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Political Wire logo Thoughts for the End of the Week
Upheaval in Northern Ireland
New York City May Fire 3,000 Unvaccinated Workers
Biden Moves to Split $7 Billion in Frozen Afghan Funds
France to Build 14 New Nuclear Reactors
Images Show Russian Forces on 3 Sides of Ukraine

What Is McConnell up To?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) never does anything by accident. Never. So when he says something in public, there is always a very good, very calculated reason he is saying it. And the one thing he cares about more than anything is turtle power. Count on anything he says as something that he expects will advance the cause of turtle power. On Tuesday he was asked about the RNC censuring Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). He said: "The issue is whether or not the RNC should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That's not the job of the RNC." In other words, "Ronna Romney McDaniel, you blew it. You got that one completely wrong. You should have talked to Uncle Mitt (R-UT) before opening your mouth."

Then McConnell continued with: "We all were here; we saw what happened. It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election from one administration to the next. That's what it was." That's McConnell speaking, but using exactly the language that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or any other Democratic leader would have used. It is a direct hit on McDaniel and, by implication, Donald Trump, who totally disagrees with that. It is also a direct hit on every Republican who says that Trump won the election. This now puts McConnell on the record opposing what nearly every Republican in Congress is saying.

And, as we said, McConnell does not shoot off at the mouth. He knew exactly what he was saying and the consequences thereof. It means that reporters are going to start asking Republican candidates: "Do you agree with Sen. McConnell or RNC Chair McDaniel?" This is going to put them in an extremely awkward position and McConnell knows this full well and wants it. He really wants to start taking Trump down a few pegs at a time, starting right now by forcing Republicans to take sides.

He doesn't have much power over House Republicans, but he certainly does over Senate Republicans, and they all know that. We expect them gradually to come out, one by one, supporting McConnell. This is going to open a serious rift within the Republican Party, but apparently McConnell thinks this is necessary to weaken Trump.

What McConnell is specifically concerned about is Trump's endorsements in 2022. The former president has backed candidates in Senate and House races that McConnell thinks are going to win their primaries and then go on to lose their general elections. And with that, there goes turtle power.

Conservative lawyer George Conway believes that McConnell wants to see Trump indicted so he won't have to deal with him anymore. Conway cited some remarks McConnell made just after the coup attempt, such as: "We have a criminal justice system in this country, We have civil litigation. And former Presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one." That does sound a lot like McConnell wants Trump indicted. It is only going to get messier from here as McConnell and Trump start throwing mud at each other.

And the mud fight has already started. Yesterday Trump attacked McConnell, who he calls an "old crow." Trump said: "Mitch McConnell does not speak for the Republican Party, and does not represent the views of the vast majority of its voters. He did nothing to fight for his constituents and stop the most fraudulent election in American history." Actually, as minority leader of the Senate. McConnell is the highest-ranking elected Republican in the country and kind of does speak for the Republican Party. To be continued... (V)

Democrats Are Divided Over Stephen Breyer's Replacement

Democrats wouldn't be Democrats if they were all on the same page about anything. So it is with the issue of whom Joe Biden should nominate to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The battle seems to be between Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Judge Michelle Childs, with California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger as a possible compromise candidate if the first two split the party. Jackson is a solid progressive on everything and if that isn't enough, she clerked for Breyer long ago. But Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) wants payback for saving Biden's bacon during the campaign and wants Childs. Clyburn is now working on the senators to convince them to support Childs. Yesterday, he talked to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), one of the most progressive senators, and got Brown to say: "If she's chosen, I'll be enthusiastic." This is a huge shot in the arm for Childs, as the rap on her is that she used to work for corporations and is not nearly as progressive as Jackson. In particular, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) don't seem very excited about Childs, so Brown's position is very important in the battle to win the hearts and minds of the other progressive senators.

Biden may thus be faced with a choice: Pick Childs and get some Republican votes in the Senate but fracture the Democrats, or pick Jackson and have every Democrat vote to confirm and every (or nearly every) Republican vote to reject. Biden, of course, is talking with all the Democratic senators and getting input from them, but the input is going to be divided. Sanders, Warren, and some others will strongly back Jackson, possibly with Kruger as second choice. Brown and some of the moderate Democrats will be pushing for Childs. Republicans will be offering the holy grail of "bipartisanship"—that is, maybe half a dozen Republican votes if Biden picks Childs and risks splitting his Party.

Outsiders are also putting pressure on Biden. Larry Cohen, a former union leader, described Childs' record as "eight years at a firm that attacks organizing in the state with the lowest collective bargaining coverage in the U.S." Biden can ill afford to antagonize organized labor, but he also owes Clyburn big time. This could be where Kruger comes in, but she is unlikely to get any Republican votes either. It will be a tough call, but Biden has been in politics long enough to know where the buck stops. Namely, with Harry S. Truman. So, presumably the President will soon be heading to Harry S.'s grave in Independence, MO, with an Ouija Board to learn what he should do. (V)

Select Committee Subpoenas Peter Navarro

The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 coup attempt has subpoenaed former Trade Adviser Peter Navarro. Navarro is close to Donald Trump and hasn't been shy about his role in trying to overturn the election. He is likely to know a lot about the events of Jan. 6 and the preceding and following days. On the other hand, he is likely to be quite shy about sharing what he knows with the Committee.

The Committee has already acquired information from public interviews and even a book Navarro wrote indicating that Navarro worked closely with Steve Bannon and others to develop and implement a plan to delay the certification of Joe Biden's election. In particular, Navarro supported the baseless claim of massive voter fraud. He released a report in Dec. 2020 asserting that he had evidence of massive fraud. However, the report didn't bother to provide any of that evidence. Must have been a printing error.

Navarro was once an economics professor but was considered outside the mainstream and not taken seriously until Jared Kushner happened to run across one of his books on China during an Internet search. Kushner recommended Navarro to Trump and Trump appointed him to a new White House National Trade Council. But then-chief-of-staff John Kelly instantly disliked Navarro and sidelined him by having former staff secretary Rob Porter closely manage him. Trump rebooted him by making him U.S. Trade Representative.

The important thing about Navarro is not his views on China, but that he was a Trump confidante and was actively involved in the events of Jan. 6 and what came before and after, which is what the Committee wants to grill him on. Presumably he will refuse and then the Committee will refer him to the DoJ for prosecution. To a considerable extent, he is a true believer and might fall on his sword to save Trump. But when faced with a substantial prison term, sometimes even a true believer can decide his neck is more important than Trump's. After all, Michael Cohen was once a true believer, too. (V)

McCarthy Tries to Diversify the GOP

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is making a bit of an effort to diversify his caucus, although that isn't so easy given that most Republicans are quite happy with voting for white men. Still, he is trying. Specifically, he has managed to convince two-time failed Senate candidate John James, who is Black, to run for a House seat in Detroit. On paper, James, an Army veteran with business experience, ought to be able to get some votes. And he did in his two Senate campaigns. Just not enough. By having him run in a heavily Black district, McCarthy apparently thinks all the Democrats there won't notice that he is a Republican.

This isn't the only race where McCarthy is backing a person of color or a woman. In fact 253 women and 228 people of color have filed to run as Republicans across the country. Most of the minority candidates have no chance, but in some districts, conservative women can win. In selected races, McCarthy is going to openly take sides and support candidates and tell donors to fund them. The problem with party officials taking sides in primaries if the party-endorsed candidate loses, the winner is not going to feel much obligation to support the party leadership if elected.

The Republicans did surprisingly well with Latino voters in 2020 and McCarthy is trying to build on that by supporting Latinos in 2022. He supports Monica De La Cruz in South Texas, Juan Ciscomani for an open seat in Tucson, and Tanya Contreras Wheeless in Phoenix. However, they are all running in districts Joe Biden carried, so they don't have an easy glide path to a general election victory, even if they win their primaries.

Of course, the Democrats are not powerless here. In heavily Black districts they are going to support a Black candidate and in heavily Latino districts they are going to support a Latino candidate. If they do that, the ethnicity factor kind of cancels out and it becomes Democrat vs. Republican, which generally does not work well for the Republicans in minority districts. (V)

What Could Biden Do If Putin Invades Ukraine?

Although foreign policy usually doesn't play a role in U.S. elections, at least in the midterms, if Russia invades Ukraine, how Joe Biden handles that could be a factor, especially since many "America firsters" don't think what happens in Ukraine is of any concern to the U.S. If Biden is seen is intervening and "losing" a war there, it could be disastrous for him. Of course if he forces Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw after an invasion, he will look very strong (see: Cuban Missile Crisis, Grenada, and the Persian Gulf War, to take three examples).

Biden can try to dissuade Putin from invading in the first place, which would also look strong, but that is only an option if Biden can make it clear to Putin what price he will pay for an invasion. Biden has a number of options here, many of them quite strong, but all of which will generate a strong reaction from Putin. Among Biden's options are these:

  • Export bans: Biden could prohibit U.S. firms from selling sensitive equipment to Russia, including microchips and equipment used in oil drilling. This is relatively mild and would require getting all countries that could be alternative suppliers also to sign up. In some cases, China is an alternative supplier and is not likely to sign up at all.

  • Target oligarchs: Sanctions of Putin's inner circle would annoy them and possibly get them to lobby Putin to not invade or withdraw after an invasion. But again, these are not very strong actions and Putin could probably survive them. Of course, if the CIA can discover where Putin and his friends have their ill-gotten loot stashed away and can hack those banks and steal their money, that will definitely get their attention.

  • Nord Stream 2: Most of Russia's foreign income comes from the sale of oil and gas. If the U.S. can convince Germany to kill the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, that would cut off the major source of Russia's foreign currency income and would hurt badly. Putin does have $630 billion in American dollars stashed away, so he can absorb a certain amount of pain here, but this would be an extremely powerful weapon in the long term. The problem is that Europe gets one-third of its energy from Russia, and Europeans would not be enthusiastic about suddenly being left in the cold (literally). The U.S. could ease the pain by shipping large amounts of liquified natural gas to Europe, but removing it from the U.S. domestic market would reduce domestic supply, increase prices, and drive inflation up, none of which would help Biden in the midterms.

  • SWIFT: A very powerful move would be to ban Russia from the international banking network (SWIFT). Then companies that bought stuff from Russia couldn't pay and companies that sold stuff to Russia couldn't collect. It would be a massive disruption to the Russian economy. Inflation might shoot up and certain products would suddenly vanish. Every Russian would notice. Putin would blame Biden, of course, but a lot of people would be thinking: "How did Putin let this happen?"

In response to any measures Biden might take, Putin might launch cyber attacks on U.S. companies or infrastructure, which would probably cause Biden to respond in kind. It wouldn't be hard to see how a full-blown new Cold War could start here. Would the Republicans come out in favor of supporting godless Communism? That wouldn't go over well with all their voters, especially if Biden put it in terms of: "Why are Republicans supporting Communism against America?" At the very least, backing Russia pretty much eliminates the option of Republicans running on "Democrats are socialists" since the rejoinder would be "Republicans are communists," which is even less popular. (V)

National Archives Wants the DoJ to Investigate Trump

On Monday, we had an item about how Donald Trump could be prosecuted for destroying federal records, which is a felony. Maybe somebody at the National Archives reads this site, but anyway, now the Archives have asked the Dept. of Justice to look into whether Trump should be prosecuted for destroying federal records.

The Dept. of Justice has not responded to the request yet. Trump's years-long destruction of memos, notes, e-mails, faxes, and other communications has long bothered historians and also lawyers. In addition, Trump took 15 boxes of records that he does not own to Mar-a-Lago. If some of the records in there are classified, removing them from government control is a crime. And sure enough, when the Archives got back the boxes last month they discovered some material that was likely classified/

Violations of the Federal Records Act are typically not enforced, but Anne Weisman, chief counsel for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility, said that Trump violated the law in mutliple ways and if he isn't held accountable for clear violations, then what does the law mean, if anything?

One problem with prosecuting Trump is that destroying federal records is only a crime if the person knew doing so was a crime. Trump could claim he didn't know. However, two chiefs-of-staff told him explicitly that it was a crime. In court. Trump could say: "I didn't know it was a crime to destroy records," but if two chiefs-of-staff testified that they told Trump it was, who would the jury believe? Our guess is that the four-star marine general who warned Trump most forcefully (John Kelly) might just win that credibility battle.

A related issue is that presidents often receive presents from foreign leaders. Those presents belong to the United States, not to the president personally. The president is required to turn them over to the National Archives for preservation. Trump frequently failed to do that, another potential crime. There is plenty to work on here if AG Merrick Garland decides to have some investigator go to town. (V)

Could Cawthorn Be Disqualified?

As Civil-War-era constitutional Amendments go, the XIII-th gets most of the glory, as it banned slavery. But the XIV-th might just be due for some new-found love. Sec. 3 of it starts out like this:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.

This was intended to keep Confederate officers out of Congress and the state legislatures. But it might apply to the Jan. 6 coup attempt. Specifically, the North Carolina Board of Elections has said that it has the power to block Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R) from running for reelection due to his support for the folks trying to overthrow the government on Jan. 6.

The Board's view is that states have long enforced their own age and residency requirements, so they also have the power to disqualify people who engaged in an insurrection against the United States. Liberal activists are indeed trying to have Cawthorn disqualified. Generally in matters of elections, states do have a fair amount of latitude in determining who is eligible for office and who is not. Here the key issue would be a determination by the Board that the events of Jan. 6 were indeed an insurrection and that Cawthorn gave aid and comfort to the insurrectionists. He was one of the two members of Congress who spoke at the pre-riot rally. He was also communicating with some of the organizers in the days before Jan. 6.

Cawthorn has already filed a suit trying to block the challenge to his eligibility. Needless to say, this is going to end up in at least the North Carolina Supreme Court, if not the U.S. Supreme Court, which probably doesn't want the case. Under state law, the burden of proof is on Cawthorn to prove that he is eligible. Currently, the North Carolina Supreme Court has a 4-3 Democratic majority, for what that is worth. (V)

Republicans Block a Bill to Name a Post Office

It used to be that the one thing Congress could consistently do was at least name post offices. Now, even that is no longer doable. Yesterday the House failed to pass a bill that would have named a California post office after former representative Lynn Woolsey, who represented Petaluma in the House for 20 years. What did Woolsey do wrong? Well, she's a Democrat. That is enough these days, even though she was immensely popular, typically winning general elections by 30-40 points. It would be one thing for the Democrats to try to name a post office in deep red Idaho, for, say, Malcolm X, but they are trying to name a post office in a deep blue district for someone the locals elected 10 times by huge margins.

Her story appeals to Democrats, but apparently not to Republicans. She left the University of San Francisco to get married, but later her husband left her. She was forced to make ends meet on her own and raise three children alone. She was on welfare for a time, but then she became an HR manager, ran a small business, and served on the Petaluma City Council before running for Congress. That is the kind of pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps story that Republicans normally love, but not in Woolsey's case because in Congress she was quite progressive and fought for services like child care, nutrition, and paid parental leave, not to mention fighting to get IRS to go after people who didn't pay court-ordered child support.

Democrats tried to fast track the bill, since bills to name post offices usually aren't controversial—or at least weren't. The fast-track process requires a two-thirds majority, and the bill got a majority but not a two-thirds majority, as 167 Republicans voted against it. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb09 Fulton County DA: Presidential Immunity Won't Save Trump
Feb09 Abrams Apologizes
Feb09 Cori Bush Won't Back Down
Feb09 Thar's Money in Them Thar Propaganda
Feb09 Thar's Money in Them Thar Rubes
Feb09 Thar's Money in Them Thar Coal
Feb09 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part VIII: The Pandemic
Feb08 Biden Administration Has a Mini-Scandal
Feb08 Democrats Also Have a Scandal
Feb08 National Archives and Records Administration Visits Mar-a-Lago
Feb08 Alabama District Map Stands--for Now...
Feb08 ...But the Ohio District Map Is Headed Back to the Drawing Board
Feb08 Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part VIII: The Pandemic
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