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Political Wire logo Biden Lags Behind Democratic Governors on Masks
Liz Cheney Skips GOP Events In Wyoming
Kristi Noem’s Donors Included Convicted Killer
GOP Steps Up Recruitment of Women, Candidates of Color
States Shift from Emergency Phase of Pandemic
Cori Bush Won’t Stop Using ‘Defund the Police’

Biden Administration Has a Mini-Scandal

Eric Lander is a very distinguished scientist, having served in multiple presidential administrations, won a MacArthur Fellowship and a Rhodes Scholarship (among other accolades), and earned simultaneous appointments to professorships at Harvard and MIT. So, he certainly had the CV to be appointed as Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Advisor to the President in Joe Biden's administration. But Lander does not hold those positions anymore, because yesterday he was forced to resign.

What was the problem? In short, Lander was a big jerk. He was verbally abusive to his subordinates, enough to prompt complaints and a White House investigation. That investigation made clear that Lander's behavior had indeed been problematic. Initially, the administration planned only to insist on "corrective actions," which presumably meant something like sensitivity training. However, as news of the report got out, "corrective actions" began to morph into "you're outta here." Biden reportedly did not insist that Lander resign, but one imagines that the scientist saw the writing on the wall and decided to fall on his sword.

In his resignation letter, Lander expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve in the administration, and wrote, "I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them." Academia has a fair number of jerks because it's damn near impossible for someone with tenure to get fired for boorish personal behavior. So, it's easy to acquire bad habits. And that can be doubly true of rock star academics, who are nearly bulletproof. It's not always true—some rock star academics have nothing to prove, and are just as nice and down to earth as could be—but there's zero chance Lander was a sweetheart when he was performing his academic duties, and yet a dragon when he was doing government work. Unfortunately for him, in government work the microscope is much bigger, and almost nobody is bulletproof.

Given the gossipy nature of the media, this story is being treated as a BIG DEAL. But is it, really? A presidential administration requires hiring a very large number of people in a very short period of time. No president is going to bat 1.000; some of the people just aren't going to work out for one reason or another. Lander turned out to be a bad fit (and a bad guy), he's gone, and undoubtedly another very distinguished scientist will take his place.

Truth be told, the main thing this story illustrates for us—though nobody else seems to be talking about it this way—is the difference between the current and the previous presidential administrations. This is Biden's first cabinet-level officer to depart the administration. By this same point in the Trump administration, two cabinet secretaries had departed (HHS Secretary Tom Price and DHS Secretary John Kelly), two cabinet-level staffers had departed (Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and NSA Michael Flynn), and three more cabinet or cabinet-level appointments were on the cusp of departing (Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt). The Biden administration, by contrast, is a model of stability. Further, bad behavior here triggered an investigation and a resignation. The Trump administration, by contrast, was a veritable jerk parade, including Trump himself, of course, but also Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, John Bolton, and a litany of others. There would have been no investigation under #45, and no terminations/resignations—at least, not for jerkiness.

We imagine that this story will fade fairly quickly. For the more mainstream media, there just isn't much more gossipy mileage to be squeezed out of it. And for the right-wing media, well, forgive us for saying so, but their audience is far more likely to be driven into a tizzy if the jerk behavior (or even alleged jerk behavior) comes from a woman, a person of color, or a woman of color (like, say, Kamala Harris). Jerky white guys just don't move the needle much on Fox and Newsmax. (Z)

Democrats Also Have a Scandal

We're not talking about the whole party, necessarily, just certain prominent members of it. You might call it "The Case of the Missing Mask," because a large number of prominent blue teamers have been photographed in public at times when they really should have been wearing a mask, but were not.

The latest perpetrator is Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who made two unbelievable unforced errors back-to-back. The first was that she visited a school where the children were masked while she was not. The second, and this is the real kicker, is that she retweeted photos of the visit that were first posted by the school's principal. Ok, Abrams probably doesn't run her own social media accounts, but how did nobody in this chain—including the candidate—say "Wait, this looks really bad"? This is likely to linger for a good, long time, and in a race where Abrams just can't afford to make many errors.

The list of other Democrats who have been caught breaking the rules is long. In California, you'd have a hard time finding a prominent Democrat who hasn't gotten busted for masklessness. That list includes Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, San Francisco mayor London Breed, and San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo. A lot of non-California mayors, too, including Eric Adams (New York City), Lori Lightfoot (Chicago), Muriel Bowser (Washington, D.C.), Michael Hancock (Denver), and Steve Adler (Austin). A few governors, in addition to Newsom, have also run afoul of the rules that they established, including Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer (MI) and former New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

It's understandable that these folks would let their masks drop on occasion; it's tough to wear them for a long time, and it's also difficult to keep them on in certain circumstances (say, exercising). But, the fact is, everyone's watching, and that wasn't a secret when they chose this line of work. It's also ironic that Democrats who wear their masks 95% of the time are getting more blowback than Republicans who wear their masks... considerably less. But, as British PM Boris Johnson is being reminded daily, voters really, really hate hypocrisy. And if Democrats are going to be the pro-mask party, then the party's officeholders have to go above and beyond to model that behavior, as opposed to doing things that say "I'm elite and I don't have to play by the same rules as the hoi polloi."

Barring another surge, mask mandates may soon be dispensed with across most or all of the country where they still exist. So, that might solve this problem for many/most/all Democratic politicians. But until then, getting caught maskless is an inexcusable misstep. (Z)

National Archives and Records Administration Visits Mar-a-Lago

No, the folks at NARA weren't in search of excellent seafood. If they were, then there are roughly 100,000 places in Florida that would be a better choice than Mar-a-Lago, even on "SIX STAR SEAFOOD NIGHT" (every Wednesday evening). Instead, as The Washington Post reported yesterday, it was necessary to recover 15 boxes of documents that Donald Trump took with him when he left the White House, documents that he should have left behind.

In fairness to the former president, it's legal to take personal correspondence, just not official correspondence. And the line between the two can be blurry; among the things that Trump took were letters from Barack Obama and Kim Jong-Un. Nearly every ex-president (or, their staffers, really) makes a few mistakes and so gets a friendly visit from NARA some time after leaving office. That said, it's usually a handful of documents, and not 15 boxes' worth. One NARA staffer described it as "out of the ordinary ... NARA has never had that kind of volume transfer after the fact like this."

The incident serves, at very least, as a reminder of two features of the Trump administration. First, he consistently showed little regard for the rules about record-keeping, something that might just get him popped, as we wrote yesterday. Second, at least a part of the reason that the documents were not examined more carefully, ideally by someone who cares more about the rules than Trump does, is that the president's personal effects were packed with lightning speed. And the reason that happened is that he did not accept that he was changing addresses until just days before he did so.

This news also raises a more concerning possibility: Were there any documents that Trump took with him that NARA did not recover? Given the former president's willingness to destroy records, and his deep and abiding desire to protect himself, it's entirely possible that some incriminating stuff found its way into the "Oops! I'm not supposed to take that?" stuff, and that the incriminating stuff has since been destroyed. We may never know. (Z)

Alabama District Map Stands--for Now...

We've written a fair bit about redistricting, which kinda makes sense, since our focus is politics. And this is our third item about the new Alabama maps in the last two weeks. As a reminder, the map drawn by the Republicans in the legislature had only one majority-Black district, despite the fact that the state is more than one-quarter Black, and two of its three largest cities are majority-Black (Birmingham, 69.9%; Montgomery, 60.7%). So, a three-judge panel from a federal appeals court unanimously ruled that the legislature had to come up with a new map that has at least two majority-Black districts.

Yesterday, the oligarchy that basically rules the country stepped in and said "not so fast." By a vote of 5-4, which is getting pretty common with the contentious cases these days, the Supreme Court said that the map can be used while the underlying case gets resolved. Since that won't happen anytime soon, that means the Alabamians will get an extra Republican seat for at least one cycle. If the Republicans end up with a 218-217 House majority once the midterms are over, there is going to be a lot of screaming about this.

Presumably you don't need us to tell you which 4 voted to uphold the lower court's ruling, and to demand new maps. All you have to figure out—Chiefly—is which conservative sided with the three liberals. In any event, this just illustrates why there's no legal reason that legislatures should not go for broke with the gerrymandering. Maybe the map gets through the courts and, even if it doesn't, there's every chance that it will take a cycle or two (or more) to work things out, during which time the gerrymandering party gets a freebie or two. (Z)

...But the Ohio District Map Is Headed Back to the Drawing Board

And now it's time to discuss the Ohio district maps for the third time in two weeks. Again, as a reminder, the Republican-controlled legislature drew maps that would likely give 12 of 15 U.S. House seats (80%), 20 of 33 state Senate seats (61%), and 57 of 99 state House seats (58%) to the GOP. This is in a state that is 42% Republican and 40% Democratic, and that went 53% to 46% for Donald Trump in 2020.

The Ohio constitution forbids gerrymanders, and so lawsuits were filed. On Jan. 12, in a 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court struck the maps down. As with the Supreme Court and Alabama (see above), the 4 included the three liberals on the court and the chief justice. In contrast to the Supreme Court and Alabama, 4 votes was enough to carry the day. In response to this defeat, Ohio Republicans asked to be allowed to leave the gerrymandered maps in place for one election cycle, since the filing deadline for the primaries was so close. It probably also did not escape their notice that the Chief Justice of Ohio, Maureen O'Connor, has reached mandatory retirement age, and will be forced to leave the court in January of next year. Although she is a Republican, she voted with the Democrats on this case and could be replaced next year with a Republican who votes with the Republicans all the time.

Yesterday, the Ohio Court issued its second ruling on the matter, and said that they don't care if the filing deadline has passed; the maps are unacceptable. Apparently irritated by Republican foot-dragging, the Court said it wants new legislative district maps by Feb. 17, and that the maps need to reflect the actual partisan breakdown of the state. The legislature already had a Feb. 14 deadline for new congressional district maps, so they'll be burning the midnight oil for the next week. This is going to be their last chance before the Court takes the matter out of their hands entirely, so the Republicans have to decide exactly how aggressively they want to play this, at risk of aggravating four justices whose patience is already worn thin. (Z)

Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part VIII: The Pandemic

This is prediction entry #20. Here are the 19 entries we've already run:

As always, it's up to five points for accuracy, and up to five points for how bold the accurate part of the prediction was, for a possible total of up to 10 points. And now, 2021 predictions about the pandemic:

  • R.D. in Austin, TX: Due to the long and difficult process of a massive national vaccination program, Major League Baseball will play an entire 2021 schedule again without fans, but for however many number of games they play, they will sell virtual access to fans who can cheer from where ever and be heard as the voices of thousands of these live virtual fans will be piped into the PA system in the ballpark.

    Comments: You neglected to account for how very much the owners love their filthy lucre. Indeed, MLB started at partial capacity and then switched to full capacity after a couple of months. Accuracy: 0/5; Boldness: 0/5; Total: 0/10

  • C.F. in Nashua, NH: President Biden's team will figure out how to distribute the vaccine effectively and COVID-19 will essentially be over by the end of the summer.

    Comments: We admire the optimism, but unfortunately, you weren't correct. A: 0/5; B: 0/5; T: 0/10

  • D.S. in Palo Alto, CA: The mRNA vaccines will launch an explosion of medical achievements, including vaccines against all variants of influenza and the common cold.

    Comments: This one cannot fully be evaluated yet, but we've seen plenty of articles about the possibilities being explored, so we'll give partial credit for now. A: 2.5/5; B: 2.5/5; T: 5/10

  • G.W. in Oxnard, CA: Other nations will do much better at controlling the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) due to the much higher number of anti-vaxxers in the U.S. Oddly, this will somehow strengthen the resolve of most of the anti-vaxxers against the vaccines. I'm not stupid, so I don't know how they will come to that conclusion, but I know enough stupid people that I'm certain they will find a way.

    Comments: Per capita, the U.S. is 38th in COVID infections, but 16th in deaths. That's the biggest gap in the world, which speaks to poor control, and in particular to the impact of anti-vaxxers (since the unvaccinated are far more likely to die). We therefore find this to be entirely correct, if only moderately bold. A: 5/5; B: 2/5; T: 7/10

  • J.A. in Redwood City, CA: In-class school sessions will resume for good in September, but online-based tutoring sessions will remain available to those students who have Internet access.

    Comments: Largely true, except at the college level. And fairly bold when the prediction was made. A: 4/5; B: 3.5/5; T: 7.5/10

  • J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines: The vaccine rollout will continue to be slow in the U.S., and even slower for the 2/3rds World, where the vaccines are far less effective. In the meantime, because evolution is real, and viruses have a higher R than other organisms, and coronaviruses a higher Darwin Rate than most viruses, and COVID-19 is surprising everyone at how fast it evolves—the vaccine will soon prove ineffective. The new more contagious strain will become predominant. They'll update the vaccine, of course—and COVID will evolve again. We'll eventually see Black Death levels of mortality. Sadly, I won't live to see my prediction come true, as I'll contract COVID and die from it. #ArbitrageBetting

    Comments: There's a fair bit of accuracy here, though the boldest parts did not come true. There is no indication of a Black Death-type level of mortality (33% of all people) on the horizon, and since you e-mailed us within the last week, we know you—thankfully—didn't contract COVID and die. A: 3/5; B: 2/5; T: 5/10

  • J.K. in Ann Arbor, MI: Increased online shopping, food delivery, and working from home (at least part time) will persist after the pandemic. On the other hand, live entertainment and travel will come roaring back to life.

    Comments: Not terribly bold, but definitely correct. A: 5/5; B: 1.5/5; T: 6.5/10

  • J.E. in Brooklyn, NY: I think it's likely that bars and restaurants will reach a financial tipping point some time this summer where they just start folding like cards. Shuttered establishments will line the streets permanently. The ones that attempt to persevere will eventually realize how unstable their business model is in a world that's hypersensitive to even the rumor of another emerging virus—where bar and restaurant crowds never come close to maximum capacity.

    Comments: It's been rough for the hospitality industry, but not the extinction level event you describe here, we think. A: 0/5; B: 0/5; T: 0/10

  • J.K. in Los Angeles, CA: There will be a mutated strand of COVID-19 (maybe not even the current variant) that will cause the pandemic to get even worse in 2021 and will have the added fun of being resistant to the vaccines.

    Comments: What? You didn't foresee the variant would be called 'Omicron'? What kind of prognosticator are you, anyhow? OK, a pretty good one, because this was spot on, and was specific enough to be fairly bold. A: 5/5; B: 3.5/5; T: 8.5/10

  • F.M. in Charlottesville, VA: The U.S. will notch around 550,000 COVID deaths by the end of 2021 (+/- 100,000). While things look their worst right now, a combination of vaccinating the elderly, natural herd immunity, and spring weather will drive case counts down somewhat and death counts down sharply. I would expect daily deaths to be back under 1,000 around the end of March, and in the low triple digits by the end of summer as mass vaccination becomes a reality. Life will return to something like normal in the early Fall of 2021. Like clockwork, President Biden will receive most of the credit for the vaccination campaign and improving economy, even though most of the credit belongs to pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca that completed R&D and vaccine testing at record (warp) speed.

    Comments: The real total at the end of 2021 was 800,000, which is quite a ways from 550,000. The country is still not consistently below 1,000 deaths per day, and normal life—whatever that will mean—has not resumed. Nor has Biden gotten credit for conquering the pandemic. And so, while we can see where each of these predictions was coming from, and we can admire the optimism, they weren't on target. A: 0/5; B: 0/5; T: 0/10

  • D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME: In October...COVID deaths fall to 12 a day.

    Comments: Sadly, no. A: 0/5; B: 0/5; T: 0/10

  • K.K. in Salt Lake City, UT: The U.S. will still average more than 500 covid deaths per day in December.

    Comments: Sadly, yes. A: 5/5; B: 2/5; T: 7/10

  • M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA: The U.S. will not reach 70% of the population being vaccinated before Halloween.

    Comments: On Halloween, it was 67.1% who had received at least one dose, so you're right, although it was close. Given how many anti-vaxxers there are, however, this wasn't especially bold. A: 5/5; B: 2/5; T: 7/10

  • M.S. in Johnson City, TN: COVID-19 vaccines will not be mandated by the government, but some businesses, particularly those that pay all employees at least $15, will require employees and customers to provide proof that they were vaccinated to come there. There will be an app for it. And conservative Christian pundits will compare it to the Mark of the Beast.

    Comments: There are a lot of places that require vaccination proof, but it's not all of them, and generally speaking the proof is government mandated. There's a bit of accuracy here, but not a lot. A: 1/5; B: 1/5; T: 2/10

  • M.H. in Boston, MA: The 2020 COVID pandemic will be seen as the start of an era in which novel virus outbreaks are a seasonal threat, like severe hurricanes, that can be mitigated but not averted by vigilant government-controlled detection and response.

    Comments: This cannot be fully evaluated, but like the mRNA prediction above, there have been plenty of articles suggesting you're on the right track. So, partial credit. A: 2.5/5; B: 2.5/5; T: 5/10

That's 60.5/150, which is a stellar .403 batting average. Even Ted Williams is impressed, though he also notes that he hit .406 in 1941, so don't be getting too cocky. The readers' running total is now 257.5/920, for a .280 BA. Tomorrow, predictions for what will happen with the pandemic in 2022. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb07 RNC Cowers before Trump; Pence, Not So Much
Feb07 What Does Manchin Really Want?
Feb07 Manchin Endorses Murkowski
Feb07 Workers at Democratic Firm Rebel at Working for Sinema
Feb07 What Other Crimes Did Trump Commit?
Feb07 The Courts Are Getting into the Map-Making Business
Feb07 Republicans Try to Kill Off Absentee Voting in Key States
Feb07 Arkoosh Goes Whoosh
Feb07 RNC Convention Site Choices Narrow
Feb06 Sunday Mailbag
Feb05 Saturday Q&A
Feb04 Ukraine Crisis May Be Nearing its Denouement
Feb04 The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Beijing
Feb04 O, CaMAGAda!
Feb04 Mark Zuckerberg Gets Popped in the Facebook
Feb04 Arizona Speaker Just Can't Go There
Feb04 This Week in Schadenfreude
Feb04 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part VII: Congress, the People
Feb03 Biden to Relaunch "Cancer Moonshot"
Feb03 Mo Money, Mo Problems
Feb03 New Mexico Senator Out 4-6 Weeks
Feb03 Vindman Files Suit
Feb03 The Inscrutable Lindsey Graham
Feb03 Zucker Out at CNN
Feb03 Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part VII: Congress, the People
Feb02 Trump Looked Into Seizing Voting Machines
Feb02 SCOTUS Derby Is Underway
Feb02 Senator's Stroke Brings to Mind Democrats' Worst Nightmare
Feb02 Democrats Release Electoral Count Act Proposal
Feb02 The Filibuster Does Not Facilitate Debate
Feb02 Commander Decision?
Feb01 Talkin' New York
Feb01 The Biden Trajectory, Part III: He's Out of Touch
Feb01 The Walls Are Closing In
Feb01 Sorry, Mike Pence
Feb01 Sorry, Boris Johnson
Jan31 Biden Gets Lemons in Pittsburgh, Makes Lemonade
Jan31 Pennsylvania Senate Race Is Up for Grabs...
Jan31 ...And So Is the Ohio Senate Race
Jan31 Why Do They Say These Things?
Jan31 Why Does He Say These Things?
Jan31 Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Absentee Ballot Law
Jan31 Socialists Win Big in Portugal
Jan30 Sunday Mailbag
Jan29 Saturday Q&A
Jan28 The Day After
Jan28 BBB Was Only Mostly Dead, It Would Seem
Jan28 Sinema's Sinking
Jan28 Biden: The Least Bad Option?
Jan28 Maybe Trump Has Finally Hit His Floor