Senate page     Oct. 28

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The Sausage Making Continues

As the sausage is being made, it is starting to become clearer what will be in the reconciliation bill and what will not. On the other hand, a dozen factions are fighting tooth and nail to get their favorite programs in there, so even things that seem certain today may not be certain tomorrow. And remember, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) each get a veto over everything, and what they want is diametrically opposed in some areas. So flavor today's info with an appropriate amount of sodium chloride.

Axios is reporting that Joe Biden wants at least $500 billion for mitigating climate change. If he gets it, that would be the largest spend in the bill. However, it won't tackle the biggest problem—getting electric power companies weaned off coal (because Manchin opposes that). But there are other areas it could deal with, such as building a large network of electric charging stations, something Manchin doesn't mind (since the electric cars would essentially be running on coal).

Another area the bill could fund is upgrading the power grid and developing ways to store energy. The latter is very important because solar power is available only when the sun is out and wind power is available only when the wind is blowing. It would be nice if excess solar and wind power could be stored at scale and used later when these sources are not available. Currently this is done by using solar and wind power to pump water uphill and then use hydroelectric power at night, but this is very inefficient. Another area the bill will tackle is helping companies to decarbonize. It will also provide subsidies for people to put solar panels on the roofs of their houses, among other things.

Early childhood education programs may escape the ax. Two programs that Democrats really want to fund are universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year olds and "early learning" for children under 6 not enrolled in a pre-K program. These programs have the side effect of allowing more (single) mothers to join the workforce, and in some cases pull themselves out of poverty. Another plus for them is that they are extremely visible—far more so than a program to give big factories subsidies to change their production process to use less carbon. They are also very popular with the voters, which surely is on the minds of the Democrats writing the bill. Probably states would be given a choice of selecting one of the programs or the other. However, some Democrats fear that Republican governors will choose "none of the above." Other Democrats are not worried about that since governors refusing the money would have to explain it to angry voters, and unlike Medicaid, these program aren't only for poor people. Telling college-educated suburban women that "no, your children can't have pre-K" might just be the way to make some of them permanently Democrats. The current plan is that the pre-K program would be free for everyone, but the "early learning" program would be means tested.

Another item that many Democrats fervently want is paid family leave. The idea is that new mothers (and maybe fathers) would get paid time-off after a baby is born. In addition, people would get paid time off if they or a member of their family is sick and needs to be cared for. Most advanced countries have programs like that, with maternity leave averaging 18 paid weeks. In 1993, Congress passed a law allowing workers to take off up to 12 weeks to care for newborns or tend to sick family members without worrying about being fired, but companies don't have to pay people during those 12 weeks. The new wrinkle would be pay. The program would provide direct federal payments to people taking leave, on a sliding scale depending on their income, up to a maximum of $250,000/year. However late yesterday, President Joe Manchin said he didn't like the idea of paid leave, so maybe it is dead. On the other hand, President Kyrsten Sinema absolutely wants it in the bill. Who said there is only one president at a time?

Now onto how all this will (and will not) be paid for. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) has now released the details of his "billionaires' tax." People with more than $1 billion in assets, or who earned more than $100 million in three consecutive years, would be taxed. They would pay a capital gains tax of 23.5% on the unrealized gains of their assets. For stocks, bonds, and other publicly traded assets, determining the gain is simple. For privately held businesses, real estate, fine art, and other assets, no annual tax would be due. However, when the asset was finally sold, interest would be charged for the years since it was purchased to make up for not paying the tax every year. Wyden's proposal, which is 107 pages long, would begin with a one-time tax on the unrealized gain between the time the asset was acquired and the starting date of the tax. Thereafter, the annual gain would be taxed. There are also rules to prevent people from splitting their wealth with family members to duck under the $1 billion cutoff, as well as rules dealing with stashing money in trusts or renouncing American citizenship. People would also be allowed to deduct losses. That means if Amazon's stock were to take a huge nosedive, the IRS might have to write Jeff Bezos a multi-billion dollar check. That might not go over well with the public.

There are only two small flies in the ointment here. First, there is an excellent chance that the Supreme Court will declare the tax to be unconstitutional since it is not an income tax in the sense of the 16th Amendment. Second, Joe Manchin has blasted it. Without his vote, it can't happen. Manchin is in favor of raising taxes more broadly and not just on billionaires and not in this peculiar way. The trouble is that Kyrsten Sinema doesn't want that. Nobody knows precisely how the bill is going to be paid for yet since Democrats are all over the map on it. Wyden summed it up by sayimg: "Every sensible revenue option seems to be destroyed." Unless the Democrats can stop acting like Democrats and get their act together, the bill will probably be paid for by smoke and mirriors, which will give the Republicans a huge talking point next year.

Former Trump Staffers Are Spilling the Beans

At least five former Trump White House staffers are now (voluntarily) talking to the Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 coup attempt. The conversations have been with either Committee members or with their staffs. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who is a member of the Committee, said that the witnesses were horrified by what happened on Jan. 6 and feel it is their civic duty to tell the Committee what they know. They may not have been involved in what happened, but they may know some of the details anyway. Raskin also said that he was going to encourage others to come forward.

One person who has talked to the Republicans on the Committee is Alyssa Farah, a former director of strategic communications in the Trump White House. She provided undisclosed information to the Committee. Trump has filed a lawsuit asserting executive privilege to keep some high-profile former officials from testifying, but when former staffers come forward voluntarily and quietly to talk to the Committee, there is nothing he can do about it. (V)

McConnell Concedes and Endorses Herschel Walker

Donald Trump endorsed his "friend" Herschel Walker for the Senate nomination in Georgia to challenge Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). The initial reaction of just about all the Senate Republicans, especially the leadership was negative to very negative. Walker is a newbie and has a checkered past, including self-admitted mental illness, threats to kill his ex-wife and other women, and lies about his finances. Not exactly the ideal candidate to take on a popular sitting senator. Trump probably figured that given a choice between two Black guys, one who played football and one who didn't, the voters would naturally go for the football player. The senators weren't convinced.

But now they have come around, and both Minority Leader Mitch McConnell R-KY) and Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) have endorsed Walker. It is not that Walker has changed or the race has changed. It's simply that they have decided that on account of Trump's endorsement, Walker was probably going to win the nomination anyway, and hopefully with McConnell now backing him, all the other candidates will drop out and Walker won't have to fight a nasty primary to get the nomination and will have it handed to him on a silver platter.

Maybe that is true, but so far Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black (R) hasn't dropped out, even if he still might. Whether this endorsement was a smart move from McConnell remains to be seen. Remember, Walker has never run for public office before and there is no reason to believe he is some kind of natural-born political whiz (like Warnock turned out to be, actually). If he had to fight in a primary first, he would have gotten some valuable experience from that race. If the nomination is handed to him, his first race will be the general election, with no practice. For example, Warnock is sure to demand debates. As a preacher, he is used to public speaking. Walker has no experience with public speaking, especially in such a high-pressure situation where every word he says will be parsed nine ways to Sunday. He could easily say something that will be replayed in Warnock's ads for months.

McConnell knows this, of course, but is making the bet that Walker can be locked in a closet somewhere and trained surrogates can run the campaign. Warnock is a prolific fundraiser and Walker seems to be good at that, too, so maybe McConnell is counting on the contest being Warnock's ad agency vs. Walker's ad agency. For an experienced candidate, avoiding a primary is often a plus, but for a beginner, it can help whip the candidate into shape. But apparently McConnell was worried that having another Republican (Black) tearing him to bits was too great a risk. Of course, if Black stays in and raises enough money to compete, that may happen anyway. (V)

Trump Endorsees Have Troubled Histories

Herschel Walker is not the only candidate Donald Trump has endorsed who has a lot of baggage. Maybe Trump sees this as a feature rather than a bug, although Trump definitely prefers backing likely winners, and candidates with sordid pasts aren't obvious winners. CNN has a story about some of these choices.

Walker is one of the problematic candidates, as discussed above. His past problems have been well documented in interviews, court filings, and police records. Apparently Trump's gut told him that candidates hold straight razors to their wives' throats and threaten to kill them all the time. No big deal. Also guns. Again, no big deal. Same story with other women. "What's the problem?" seems to be the former president's attitude.

A second Trump endorsee is Max Miller, who is running for a House seat in OH-16, an open largely white R+8 district. He was formerly the boyfriend of ex-White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. Grisham has stated that Miller abused her in every possible way. Grisham said she told Trump about the abuse but he didn't care. When Trump endorsed Miller, Grisham said: "The endorsement, really, it kicked me in the teeth. That was a really, really tough one, based on what happened." Miller has denied the abuse, of course, and has sued Grisham for defamation. Grisham said that the lawsuit was an attempt to silence her and it is right out of the Trump playbook.

A third troubled candidate Trump has endorsed is Sean Parnell, who is running for the GOP Senate nomination in Pennsylvania. Parnell is in a competitive primary with Jeff Bartos, a wealthy real estate investor who is pulling no punches. Parnell's problem is that he is currently in the middle of a very messy and public divorce. His wife, Laurie Snell, repeatedly called 911 to get the police to come and protect her from Parnell. Her story was sufficiently strong that a judge issued two temporary protection orders, one in 2017 and one in 2018. Parnell has tried to put a gag order on her to prevent her talking to the media, but the judge refused his request.

Parnell and his soon-to-be-ex-wife came to an agreement after the orders were issued and the orders were withdrawn and the allegations that prompted them have been expunged from the record. Nevertheless, for the orders to have been issued in the first place, Parnell must have done something to make Snell fear that he would harm her. And she was able to convince a judge of it twice. The details are not public except that the judge ordered Parnell to turn in his gun and stay out of the family home. That doesn't sound like a disagreement over whether to go to McDonald's or Burger King for dinner, but who knows?

Most politicians would try to avoid endorsing candidates who threaten to kill their wives, especially when there is a fair amount of evidence on the public record to back up her claims. But Trump seems undeterred. All that matters to him is that the candidate be obedient and defend him no matter what. Maybe he even prefers this kind of macho candidate who likes to mistreat women. (V)

Biden Nominates and Senate Confirms Two Top Trump Targets

Maybe he did it to poke Donald Trump in the eye, maybe he didn't, but Joe Biden has nominated two people Donald Trump despises to high positions in his administration. First up was the appointment of Cindy McCain, widow of former senator John McCain, who has a years-long running battle with Trump, as ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. McCain, who is independently wealthy as a consequence of inheriting one of the nation's largest Anheuser-Busch distributorships from her late father, supported Biden during the election. Yesterday, the Senate confirmed her appointment.

She wasn't the only Trump target who got a high-profile position in the administration. Biden also nominated former senator Jeff Flake as ambassador to Turkey, a sensitive position given the various disputes with Turkey, a member of NATO. Like McCain, Flake endorsed Biden over Trump in 2020. Trump hates Flake with a passion and basically drove him out of the Senate.

Maybe it is was just a coincidence, but Arizona is a key state that is drifting towards the Democrats, and which has two important races in 2022: the open governorship and the reelection of Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ). Could Biden be thinking that by picking two very high-profile people from Arizona to appoint to positions in his administration he might be sending the people of Arizona the message of "Your state is important to me!"? Just maybe. Or it could be old-fashioned patronage, giving good jobs to supporters. Or both. (V)

Secretaries of State Targeted by Trump Are Scared to Death

Secretaries of state who certified that Joe Biden won in 2020 are getting hate mail and death threats. They know that Trump supporters can be armed, have no problem with violence, and so they are scared silly. In a voicemail, Arizona's Katie Hobbs (D) got a message saying: "I am a hunter—and I think you should be hunted. You will never be safe in Arizona again." Another message said: "Die you bi**h, die! Die you bi**h, die!" Hobbs said: "I take these threats very seriously. It's absolutely getting worse."

She isn't the only one who is worried. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) got a message that read: "Your security detail is far too thin and incompetent to protect you. This world is unpredictable these days... anything can happen to anyone." Actually, Griswold doesn't have a security detail and her small office budget doesn't have a line-item for security. She asked Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) for protection. She got the state police to protect her for 2 weeks, then they stopped. She said: "When someone says they know where I live and I should be afraid for my life, I take that as a threat and I believe the state of Colorado should, too."

And then there is Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D). The threats against her have spiked and gotten very specific. She got 24-hour police protection, but when the protection stopped, the threats continued. Dozens of people showed up at her house last December, while she was inside with her husband and young child.

Kathy Boockvar (D), who was Pennsylvania's secretary of state until February, received protection after the election as threats against her ramped up. She said: "I didn't feel comfortable walking the dog on the street" after messages were posted to Parler saying: "You crooked fu**ing bi**h. You're done."

Have you noticed a pattern here? Death threats against Democratic women. But not all the threats are against Democrats and women. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) has been inundated with threats for not "finding" 12,000 new votes for Donald Trump. The threats have been directed at him, his wife, and his family. The FBI has been investigating, but no one has been arrested.

Other election officials declined to talk to CNN about their situations, saying that they did not want to call more attention to themselves than they already have.

Secretaries of state all over the country realize that they will be on the front lines in 2022 and 2024 as Trump supporters expect them to certify that Trump and his endorsees won everywhere. These races are attracting far more attention than in the past as a result.

The Dept. of Justice has opened a task force to investigate the situation, but there are concerns that it is not doing enough. One thing it did do is give the secretaries an 800 number and website to report threats. FBI Director Christopher Wray also instructed FBI agents in all 56 field offices to work with state and local officials regarding the threats.

Still, the threats keep coming and not only anonymously. Hobbs is running for governor (a safer job since governors get a better protection detail than secretaries of state). But her opponent, Trump-endorsed Kari Lake, has made "I think she [Hobbs] should be locked up" a key part of her campaign. Welcome to democracy in the era of Trump.(V)

Top Washington Republican Election Official Joins Biden Administration

One secretary of state quit her job this week, with the resignation effective Nov. 19. It might not have been due (entirely) to threats, though. Washington's soon-to-be-former secretary of state, Kim Wyman (R), is joining the Biden administration as the senior election security official for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is in the Dept. of Homeland Security. Her job there will be protect election security.

Washington is one of the few states with years of experience holding mail-in-only elections. She will help other states that want to follow in her state's footsteps. Experts consider the election procedures used in the Evergreen State to be among the country's best, so Biden wants her to share her expertise. Even before she formally starts, she has been sharing information on threats to election integrity and how she has handled them.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) will appoint a temporary successor to hold the position until the 2022 election. He will presumably appoint a Democrat. Former state representative Gael Tarleton, who ran against Wyman in 2020, has asked Inslee to appoint her. In any event, despite Washington being a deep blue state, there hasn't been a Democrat in the secretary of state's office since 1964. Soon there will be, at least temporarily. (V)

Three New Gubernatorial Candidates Are In

Former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is tired of writing about politics. Now he wants to do something about it. So he has announced that he is running for governor of his native Oregon. The current governor, Kate Brown (D), is term limited. The race is already crowded and Kristof will first have to defeat a large primary field.

In New Mexico, TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti (R), who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate last year, is running again. Only this time it is for governor. He will also have a crowded primary field to deal with first but has the advantage that everybody there cares about the weather, his field of expertise. The winner of the GOP primary will face Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM). New Mexico is a fairly blue state and Grisham is the clear favorite.

Finally, New York AG Letitia James (D) is planning to announce her run for governor in the next few days. This has been long expected. If she wins, she won't be the first female governor of the state, because Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) beat her to it on account of Andrew Cuomo resigning. James also won't be the first Black governor of New York. David Paterson beat her to that when he was elevated to governor after Eliot Spitzer resigned. New York does break glass ceilings in a somewhat peculiar way. But if James wins, at least she can claim to be the first Black female governor. (V)

Is "Evangelical" Just a Synonym for "Republican"?

The number of Americans who have a formal religious affiliation is plummeting. In the 1970s, the percentage of people who identified as not being associated with a religious group was 5%. Now it is 30%. The Episcopalians and United Church of Christ have suffered staggering losses of membership. But during the Trump presidency, the share of white Americans who identify as evangelicals has increased.

There is something strange going on here, though. Millions of people are being drawn to evangelical churches not because they have any particular interest in Jesus, but because they see it as closely associated with the Republican Party. For example, in 2007, just 16% of self-identified evangelicals said they hardly ever go to church. Now that is 27%. In 2008, a third of evangelicals who never attended church said they were conservative. Now that is 50%. For many Americans, joining an evangelical church and then never attending it is a way to affirm that they are a conservative and a Republican. "I don't believe in Jesus, I just believe in the GOP," seems to be the general idea.

Another trend is that people who call themselves evangelicals often have no attachment at all to Protestant Christianity. The number of Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, and Mormons who self-identify as evangelicals is growing. Many of these non-Protestants are actually religiously devout. But they associate being religious and being conservative with being evangelical, even as they reject the divinity of Jesus. So self-identifying as an evangelical doesn't mean what it used to mean at all. Especially since some of them (e.g., Hindus) have nearly no interest in attracting new adherents (i.e., evangelizing).

So we have the curious situation that evengelicals in 2020 don't agree on which religion is the correct one (if any) or even if being religious is necessary to call oneself an evangelical. They speak with many voices. But on Election Day they speak with one voice, and it supports Republican candidates. (V)

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