many historical films, however, Lincoln doesn't just get the details right. Because they chose a relatively narrow story to tell, the filmmakers were actually able to tell it with a fairly high level of fidelity to history. That is to say, you get a really good sense of the pressures that were operating on the sixteenth president, and of the maneuvering he had to do (some of it underhanded) in order to secure passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

The movie is not perfect, of course. The opening scene is an invention from whole cloth, added so that they could squeeze the 1863 Gettysburg Address into a film that takes place in 1864 and 1865. When the climactic roll-call vote takes place, they changed the names of many of the congressmen who voted "nay" on the Thirteenth Amendment so that their living descendants would not be embarrassed. And, perhaps worst of all, they strongly imply that Sen. Thaddeus Stevens (R-PA), played by Tommy Lee Jones, was in a sexual relationship with his Black housekeeper Lydia Smith, played by S. Epatha Merkerson. This was a popular, scurrilous rumor at the time. And while it's certainly possible it's true, it is most certainly not accepted as historical fact. The crude equivalent would be making a film today in which one strongly implies that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is gay.

One other thing to note: The credits claim that the film is based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005) by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Spielberg optioned that book before it was even complete, and it's possible that he really did intend to adapt it, or it's possible that he just wanted the gravitas of Goodwin's name. However, if you were to read that book and then see the movie, or if you were to see the movie and then read the book, you'd be confused, because the events of the movie take up about two pages of the 944-page book. Though uncredited, the book that clearly formed the basis for the movie was Michael Vorenberg's Final Freedom: The Civil War, The Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment (2001).

We will address your question about good historical films in a few weeks; we've now got a cycle of movie-related questions that we'll be working through in November and December. That's a good time for it, since things are likely to get a little slow on the political news front.


B.K. in Philadelphia, PA, asks: Can you recommend a good text-to-speech app for Android? It would be so much easier to keep up with your weekend fare if I could listen to it while I drive.

V & Z answer: We are not in the best position to answer this, because we do not use that functionality on any device, and we don't even own Android phones. So, we thought we would throw it open to the readership. If there's anyone out there who uses text-to-speech to "read" this site (or others), could you let us know what you use, and on what platform/type of device? If we get answers, we'll run them tomorrow.

D.K. in Chicago, IL, asks: Do you know of any political blogs/websites (on either or both sides of the political spectrum) that deal with the politics in just Illinois and California?

V & Z answer: Sure. Here are five for Illinois:

  1. Capitol News Illinois: Generally centrist blog focused on politics, particularly in Chicago and Springfield. Funded by a consortium of Illinois newspapers.

  2. Center for Illinois Politics: Data-driven blog that has made neutrality something of a fetish

  3. Chicago Reader: Not exactly a blog, but formatted to look like one. This is a city paper, so it's very lefty.

  4. The Civic Federation: Center-of-the-road blog focused on policy

  5. Illinois Review: Commentary from a conservative perspective

And here are five for California:

  1. California Political Review: Right-wing site that's been around for a couple of decades

  2. Cal Matters: Centrist site focused on analysis of policy and politicking

  3. Capitol Weekly: Centrist site focused mostly on the state government

  4. Flash Report: Very much like The Drudge Report, except focused on California

  5. SFist: Another city paper, so also pretty lefty

We hope you didn't mean a blog that covers both Illinois and California, and nothing else. Because if so, we don't know any of those.

C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: What elements of Return of the Jedi landed it on (Z)'s favorite movies list? It's an excellent film in and of itself; I'm just surprised since usually A New Hope and/or The Empire Strikes Back usually get mentioned first in discussions of favorite movies.

V & Z answer: Much of Star Wars fandom is rooted in nostalgia, as folks fondly remember their initial experience of seeing the various entries in the Skywalker Saga. For those who favor the original movie, it is (at least in part) because they'd never seen anything like that before. For those who favor The Empire Strikes Back, it's the darker tone, but also (at least in part) the twist ending.

The key element of Return of the Jedi, when it comes to (Z)'s appreciation of the film was released in 1983. He was not old enough to see the first two in theaters, but he did see Jedi during its initial release—several times. So, it was revelatory to him in the way that Star Wars was for people who were older, or for people who were younger and saw the saga in sequence because they were watching on VHS, DVS, etc. And with that revelatory-ness comes the attendant nostalgia.

Because (Z) saw the films in the particular order he did, the shocking/pleasing twist of Empire did not function in that way for him, since the Luke-Vader relationship is taken as a given in Jedi. In fact, in 1997, to honor the 20th anniversary of the original trilogy, and to build some buzz in advance of the 1999 release of The Phantom Menace, all three of the original trilogy films were re-released, and (Z) saw them on (re-)opening night at the Fox Westwood, which is one of the best theaters in the world, technologically. Those showings attracted a rather sizable celebrity audience; for Star Wars, for example, (Z) was right behind Elijah Wood and Sean Astin in line (this was clearly in the middle of their work on Lord of the Rings).

Anyhow, on February 21, 1997, (Z) was sitting in the Fox watching Empire. And about 20-30 minutes in, he realized that...he'd never actually seen the film before. It's one of those films whose major sequences are so well known that he thought he'd seen it. It wasn't until the Duel on Dagobah, which was entirely unfamiliar, that he figured it out. Anyhow, it is just not probable that a film like that will affect a 23-year-old graduate student in the way that Jedi affected a 10-year-old kid, especially since—once again—the surprise ending wasn't a surprise.

K.H. in Albuquerque, NM, asks: I should've asked these questions last week or the week before, given that Central European Time turned back an hour on Halloween. This year, with the U.S. changing clocks on March 14 and November 7, while the Netherlands switched on March 28 and October 31, there have been 3 weeks when things are not in sync. Does this affect the way (V) and (Z) schedule the rollout of Also, with the change next year (November 6, 2022) being close to Election Day (November 8, 2022), do you foresee any clock-related issues next year? Finally, is there any impact on polling or the results of polls taken close to time changes?

V & Z answer: The six weeks where the two countries are more out of sync than normal tend to make coordination a little more difficult, but not a lot.

Our general goal is to publish by 6:00 a.m. ET on weekdays and 7:30 a.m. ET on weekends. This goal is not always achieved, but it's the target. Given that (V) finishes his workday well before the target time, whereas (Z), as a resident of the West coast, finishes his right at (or after) the target time, it is really (Z) who is the linchpin when it comes to publication time. That means, in turn, that it is the U.S. version of Daylight Saving Time that rules the day.

In spring, the leap forward does lead to extra tardiness sometimes, since we instantaneously skip one hour closer to our target publication time. That said, at least it happens over the weekend, where lateness is a little less of an issue. Usually, by Monday, we've adjusted. And we don't anticipate issues in November of 2022. First, because that's a fall backward, which means we gain an hour instead of losing one. Second, because we would bend over backwards to get a major election night right. Third, and most importantly, because we tend to liveblog major election nights, and so "late" isn't really a possibility.

As to polls, we don't see how they would be affected, since pollsters make their calls based on what the clock says, not where the sun is located in the sky. And if they were affected, we don't know how that effect would be isolated from other factors and identified.

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