Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has been hard at work reading the $3.5-trillion reconciliation bill the Democrats have cobbled together. It is probably over 1,000 pages and full of things that are barely budget related. One thing that caught her eye is a provision to give 8 million dreamers a permanent green card. She ruled that such a change is not primarily a budget issue and thus cannot be in a reconciliation bill. Democrats argued that immigrants are important to the economy, but of course everything the government does affects the economy. What matters is whether a provision is primarily a budget issue (like raising or lowering taxes) and not whether it also affects the federal budget somehow.
MacDonough has no problem with Congress changing immigration policy, but says it has to do it through the regular order, passing a law in the normal way. She said: "The reasons that people risk their lives to come to this country—to escape religious and political persecution, famine, war, unspeakable violence and lack of opportunity in their home countries—cannot be measured in federal dollars." Democrats can't use the regular order because every Republican would filibuster the bill and they can't eliminate the filibuster because they don't have the votes for that.
Democrats who want to govern using the reconciliation process were not happy. For example, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said: "We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues." Good luck with that. MacDonough is not going to change her mind. Schumer could solve the problem if he really wants to, but the blow-back would be gigantic. He has two options. First, the parliamentarian's ruling is merely advisory; a vote of the full Senate can overrule her. Schumer could bring her ruling to a vote, but it is not certain that every Democrat would support a motion to overrule her. Second, the parliamentarian serves at the pleasure of the majority leader. Schumer could replace her with someone else who believed that everything that has any effect on the budget (which is everything the government does) is fine and dandy. Doing either one would blow up the Senate and turn it into a war zone. Schumer also knows that if he were to do either of these things, that would give Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) an excuse to ride roughshod over the Senate rules if he becomes majority leader in 2023. That's a very big risk Schumer probably doesn't want to take.
Is MacDonough going way out on a limb here? Likely not. Her predecessor in the job, Alan Frumin, said earlier this year that this issue didn't come up during his time in office because immigration laws then had bipartisan support, but if it had come up, it wouldn't have been allowed in a reconciliation bill by him, either.
If this is the only thing MacDonough scraps, Democrats really should be happy, since the enormous bill remakes a large part of the government under cover of passing the budget. A stricter parliamentarian could have thrown out most of the bill. The bitter lesson for the Democrats here is that you can't make major changes to the country if you don't have a functional majority in the Senate, which they don't. If they want to assign blame for this situation, it should go to Sara Gideon and Steve Bullock and Cal Cunningham for not winning their Senate elections last year. If they had won, the Democrats would likely have had the votes to pare back the filibuster, but they didn't so the Democrats don't. (V)
A rally was held on Saturday in front of the Capitol to show support for the 600+ rioters arrested on Jan. 6. It was supposed to be huge, to show how so many people have their backs. The number of attendees was estimated to be in the range of 100 to 200. The number of police officers was more than that. Members of Congress were not in town. Some reporters were present, as were a small number of counterprotesters, but basically, the whole event fizzled.
Some speakers said that the rioters arrested were political prisoners, but none of the speakers were high profile people. The event was peaceful, although four people were arrested, one of whom had a large knife. It is possible that potential attendees knew that riot police would be there in full-dress uniform and prepared for trouble, so they skipped out on showing up. In any event, the processing of the Jan. 6 rioters is continuing on schedule. Saturday's rally will have no effect on it. Donald Trump called the rally a "setup" and said the media would "use it to bash Republicans."
So far, 50 people have pleaded guilty to charges resulting from the Jan. 6 events. Another 75 are still in custody. Most of the other 500 have been released pending their trials. Will Saturday's event change the course of history the way the Jan. 6 attempted coup did? Doesn't look like it. (V)
The debt ceiling is back in the news. It has to be raised again and Senate Republicans have said they are not going to do it. The Democrats could put it in the reconciliation bill and raise it on their own (potentially to ten-duotrigintillion dollars) to assure this issue never comes up again, but they don't want to since then the Republicans would campaign in 2022 on how reckless the Democrats are with the people's money. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) specifically wants to force the Republicans to vote on a debt-limit bill so they will own the consequences of their votes. Those consequences could be the fourth government shutdown in the past 10 years. Voters don't like government shutdowns and Joe Biden has the bully pulpit now to tell everyone whose fault it was.
When crunch time comes, will the Republicans really vote to shut down the government (again)? No one really knows. Announcing that you will vote no and actually doing so—which will likely cause the stock market to crash—are different things. It is a big game of chicken, as usual. Mitch McConnell actually doesn't give a hoot about whether the debt limit is 28 trillion or 28 duotrigintillion. He just wants to score political points that will help him become majority leader in Jan. 2023. He also wants to use this pressure to make the Democrats give up on their plan to pass the $3.5-trillion reconciliation bill. If the Democrats don't budge, will McConnell risk a government shutdown or will the parties find a way to kick the can down the road? If the past is any guide, it could go either way this time. Alternatively, the Democrats could blink, put a debt limit increase in the reconciliation bill, and take the heat for it. (V)
The previous item is about money—lots of it—and so is this one. Environmental activists want Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to put her considerable power to use in the service of slowing down climate change. Specifically, they want her to impose new rules to make sure that climate change does not shake up the financial system. To that end, she could forbid big banks from lending money to companies whose business relates to fossil fuels. Yellen is not buying it.
What she might do is get financial institutions to disclose more data on their climate-related loans and related businesses. For example, she could force, say, Citibank to report how much money it loaned Exxon and for what purpose. Once all the data from all the banks was available, she could potentially take the next step. Republicans have said that even reporting this kind of data is far beyond the scope of what the Treasury Dept. can do. A potential split between the administration and some of its environmentalist allies would be embarrassing and something Yellen would like to avoid.
The area where Yellen has the clearest authority is in the regulation of the insurance industry. If climate change is going to cause massive wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, these could wipe out the insurance industry. She could conceivably push the Financial Stability Oversight Council to require the industry to build up large reserves to handle losses resulting from these events. Then the industry would jack up premiums, for example, for people who build on floodplains, thus discouraging such behavior. Still, there is a limit to what could be done going down this road.
Although Yellen is not yielding to outside pressure, she has taken a number of climate-related steps on her own. For example, she is pressuring the World Bank to prioritize clean-energy investments and oppose most fossil-fuel projects. She also is opposed to providing export credits for coal projects. In addition, she has set up a group at the Treasury Dept. to boost climate-related projects (and their financing), both in the U.S. and abroad. If getting loans to build a huge solar farm becomes very easy but getting financing to build an oil pipeline or refinery becomes expensive or tangled in years or red tape, the energy industry will get the word pretty fast and adjust its behavior. Yellen is expected to issue a report on what she is doing on the climate front this fall. (V)
The RNC is focused on electing Republicans. However, the loudest Republican in the country, Donald Trump, isn't focused on electing Republicans. He is focused on defeating Republicans. Specifically, he wants to defeat any Republican who has spoken out against him and his lies. His chosen weapon is endorsing an opponent of each of his targets in next spring's primaries. And no office is too big or too small to attract his attention if there is an honest Republican to defeat. No previous president has ever gotten so involved in elections after he has left office. Like so many things Trump has done, this breaks with all precedent and tradition. When previous presidents left office, they built houses, raised money for their libraries, created charitable foundations, got a job with Netflix, or just took up painting. They didn't spend all day trying to settle scores.
So far, Trump has endorsed almost 40 candidates for offices high and low in 23 states. There is a fair chance he barely knows most of them. And in many cases, he has picked candidates that the RNC, NRSC, or NRCC definitely do not want to win their primaries. This puts Trump on a collision course with much of the institutional Republican Party. Having Trump go campaign for one candidate while one of the GOP committees is running ads attacking that candidate and promoting a different one is not likely to end well for one side or the other or both.
Trump has endorsed in three statewide races for secretary of state, usually a low-profile office that involves arranging for the mechanics of elections, issuing business licenses, handling motor vehicle registrations and driver's licenses, certifying and preserving records, and various other administrative tasks. The highest-profile one is in Georgia, where he wants to unseat Brad Raffensperger (R), who refused to find another 12,000 votes to flip Georgia to the Republican column in the 2020 presidential election. Trump's chosen vehicle is Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), whose campaign is based on the idea that as secretary of state he will obey Trump's will and not certify any Democrats as election winners, no matter what the voters may want. Trump is also involved in Michigan, where the goal is to get a pro-Trump candidate to run against Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson (D) and also a pro-Trump candidate in the open-seat race in Arizona (the current secretary, Democrat Katie Hobbs, is trying for a promotion to governor).
Georgia is high on Trump's list of targets. He has already endorsed Herschel Walker (R) for the Senate race against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), much to the consternation of the Mitch McConnell, who thinks Walker can't win. Trump hasn't picked a favorite in the Georgia gubernatorial race yet, but he surely will. The hours of ads that will then be run with Trump saying how terrible a governor Brian Kemp (R-GA) is might just boiled down to a couple of killer ads for Stacey Abrams, who is expected to be Kemp's general-election opponent. Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan (R-GA), who is not running for reelection, said: "The only question that seems to matter when Trump is making his endorsements is: 'Are you with us on the election conspiracy stuff?' Not, 'Do you believe in smaller government? Do you support law enforcement? Do you believe in lower regulations? Instead, it's, Are you with me?'." The obvious consequence of this is that Trump is going to support the nuttiest fringe candidates and these are often not the strongest general-election candidates. That's why the GOP establishment is nervous.
Pennsylvania is another biggie. With the retirement of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), this is the Democrats' #1 pickup opportunity. They have two strong primary candidates, either of whom has a good chance of winning the general election. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) would get the support of many working-class Trumpish Republicans. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) would do well in upscale Republican suburbs. To win, the Republicans need the strongest possible candidate. Trump has already endorsed author and veteran Sean Parnell (no, not the former governor of Alaska). Pennsylvania Parnell is against abortion, against gun control, against immigrants, and the rest, but he also supports Pennsylvania running an Arizona-style audit of an election held almost a year ago. Guess why Trump supports him? Against either Fetterman or Lamb he would probably be toast.
There is another factor to be considered for people who win the Trump sweepstakes: Are you a gold, silver, or bronze winner? Gold endorsees get a personal appearance with Trump at a rally, a TV ad with him, and possibly some help with fundraising. Silver endorsees get one or two of these things, but not all of them. Bronze endorsees get to say Trump endorses him or her, but that's all. It's hard to say which of these factors in the most important. In a safe Republican district, even being bronze may be good enough. But in a swing district, a rally appearance and/or TV ads might help in the primary but hurt in the general election because tying the candidate to Trump will be toxic with Democrats. In that case, the best help might be for Trump to help raise money, but in a way Democrats don't notice. However, we doubt that Trump is aware of how toxic he is with Democrats and thus understands the need to adapt his "help" depending on the race. (V)
Last week, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) announced that he would not run for reelection. For a 36-year-old rising star in an R+8 district that he won by 26 points in 2020, early retirement is unusual, to say the least. He said his retirement was in part due to safety concerns over his young family (English translation: "Crazy Trump supporters might injure or kidnap my kids.") This is not normal. It is a massive warning about how dangerous the Republican Party has become. What did Gonzalez do to earn the apparent threats he got? Although he has close to a 100% conservative voting record, he wasn't willing to vote to overturn the election result at the behest of Donald Trump. In Trumpworld, that is an unforgivable sin, which led to his harassment and decision to retire.
His vote also triggered a primary challenge from a Trump toady, Max Miller. Normally a sitting congressman in a conservative district who was a college football star, who has an MBA from Stanford, and who has a party-line voting record in Congress, doesn't have much to fear from a trust-fund baby with a hair-trigger temper who assaulted his girlfriend and the former White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, and who has a long police record for various offenses in multiple jurisdictions. But when the toady, Max Miller, is one of Trump's favorites, everyone else better watch out. Absent the primary, Gonzalez might have stayed in, but all things considered, he decided a new career would be appropriate. If Miller wins, he could become the next Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) or if he really excels, maybe even the next Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Gotta reach for the brass ring.
While Republicans who want to return to the party of Ronald Reagan may be crying in their beer, Trump spiked the ball after hearing of Gonzalez' planned retirement. He said: "1 down, 9 to go," and was not referring to a football game. He meant he had successfully driven one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him from Congress and he was working on the next nine. He already has picked a challenger to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and is actively working on getting rid of the other eight. If he succeeds, few if any members of the House will ever dare challenge him again on anything. He will become an absolute dictator within the Republican Party.
Never Trumpers in the GOP are very worried about Trump chasing Gonzalez from Congress. Former representative Barbara Comstock (R), who lost her Northern Virginia seat in 2018, said: "Trump doesn't care whether Republicans win. It's not about Republicans winning. Trumpism is about revenge." Comstock is still hopeful that the GOP will eventually cast Trump aside and return to its roots. Former Pennsylvania representative Charlie Dent, who retired voluntarily in 2018, said: "The guy who called out the insurrection, and the president's appalling behavior at that time, is the one being sent out to pasture. Once again we are punishing the firefighter rather than the arsonist." Olivia Troye, a top aide to Mike Pence, said: "I hope that people will rally around Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Jaime Herrera Beutler and the rest of the nine. They are facing a very rough time, and they did make a sacrifice— they chose our country and our Constitution over their party and the madman." (V)
One of the few areas in which a president can act boldly without getting Congress on board with his plans is foreign policy. And Joe Biden's strength lies in foreign policy, not domestic policy, having served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 36 years, including three stints as chairman. He is also on a first-name basis with many of the world leaders on account of his 8 years as veep under a president with little knowledge of or interest in foreign affairs. He clearly intends to move boldly on foreign policy. Not only will that quickly erase the memory of Afghanistan, but will chart a new path for the United States in the world.
The sale of American submarines to Australia last week is far more significant than it was at first reported. Yes, France is very miffed at losing a $66-billion deal and all the jobs that would have created. But more than that, France still has a vision of being a world military (especially naval) power, and Biden's move deflates that balloon fairly quickly. France does have a few island possessions in the Pacific Ocean, but that doesn't make it a world-class naval power.
The U.S. and France have a long history as allies, albeit a rocky one at times. Without French help during the Revolutionary War, the quarter would probably feature the Queen instead of George Washington. On the other hand, without U.S. help in Europe during World War II, Paris might now be a German-speaking city. In a sense, the Revolutionary War debt to France was repaid in 1945 (and in 1918).
The decision to make a sneaky deal with the Aussies (and not tell France about it until the last minute) was clearly Biden's decision. No one else—not Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, not anyone—has that kind of authority. French President Emmanuel Macron knows this, which is partly why he reacted so strongly. In addition to the loss of jobs and puncturing the French vision of being a world power, he feels betrayed by Biden, whom he knows well. Biden probably feels his pain, but in the end did what is in the U.S. interest, and was not guided by his personal feelings. This, in itself, is a bit of a change from how recent presidents have operated.
What the deal indicates is that Biden sees America's biggest rival in the world as China, not Russia, and the location of the upcoming battle between democracy and autocracy as the Pacific Region, not the Atlantic Region. In other worlds, while not abandoning Europe, Biden sees the stakes highest in the Pacific and Asia. For that reason, he wants to put China on notice that the Pacific is not its playground. The French submarines that Australia was going to buy are diesel electrics. They have limited range (due to the need to refuel regularly) and make a lot of noise, which makes them easy for China to locate and potentially sink. The American submarines are state-of-the-art nuclear subs. They are silent and can easily reach China undetected. Whether they would carry nuclear missiles is classified information as the U.S. never discloses where its nuclear missiles are located. But even if they do not carry nuclear missiles, they will certainly carry other offensive missiles. This means that in the event of war, China potentially has to fight two nuclear powers, each of which has the capability of destroying it. But even if Biden decides not to provide Australia with nuclear missiles, the Australian Navy's new ability to hunt down and sink Chinese submarines and surface warships is itself a big change in the balance of power in the Pacific. The general who has to explain this to Chinese President Xi Jinping has to be very concerned about the old Chinese tradition of the emperor executing messengers whose message displeases him.
Now about the headline. While Biden is a big supporter of NATO, he is probably going to spend even more time working with the Quad, namely the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India—four big, powerful countries who are going to work together to rein in China, the same way NATO was created to rein in the former Soviet Union. Negotiating with left-wing domestic politicians (the squad) is small potatoes compared to blocking the rise of China.
The deal also included the U.K., leading to the acronym "AUKUS" for the project. This indicates that in post-Brexit Europe, working with the U.K. on critical military, intelligence, and technology areas is more important to Biden than mollifying France. It also indicates that Australia is betting the sheep station on being America's strategic partner rather than France's. This is also the first time the U.S. has shared critical nuclear technology with any country other than the U.K. This whole deal will strengthen Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and weaken Macron. That's the way it goes.
As to U.S. politics, to the extent that foreign policy matters at all, this deal and any future high-profile meetings with the other Quad leaders will make it very hard for Republicans to get traction accusing Biden of being soft of China. His response to that will be: "I just sold our ally Australia some of the nastiest weapons in the world in order to make it clear to China that they are not the only big player in the Western Pacific." And on top of that, the deal will create thousands of good-paying jobs with the companies that get the contracts to build the subs. Compared to this big win, Afghanistan is pretty insignificant. You don't spend 44 years in national politics without learning how the game is played. (V)
Midterm turnouts are always much lower than turnouts for presidential elections. Since the end of World War II, they have been remarkably stable, with presidential turnout averaging about 57% of the VEP (voting-eligible population) and midterm turnout averaging about 40% of the VEP. Here is a chart of the data since 1789:
Historically, midterm turnout has been better educated and whiter than presidential turnout and this has always helped the Republicans. However, 2022 could be the election that breaks the mold. College-educated whites will still make up a large share of the electorate in 2022, but that might actually favor the Democrats since this group is rapidly joining the blue team. Here is a table from Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball based on data from Catalist showing the breakdown of the electorate from 2012 to 2020:
|Demographic group||2012||2014||2016||2018||2020||2020 PVI|
As you can see from the data, white college voters represent a larger share of the electorate in the midterms by 3-5 points compared to the presidential years. This is not because they vote in larger numbers then, but because the other groups vote in lower numbers. But in close races, a few points can mean the difference between winning and losing. This shift matters because white college-educated voters are much more Democratic than they were 10 years ago. Their PVI is now D+8, which means the more important this group is, the better the Democrats fare.
The composition of the electorate is complicated by the lower turnout among ethnic minorities. However, in 2018 their turnout was close to their turnout in 2020, so maybe that is starting to change. White non-college turnout has been slowly dropping since 2012, and could tick down another point or two in 2022. Since this is the only reliably Republican group, a drop here is not favorable for the GOP.
However, given the D+8 lean of white college graduates and the D+80 lean of Black folks, for every Black voter who skips the midterms, the Democrats need 10 new white college voters to take up the slack.
The demographics are not uniform around the country. The white population is over 80% in New Hampshire and about 50% in Georgia and 46% in Nevada. This probably means that in heavily white states like New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the Democrats may do well. In contrast, in Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada, the Democrats' fate will be closely tied to minority turnout—something the Republicans clearly understood when they passed restrictive voting laws in Arizona and Georgia. (V)
Now that the California recall is behind us, the next two big elections this year are the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey. Voting just started in the former on Friday. Not only will it determine whether Terry McAuliffe (D) will get his old job back, but it will also test how strong the shift to early voting is. Early voting in Virginia will run 45 days this year. In addition, no-excuse absentee voting will be available to all Virginians for the first time in a gubernatorial race.
These changes will require the parties to rethink their strategies. Unlike some other states that have made voting harder, Virginia has made it easier—much easier. Will that cause turnout to zoom up? Historically, large turnouts have favored the Democrats, but this is new territory for Virginia.
On Friday, McAuliffe and his Trumpy Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, were out on the trail campaigning. Youngkin was in Chesterfield County, the state's fourth largest, and one that went for Biden after years of being a Republican stronghold. If McAuliffe can hold that county, it could signal a big permanent shift in Virginia politics.
One issue that could hurt McAuliffe is Black complacency. As governor, he didn't do anything to upset the Black community, but there is little passion for him. To them, he is just another somewhat sleazy white politician. Neither candidate is short of money; McAuliffe has $13 million in the bank now; Youngkin has $6 million left. So far, Youngkin has sunk $17 million of his own money into his campaign.
One interesting feature of early voting in Virginia is that as soon as someone votes, that fact is available to the candidates in real time. This means they can stop wasting time trying to contact or convince that voter to head to the polls. An early voter is likely to be quite partisan. If the candidates can figure out whom the voter probably went for, the voter might get targeted with pitches for money rather than pitches to go vote.
A new Washington Post/Schar School poll shows that McAuliffe is ahead 49-43 among registered voters and 50-47 among likely voters. But figuring out who is a likely voter in the current situation with 45 days of early voting in person, and absentee ballots for everyone who requests one, is a whole new world that pollsters haven't dealt with before, especially in an off-year election. Previous polls have also shown McAuliffe with a small, but consistent, lead. From 1874 to 1970, no Republican was inaugurated as governor of Virginia, until Linwood Holton (R) won in 1969. Starting with Holton, six Republicans and seven Democrats have been elected governor. However, four of the past five have been Democrats. In Virginia, a governor may not succeed themselves, but they can serve as many nonconsecutive terms as the voters want them to serve. Only one person has ever been elected twice as governor of Virginia. Mills Godwin was elected as a Democrat in 1966 and then as a Republican in 1974, so there is some precedent for it. Of course, McAuliffe is not switching parties. (V)
Axios is reporting that former three-term congressman from El Paso and Bobby Kennedy wannabe Beto O'Rourke is going to run for governor of Texas in 2022. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) is bleeding support in the polls and Texas is ever-so-gradually becoming bluer, but it would be a tough hill for O'Rourke to climb to unseat a sitting Republican governor in Texas. Currently Abbott's job approval is underwater at 45/54 and sinking due to his handling of COVID-19.
O'Rourke ran against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in 2018 and came within 2.5 points of beating him. Cruz is probably the least liked of the 100 senators, and Abbott is probably not the least liked of the 50 governors. If O'Rourke were to take the plunge, it could bring many Democratic voters to the polls and possible affect House races all over Texas, so even if he didn't win, he could help the Democrats in other ways. Due to his brief run for president in 2020, he is known nationally and would probably be able to pull in vast amounts of money from out-of-state Democrats and be able to compete with Abbott in terms of fundraising. In any event, an O'Rourke run would scare the daylights out of Abbott and make for a very interesting contest. (V)