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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

The Q&A page has been fairly Trump-free for the last few months. But you know what they say about "all good things..."

Current Events

B.D. in Nantucket, MA, asks: One of the blogs I read is from the Rude Pundit. He's generally foul-mouthed and rude, and always very leftist, but the content is informed and intelligent. One of his latest posts, "Why Those Saying AG Garland Needs to Act Soon on Trump Aren't Wrong" brings up the question of what the Republicans will do to thwart the 1/6 investigation should they win back the House. Given that all norms have been thrown out the window, this post scares me. Is there any reason to think that a Republican-controlled House won't use every trick in the book—up to and including restricting funding for the Justice Department so Garland won't have funds to pursue the 1/6 inquiry—to make sure that Donald Trump and his associates pay no price for their misdeeds?

I'd love your take on this one.

V & Z answer: Some of the observations in this piece are correct, but overall it's a little sloppy, and ultimately gives an incorrect impression.

There are two largely separate issues here. The first is the fate of the 1/6 Committee. If the Republicans regain the House, there are four possibilities for the Committee:

  1. The Republicans disband it
  2. It's already disbanded by the time the Republicans take over, such that they don't get to decide
  3. The Republicans allow it to continue its work unmolested
  4. The Republicans keep it and weaponize it, using it to look into Antifa or Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) "role" in the insurrection, or whatever

We would actually guess the second option is the most likely; the Committee has made very clear it's going to issue a report sometime in late spring or in summer. They may close up shop then, or they could keep working and then take steps to close up later in the year if the House appears lost or is lost. Whatever happens, the Committee is going to turn every single thing it has—testimony, phone records, e-mails, receipts, gum wrappers, fortunes from fortune cookies consumed at committee meetings—over to the Department of Justice prior to Jan. 3, 2023.

And then there is the Department of Justice and AG Merrick Garland. The Rude Pundit (TRP) is correct, we think, in suggesting that Trumpy House Republicans might ram through a bill trying to cut Garland off at the pass. But we see at least three major issues with that specific possibility. The first is that while, as TRP observes, Congress does have some power to laser-focus the way in which money is spent, it would be really hard to write a bill that specifically prohibits the DoJ from investigating or prosecuting Trump and/or 1/6 participants. The specific example that TRP gives of Congress manipulating the purse strings is the Boland Amendment, but that forbade the funneling of money to Nicaragua for purposes of a government overthrow, which is a much narrower limitation, and one that is more easily enforced—either money went there or it didn't. Drawing a line between "normal DoJ functioning" and "investigating Trump/the insurrection" would be a lot more difficult.

The second problem is that even if Congress comes up with a bill, it might well be struck down by the courts. There would be some pretty serious separation of powers questions here, and the courts tend to take a particularly dim view of congressional interference with the DoJ.

Third, and finally, you will note that we keep referring to "Congress" passing a bill, not "the House." Yes, nutty folks in the House might just pass a nutty bill. But it still has to get through the Senate. At the moment, the Senate has both a filibuster rule and a Democratic majority. Even if those things cease to be true as of January 2023, then the Senate will still be under the control of a majority leader who is openly hostile to Trump, and who has no interest in helping him escape the long arm of the law.

And that leads us, finally, to two broader issues. The first is that trying to help Trump and/or the insurrectionists circumvent the system will come with political costs, and there are members of Congress who may not be willing to pay those costs. The second is that there are plenty of Republicans in Congress, starting with Mitch McConnell, who want to see Trump taken down. Some of them just want their party to resume more normal function, others (ahem, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX) would like him to be cleared from the deck so that they might try to take his place. The upshot is that any scheme that involves the use (or abuse) of power to help Trump out is going to face an uphill battle, even if Republicans retake both chambers of Congress.

E.B. in Seattle, WA, asks: Why would the Archivist of the U.S. give Donald Trump the opportunity to sue to prevent release of the White House visitor logs? The Supreme Court just ruled on this issue, so it seems like the Archivist would be on firm legal ground to just release the documents.

In a related question, what's the shortest plausible amount of time for Trump's inevitable lawsuit to get dismissed through all of the levels of court?

V & Z answer: If Joe Biden orders the documents released, the Archivist (David Ferriero) doesn't actually have the latitude to decree a 15-day moratorium before he does what he's told. And indeed, the 15-day waiting period was imposed by Biden himself. The administration did that to signal support for the rule of law, and also because Biden doesn't want to be the one to set the precedent that presidents should haphazardly accommodate Congress' requests.

As to your second question, the Supreme Court is allowed to assert itself over a lower court case and to immediately elevate that case to their docket. So, in theory, Trump could lose in 24 hours. It is not likely to happen, but it's possible.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, asks: A New York judge has ruled Trump must testify in the case involving the Trump Organization. A friend's immediate response: "Trump will never testify." What do you think?

V & Z answer: If your friend means "Trump will use the legal system, as he always does, to avoid testifying," that strategy has already run its course. He has few, or no, legal recourses left when it comes to submitting to New York AG Letitia James' deposition.

If your friend means "Trump will simply refuse to show up," we don't think that's very probable. He would be in contempt of court, would surely be charged thusly, and then would have to face those charges. So, refusing to show up would only buy him a month or two. And once the time came to arrest him, New York authorities would probably do it in as humiliating a manner as is possible. They'd try to get whoever arrested him to park their car at Disney World and perp walk him all the way from Mar-a-Lago. Heck, they might shoot for Disneyland.

His best, and only, option is to show up as ordered and to try to say as little as possible. This has been his choice when ordered to sit for depositions in the past, though James knows about his temper and his lack of discipline and will try to get him to say things he shouldn't say.

M.S. in Dallas, TX, asks: If Donald Trump was still in office, do you think he would have pulled a Jimmy Carter and ordered a boycott of the Beijing games? If so, do you think any of our allies would have followed suit? What would have the ramifications been if any athlete defied the boycott anyway?

V & Z answer: We think it is extremely unlikely. Ironically, for one of the most hated men in America, and almost certainly the most hated president ever, Trump just wants to be loved. He favors his base, because they are most likely to give him what he wants, but he'll take support and affection wherever he can get it. Boycotting the Olympics would have generated massive blowback from both the base and people not in the base. He just can't handle that sort of criticism. Whenever he does do unpopular things, it is things that at least the base will love, love, love, and that make Trump feel better because he believes he's striking out at his perceived enemies. An Olympic boycott just doesn't fit that mold.

And there is zero chance that America's allies would have followed his lead had he chosen to boycott. As to athletes, they can't compete without being represented by a national Olympic committee, and so they would have been out of luck. It is possible for the International Olympic Committee to sanction an alternate arrangement, as we are seeing right now with the Russian Olympic athletes. However, that arrangement was due to the abuse of performance enhancing drugs, an issue that is squarely under the IOC's purview. By contrast, "we're going to set up a workaround because we don't agree with the Trump administration's boycott" would have been getting involved in politics in a way that the IOC tries strenuously to avoid.

W.R. in Tyson's Corner, VA, asks: Speaking of former President Trump's legal problems, what is going on with the IRS audit of his tax returns? It's been going on since 2011! I understand why it slowed down while he was President, but why hasn't this audit wrapped up yet? Is this not the longest IRS audit ever?

V & Z answer: Starting with your last question, it's not so easy to be certain about things like this, but there are numerous outlets that claim that this is not only the longest IRS audit ever, it's the longest audit in the history of the world. We're not sure how you can really know if the Roman government did or did not spend 15 years figuring out how many sesterces Marcus Lucinius Crassus owed, or if the Most Serene Republic of Venice put the screws to Marco Polo for 20 years, but it certainly seems fair to conclude that the IRS has never let an audit linger longer than this.

Only the auditors know why it's taking so long, but there are at least three likely factors we can point out. The first is that Trump not only has a very complicated portfolio, with literally hundreds of pass-through corporations, he's also notorious for abusing the rules. So, unraveling everything is a huge task, especially since they're not only looking at his private-citizen returns at this point, but also his presidential returns (which they have to, by law).

A second issue is that the IRS is underfunded and understaffed. And in a pretty good indication of how non-rich people have to play by different rules, it is generally more efficacious for agents to go after "small fish" who break the rules in fairly standard ways than to go after "big fish" who break the rules in unusual ways, and who are prepared to deploy an army of lawyers to defend their "bookkeeping." So, Trump's returns often end up on the back burner, we imagine.

And finally, some of the fights the IRS might need to fight in order to do the job are being fought by others. If they sit back, they can potentially reap the rewards. For example, we would guess that Trump's former accountancy firm Mazars is going to be more helpful next week than they would have been last week.

Incidentally, there is a word in this answer that has an extremely unusual characteristic; unique among the 400,000 or so English words that are considered "common." Do you see which one is is? We'll tell you tomorrow, though if you'd care to hazard a guess before that, you're welcome to do so.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, asks: Regarding your item "Rats Desert Sinking Ship," both NPR and the CNN article to which you linked said that Mazars terminated their relationship with the Trump Organization because of a "non-waivable conflict of interest." That phrase raises so many questions I'm not sure where to begin.

First, it implies that there are "waivable" conflicts of interest. I could picture that for a law firm ("Our organization is representing both you and your spouse in the divorce, but don't worry, we'll make sure that the lawyers assigned to your side and those assigned to your spouse's side don't sit at the same table in the cafeteria"), but what would one look like for an accounting firm?

Second, what exactly is the nature of this particular non-waivable conflict of interest? ("We had no problem turning over your tax records to the NYAG and the Manhattan DA while we were still taking your money, but now that they want us to actually testify, well, we don't want to be accused of taking bribes as we're in enough trouble as it is.")

And when does a conflict of interest cross the line from being waivable to non-waivable?

Many some of the accountants among your readership could provide some answers?

We are not accountants, as you observe, and we're happy to have additional comments from any pros who might be inspired to write in. However, we did read several documents from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) meant to provide guidance on these issues, so we do have some basis for answering your questions.

To start, there are no hard and fast rules here, and no bright red lines between "conflict of interest" and "not a conflict of interest," nor between "waivable " and "non-waivable" conflicts of interest. The AICPA Code of Professional Conduct reads:

A member or his or her firm may be faced with a conflict of interest when performing a professional service. In determining whether a professional service, relationship or matter would result in a conflict of interest, a member should use professional judgment, taking into account whether a reasonable and informed third party who is aware of the relevant information would conclude that a conflict of interest exists.

As you can see, it is largely left up to the accountants themselves to make their best judgments.

There are, to a greater or lesser extent, three main situations in which a conflict might arise. The first is when a firm might end up representing clients whose interests are in conflict, such as a divorcing husband and wife. The second is where the firm has some sort of non-professional and potentially prejudicial relationship with a person or entity involved in the accountancy process. For example, if a client is being audited by the IRS, and their accountant once had an extramarital affair with the government's auditor. The third is where the accountant is providing multiple, potentially conflicting, services for a client. Most obviously, the AICPA takes a dim view of an accountant who handles both auditing services and investments. The reason is that one thing an audit might reveal is "your investments person is not doing a very good job." Obviously, the accountant-as-auditor might not want to throw the accountant-as-investor under the bus, hence the conflict.

There are a couple of ways that conflicts of interests tend to be waived. They are supposed to be brought to the attention of the client, and the client may decide they do not find the conflict to be problematic. Alternatively, big accountancy firms have multiple departments, and keeping clear walls between those departments can also be a solution to keeping conflicts of interest under control.

A conflict becomes non-waivable when the client decides it is non-waivable, or else when the firm decides that the legal and ethical issues involved are too great to justify the risks entailed in trying to manage the conflict. In the case of Trump—and we should have done more to clarify this in the original item—it is clear that the conflict of interest is between Mazars' desire to cover their asses, and Trump's desire to cover his. The firm is clearly working with the authorities, and simply cannot do that while at the same time helping Trump continue his "creative" accounting practices. To put a finer point on it, they think he's going down, and they don't want to be dragged down with him.

J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: In your list of Donald Trump's pending legal cases, the tax returns are not mentioned. Isn't that a still pending case? Wasn't that once an item of great interest?

V & Z answer: That item, and the piece it was based on, spoke only to things that have already been scheduled. Trump's last loss on this front was in December, courtesy of one of his own appointees, Judge Trevor McFadden. Trump has already appealed, but the appeal is not yet on the docket of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. So, there is no date yet, and therefore the appeal didn't fit in with this particular item.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: You wrote: "More Floridians are facing federal charges for the Jan. 6 coup attempt than are residents of any other state. But that is only the tip of the iceberg."

This seems potentially misleading, as Florida is the third most populous state. Do you have a feel for "insurrectionists per capita" for the various states?

V & Z answer: The Department of Justice identifies defendants by the state in which they were arrested, which is surely a pretty good proxy for "state of residence," on the whole. Here's a breakdown of each of the 50 states, including how many insurrectionists in total have been charged, and how many insurrectionists per million citizens that works out to:

State Population Insurrectionists Ins. Per Million
Pennsylvania 12,805,190 59 4.61
Montana 1,093,117 5 4.57
Kentucky 4,487,233 17 3.79
Virginia 8,638,218 31 3.59
Idaho 1,896,652 6 3.16
Delaware 998,619 3 3.00
Tennessee 7,001,803 21 3.00
Ohio 11,727,377 35 2.98
Florida 22,177,997 66 2.98
Missouri 6,184,843 18 2.91
West Virginia 1,755,715 5 2.85
Alaska 720,763 2 2.77
New York 19,223,191 51 2.65
Alabama 4,949,697 12 2.42
Kansas 2,919,179 7 2.40
New Jersey 8,870,685 21 2.37
Texas 30,097,526 63 2.09
Utah 3,363,182 7 2.08
South Carolina 5,342,388 10 1.87
North Carolina 10,807,491 19 1.76
Colorado 5,961,083 10 1.68
Georgia 10,936,299 18 1.65
Iowa 3,174,426 5 1.58
Oklahoma 4,007,179 6 1.50
Maine 1,359,677 2 1.47
New Hampshire 1,378,449 2 1.45
Illinois 12,518,071 18 1.44
Michigan 9,995,212 13 1.30
Minnesota 5,739,781 7 1.22
Wisconsin 5,867,518 7 1.19
Oregon 4,325,290 5 1.16
Maryland 6,075,314 7 1.15
South Dakota 902,542 1 1.11
Arizona 7,640,796 8 1.05
Indiana 6,842,385 7 1.02
Massachusetts 6,922,107 7 1.01
California 39,664,128 40 1.01
Arkansas 3,042,017 3 0.99
New Mexico 2,109,093 2 0.95
Nevada 3,238,601 3 0.93
Connecticut 3,546,588 3 0.85
Washington 7,887,965 6 0.76
Hawaii 1,401,709 1 0.71
Nebraska 1,960,790 1 0.51
Louisiana 4,616,106 2 0.43
Mississippi 2,961,536 1 0.34
North Dakota 774,008 0 0.00
Rhode Island 1,062,583 0 0.00
Vermont 622,882 0 0.00
Wyoming 582,233 0 0.00

You can reach your own conclusions about what it all means, although there's clearly an interplay between the Trumpiness of a state, the existence (or lack thereof) of a serious right-wing militia presence, the wealth of a state, and the state's proximity to Washington, D.C.

C.L. in Papillon, NE, asks: With the lawyers for Remington coming to a settlement, will it be long before other lawsuits are brought up against the other gun manufacturers in the U.S.? How long before someone decides to sue a car manufacturer because they don't have a lockout device that prevents someone from driving drunk? I would not be surprised to see it happen within the next couple of years.

V & Z answer: To start, it was actually lawyers for Remington's insurers, as Remington itself has collapsed. Most observers suppose that a gun company that is still in business will fight harder than happened here.

Beyond that, there is a federal law, the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, that excuses gun manufacturers from responsibility for mass shootings. The Remington families managed to work around that by suing under Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act, arguing that by marketing a military weapon to civilians, the gun maker was in violation of that law. Obviously, the argument worked.

This means that there will certainly be future lawsuits of this general sort, but that they will generally happen in states that offer opportunities for clever lawyers to bring causes of action. California is about to adopt a law like the one in Connecticut, for example, and New York already has one.

And finally, if a person misuses a manufactured item, engaging in behavior that was not the intent of the manufacturer—which is what a drunk driver does—then the manufacturer cannot be held liable.

R.B. in Cambridge, MN, asks: In your views, are we entering a new Cold War with Russia and or China? Or is the media making a story?

V & Z answer: Major nations always have rivalries. Sometimes those rivalries devolve into hot wars. And sometimes those rivalries reach an intensity that goes beyond "usual competition" and into "cold war." However, while it's obvious when a hot war is underway, identifying a cold war requires a macro view, and often the benefit of hindsight. It's not unreasonable to say that the U.S. may be entering a new Cold War with one or both of those nations, but it will be some time before firm conclusions can be drawn. Even the original Cold War was not widely recognized as such until 1950 or so (i.e., 5 years after World War II ended and the Cold War effectively began).

P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, asks: I noticed that the map you ran this week showed Crimea as a part of Ukraine. As a geography teacher, we frequently deal with maps that are out of date, but accept that as a reality of the changing world (imagine maps of the Soviet Union or a united Sudan or Zaire).

Where things get tricky is when we look at maps that involve political intrigue and conflicting claims. Ukraine would never use a map showing a Russian Crimea because they recognize what should be and not necessarily the current reality of who controls the area. Russians, no doubt, are using maps that show Crimea as a Russian territory. Certainly there's an educational value to discussing the differences, but where is the closure?

So my question is, in your opinion, which map is more accurate? The one that shows the nation a territory "should" belong to, or the map that shows who effectively controls the territory? How long does Russia have to have effective control before it's no longer political taboo to call it Russia? Imagine if mainstream maps of the United States conflicted with each other on whether the Confederacy was really a nation, or if the Eastern seaboard was still part of Great Britain?

V & Z answer: There's no easy answer here. As a general rule, if there is not time to comment on a map (either in a written piece or a lecture), then it's best to go with a map that reflects the generally accepted political consensus. But even that is not always a great standard. These days, about half the maps produced show Palestine as an independent nation and half do not. Which is the "consensus" view?

(Z) actually has a whole lecture about how maps often serve to obfuscate as much as they serve to clarify. Perhaps he will write an item on the subject sometime.


J.K. in Silverdale, WA, asks: After 9/11, there was a "rally around the flag" response, with people who had not voted for G.W. Bush expressing support for him. How do you think people across the U.S. would respond if a similar attack happened now?

V & Z answer: At the moment, it is improbable that we would see anything quite like what happened after 9/11, or what happened in the early weeks of the Persian Gulf War. Joe Biden might get to 70% approval, but that is surely at or near his ceiling. The Republican Party and its hyperpartisan media advocates have spent so much energy on demonizing Democrats in general and Biden in particular that there is some sizable percentage of the populace that will not rally around the President under any circumstances, even if he were to personally invade Moscow and capture Vladimir Putin.

It is still possible, we think, that there could be a similar response to 9/11 or the Persian Gulf under a Republican president, because Democrats are a little less invested in hating Republicans at all costs. It couldn't happen under Donald Trump, or any of his ilk, because Democrats are most certainly invested in hatred of TrumpWorld. But if a more milquetoast Republican were to win the White House—say, Larry Hogan or Charlie Baker—then maybe.

K.R. in Boston, MA, asks: In regards to your item on culture wars and how the GOP uses these to get people to vote for them, we've seen this before—it was gay marriage in 2004, then it was trans kids, and now it's CRT and "Defund the police." My question to you: Why won't Democrats flip the script, using the banning of Maus as the catalyst.

A key demographic for the GOP are neo-Nazis or those that are sympathetic to them. Why don't Democrats use this, along with banning of Maus, to say that the GOP advocates for Holocaust denialism and would let Mein Kampf be taught alongside The Diary of Anne Frank or Maus?

V & Z answer: The Democrats do try to do this, but it generally doesn't work as well for them.

Why is this the case? That's a question that's been studied six ways to Sunday, by both academics and by political operatives. One possibility is that Democratic voters, on the whole, are less willing to operate on faith, and are therefore less willing to accept wild, unsupported claims about "the other side" (there is, for example, no evidence that any Republican wants to assign Mein Kampf). Another theory is that Republicans and Democrats have self-sorted, for various reasons, into "more affected by appeals to emotion" (Republicans) and "less affected by appeals to emotion" (Democrats). A third possibility, and the one we're most willing to endorse, is that making culture wars propaganda stick requires the assistance of a persistent and repetitive media establishment. The Republicans have that, and the Democrats largely don't. Saturday Night Live is pretty impactful, here and there, but it can't compete with Fox, and with Breitbart, and with Will Cain, and with The Blaze, etc.

T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, asks: If the Republican base is riled by the culture wars, what is the Democratic base riled up by? Or is the Democratic base too fragmented to be riled up by any single issue? Or does It seems to me these are the questions we need to be asking.

V & Z answer: There are certainly culture wars-type issues that rile up Democrats, quite often those related to fairness or justice. The murder of George Floyd, for example, most certainly riled up lefties across the country.

That said, for various reasons (see the previous answer), the riling up isn't as common and usually doesn't linger as long as with Republicans. The fragmentary nature of the Democratic base is also an issue; their coalition is considerably more heterogeneous than the Republican coalition, and is not as strongly in agreement on, say, trans equality or reforming the police as Republicans are on, say, abortion or guns.

K.P. in San José, CA, asks: I wonder what set of values/beliefs/policies you would define as being "Centrist." I can see someone being socially liberal but fiscally conservative (e.g., my sister)... is that Centrist? I'm skeptical. I'm really looking more for a set of non-progressive, non-conservative policy or other positions that sit (somewhat) in the middle of our current political spectrum, and l keep coming back to Goldilocks ("just right") but that is also unsatisfying. Any thoughts?

V & Z answer: There are certainly people who regard someone whose views "average out" to centrism, as with your sister, to be a "centrist." Usually, in American politics, that takes the form of "socially liberal plus fiscally conservative." The reverse combo is unusual enough that it was a punchline on the show 30 Rock. And now, that combo is basically Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance's (R) platform.

Anyhow, because "centrist, on average" doesn't really mean "centrist," there has been some attention given to finding a different term for this approach to voting. And the term that's emerged is Third Way. That concept is used more often in discussions of European politics than U.S. politics, but it's been applied to both Bill Clinton and to "compassionate conservatism."

Actual centrism is not really defined by a set list of policy positions, but instead by an attitude about the operating of the government. What makes someone a centrist, more than any other defining characteristic, is a preference that policy change come slowly and be implemented cautiously.

A.D. in Las Vegas, NV, asks: In your item about what the Turtle is up to, you wrote "Trump has managed to find a fanatic to support in just about every major Senate race."

While it's plausible that he came up with the general strategy, he seems too lazy and incompetent to actually do the research to find hundreds of potential candidates in all those races and compare them before making a choice. Which leads to the question of: Who actually does that for him these days? Seeing how he can no longer have the taxpayers pay the salaries of a staff and he is notorious for not paying people that work for him either, I can't imagine his inner circle being all that big. Do you have any idea of who the main characters are in that group?

V & Z answer: First, note that while Trump tends to stiff contractors, he's much less likely to do that with staff, as it's much harder to pull off. And he does get some money from the U.S. government for office staff, while he can also spend some of that pile of PAC money. Finally, there are plenty of people willing to advise him for free, just so they can be in close proximity to power.

When it comes to specifics, there is a core group that helps Trump identify potential candidates to endorse. Long-time advisor Susie Wiles reportedly takes the lead, while former campaign manager Bill Stepien, former White House political director Brian Jack, and Donald Trump Jr. are all in the inner circle. The former president is also susceptible to being influenced by people who are willing to kiss the ring and who seem to have some expertise (for example, Trump got Rep. Madison Cawthorn's [R-NC] opinion about whom to endorse in the North Carolina Senate race). And finally, Trump flatters himself on his ability to find "diamonds in the rough," and sometimes goes "off the board" when it comes to bestowing his endorsement on a candidate.


J.K. in Seoul, South Korea, asks: Suppose Congress does not pass a budget for the whole fiscal year, which you mentioned as a possibility this week. Can it still pass bills via budget reconciliation?

V & Z answer: The answer is: "Congress can put the cart before the horse." By that, we mean that it is possible to introduce a reconciliation bill for a budget that does not yet exist. A budget, like a reconciliation bill, cannot be filibustered. So, if the majority party can get 50 people to support a reconciliation bill, then it can simultaneously have those same 50 members vote to approve a budget, sometimes after the budgetary year has ended.

This is not just academic. Congress never adopted a budget for 2017; the bill that would have killed the ACA (the one that John McCain famously thumbs downed) was a reconciliation bill paired with a retroactive FY 2017 budget. And if Build Back Better had already been passed, the same thing would have happened, as there has yet to be a FY 2020 budget.

T.B. in Santa Clara, CA, asks: It's always bothered me how wasteful donations to campaigns feel. Jamie Harrison, for example, raised over $100 million, most of which probably just went to media moguls, and he still lost.

Could he and others not use some (most?) of that money to help fund elections, get out the vote campaigns, or better yet, free voter ID drives ("show up any day/time, and we'll pay for an ID and help you file the paperwork")?

Would any of this be illegal? If not, I would far prefer that my money go towards helping someone vote than towards another TV ad for people to skip.

V & Z answer: A candidate has pretty wide latitude in how they spend the funds they collect, and someone like Harrison could do any or all of these things with any leftover funds. Of course, he probably didn't have much in the way of leftover funds.

If what you care about is getting people registered, you should just give directly to a group that does that. The banners that rotate at the top of our page all highlight groups that promote voting in various ways, so you could click and take a look at those.

M.S. in Las Vegas, NV , asks: What determines how many members of each party sit on committees? Is it a Senate rule that the majority party gets half + 1 and the minority party gets the rest? Can Democrats theoretically just change the rule? "If quorum is not achieved for 2 meetings in a row, majority party may immediately replace x members with members from their own party?"

Oh, I know it would never happen—let me rephrase. Democrats would never do this. Republicans would because they're not just evil, they're also ruthless. Democrats, unfortunately, are neither. And even if they were ruthless like the GOP, I'm sure the one guy and that one lady would block it anyway (I see no need to give them any more press than they already get).

V & Z answer: The rules of the Senate specify how many members each committee has (it varies by committee). Those rules also dictate that, for obvious logistical reasons, the breakdown of the committee has to mirror the breakdown of the Senate. In other words, if 60% of the Senate is Democratic, then 60% of each committee's members are Democratic.

As to quorum, you are undoubtedly referring to the current blockade of Joe Biden's nominees to the Federal Reserve. For now, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is going to let Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and ranking member Mike Crapo (R-ID) try to work it out. If it becomes necessary to play hardball, the Democrats have many options, but the one they will certainly use is changing the rules so that a nominee does not have to be approved by a committee in order to receive a vote on the floor of the Senate. And while we understand your cynicism, we are confident that the Senators-who-shall-not-be-named would support such a move. Their needs are served by a stable Fed and a stable banking system.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: I keep reading about all the tactics Republicans are successfully using to block so many of Joe Biden's nominees to various positions. Did the Democrats use any of these maneuvers to stop Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court? If not, why not? I suspect the answer is "no," which leads to a follow-up question: Doesn't the wimpiness of Democrats only embolden unprincipled actors like Mitch McConnell, who know there won't be any real response to their behavior? If Nancy Pelosi were majority leader, how would things be handled differently?

Sorry, I guess that's 2 follow-up questions...

V & Z answer: We recognize that the Republicans have a reputation for emulating Machiavelli while the Democrats have a reputation for emulating Mickey Mouse (Mickeyavelli?). There's some basis for this, but it only goes so far. The fact is that the blue team is more than willing to exploit the loopholes available to them, even if it sometimes takes them longer to get to that point.

The fundamental problem with Barrett was that Supreme Court nominees are no longer filibusterable. That means that the minority party can muck up the works a bit, but it can't actually stop the confirmation (at least, not without some defectors from the majority party). When Barrett was under consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the partisan breakdown of the Senate entitled the Republicans to 12 seats as compared to the Democrats' 10 (right now, it's 11-11 on Judiciary, Finance, and all other major committees). When it came time to vote whether to send Barrett to the full Senate, all 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee at that time boycotted the meeting. But 12 Republicans were both enough for a quorum and enough for a majority, so the nomination was approved.

Very little would be different if Nancy Pelosi was Senate Majority Leader right now, unless you believe she would be better at bending Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to her will than Chuck Schumer has been. Schumer learned how to identify and exploit loopholes from a master, namely Harry Reid, and has no shame about availing himself when the opportunity presents itself.

D.T. in San Jose, CA, asks: You have suggested that if Donald Trump lost the Republican primary next time, he would be prevented from running a third party campaign, by the "sore-loser" laws of many states.

Can those "sore loser" laws actually be enforced for a candidate for President? You have previously mentioned that individual states were not allowed to add additional requirements for candidacy, (such as disclosing tax returns) beyond the requirements specified in the Constitution. Wouldn't this be a similar situation?

V & Z answer: That is a question that nobody knows the answer to because there's never been a need to test it in court. Should it come to that, Trump would argue that sore loser laws are unconstitutional when it comes to presidents. The states would argue that when he agreed to be on the primary ballot under existing state rules, he effectively waived his right to object to those rules at a later date. Legal experts think Trump would probably win this argument, but it's no slam dunk. Especially given the quality of the lawyers he tends to employ.

A.R.S. in West Chester, PA, asks: Is there any likelihood that some state, e.g. North Carolina, could attempt to keep Donald Trump off their 2024 presidential ballot, as is now possibly happening to Madison Cawthorn, by invoking Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment?

V & Z answer: Note that it's not the state that is trying to boot Cawthorn, it's a group of activists who filed suit under the Fourteenth Amendment. And while they would love, love, love to end Cawthorn's career, you can bet every dollar you have that they are also thinking about Trump, and that if they win the current case, they'll be back in 2024 with another suit if Trump is indeed on the ballot.


D.H. in Pueblo, CO, asks: You wrote: "Even in (Z)'s time, a year's tuition [at UCLA] was about $7,000 (about 25 hours/week, all year long, at minimum wage). Now it's $17,000."

Looking at the UCLA tuition page, in-state tuition is $13,225 and out-of-state is $42,217. Their webpage is less than forthcoming, but as far as I can tell this is for one quarter. Assuming students attend 3 quarters a year, that makes for a per-year rate of $39,675 in-state and $125,651 out-of-state. For tuition alone. Even supposing you didn't mean per year, I do not see how you came up with $17,000. What am I missing?

V & Z answer: Those figures are definitely for the entire regular school year (i.e., the three regular academic quarters, but not summer), and are not per academic quarter. Relative to private schools, this is pretty cheap, and is one reason (there are several others, some of which you might not guess) that UCLA gets more applications per year than any other university in the country.

And while (Z) took all three of his degrees at UCLA, he was more recently a graduate student than an undergraduate. And so, his answer was for graduate school; the annual tuition for graduate/professional students is currently $16,847, on average (depends on which graduate/professional school). For undergrades as you point out, it's $13,225.

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