Senate page     Sep. 03

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Supreme Court Finally Speaks Up...Kinda

Earlier this week, the restrictive Texas abortion ban went into effect, primarily because the Supreme Court declined to weigh in on a request for injunction. On Thursday, they finally did say something, issuing one of their quickly-becoming-infamous midnight docket rulings, in which they refused to grant the injunction. Since there were four dissents included with the otherwise unsigned order, we know that the three liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts voted in favor of the injunction, while the five non-Roberts conservatives voted against.

Who knows what the future holds when this case, or the one centered on Mississippi's abortion law, make it to the Supreme Court. On one hand, the Texas law is pretty clearly outside the bounds of the Constitution; the ACLU is even using the same hypothetical that we came up with, namely a blue state empowering people to sue gun owners. Further, the midnight order, which wasn't actually announced until lunchtime on Thursday, specifically says that the five no-injunction justices were not ruling on the merits of the law. On the other hand, the justices clearly want to limit abortion rights as much as is possible, and this gave them a convenient way to do it. Further, an injunction is, to some extent, a prediction about how future rulings might go. If a law is likely to be struck down, then it is probably best that it not be allowed to take effect. We presume that the five conservative justices have a pretty good idea of how the five conservative justices might vote in the future.

Whatever the case may be, the Supreme Court is playing with at least a little bit of fire here. To start, John Roberts dislikes abortion, and is probably a vote to restrict abortion rights when given a proper chance at it. However, he also clearly fought hard here for an injunction...and lost. Not only is this a sign of trouble in paradise, it's also a very clear indication that the Chief knows the optics here are very bad. And as we've written many times, the Court has no enforcement powers. It depends very much on its reputation and its moral authority in order to achieve compliance. The more they utilize shady judicial trickery, like the midnight docket, to make controversial decisions that run contrary to the wishes of the majority of voters, the greater the risk they undermine their own power, either by encouraging changes in the structure of the Court (e.g., Court packing), or else by giving presidents and other politicians cover to just ignore their rulings.

Democratic leadership is, of course, promising to take action. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has already committed to a vote on a bill, authored by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), that would protect access to abortion. However, it is far from clear that the Speaker can whip the necessary votes, since some of the moderates in her caucus would possibly be committing political suicide in voting for the measure. Further, even if the bill clears the House, it will never secure approval in the Senate. Not only will it fail to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, it likely won't even get a majority, since Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) describes himself as "proudly pro-life."

The White House is also promising action, though what that has meant thus far is a declaration from Joe Biden that he will have the various executive agencies look into possible ways to protect abortion access in Texas. Time will tell what they come up with, but it's probably going to boil down to how willing Biden is to push the limits of his powers and, quite possibly, how willing he is to tell the Supreme Court to take their rulings and shove them. There are presidents who have been willing to flex their muscles like this when push came to shove, from Andrew Jackson to Abraham Lincoln to Dwight D. Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy. We may soon learn if Biden is up for joining that list.

Meanwhile, the protests have already begun. Since the Texas law strongly encourages "illegal abortion" reports, to the point of imposing no penalties on people who out-and-out lie, various tip sites have already been flooded with false reports. For example, was set up by a group of Texas anti-abortion activists. And it has already received at least a thousand reports of illegal abortion procedures undergone by...Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX). Our staff physician is sleeping off the effects of $1 taco happy hour at the local bar, but we—admittedly, as non-experts—are pretty sure that's not possible.

Anyhow, Republicans wanted a war on reproductive choice, and now they've got one. We shall see where it goes. (Z)

Biden's Approval Rating Sags

The latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll is out, and it has (moderately) bad news for Joe Biden: His approval rating is currently the lowest it's ever been. Specifically, with 44% of respondents giving him the thumbs up, and 49% giving him the thumbs down, he's 5 points underwater. That's a little on the low side, compared to other polls, but only a little. FiveThirtyEight's polling aggregator has him at 46.2% approval, 48% disapproval right now.

We don't think this actually reveals much of anything about the future political prospects of Biden, or of his fellow Democrats. He's in the midst of an ugly chapter of his presidency, between Afghanistan, and Hurricane Ida, and the COVID surge, and the abortion controversy. And yet, he's still pulling numbers that are dangerously close to Donald Trump's ceiling while he was president. Undoubtedly, Biden will rebound as some of these things move into the rearview mirror. Further, someone who disapproves of Biden isn't necessarily going to vote for a Republican if they disapprove of that Republican even more.

What these polls really speak to are the differing natures of the current party coalitions. The party of Trump has the loyalty of about 40% of the population. It is exceedingly difficult for the GOP to increase that number, but scandals, bumps in the road, policy setbacks, attempts at fomenting insurrection, etc. don't seem to eat away at the total, either. And given the wonkiness introduced by the Electoral College, gerrymandering, etc., a sizable minority of voters is enough to remain competitive, at least at the moment. Or, more accurately, it's enough to remain competitive if most of the Trumpers show up to the polls. Whether they will do that when Trump himself is not on the ballot is the $64,000 question in 2022.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have a pretty loyal base that is about equal in size to the loyal base of the Republicans. They also generally have the affections of another 10% or so of the population, but that 10% is willing to stay home, vote third party, etc. if they are not happy. And it's that 10% that basically decides national elections (as well as many state-level elections) these days. As we say, we would expect most of them to be back on Team Biden by the time the elections come next year, between negative things like Afghanistan fading in people's memories, and positive things like the infrastructure bills. (Z)

Some Good News, Some Bad News for Herschel Walker

Thursday was relatively big news day on the Herschel Walker front. After flipping a coin, we'll start with the good news for him: He received Donald Trump's formal endorsement. Actually, to be precise, and to use the former president's words, it was his "Complete and Total Endorsement." You know that Trump wrote it himself, since three of the four words are capitalized, none of them appropriately. Anyhow, there are many politicians who, if they officially landed Trump's endorsement, would be dancing in the streets right now. In Walker's case, the endorsement was basically a formality, so it's only moderate good news for him, and not big-time good news.

And now, the bad news. Yet another skeleton has emerged from Walker's closet. In 2002, a Texas woman filed a criminal complaint against him, claiming that he stalked her and threatened her. The complaint does not appear to have been investigated, and it certainly didn't lead to any sort of prosecution. However, this is the third woman to come to light who made the same basic claims against the aspiring U.S. senator. And where there's smoke, there's usually fire. Further, and more importantly, voters are not held to the same standards of evidence that juries are. If voters think he's an abusive creep, they are free to vote based on that feeling, whether it is correct or not.

If a candidate has some not-so-great things like this in their past, then it's probably best for them that those things come to light long before the election, rather than weeks before the election. That said, Walker's shortcomings are so substantive, it's hard to see how he overcomes them. The pros know this, so many of them are going to be working hard to see that Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black gets the Republican nomination. In other words, a civil war is brewing, in a state that knows a fair bit about the damage that civil wars can do. (Z)

This Week's 2022 Candidacy News

Beyond the rather important U.S. Senate race in Georgia, there has been movement in a whole bunch of other races across the land in the last couple of weeks:

That, then, is the latest. There will be a bunch more next week, and every week for...the rest of the year, at least. (Z)

Newsom Is Surging in Polls

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) was getting some too-close-for-comfort polling numbers for a few weeks, but the latest poll from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has him moving back onto firmer ground. According to PPIC, 59% of voters want to keep the Governor, while just 39% want to give him the heave-ho. This tracks pretty well with other polls of the race; according to FiveThirtyEight's aggregator, polls have an average of 52% for retention and 44% for removal.

PPIC's conclusion, based on the questions they asked, is that voters are generally satisfied with Newsom's pandemic management in the midst of the Delta variant surge. The "Do you think Newsom is handling the pandemic well?" responses were 59% yes/39% no, which means they were identical to the keep him/throw him overboard responses. We also continue to believe that the emergence of Larry Elder as the almost-certain replacement for Newsom, should the Governor be recalled, has served to scare Democrats into falling in line.

In any event, the voters' views of Newsom at this moment are very important, very possibly more important than their views on Election Day. There is roughly another week for folks to get their ballots in the mail if they plan to vote absentee and they want to make sure their votes arrive on time. And people who will either vote to keep Newsom, or just won't bother voting at all, are going to be decisive. So, views of him heading into the upcoming week could very well determine whether or not he keeps his job. (Z)

Angelenos Are Underwhelmed by Their Mayoral Options

Pop quiz time: Los Angeles has had 42 different people, all of them men, serve as mayor (some of them on multiple occasions). How many of those 42 went on to higher office after their term in the mayor's office was complete? Take you best guess; we'll get to the answer a little later.

In any event, Los Angeles is likely to choose a new mayor very soon. The current occupant of that office, Eric Garcetti, is on the cusp of being confirmed as the ambassador to India. Barring the unexpected, then, he'll vacate the mayoralty in the next few weeks. And even if he's not confirmed, he's unlikely to stand for reelection. Exactly when his replacement will be chosen is up to the city council (will they call a special election or not?), but either way the jockeying to replace him has begun.

The problem, from the viewpoint of many Angelenos, is that the jockeying has thus far produced two very un-exciting horses. The two "name" candidates who have declared their intent to run are City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Councilman Joe Buscaino. They are both fairly bland, basically centrist white guys with long careers in city hall. Feuer's signature issue is gun control, Buscaino is running on "cleaning up" the city's homeless problems.

A fair number of city residents would like to see a candidate who is (1) a minority, or (2) not a man, or (3) not a city hall insider, or (4) more than one of these things. Southern California has no shortage of promising folks who check one or more of these boxes and, in particular, there is a groundswell of support for Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) to mount a mayoral campaign. Undoubtedly, once the status of Garcetti is settled, and once the timeline for picking his replacement is figured out, at least one candidate who is progressive/a minority/a woman will jump in. Right now, the real top-flight candidates are just trying to avoid having a target on their backs for as much as 14 months, and also to avoid the (very small) chance that Garcetti keeps his job and runs for reelection. Challenging an incumbent is not usually an upwardly mobile move in Los Angeles.

And speaking of upwardly mobile, we wrote this item because there is a presumption that the L.A. mayor's office is a potential launching pad for candidates of national importance. Garcetti, for example, was regarded briefly as a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and was regarded for considerably longer as a possible Joe Biden running mate. On the other hand, we almost didn't write this item because there is no particular reason to think that the presumption is true. Los Angeles is not Chicago; the mayor does not have an outsized influence on state or national politics. And as to moving on to higher office, if you assume Garcetti will be confirmed, and you believe that serving as ambassador to India is a higher office than serving as mayor of Los Angeles (we think it is, but it's not a slam dunk), then he will be just the second L.A. mayor ever to leave that office and move on to something bigger and better. While many San Francisco mayors have been promoted upward, most notably Dianne Feinstein, the only L.A. mayor before Garcetti to move on to political office of any sort is Antonio F. Coronel, who led the city for one year and one day in 1853-54, and then was elected state treasurer in 1866. For the 40 mayors of Los Angeles who were not Coronel or Garcetti, the office was their final (and often only) political post. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

Our subject this week is Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.), the fellow who briefly served as Donald Trump's National Security Advisor. There are a fair number of people out there who might like to see him get some comeuppance, either for his dubious behavior while still in the military, or for his illegal behavior afterwards, or for his borderline traitorous over-the-top pro-Trump rhetoric. Even some Republicans might feel that way, since he embarrassed the Party with his lies and his shifty behavior. Certainly, anyone who is a big fan of Mike Pence, assuming such people exist, would be none-too-friendly toward Flynn.

This week, Flynn finally got a tiny bit of that comeuppance. It's not the prison term he deserves, and that he would have gotten if not issued a presidential pardon. What it is, however, is a wee bit of public humiliation. What happened is that JPMorgan Chase canceled Flynn's credit cards. The explanation they (appear to have) sent to Flynn: "After careful consideration, we decided to close your credit cards on September 18, 2021 because continuing the relationship creates possible reputational risk to our company."

Flynn, as you might guess, blew a gasket, posting a message to social media complaining that "Chase Bank has gone full blow woke!" It did not occur to him, perhaps, how poorly this reflects upon him. Do you know how sleazy you have to be for a credit card company to worry that you'll bring down their reputation? Anyhow, he's not headed to the Big House, but at least it's going to be a bit harder for him to buy a Big Mac. (Z)

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