Yesterday, Joe Biden attacked the new Texas law banning abortions after 6 weeks as extreme and said it violates a woman's constitutional right to have an abortion. Biden declared:
The Texas law will significantly impair women's access to the health care they need, particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes. And, outrageously, it deputizes private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion, which might even include family members, health care workers, front desk staff at a health care clinic, or strangers with no connection to the individual.
Biden said that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and will be defended by the administration. What he didn't say is how he will defend it. Recent polls show that 52% of Americans want abortion to remain legal and 36% don't, so politically it is a winning issue for him nationally. This is especially the case since the Texas law makes no exception for pregnancies due to rape or incest.
Biden's problem is that due to the structure of the law, it is not clear what he can do, other than urge blue states to pass analogous laws, for example, allowing private citizens to sue gun owners for violating their states' laws about gun permits, concealed carry, and so on. This would result in chaos and might force the Supreme Court to ban all laws deputizing the entire population.
He could ask Congress to pass a federal law guaranteeing every woman's right to an abortion at least up to the point of viability. The problem is that Republicans would filibuster it in the Senate. If they didn't, a very large number of them would face serious primary challenges from the right the next time they ran for office.
Maybe he could create a federal government program to airlift pregnant women out of Texas to take them to abortion clinics in other states. Then Texans would have to sue the federal government, which is not likely to be successful since the federal government has no obligation to obey state laws.
Another thing Biden could do, but is very unlikely to even try, is to openly or quietly to tell Democrats in Congress to increase the size of the Supreme Court to 15 justices and announce that he will nominate only pro-choice justices who believe the Texas law is unconstitutional.
Finally, Biden could make abortion a key part of the Democrats' platform in 2022. Republicans will then have to defend it in 2022, but given that the pro-choice position is much more popular than the pro-life position, this could end up costing them key elections. In short, Biden's actual policy choices are limited, but if he does nothing except issue a short statement once in a while, it will cost him votes with Democrats who expect more from him. (V)
Absentee ballots in the California recall election are starting to come in and the initial rough statistics look good for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA). So far, twice as many Democrats as Republicans have sent in their ballots and liberal areas of the state, including the Bay Area, have the highest rates of return. However, one should remember what happened with the "blue shift" on Election Night in 2020. Many Republicans voted on Election Day, giving Donald Trump a lead that was whittled away in later days as the absentee ballots were counted. That could happen in the recall, with Democrats voting early by mail and Republicans showing up on Election Day.
The people who have voted so far are older and whiter than the population of the state as a whole. Seniors are 23% of the electorate yet they have cast 40% of the ballots received so far. In contrast, voters under 34 are 28% of registered voters but have cast only 14% of the ballots so far. Latinos make up 25% of the electorate but they are underperforming so far. Fewer than 20% of Latinos have voted so far. Still, there are almost 2 weeks to go. (V)
If you want to run for president in 2024, you need to visit Iowa. But first get an appointment because everyone you want to see is probably busy. So far—and this is 2½ years before the GOP caucuses— the following Republican presidential wannabes have already shown up in the Hawkeye State: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Nikki Haley, Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) among others. Donald Trump will visit shortly. Nominally, the candidates are there to campaign for one of Iowa's three Republican representatives, Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04), but they are not fooling anyone. Hinson and Miller-Meeks are both Republicans in D+1 districts, so they genuinely appreciate the help and any fundraising the outsiders can do for them, but they all understand why Iowa House races are attracting so much attention so early, whereas, say, Missouri House races are not.
On these trips, the wannabes learn the lay of the land from the candidates they are nominally helping. What crops do farmers grow here? Are there any big companies here? What are the local issues? Do people pay attention to the national news? What's the unemployment situation? In addition, the wannabes want to press the flesh (well, maybe press the elbows right now, but with Republicans, maybe not) with county chairs and Republicans in the state legislature or in statewide office. These folks are typically willing to meet them, in part to try to figure out who to endorse when the time comes and in part to avoid flipping someone off who might later be president and would clearly remember the incident.
Also important is meeting non-elected party activists. They could be helpful running a campaign. One of them might be a useful (deputy assistant) state campaign manager. In addition, talking to donors to help the candidate the wannabe is nominally there for could pay dividends in a couple of years when the wannabe is asking for money for himself or herself.
The wannabes often appear at rallies with the nominal candidates and give speeches. They can use the opportunity to test out jokes, outrage lines, and more to see how the locals react to them. Paid speech writers rarely hail from Iowa and what may fly in Dallas or Miami may fall flat in Des Moines. Candidates can also try out messages. Do the locals want to hear about reining in the federal debt? Just talk about it for a few minutes and see if there are cheers.
Finally, the media generally take the bait. The Hill wrote up this story, we're doing it, and so are 100 other outlets. A lot of people who didn't know Noem now know she is running for president. Actually, she is not. She is running for vice president, but this is how you do it. Showing up in Iowa gives you buzz and people notice you. That's always a good thing. Now you know who the governor of South Dakota is. Quick: Can you name the governor of North Dakota without looking it up? We didn't think so. See, going to Iowa works.
In short, if you want to be a movie star, you go to Hollywood. If you want to run a hedge fund, head to Wall St. And if you want to be president, Iowa is the place to start. Who knew that the theme song from "State Fair," which begins with "Our state fair is a great state fair, don't miss it, don't even delay," was about politics? (V)
Republicans want voters to show ID when voting—not because they are worried about election fraud, which is virtually nonexistent, but because they know that 10% of eligible voters don't have any ID and most of them are Democrats. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) broke new ground in this debate last month when he said he supported voters having IDs—provided utility bills were acceptable as IDs. That would cover many people, except for married couples where only one name is on the electric bill. So what happens to the other one? Manchin also wants student ID cards to be allowed.
However, there is a much simpler solution that about 170 of the 200-odd countries in the world use: A government-issued national ID card. If the federal government created a national ID card and sent it, for free, to every adult citizen for use in voting, flying, banking, and everything else requiring ID the problem would be solved. It works fine in other countries, so why not the U.S.?
Americans instantly bristle at the idea of a national ID card, although the government sends almost everyone over 18 a Social Security card (and also minors with a paid part-time job). With some tweaks, it could become a national ID card. About one-third of adults have a U.S. passport, which is also a government-issued ID. Global Entry and Trusted Traveler cards are also government-issued ID cards. Most adults have a driver's license, which is also a kind of (state) ID card. Is a state ID card really so different from a federal ID card? Or maybe states could issue ID cards to every adult. So it isn't that people don't have government ID. It is just a hodge-podge of different forms. Some people have proposed that since we already have government-issued ID cards, maybe just cleaning up the system and having one card would make it simpler. On the back it could say whether the holder was allowed to drive, be trusted at airports, and other things.
The idea of a national ID card is not so far fetched. In 2005, a bipartisan commission led by Jimmy Carter and James Baker considered the idea. Some of the members felt that the country was moving in that direction for reasons of homeland security, but the commission didn't formally recommend it. That said, the new Real ID driver's licenses are a step in that direction.
In any event, something like nationally uniform state IDs, sent to drivers and non-drivers alike, would solve the ID problem. But Republicans would never agree to this since the purpose of requiring IDs is to disenfranchise Democratic voters. Sending every adult citizen and non-citizen driver a card with green ones for citizen drivers, blue ones for citizen nondrivers, and purple ones for noncitizen drivers would defeat the whole (Republican) purpose of requiring IDs for voting. Still, the idea is worth considering. (V)
As long as we are on the subject of fixes to election laws and procedures that would be useful but are not likely to happen, how about updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act (ECA). This law was passed in the aftermath of the bitterly contested count of the electoral votes in 1876. In that year, Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote by a quarter of a million votes (3%), but Republicans disputed the electoral vote count. The resulting battle over contested electors ultimately gave Rutherford B. Hayes 185 EVs to Tilden's 184. It was a huge mess with disputed slates of electors and many claims of fraud. To prevent that from happening again, the ECA was passed.
However, its wording is vague and is badly in need of updating. For example, what happens if a state sends a slate of electoral votes to Congress, but the losing party controls Congress and both chambers vote to throw out the electoral votes on a party-line vote? Can the state legislature then ignore the will of the voters and send a new tally that may be the opposite of what the voters want? We came pretty close to that in January 2020. Maybe the law needs some clarification on the subject of whether state legislatures can just ignore a tally certified by the state's top election official and replace it with one it prefers.
Also, what happens if two slates of electoral votes are sent to Congress, possibly one signed by the Secretary of State and one signed by the governor? Can Congress pick the one it prefers for partisan reasons? The ECA says the one signed by the governor is the one that counts. But what if, say, the Democrat wins the state and the secretary of state signs off on that but the legislature picks its own electors and the (Republican) governor signs their slate?
Or even worse, this seems to suggest that every governor is free to pick a bunch of his cronies as electors, count their votes, sign the certificate of ascertainment that tallies their votes, and send it off to the president of the Senate (the vice president) and the Archivist of the United States. Nothing in the ECA says the governor even has to look at the election results, let alone honor them. A rogue governor who did this might violate some state law (which a friendly state AG might decline to prosecute), and there are also some federal laws that he would run afoul of, but the terms of the ECA itself state that Congress must count the electoral votes certified by the governor, even if he made them up out of thin air. The folks who drafted the ECA considered scenarios in which there was some monkey business at a lower level but never considered any ones in which a corrupt governor just ignored the election and sent off an electoral vote count that pleased him. They probably assumed that no one would be so brazen, and that an angry public would kick him out of office as soon as possible. They certainly never considered a scenario in which almost half the state's voters would cheer him on as a hero for stealing the election.
Another scenario that isn't dealt with by the ECA is what happens if two slates of electoral votes show up in Congress and the Senate accepts one of them and the House accepts the other one? Now what? Does the Supreme Court get to pick the president, as it did in 2000? That is not really in its job description.
Can the ECA be fixed? Theoretically yes, but each party is going to be thinking about the likely scenarios and how they win or lose from them. Democrats might be worried about rogue state legislatures in Texas, Florida, and other states ignoring the will of the people and picking their own electors. Republicans might be worried about Democratic governors in Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina who might not be willing to sign off on what their state legislatures cooked up. Everyone might be concerned about secretaries of state who could be pressured or bribed into "finding" another 12,000 or so votes when the president "requested" it. The partisanship and potential corruption now are at least as bad, if not worse, than they were in 1876. (V)
Many people in the North and West are perplexed by why so many Southerners are not vaccinated. It's not so much that Donald Trump has forbidden it. He is against mandates but not really against vaccines and he himself has been vaccinated. Finally, however, the mystery has been solved. Gov. Tate Reeves (R-MS) let the cat out of the bag. He said: "When you believe that living on this earth is but a blip on the screen, then you don't have to be so scared of things." In other words, if you have a crummy job and a crummy life then dying isn't a bad thing, it is a good thing, because then you get to go to heaven, where it is all rainbows and unicorns and mint juleps. Oh wait, maybe not rainbows because it is above the clouds. But you do get to meet Jesus in person then and maybe buy him a mint julep.
Spinning death from COVID-19 as good makes sense for Reeves, because Mississippi is second in the country only to New Jersey in deaths per capita. Reeves said this only a day after Mississippi recorded its sixth child death from the virus. He generally downplays the virus and has resisted a mask mandate for schools this year, even though he did order one last year. Only 38% of the state is vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the country. Don't we seem to recall reading something about how leaders use religion as a distraction to keep people from focusing on their problems, and tossing those leaders out on their ears? Oh, right, that was Karl Marx.
Another reason many Southerners aren't vaccinated is talk radio, which is popular among conservatives in the South (and elsewhere). Many right-wing talk radio hosts pooh-pooh vaccinations and say they are not needed. However, three popular right-wing radio hosts, Mark Bernier, Dick Farrel, and Phil Valentine, are not telling listeners to avoid getting vaccines. This is probably because they are dead. From COVID-19. Boy, will that own the libs! (V)
With the House so closely divided, every race matters. Two districts that are top targets for both parties are FL-26 and FL-27, both in Southern Florida in the area around Miami. What makes them special is that both lean Democratic, with PVIs of D+6 and D+7, respectively. However, both incumbents are Republicans, Reps. Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar, respectively. Democrats used to occupy both seats and want them back. Republicans will fight like hell to keep them. The big question is which Democrats are going to run where.
The question isn't so simple because Florida got an extra district and state Republicans are going to gerrymander the dickens out of the map. Consequently, no one knows what the actual districts will look like when the map is finished, or how Democratic they will be. While Republicans would like to protect Giménez and Salazar, all those Democrats have to go somewhere. Here is the current district map of southern Florida.
Two former Democratic representatives are interested in making comebacks: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell represented FL-26 from 2019 to 2021 and Donna Shalala represented FL-27 from 2019 to 2021. Both lost their seats in the 2020 election. They are the most likely challengers, but who runs in which district depends a lot on what the final map looks like, something that may not be known for months. It is certainly possible that one of the districts becomes heavily Democratic and the other becomes EVEN so both women decide to run in the primary in the Democratic one and a lesser Democrat runs in the other one. We won't know how this plays out until we see the map and know the partisan breakdown of all the districts in southern Florida. (V)
If the Democrats want to control the Senate later in this decade, they had better do well in 2022 (which is entirely possible) because the 2024 Senate map looks awful for them. Of the 33 seats up then, they are defending 23 and the Republicans are defending only 10. But worse than that, the Democrats have very few pickup possibilities and the Republicans have quite a few. Here is the 2024 Senate map; the red states have a Republican up for reelection, the blue ones have a Democrat up, and the purple ones have an independent up:
In states like Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, and North Dakota, the Democrats' chances of knocking off the incumbent are nil. On the other hand, Democrats in states like Nevada, Arizona, Montana, Ohio, and West Virginia are definitely vulnerable. Here is a list of senators up in 2024 by party, sorted by their vote score in 2018:
To a first approximation, any senator who won 54% to 46%, an 8-point win, is probably safe. Looking at the table and using this metric, six Democrats and four Republicans are vulnerable. However, a closer inspection shows that three of the vulnerable Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin, Jon Tester (D-MT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), are from fairly-to-very red states. The other three are from purple states. In a bad year, the Democrats could lose all six seats.
On the other hand, three of the four vulnerable Republicans, Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Josh Hawley (R-MO), are from deep red states and the Democrats' bench in all of them is thin. The weakest of the bunch is Cruz, the only senator with the dubious distinction that both parties hate him equally. Beto O'Rourke put up a good fight against Cruz in 2018, but Cruz is still the favorite because Texas is still a red state. And the new voter restriction laws are going to help him as well. The only Republican up in a swing state is Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). Democrats have a shot at knocking him off, but he is the only realistic target.
In 2022, Democrats could realistically flip Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and maybe even Missouri if the Republicans nominate the guy who committed sexual assault (Eric Greitens). With a pickup of four or five states in 2022, they would be well prepared to hang onto the Senate after the 2024 elections. But if they end up with 50 or 51 seats in Jan. 2023, 2024 could be a bloodbath for them, possibly giving Republicans control of both chambers of Congress, no matter who is elected president. Probably few Democrats are looking forward to President Ron DeSantis with Republican control of Congress, so the stakes in 2022 are much bigger than they might at first appear. (V)
The Fed is supposed to be independent and operate in the country's best interests. And this independence gives it a lot of freedom to make decisions that impact tens of millions of people. Setting interest rates is one of its powers, but it is also supposed to consider unemployment when making decisions. Another power it has is regulating the banks. Consequently, the person who is the Fed Chair has a huge influence on the economy and the country and short of being completely corrupt, can't be removed from office until the end of his or her term. Kind of sounds like the Supreme Court, actually.
As a result of this independence and power, nominations for Fed Chair are now as contentious and political as nominations to the Supreme Court. We wrote about the pending nomination battles in some detail about 2 months ago, but now a new wrinkle has popped up: Three high-profile progressive Democrats have openly called on Joe Biden not to reappoint Jerome Powell as chairman when his term expires in February. The three are Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MN) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). All three are members of the left-leaning "squad." Their call introduces politics into the process in a very overt way and could pit Biden against high-profile members of his own party.
In principle, it is none of the representatives' business who Biden nominates as Fed chair. The nomination has to be confirmed by the Senate. The House plays no role in it. Still, by piping up now, they are putting some pressure on Democratic senators to at least listen to what some people in their party are saying. The trio has a number of beefs with Powell. For one thing, they think he hasn't done enough to consider the effects of climate change on the financial system. Hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, floods, and other disasters made more common and worse by climate change certainly affect banks that have loaned money to people in the affected areas. If a bank gave someone in Louisiana a mortgage on a house and Hurricane Ida has completely destroyed the house, the bank may never get its money back if the house was uninsured or underinsured (or even if it was properly insured and the insurance company goes belly up as a result of the hurricane). Does the bank have a contingency fund to handle losses due to climate change? Probably not (since that is money the bank can't loan out) unless the Fed says it has to have a climate contingency fund.
Under Powell, the Fed has loosened some rules that were supposed to keep the banks from making risky trades. The three representatives want a chairman who will tighten them again. They are also concerned about whether the banks have enough cash socked away to withstand the next big recession. In short, they think Powell is too much of a friend to the banks and not enough of a regulator.
The representatives didn't specify who they wanted to replace Powell as chair. The only Democrat on the board now is Lael Brainard, a former undersecretary of the treasury. Biden could promote her to chair. There is also a vacancy on the board, so he could fill that vacancy and then promote that person to chair in February.
However, many Democrats have come out in favor of giving Powell a second term, so the odds of AOC., et al., getting their way seem small. (V)