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Biden Will Have to Referee Democrats' Internal War

The Democratic Party is at war with itself. Its only realistic chance to save the House in 2022 is to pass popular legislation now and give those bills time to take effect so people can see what they do for them (e.g., create jobs, make community college free, etc.). But the progressive wing and centrist wing are at war with each other. The centrist wing wants to pass the bipartisan hard infrastructure bill first so it has the option of balking at the $3.5-trillion reconciliation bill. The progressive wing wants the reconciliation bill to go first in order to prevent this. Back in March there was a truce and a gentlemen's agreement to do both at the same time. Now neither side trusts the other one to keep its end of the bargain.

The only person who can make everybody toe the party line is Lyndon B. Johnson, and he died 48 years ago. Consequently, the task will now fall to Joe Biden, who is no LBJ, although he has other charms. With Biden, it tends to be more carrot than stick (or, in Johnson's case, tempered steel rod). Biden doesn't like to twist arms the way Johnson did, but he met with various party leaders yesterday to try to make it clear to them that if they didn't pass both bills within a few weeks, the Party would be toast next year. Whatever their personal politics, most politicians do take their own president fairly seriously. If either wing takes down the bills, Biden will still be president until at least Jan. 20, 2025, and will know precisely whose fault the failure was. Nobody really wants to be in that position.

Right now the posturing, grandstanding, and threats are coming to a head. Part of the problem is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) promised the moderates a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill next Monday. She can't pair that with the reconciliation bill on Monday because Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is holding that up. If Pelosi holds the vote on Monday and it passes, it goes directly to Biden's desk for a signature. When that happens, Manchin can simply kill or vastly reduce the reconciliation bill later on, infuriating the progressives who will feel they have been had. If Pelosi doesn't bring the bipartisan bill up on Monday, moderates in the House will be furious at her for breaking her promise. This is a problem she can't solve on her own. That is why Biden is finally getting involved. He is going to try to extract hard promises from all the relevant players about the scenario. A member of Congress who makes a hard promise to the president and then breaks it a week or two later is going to be in the doghouse, and knows that. It is now up to Biden to cut the Gordian Knot. Maybe Biden is going to have to call up the Smithsonian Institution and ask if it can find the little sign that Harry Truman famously had on his desk. You know, the one that read: "The buck stops here." We will know fairly soon if he succeeded. (V)

Jan. 6 Panel May Go Straight to Subpoenas

Usually, when a congressional panel wants someone to testify, it first sends that person a polite letter requesting that person's presence at a hearing. Only if the person refuses or stalls is a subpoena issued. It appears that the Jan. 6 Select Committee is going to skip the first step for some people, however, and go directly to a subpoena. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said that people he expects to comply will get polite requests, but with people who are expected to refuse, the Committee will go directly to a subpoena in order to save time.

Schiff also said he hopes the Justice Dept. will help out. Specifically, if a witness ignores the subpoena and Congress holds the witness in contempt of Congress, he hopes the Justice Dept. will step up. The first thing the administration could do is to reject all claims to executive privilege, something some of the witnesses are likely to claim. Then it could arrest the person and charge them with a federal crime. That would definitely put some teeth in the subpoena.

Another bit of progress for the Committee comes courtesy of Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who chairs the House Oversight Committee. Her panel interviewed a number of former Trump Administration officials behind closed doors earlier this year. Maloney has now turned the transcripts over to the Jan. 6 panel.

In the past week, various new bits of information have come to light that the Committee is sure to find interesting and that will give it more ideas about whom to subpoena. Among other things:

As more and more comes out, it is increasingly looking like Trump was intentionally and knowingly trying to pull off a coup, and his staff knew precisely what he was trying and just let Trump be Trump. Some of those people would make interesting witnesses. These are the folks Schiff was thinking about and who are likely to be in the "subpoena first" category.

Democracy narrowly won in 2020, but it is not out of the woods yet because Trump is forcing all Republicans running for office in 2022 to state that he won in 2020. Virtually all of them know he didn't, but they are scared witless and refuse to say that. To a large extent, democracy was saved because a few Republican officials, most notably Raffensperger and Gov. Doug Ducey (AZ), refused to play ball. Now Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) is running to replace Raffensperger on a platform of "I'll do whatever Trump tells me to do." What if the Democrat narrowly wins Georgia in 2024 but Hice simply announces that Trump won? What if the new secretary of state in Arizona does likewise and flipping those two states also flips the election result? (V)

Corporate America Chimes in on the Debt Issue

Yesterday morning, we had a long item on the debt crisis. Yesterday afternoon, the battle got a new wrinkle. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest corporate lobbying group, announced: "The United States of America defaulting on its obligations is not an option; we are counting on Congress to take the necessary steps to address the debt limit." This message was aimed squarely at the Republican Party since it is the only one that is threatening to default on the debt and shut down the government. A stock market crash and recession is not something the Chamber is keen on and it is going to make this known to every member of Congress. But it won't affect Democrats much because when a Chamber lobbyist calls a Democrat and gives his pitch, the Democrat is going to say: "You have never donated to me and I don't expect you to ever do so, so have a nice day. Click." That won't work for Republicans, and if the Chamber threatens to cut off any Republican who votes against raising the debt ceiling, it could have an effect.

Republicans definitely do not want to open a rift between the Party and big business, which a default would do. Last week a group representing the big banks sent congressional leaders the same message. It said that a default would do irreparable harm to the economy. While big business generally likes the tax cuts the Republicans regularly offer up, if the price is a constant threat to default and destroy the economy, many big firms may grudgingly come to the conclusion that this is actually worse for business than somewhat higher taxes coupled with stability.

The Chamber and the banks aren't the only ones trying to send a message. The Business Roundtable, which consists of the CEOs of some of the nation's biggest companies, has also sounded the alarm. It said that a default would saddle companies and consumers with higher borrowing costs, something it absolutely does not want.

While potentially losing part of corporate America is not the only factor Republicans have to consider, they have to realize that a threat is one thing, but if they actually pull the trigger and cause a default, market crash, and recession, a lot of CEOs are going to be very unhappy with them. Whether this new factor will sap their will to force the Democrats to give up remains to be seen, though. (V)

Florida May Not Follow Texas on Abortion

After Texas passed a law deputizing everyone in the world to sue anyone who helped a woman obtain an abortion, other states seemed eager to follow suit. Now Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has had a bit of time to think about it, and he has decided he is not so keen on copying the Texas law. DeSantis' spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, said that he doesn't want to turn private citizens against one another. See? He is a decent fellow after all! Or, perhaps he happens to be aware that the president of the Florida State Senate, Wilton Simpson (R), says he does not support the financial incentives in the Texas law. So it just might be that DeSantis is hesitant to push for a bill like the Texas one because he knows the Florida Senate will not approve it and trying and failing would make him look weak.

DeSantis is no doubt also aware of a provision in the Florida Constitution that protects a woman's right to an abortion. Changing the state constitution would require a referendum, and given that a majority of voters favor keeping abortion legal, an attempt to change the state constitution would probably fail. So in reality, DeSantis' hands are tied. The state Senate won't pass the bill and even if it passed, the state Supreme Court would probably throw the law out. DeSantis is no fool. He knows he is not going to get a Texas-style law through, so rather than champion one, he just says the Texas law is interesting and leaves it at that. He's clever enough to pick his fights with care. (V)

Bush Likes Cheney

We know that George W. Bush liked Dick Cheney enough to make him his running mate. But it also turns out he likes Cheney's offspring, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). In fact, he is going to hold a fundraiser for her Oct. 18 in Dallas. This means that one former Republican president is trying to get her reelected while another former Republican president (Donald Trump) is trying to get her defeated. A situation in which former presidents from the same party duked it out over a House election has never occurred before, as far as we know. Karl Rove and a few other well-known Republicans will be there. Basic admission is $1,000, but for $2,900 you get a photo opportunity. The announcement does not specify whether the photo is with Bush, Cheney, Rove, former senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, or someone else.

This event is good news for Cheney. Trump has many supporters in Wyoming and beyond, but so does Bush. He is one of the few high-profile Republicans who has the prestige and status to take on Trump. As soon as Trump goes after Bush, which is inevitable now, Bush will probably go for the jugular and say: "I was a two-term president. You were a one-term president."

Until now, Bush has mostly avoided electoral politics, but that phase may be ending now. To some extent, he may be entering the fray out of loyalty to his former veep, but it is well known that he despises Trump and what he has done to the Republican Party. Also, Bush may have been trying to keep Trump happy in order to protect George P. Bush, who is running for Texas AG next year. However, Trump has already endorsed incumbent Ken Paxton (R), so that's a dead issue. Anyhow, if the gloves are now off, and Bush 43 decides to go all in to help Cheney, it could matter. After all, he knows a lot of important Republicans and still has sway with many of them. This one House race in a mostly empty state could turn into Armageddon, with the Reagan/Bush wing of the GOP battling the Trumpist wing.

The comments section of the Post article linked to above has a number of submissions from Democrats who say something to the effect of "I never expected George W. Bush to do the right thing, but he is doing it." So, that's Democrats + George W. Bush + the Cheneys on the same team. Politics really does make strange bedfellows. (V)

Indiana Republicans Play it Safe

We have written about redistricting many times this year, always with a note that gerrymanderers have a choice: go for broke or play it safe. The first strategy is to create a whole bunch of 53/47 districts favoring the party doing the gerrymandering, and then stuffing all the remaining voters from the other party into one or two or three really weird-looking districts. The second strategy is to create districts that are more like 57/43, but fewer of them. This gives the gerrymanderers fewer seats, but a much higher chance of holding them. Even if one of their candidates turns out to be a dud, the enormous partisan edge should be enough to hold the district.

Now that the census data is out there, the gerrymanderers have gone to work. Indiana, where the Republicans hold the trifecta, is one of the first to report out a map that is probably fairly close to final. Currently, the House delegation is 2D, 7R. The legislature could have tried to change Frank Mrvan's IN-01 district, which is in the outer Chicago suburbs, and flip it. Then they would have 1D, 8R. But doing so might have made IN-02 or IN-04 competitive and subject to flipping under the right circumstances. Here are the current and proposed maps:

Old and new Indiana CD maps; the current map has
a bunch of Republican districts that are R+8 or greater and two Democratic districts, one in the center where Indianapolis is and one in the northwest
corner close to Chicago, that are D+8 or greater. The new map doesn't have labels of how partisan the districts are, but the districts are largely
the same shape and in the same locations, excepting IN-06 and IN-09, which have gone from splitting the southeast corner of the state on an east-west
axis to splitting the southeast corner on a north-south axis.

But the legislature played it safe. The Republicans left Mrvan alone and instead shored up their own incumbents' districts a little. The only major change is beefing up IN-9 (Trey Hollingsworth) by giving him some of Greg Pence's Republican voters from IN-06. Pence's district was R+18, so maybe it will drop to R+15 or so. He's in no danger and Hollingsworth is a tad safer.

One state and one map does not a trend make, but in states the Republicans gerrymandered in 2010, this model may become the norm. Texas Republicans will happily take the two new seats the state got, but they could leave much of the rest of the map alone. But since the growth is mostly in the cities, even taking the two new seats may be tricky. Same is true of Florida, which got one new seat, and Georgia, which didn't get any new seats. If Republicans play it safe everywhere, as they did in Indiana, they may take over the House, but end up with a margin of 3-6 seats rather than 10-20. This would mean that the Freedom Caucus would have the power to drive the new GOP speaker batty, by demanding the sun, moon, and stars all the time, making it difficult to do anything except oppose everything Joe Biden wants. (V)

Sarah Palin Was Right

That's not a headline you see every day. Or ever, prior to today, but there it is. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said that if the ACA ("Obamacare") passed, there would be death panels that decided who lived and who died. Well, it passed and there are now death panels, so she was technically right. However, the death panels aren't exactly what she had in mind. They are in red states, and aren't being caused by the ACA—they are not even related to it. They are being caused by all the unvaccinated people, largely in red states, who are getting COVID-19 and clogging up hospitals to the point where the hospitals are adopting what they call "Crisis standards of care." These are the death panels. In some states, the patient's age, pre-existing conditions and essential-worker status may also play a role.

With a given number of doctors, nurses, and beds, a hospital can treat only so many patients. When more than that number show up, they can try to stretch things a little, but at some point they reach the limit and have to deny care. If a hospital has X ventilators and X + 1 COVID-19 patients who need one, somebody doesn't get one and they may very well die. Some hospitals are using traditional military triage rules to make these decisions where they can. Patients who will probably live without the care don't get resources. Patients who will probably die even with hospital resources also don't get care. Patients who will probably live with care and die without it are the ones who get the care. In other hospitals, COVID-19 patients are effectively taking away resources from cancer, heart attack, stroke, and other patients simply because they come in gasping for breath, whereas the other patients are not as dramatically sick. Patients with very serious, but not life-threatening, issues are being sent home and told to wait. So are patients in great pain or in danger of being crippled for life but whose condition is not likely to be fatal in the next few days.

One thing hospitals have not done yet is say: "People who could have been vaccinated, but chose not to, go to the back of the line, after heart attack, stroke, cancer, and other patients whose disease is not their fault." That would certainly be controversial, but one can legitimately ask whether someone who had a stroke out of the blue has to die because someone else decided to forgo a free and easy vaccination for personal reasons. No matter what algorithm is chosen, some folks are going to be very unhappy. For example, AARP Idaho State Director Lupe Wissel has criticized Idaho's decision to make age a tiebreaker for limited resources. Wissel said: "Using the categories of age to determine whether someone receives care is wrong. Plain and simple." Other people say that using pre-existing conditions as a factor discriminates against minorities, who are already getting less care from the medical system than whites, thus exacerbating existing inequalities.

Idaho is trying to send patients to Washington State. Montana and Alaska are rationing care. Some hospitals are considering universal do-not-resuscitate orders for everyone, so if someone on a ventilator goes into cardiac arrest, the staff quickly grabs the ventilator for someone else, rather than trying to resuscitate the patient.

Currently, the algorithms for rationing care are done by the states or even by local hospitals. There are no national guidelines. It is extremely unlikely that Joe Biden or any federal official wants to get sucked into this furor. So there will be a messy patchwork for the foreseeable future. (V)

The Real Winner in California: Partisanship

All the news stories about the California recall have said: And the winner is ... Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA)! In a column for The Hill, Mark Mellman has a different take. He notes that Newsom campaigned on:

Groups supporting each of those items have said this was the magic key that led to his stunning victory. However, Mellman notes the following election results:

Mellman's conclusion is that anyone running in California with (D) after their name against someone with an (R) after their name will get between 62% and 65% of the vote, no matter what. Roughly 63.5±1.5% of California voters are Democrats (even if they are registered as independents or members of third parties) and unless the candidate is really out of step with the Democratic Party, what the candidate says or promises doesn't actually matter. People who are saying that Democrats elsewhere should clone Newsom's platform are simply wasting their time. In other states where Democrats represent 63.5% of the electorate, the results will be about the same as in California, but in states with very different electorates, the results will be very different. In other words, Mellman is making the point that platforms and candidates barely matter at all now. All that matters is partisanship, except maybe in states and districts that are so close that a few points one way or the other can tip the result.

By and large, we agree with him, albeit with two caveats. First, when one candidate is exceptionally good or exceptionally bad, that actually matters. Even in deep red states, talking about "legitimate rape" is not a winner, nor is pursuing sexual relationships with teenagers as a 30-year-old. But absent a serious case of hoof-in-mouth disease, or serious personal misconduct, partisanship reigns.

Second, turnout matters. If 63.5% of the voters in some contest favor some party but for some reason half of them don't vote (either because they are lazy or the other party has made voting difficult), that can become the key factor. Maybe things will change some day, but it appears that day won't happen any time soon. And if turnout is what matters, and winning "undecided" voters really doesn't because there aren't many of them, then it suggests that what a party should do when it is in power is try to get lots of things done to get its base excited, and that it should not worry about "reaching across the aisle" or "bipartisanship." Any questions, Sen. Manchin? (V)

Huge Hack Reveals Details of Many Extreme Right-Wing Websites

Many hosting providers want nothing to do with Nazis, fascists, and other extreme right-wing groups. This created a market niche for a hosting provider that specializes in hosting them without censoring or even examining their hate-filled content. It would take a monster to cater to them, and indeed a Monster came along to do the job—Robert Monster, to be specific (and no, we are not making this up). He created the domain registrar and hosting company Epik to provide much of the neo-Nazi and fascist Internet a friendly home.

Last week it came out that Epik was subject to a truly massive hack by the hacktivist group Anonymous. Something like 150-180 GB of data was captured and is spilling out. The data contains user names, e-mail addresses, passwords, home addresses, phone numbers, and other data about its customers, vendors, and much more. It is an early Christmas present (or maybe Halloween present) for researchers who are studying right-wing groups and want to know who they are, who funds them, and much more. Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who studies right-wing extremism, said: "It's massive. It may be the biggest domain-style leak I've seen and, as an extremism researcher, it's certainly the most interesting." She said this is the Rosetta Stone to the far right.

It's even Epik's own fault. It was warned about a huge security flaw weeks ago and did nothing. Furthermore, it should have known it was going to be a target and should have kept every scrap of data on its servers encrypted. It didn't. Who knew that the types of folks who do business with bigoted nutjobs are not the sharpest knives in the drawer?

Among Epik's current and former customers are 8chan, Gab, Parler, Daily Stormer, Texas Right to Life, Proud Boys, and many others. Researchers are now working on finding out who the main players are on these sites. For example, conservative activist Ali Alexander owns over 100 domains that are pushing the "Stop the Steal" slogan. When a Washington Post reporter called him, he wasn't in the mood to talk. No doubt other calls to other people and more stories are forthcoming. One researcher called the document dump "the Panama Papers of hate groups." (V)

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