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Saturday Q&A

We adjusted the format of this page to match the Sunday mailbag a bit more. If the new format makes it less readable, please let us know.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: In California, is there a limit on the number of times a governor can be recalled? According to the website of the California Secretary of State, proponents of a recall have 160 days to gather signatures once their petition is approved (but it doesn't say whether it has to be the full 160...). Does this mean that a governor could face recall multiple times in a term? Does this mean that Larry Elder could also have faced a recall if he had won? To your knowledge, has an elected official, in California or elsewhere, ever faced multiple recall attempts in the same term? Also, could someone initiate a recall attempt on the governor and lieutenant governor at the same time?

In contrast to, say, Wisconsin (no more than one recall every 2 years), there are no limits on the number of recalls in California, or their timing, except for those imposed by the calendar (as a certain amount of time is allotted for each step in the process, and those allotments add up). It certainly would be possible to recall both the governor and lieutenant governor at the same time, and it would also have been possible to recall Larry Elder, though it is likely Elder would have been impeached and removed first.

As to multiple recall attempts, it is necessary to understand that anytime the first step in the recall process—filing a petition requesting certification of a recall effort—is completed, then a recall attempt has commenced. Since this is a very low bar to clear, it is very common for elected officials (in states where recalls are legal) to face multiple recall attempts over the course of a single term (or even over the course of a single year). Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), for example, has already been the subject of six recall attempts, since in California it only takes 65 signatures to get the ball rolling.

The difficult bar to clear is gathering enough signatures to actually force a statewide vote. At the gubernatorial level, that's only happened four times in U.S. history (North Dakota 1921, California 2003, Wisconsin 2011, and California 2021), and California 2021 only happened because a judge granted a four-month signature-gathering extension due to the pandemic. Undoubtedly, when you asked about multiple recall attempts, what you really meant is multiple recall votes. We are unaware of, and cannot find, any examples of an officeholder at any level facing two recall votes in a single term. It may have happened to someone fairly low-level, like a school board member, but not to any statewide or major city-level officeholders.

S.P. in Harrisburg, PA, asks: You referred to Larry Elder as a "Ron DeSantis of a different color." If a Democrat was referred to in this way—say if Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) was referred to as a "Jon Ossoff of a different color," or if Kamala Harris was "a Hillary Clinton of a different color," you would be attacked as being a racist site and should lose your advertisers. Why is it acceptable for race-based attacks on conservative Republicans to go unnoticed?

Many Republicans have a theory that if a state, or a district is not willing to elect a white Republican (or a white Trumpublican), they can run a Republican/Trumpublican member of an interest group and cobble together a winning coalition of Black voters + Trump voters, or women voters + Trump voters, or Latino voters + Trump voters. Heck, in California, there was even the thought that running the LGBTQ+ Richard Grenell might lead to a coalition of progressive voters + Trump voters.

This week, Slate had an interview about Larry Elder with former RNC chair Michael Steele, who is Black, and who addressed this very issue, relating this anecdote:

It so much reminds me of when I was elected chairman. The day I was elected, I was walking through the hall and one of the members came up to me and she gave me a big hug and this big smile on her face. And she said, "I'm so excited." And I said, "Well, thank you." She said, "Yeah, now Black folks will vote Republican." And I went, "Baby, I'm not a Pied Piper. This is not how that works. I'm sorry." That's the mindset.

Steele knows that while identity politics is a real thing, it's rarely enough to overcome stands on the issues that a voter finds abhorrent. And so, the assumption that Black people will vote for a Black candidate regardless of ideology, or women for a female candidate, or Latinos for a Latino candidate, or progressives for an LGBTQ+ candidate is faulty.

In other words, we were not attacking Elder or making a joke. We were summarizing a major element of his pitch ("Hey! I'm a candidate for Trumpers and for Black voters") in a few words. Oh, and there is no risk of our losing our advertisers, because we don't have any. The banners you see at the top of the page were put there by us, so as to direct readers' attention to voting-rights causes that might be of interest. Those groups and organizations don't pay us, and did not even consult with us, since that sort of coordination might run afoul of the law in some cases.

R.C. in Lenexa, KS, asks: Is there any data on who actually gets abortions, in terms of political leanings? It seems to me that Republicans aren't actually trying to make all abortions illegal. Women of means can leave their state, or even leave the country, to obtain an abortion. Women with fewer resources don't have this option. Aren't Republicans engineering a future of more births for future Democrats and fewer births for future Republicans?

It's not so easy to acquire direct information on this. However, it is possible to at least reach some indirect conclusions. The Knight Family Foundation collects information on abortions per 1,000 women in each state and in D.C. as well. And the top 10 is overwhelmingly skewed toward blue or purple states, which suggests pretty strongly that Democrats are more likely to have the procedure than Republicans. In order, starting with the highest rate, the top 10 are: D.C., New York, Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Connecticut, New Jersey, and North Carolina. This is hardly surprising, since we would expect to see the largest number of abortions in places: (1) that haven't clamped down on abortion clinics, (2) that have large cities, and/or (3) whose residents are less likely to believe that abortion is a crime against God.

We don't think it's possible to guess what the impact on politics might be if laws like the ones in Texas and Mississippi are allowed to stay on the books. On one hand, the residents of red states tend to skew Republican, hence those states being red. So maybe that means more babies born to Republicans. On the other hand, women and poor people tend to skew Democratic. So maybe that means more babies born to Democrats. And beyond that, there is no guarantee that children will inherit their parents' politics, or that the party alignment of 2041 or 2051 will be the same as that of 2021.

R.S., San Mateo, CA, asks: You've noted several times how ubiquitous vaccine mandates are and were, even in pre-COVID times, with no accompanying outrage. This week, you wrote: "Mississippi has one of the strictest vaccination mandates in the country. Children there are required to be vaccinated against chickenpox, diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis, polio, rubella, and tetanus and there are no religious, philosophical, or conscientious exemptions!"

How likely is it that some of these anti-vax states will resolve their hypocrisy by rolling back their existing vaccination requirements? Polio and chicken pox will rise again!

It's not impossible. For example, there is a member of the Ohio legislature named Jennifer Gross who is trying to get support for a bill that would not only forbid COVID-19 vaccine mandates, but would also repeal nearly all other vaccine requirements.

However, Gross is struggling to attract enough signatures for her bill; she's got two and she needs 50. We would suggest that is evidence that even most Republicans know this is just a culture wars issue, and that actually rolling back vaccine requirements would be a public health disaster. For that reason, we think it is unlikely to go much beyond COVID-19 (and even there, we would bet many Republicans are hoping that Joe Biden and/or private businesses impose mandates, so that the Republicans can fight the culture war, and yet still enjoy the public-health benefits of the COVID vaccines).

C.F. in Nashua, NH, asks: I asked you a few months back to explain "legitimate religious" reasons to avoid vaccination and you wrote a very diplomatic answer. As you pointed out this week, religion is simply a set of beliefs. In many cases, these beliefs have been used to justify murder, rape, and theft. This is why separation of church and state is so critical to a free society, and laws designed to prevent harm to each other never carry a religious exemption. I would argue that Mississippi got it right—just like laws against harming other people, there should be no religious exemption for vaccinations. Now, seeing the result of having religious exemptions to vaccination laws, do you still think there are "legitimate religious" reasons for avoiding vaccination?

Let us point out that we wrote that there are "two circumstances we can think of where someone might have legitimate religious reasons to resist vaccination." We never said that we agree with those reasons, merely that we believe someone could claim religious objections and be telling the truth. We still believe that is the case.

That said, there are clearly people abusing these exemptions, just as there are people abusing the "I have health issues" exemptions. Sometimes, the needs of the many outweigh the rights of the few, and it may be possible that the legitimate religious objectors can no longer be accommodated. This would not be the first time that has happened; there are, for example, rules governing the slaughter of animals, such that folks who keep kosher or halal, or who practice Santeria, cannot kill an animal in any way they see fit just because it's consistent with their religious belief.

L.S. in Black Mountain, NC, asks: Someone I know was berating me the other day about Dr. Anthony Fauci, raging about how corrupt he is and has been. It was something about an AIDS vaccine and how he suppressed all others except the one he developed. I tried to Google for more information but got what looked like a bunch of right-wing sites I didn't want to visit or read. Can you explain what she was talking about? This person was my hairstylist, but she is now my former hairstylist...because she is defiantly unvaccinated, and did not treat me like a client she wanted to keep.

When these conspiracy theories get passed from person to person, they tend to get garbled, like a giant, nutty game of "telephone." Obviously, there is no AIDS vaccine, developed by Fauci or by anyone else. However, we are pretty confident in guessing that what your hairstylist is referring to is a video featuring Judy Mikovits, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry. We're not going to link to the video, because we don't need to give it any additional reach, but it's basically an anger-filled, only partly comprehensible rant in which she claims that she discovered key insights about the treatment of AIDS early in her career, and those insights were suppressed by Fauci and others so that they could continue making money off of the AIDS pandemic.

Mikovits offers no proof in support of her assertions about Fauci, nor an explanation of how he or anyone else was making money off of their alleged suppression of information. She is also...less than reliable as a source, let's say. At the time she was allegedly making key discoveries about AIDS, she was actually early in her graduate career, and was working as a very junior member of her faculty advisor's lab. By the time that her lab had produced any publishable research (1986), several groundbreaking papers on AIDS had already appeared in the pages of scientific journals.

After graduating, Mikovits produced many papers on various subjects, but her work was of limited value and got little attention until she co-authored a paper in 2009 that claimed a link between xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). This paper was a sensation, as CFS has been a near-impossible nut to crack for the scientific community. However, it was eventually shown beyond all doubt that the study was in error (their samples were tainted), and it was retracted by the journal that published it. Since then, Mikovits has been an unabashed purveyor of conspiratorial thinking. She's a lousy scientist, but she speaks the language of conspiracy very well, and she's done an excellent job of presenting herself as a victim of...everyone.

If you would like to know more, you can read this piece from the journal Science.

J.P. in Lancaster, PA, asks: I am being assailed by e-mails from an acquaintance who says Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) didn't allow the names of the 13 Americans killed at the Kabul Airport to be read in Congress. I must have missed this in the news. The only accounts I have been able to find are from conservative news sources. Did this happen? Frankly, anything that comes out of the mouth or pen of a conservative publication I have trouble believing.

If it did happen, is there an explanation for why Pelosi did not allow the names to be read?

We are pleased to see that you are skeptical, because this really doesn't pass the smell test. We would say these claims are about 5% true, 95% false. However, you can reach your own decision on percentages when you hear what actually happened.

To start, Pelosi wasn't present for the incident in question. It was a pro forma session, chaired by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI). By previous agreement, the session was to include a moment of silence for the 13 dead Americans. And, as is universally the case with pro forma sessions, the whole thing was supposed to take just a few minutes, and was to include no new business.

At the very end of the four-minute session, literally as Dingell was swinging the gavel to signal the close of business for the day, a group of Republicans attempted to introduce a resolution to read the names of the 13 members of the military who died. At very least, those folks knew full well that they were attempting something that is out of order, since new business is never introduced at pro forma sessions, except with prior consent of the majority and minority leaders and the speaker. At worst, they were deliberately setting things up so they could claim that Pelosi and/or the Democrats stopped the names from being read.

So, Pelosi is "to blame" in that she did not give the necessary consent for a measure she knew nothing about. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are equally "to blame," for the same reason. However, the real guilty parties here are the Republican members (Reps. Carlos Gimenez, Greg Steube and Brian Mast, all R-FL) who knowingly flouted the rules of the House and then pretended to be victims.

P.F in Sherman Oaks, CA, asks: The deadline for the House to vote on the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill is rapidly approaching. In your opinion, what is the most likely outcome: (1) it passes both chambers at $3.5 trillion, (2) it passes both chambers at something less than $3.5 trillion, or (3) it fails to pass.

We're going to fudge things a little bit here, and say it passes at $3.5 trillion, or at something a shade bit less than $3.5 trillion. The Democrats have pretty much hung their hats on that number, and we still do not believe that the objections of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) are genuine. It's possible they shave the total a little, to $3.4 trillion or $3.3 trillion to allow Manchin to "save face," but not much more than that. So, we're basically picking #1 and #2.

E.C.R. in Helsinki, Finland, asks: Why aren't the Democrats using recess appointments? Given that Congress is controlled by the Democratic party couldn't both the House and Senate have taken recess in August without pro forma sessions?

Recess appointments are generally a way to work the system when the majority party in the Senate is different from the party of the sitting president. That is not the current situation.

If the Democrats resorted to recess appointments, they would open themselves up to political attacks (despite the fact that Republicans use recess appointments far more frequently). More significantly, the appointments would expire at the start of 2023, at which point the Democrats might not control the Senate anymore. So, they are much better off getting the appointments approved now, such that there's no risk of subjecting the nominees to those posts to a Republican veto in a little over a year. All the Republicans can do now is hold some nominees up, something that comes with some amount of political risk for the Republicans who do it, such that they generally cannot hold out indefinitely.

M.E. in Greenbelt, MD, asks: Many Republicans are now calling for the court martial of Gen. Mark A. Milley over his contact with his Chinese counterpart near the end of the last guy's Presidency. Should the last guy or a similar Republican win in 2024, it's not difficult to imagine that President directing Army prosecutors to begin such proceedings. I know a President can pardon federal offenses, but not state crimes. Would President Biden (or Harris or Pelosi...) be able to pardon Milley of potential military offenses before leaving office?

Yep. The "last guy" was an enthusiastic pardoner of folks found guilty by courts martial. His most famous military pardonee was former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher who, by all evidences, is Charles Manson in uniform. The last military pardonee for #45 was Michael Behenna, who was convicted of the murder of Ali Mansur Mohamed in 2008 during the occupation of Iraq (you can read the pardon warrant here).

Anyhow, since presidents can pardon military crimes, and since they can pardon in advance of a conviction (e.g., Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon), then Joe Biden or any other president could preemptively pardon Milley if they wished to do so.

S.H. in Sutherlin, OR, asks: Could you two please tackle the question of why the guy at the top of the January 6 insurrection food chain is not arrested and/or in jail? Thanks for tackling this question.

There are two primary reasons, we would say. First of all, the "guy at the top" is really, really good at approaching the line, and then letting others cross it on his behalf, putting their necks at risk rather than his. Second, the Department of Justice generally only pursues slam dunk cases, and that's when we're talking about going after folks you've never heard of. When it comes to going after a former president of the United States, which would potentially trigger riots, they would want and need things to be so airtight that the case file is in danger of spontaneous conversion into a black hole.

He is much more obviously exposed in New York and Georgia. So, AG Merrick Garland & Co. are surely going to let the long arm of the law in those places take the lead.

J.R. in Sarasota, FL, asks: Very often, you refer to someone being Trumpy or to Trumpism. Would you care to offer definitions of these new words in our language? Obviously you mean "like Trump," but what are the defining characteristics that would make one Trumpy in your estimation?

We'd say there are five defining characteristics of a Trumpist:

Did we miss any?

G.D. in Jurupa Valley, CA, asks: I believe I read on your site that the census was ignored for redistricting purposes in 1920 but has there ever been a redo of the census? Given the disproportionate COVID deaths in rural parts of the country, the figures produced in 2020 may soon be obsolete. Would it be possible for Congress to order a recount in, say, 2025?

The Constitution only requires that a census be conducted at least every 10 years; it places no limits on conducting them more frequently than that. So, if Congress wanted to order another census, and to appropriate the money to pay for it, they could do it. It is improbable they will do so, however, since there would be enormous blowback, and since the 435 members of the House who would have to vote for it would be risking that their districts would become much less friendly. That's not a problem for a member who comes from a D+25 or R+20 district, but anyone who represents a district anywhere from R+8 to D+8 (which is most of them) will not be excited about mucking up the status quo.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, asks: What, no mention of the Norway election that put a center-left government in place, which means that all five Scandinavian countries currently have liberal administrations?

There have been interesting things going on in Norway, France, Japan, and Canada, among other places. However, we tend not to write about foreign elections unless we can draw a clear connection to U.S. politics. In part, that is because U.S. politics is our focus. And in part it is because we don't know other nations' politics that well. Excepting the politics of The Netherlands, of course.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: In countries with multiple parties that fail to form a governing coalition, how does the day-to-day business get done if there is no government?

Generally, one or both of these things is true: (1) the existing government stays in place as a caretaker government until a new government with full legislative and executive authority can be formed, and (2) there are rules about exactly what the government can and cannot do while it waits for a new governing coalition to form. For example, many nations allow a caretaker government to adopt a budget, but not to initiate any new spending.

J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: On Sunday, A.J. in Baltimore wrote in, and gave two mottoes as examples that only make sense in context: North Carolina's esse quam videre (to be rather than to seem) and New Mexico's crescit eundo (it grows as it goes). I looked on Wikipedia, but didn't find any context explaining why those mottoes made sense for those states. The former is a quote from Cicero's treatise on friendship, and the latter is from a poem by Lucretius describing lightning. There's no mention of what either phrase has to do with either state. What's the context?

The New Mexico motto, first adopted in 1887 during that state's territorial years, connotes growth and progress and the conquering of the natural landscape. That was a very popular way of thinking about things in that era; the 1872 painting "American Progress" by John Gast conjures up a very similar image:

White people, led by an angel,
move westward, bringing railroads, and industry, and telegraph lines, and 'light,' while banishing 'dark' and also
Native Americans.

Since New Mexico needed to attract more people in order to qualify for statehood, this motto was a useful sales pitch.

As to North Carolina, they adopted their motto in 1893, becoming the last of the original 13 colonies to do so. As we've noted a few times in previous weeks, the 1890s saw interwoven surges of Southern pride and white supremacy. It's not terribly out of character for that era, then, that the Tarheels would adopt a motto that essentially means "We are men of action, not words."

E.R. in Irving, TX, asks: In a response to S.S. in Detroit, you wrote: "[T]he last official act that Abraham Lincoln performed before heading out to the theater on Apr. 14, 1865, was to sign into law a bill creating the Secret Service."

What is the origin of the name "Secret Service"? Why not the "Anti-Counterfeiting Unit" or the "Currency Police"? Admittedly, it's a cool-as-hell name for an agency which has also become the world's most badass bodyguards, but... that came later.

It's often true today, and was almost always true back then, that anti-counterfeiting efforts meant undercover operations. The Secret Service was modeled on the Pinkerton Detective Agency, whose operatives generally worked undercover, and gave us the term "private eye."

P.M. in Currituck, NC, asks: The question sent in last week by my pal S.S. in Detroit about presidential security prompted me to write in with this question...since I trust you guys with all things political, I figured you would be able to guide me in the sensibility/viability of this idea...

I read this article about Joe Biden's faith. From what I can tell, he really does walk the walk of a devout Catholic, and thus finds himself in a catch-22 when it comes to (the always-touchy topic of) abortion.

Be that as it may, the article did give me an idea. By this point, the readership likely knows two things about me: I travel by car a great deal around the country, and I am a devout Roman Catholic. I have never seen a president in person, and would like to at some point...and although I disagree with President Biden on some issues, I do believe him to be a devout man of faith, which I find admirable. So my idea is to combine the two: travel to attend the Saturday Vigil Mass at St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Wilmington at some point when Biden will be at home in Delaware, which would afford me a glimpse of him. I don't want to talk to or otherwise interact with him, but I do think it would be a really unique way to see him!

In light of security around the president, is this a viable/sensible idea? What would you recommend or suggest?

Presidents who wish to worship in a regular church face something of a challenge. On one hand, they need to be properly protected. On the other hand, they can't exactly order the church to be cleared of all parishioners. This is a big part of the reason why the only sitting president in the last 40 years to attend the same public church on a weekly basis was Bill Clinton (Foundry United Methodist Church).

George Bush solved this problem primarily by attending services that were held for him at Camp David. The approach of Barack Obama, by contrast, and of Joe Biden thus far, has been to mix things up, so that someone who might be a threat cannot easily predict their attendance. In Biden's case, that sometimes means going to a church different from his usual one, and sometimes it means skipping church altogether, and sometimes it means going to Saturday evening services instead of Sunday morning services.

If you're willing to repeatedly make the 5-hour drive from Currituck to Wilmington, DE, then it likely is a viable plan for catching Biden eventually (assuming that you can get a seat while he's in town; that's a real problem for folks who try to catch Jimmy Carter's regular Sunday School teaching). However, you'll almost certainly have to make a number of attempts, given the President's propensity for making things unpredictable.

L.O. in Atlanta, GA, asks: You suggest that 1877 was a pivotal year "because the major storylines of early U.S. history end, and the major storylines of modern U.S. history begin." Would the historian in your midst care to elaborate?

There are a number of major questions that fairly well dominate the first century or so of American history, among them: (1) strong central government or weak?, (2) slavery or not?, (3) manufacturing or just agriculture?, (4) partner with or conquer the Native Americans? By 1877, those questions had substantially been answered: (1) strong government, (2) no more slavery, but racial segregation, (3) manufacturing and agriculture, and (4) conquer the Native Americans. However, a whole host of new issues were emerging, including: (1) urbanization, (2) the impacts of rapid technological progress, (3) changing roles of women, (4) pushback against segregation, (5) pushback against the excesses of big business, (6) the emergence of true mass media, and (7) the development of the U.S. as a military power entitled to a place on the world stage. So, 1700s-1877 and 1877-present are very different stories, and 1877 is the year with the clearest break between the old group of issues and the new group of issues.

M.C. in Oak Ridge, TN, asks: In your answer to M.M. in Houston, you wrote: "World War I substantially caused the Cold War..."

Really? You don't get to drop intriguing statements without being invited to elaborate.

Well, in an effort to influence the war without getting directly involved, the U.S. sent money and supplies to the White Russians, in hopes of keeping Russia in the war, and thus forcing the Germans to fight on two fronts. It didn't work, of course, and when the Red Russians triumphed, they were none too pleased that the U.S. tried to help the other side.

On top of that, the War basically set the world's empires on the path to destruction, with most of their one-time colonies achieving independence just in time to become potential client states for the U.S.S.R. or the U.S. in their competition for world dominance. More specifically, Ho Chi Minh guessed (and hoped) that the writing was on the wall for the French thanks to WWI, and he showed up at Versailles to ask Woodrow Wilson for help in securing Vietnamese independence. Wilson blew him off, since Wilson believed very much in self-determination, but pretty much only for white people. That served to drive Ho right into the welcoming arms of the Russian communists, who by that time had taken control of their country.

J.C. in Northridge, CA, asks: With the release of yet another Bob Woodward Trump book, what are the chances we might one day see a Robert Caro-type book on the Trump presidency? And would it explore in detail the Trump as Russia's 'useful idiot' theory?

The chances are 100%, and it will certainly address that angle, along with a hundred others. If a historian is going to undertake a project like this, they want a subject who is both consequential and enigmatic, like LBJ was. Certainly, Trump is in both categories as well.

That said, a magisterial work on Trump isn't coming anytime soon. First of all, Caro spent something like two decades researching before he started writing. Second, presidential books rely on declassified information, and that's not going to be happening for the Trump administration anytime soon. It could be in as little as 10 years, although for presidential stuff, it is more common for material to remain classified for 25-50 years.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: When are you doing a post filled with R.E.M. lyrics?

We already did one! Or did we? Maybe that was just a dream, just a dream.

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