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It Wouldn't Be the Senate without Some Drama

You probably thought that once the Senate agreed to kick the debt-ceiling can down the road to December, that was the end of this little soap opera, and the drama would not re-commence until Santa's arrival was nigh upon us. If so, then all we can say is: "Ha! Haven't you been paying attention?"

The senators did come up with a bill, and they did get ready to vote. However, there are several members of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) conference who felt the Democrats were getting off too easy, and that McConnell—in the words of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—"folded like a cheap suit." These members believe, apparently correctly, that the Minority Leader is scared witless that the filibuster might get tinkered with, and that put him in too much of a mood to negotiate. And so, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) taking the lead, and with Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) acting as his wingmen, a filibuster was initiated.

McConnell—who, again, is apparently worried about the continued good health of the filibuster—was thus compelled to call an emergency meeting of his conference, and to plead for votes to kill Cruz's maneuver. The Minority Leader evidently had the 10 votes he needed, but then Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) defected. Ultimately, after a delay, McConnell managed to whip 11 Republican votes. In addition to his own, he got votes from Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Mike Rounds (SD), Richard Shelby (AL), and John Thune (SD). Cornyn, in particular, appeared to be taking one for the team, so no individual Republican senator could be attacked for casting the deciding vote. Normally, it's supposed to take a couple of days to invoke cloture, but clearly that rule was suspended yesterday. Anyhow, once the filibuster had been cracked, the actual bill passed the Senate on a straight party-line vote.

So, that was it, right? Nope. You should read this next line in your best infomercial voice: "But wait! There's more!" Once the Senate had finished all the voting, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) felt the need to take a victory lap. And so, speaking from the floor of the Senate, he decreed: "I thank my Democratic colleagues for showing unity in solving this Republican-manufactured crisis. Despite immense opposition from Leader McConnell and members of his conference, our caucus held together and we have pulled our country back from the cliff's edge that Republicans tried to push us over."

Maybe Schumer was getting a head start on his messaging for the next time we do this song and dance. Or maybe he was channeling his id, and blowing off some steam, consequences be damned. You know how these New York politicians are. In any event, the Republican senators were furious. That said, they're always furious, so that doesn't mean too much. On the other hand, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was also irritated by the stunt. And the first rule of the Senate Democratic caucus, of course, is you don't piss off Joe.

Next stop is the House, where the bill will surely pass quickly, thanks to the absence of the filibuster. Meanwhile, when the debt ceiling dance returns in December, there are going to be some Republicans who are even less interested in compromise than they were this week. On the other hand, the Democrats will enter the next battle knowing that: (1) McConnell was the one who blinked in this round, and (2) he is most certainly cowed by talk of changes to the filibuster. Well, ok, maybe cowed isn't the right animal metaphor. Let's say, instead, that threats to the filibuster definitely cause him to turtle up. (Z)

Senate Judiciary Committee Releases Report on the 2020 Election

The Senate Judiciary Committee has taken a long look at what happened after last year's election, and yesterday issued a 400-page report with their findings. The document makes several key points:

Of course, Senate Republicans are still fully on board the S.S. Trump, and so the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) issued a counter-report that essentially declares that the former president did nothing, and that he and his administration stood up for democracy. "I don't know how you can reach any conclusion, except that Trump had everybody in the White House to discuss [challenging the Georgia results] and unanimously, except for one, they said you shouldn't do what the one lawyer said he thought the President ought to do. The President rejected it. The President did the right thing." If you believe that, then we would like to welcome you to the site, since you are obviously a new reader who hasn't been following us, or any other politics-focused site, for the past 5 years. You will soon learn that this kind of shameless, counterfactual apologia has become par for the course for the modern Republican Party. And when books are written about Grassley's long career, well, yesterday's report is going to be a rather large stain that spills over the concluding chapters.

Now that Judiciary has done its part, it's up to the 1/6 Commission to take up the cause, particularly since Trump and his acolytes continue to threaten democratic government on a daily basis. Of course, the former president is going to do everything he can to throw a wrench into the works. One of the people the 1/6 Committee tried to subpoena, Dan Scavino, has gone into hiding and hasn't been served yet. And yesterday, Trump "ordered" all four of the subpoena recipients not to comply. Whether they accept his orders is yet to be seen, though they may want to think carefully about how much he will assist them if they get into legal hot water (Hint: zero). He also continues to assert executive privilege over much of the information the Committee wants, which will put the Biden administration in an awkward position, since Team Joe does not want to weaken executive privilege, but they also do not want to shield Trump.

Anyhow, given all of the wildcards—NARA, Trumper resistance, the White House's concerns about executive privilege—we would be lying if we said we have any idea how this will all shake out. But it's going to have to shake out pretty quickly, as the critical midterm elections are getting closer and closer. (Z)

Be Careful of What You Wish For: Trump Endorsement Edition

In 1948, Strom Thurmond—still 8 years from commencing his near-half-century career in the U.S. Senate—launched a third party presidential campaign with an eye toward attracting the votes of Southern white supremacists. Given the alignment of the parties back then, the Democratic National Committee was scared to death—scared sheetless, you might say—that siphoning off that part of the vote would fatally damage the reelection chances of President Harry S. Truman (who definitely signed his one-letter middle name with a period, so please don't e-mail us with corrections).

Of course, the DNC was right, and Republican Thomas Dewey did indeed defeat Truman. Oh, wait. Maybe not. It would appear that the first source we checked was somehow in error. As it turns out, Truman ended up winning that election. Yes, Thurmond did peel off some votes that would otherwise have gone for the Democrat. But Thurmond's Dixiecrat campaign served to illustrate what an extremist looks like, and to make clear that Truman was not one. So, old Strom rescued millions of centrist, often suburban votes for Harry S., votes that would otherwise have gone for Dewey.

We bring this up because the same dynamic is currently playing out in Massachusetts. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) hasn't decided if he's running for a third term yet. But Trump just don't play in the Bay State, and so if Baker does run, he is going to have to persuade voters that his Republican Party and Trump's Republican Party basically aren't the same party. Enter the answer to Baker's prayers in the form of Geoff Diehl (R), who wants to run in the Trump lane, is apparently the only person foolish enough to try that in Massachusetts, and so easily landed the former president's endorsement.

It's not clear that Trump ever thinks about the impact of his endorsements. Maybe he does, and maybe he doesn't; you never know. However, Diehl thought about it, and concluded that the endorsement would unify Massachusetts Republicans behind him, as they worked to toss the RINO Baker out on his ear. Not so much, as it turns out. Baker has held on to much of his GOP support, and is doing better with independent voters since the endorsement was made. Inasmuch as 57% of Massachusetts voters are independents, that's a win for the Governor.

There are certainly circumstances where a Trump endorsement is a real prize. In particular, it can be decisive in hotly contested Republican primaries in red states. However, there are clearly also circumstances where his endorsement is a wash, and probably even more where it's a net negative. One of the big stories of 2022 will be whether Republican politicians and functionaries can figure out which races are in which category, and whether they can keep Trump's mouth shut when it comes to races where he does more harm than good. (Z)

Bond. James Bond. 007...and White?

There is a new James Bond film coming out this week, the 25th "official" offering for those who are fans of the fictional British spy (there are two other films that are considered non-canon). This will be the final outing for Daniel Craig in the role; he's tired of doing the films and he's also aged out of the part (he's 53), so producers are going to have to find Bond #7.

Given this, Morning Consult did a poll of what people would like in the next Bond. He's been a white Englishman (Craig, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton), and a white Australian with a not-great British accent (George Lazenby), and a white Scotsman (Sean Connery), and a white Irishman (Pierce Brosnan), so the producers might just try to take things in a different direction. You know, times have changed, and all that.

Who knows what Morning Consult was trying to learn with the poll, or even if they were trying to learn anything—it may have just been an exercise in getting a little publicity for the firm. However, they ended up learning something nonetheless: white, Republican men hate, hate, hate the idea of a James Bond who is not a white man. In fact, 53% oppose a Black James Bond, and 40% "strongly" oppose a Black James Bond. Further, 60% oppose a Latino Bond or an Asian Bond, and 64% oppose a female Bond.

This is getting a lot of attention because of the rather clear implication. You cannot ask people directly if they are frightened by change, and in particular by challenges to their status as members of the most privileged ethnic group. The reason you can't ask that, of course, is that they won't necessarily be truthful. So, the question has to be approached indirectly. And while we doubt this is what Morning Consult was going for, they have nonetheless back-doored their way into data that suggests that white Republican men—a.k.a. Donald Trump's base—are leery of even the most superficial reshuffling of race/gender roles.

Perhaps you find that inference ludicrous, but it's the sort of inference that social scientists draw all the time, and often from less solid data than this. In any event, what the producers of the next Bond film clearly have to do is go for broke and cast RuPaul. To see the audience's response to a Black James Bond in drag would by itself be worth the price of admission. Especially if you're attending a showing in, say, Oklahoma City or Tuscaloosa. (Z)

Time to Put That Mystery Behind Us

Remember the occasion, in November 2019, when Donald Trump snuck out the back door of the White House and headed over to Walter Reed for some unknown purpose? He might have kept it on the down-low, but for the journalists who tail him everywhere. They gave the story extensive coverage—coverage out the wazoo, really—and it became a question of national interest: What is wrong with the president? He claimed that he was just getting an early start on his physical, but everyone knew he was lying out his rear.

Now, after nearly two years, former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham has put an end to the drama. Her recent tell-all book on the Trump years strongly implies that the President went to Walter Reed for a colonoscopy, and that he was embarrassed for Americans to know he was having his derriere probed. Several MAGA insiders, while noting that Grisham really ought to butt out, confirmed that was indeed the case. The former president might have used the opportunity to do a public service, and to remind Americans about the value of regular screenings, along the lines of Katie Couric's live-on-TV colonoscopy a few years ago, but he's a bit too much of a self-absorbed ass for that. So he lied about it, forgoing the pronouncement that he was literally born to deliver: "This is Donald Trump, reminding you to check your rump."

What is not yet known is if Mike Pence remained at the seat of government, and assumed presidential authority while the procedure was administered, as happened when George W. Bush had a colonoscopy during his time in office. Since Trump thinks Pence is kind of a bum, he reportedly got scoped without anesthesia, but given the number of lies that have already been unspooled here, that could be a falsehood, too. So, we are still left to wonder: Can the former VP claim to have been acting president for a few hours, just like Dick Cheney? Someone should really get to the bottom of that.

Oh, and for readers who are over the moon at seeing what we've done with this item, the total is 15. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

This one's a two-fer because we couldn't decide on just one. Don't worry, we won't charge double.

Flipping a coin, we will start with...Mike Lindell, a.k.a. "The MyPillow Guy." A fellow who was, and therefore still is, addicted to crack has also become addicted to being in close proximity to power. And so, he's done all sorts of irrational things to try to keep the fun going, and to put Donald Trump back in the White House. For example, Lindell used the TV time he bought to insist on an audit of the 2020 presidential balloting in Idaho. That would be the same Idaho that Trump won by 30 points, and that only has 4 EVs anyhow.

The Idahoans are not pleased that they were forced into a meaningless recount, and so they are now planning to bill Lindell for their costs. Hard to imagine they will be able to collect, since any judge is going to ask: "If you knew the recount was a sham, why did you agree to move forward with it?" Still, it's another lawsuit for Lindell to cope with, in addition to the civil suits filed against him by voting-machine manufacturers.

Next up is the aforementioned Ted Cruz, who was trending on Twitter yesterday for many hours. That's good, right? After all, all publicity is good publicity. Even better, he was trending because he has finally been exonerated. So, double good news—publicity and exoneration. Maybe not so much, because what Cruz was "exonerated" of is being the Zodiac killer. A group of retired law enforcement professionals, who now tackle cold cases as a hobby, has made a compelling argument that the Zodiac was a man named Gary Francis Poste, who died in 2018. The FBI, it should be noted, is skeptical about this conclusion.

Even if the crime-solving hobbyists are wrong about Poste, though, you can be pretty certain that Cruz isn't actually the Zodiac. After all, the first killings took place...before the Senator was born. The meme attached itself to him because he vaguely resembles the police sketches of the Zodiac, and because quite a few people feel that Cruz is the type to be a psychopathic serial murderer. The same sort of thing happened with football player turned ESPN personality turned aspiring politician Craig James, who made enough enemies that the story circulated widely that he'd killed five, uh, ladies of the evening while playing his college ball at SMU. In James' case, the meme was boiled down to the acronym CJK5H. Incidentally, if you would like to read a masterpiece in passive-aggressive interviewing, take a look at this one conducted with a member of James' staff from his failed U.S. Senate campaign.

In any case, Cruz tried to play along with the Zodiac stuff but, as with Richard Nixon and "Sock it to me on 'Laugh-In,'" it is clear that his heart's not in it. If enough people despise you that a joke line like this can take hold, it's not a good reflection upon you. Of course, Cruz's reputation for jerky behavior is well-earned, with yesterday just being the latest chapter. As Al Franken famously noted: "I like Ted Cruz better than most of the other senators do, and I hate Ted Cruz." So, like Lindell, Cruz is reaping just a little bit of what he's sowed, which is what makes it schadenfreude time. (Z)

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