• Trump Continues His Losing Streak
• Rick Scott Fires a Shot Across Mitch McConnell's Bow
• There Goes That Democratic Flip Opportunity
• Ethics? What Ethics?
Yesterday, when writing our initial item about Vladimir Putin's incursion into Ukraine, we were patient with the Biden administration, and with the fact that the White House did not want to go off half-cocked. So, we temporarily tolerated the rather Orwellian notion that Putin could send troops into Ukraine and yet have that be something other than an invasion. Had Team Biden stuck with that spin on Tuesday, we were prepared to be very critical of such sophistry.
We need not have worried, as it turns out. Biden gave a nine-minute address from the East Room of the White House, and declared that Monday's incursions were the "beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine." The President announced what he called the "first tranche" of sanctions against Russia, targeting two major Russian banks, several prominent Russian families, and Russia's sovereign debt. The latter sanction means that Russia will not be able to borrow additional money from Western nations, or to refinance its existing debt.
That wasn't all. The President said he will continue to send arms to Ukraine and that he will redeploy some American forces to the Baltic states. He has canceled the planned summit with Putin, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has canceled his planned meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Meanwhile, NATO allies are remaining steadfast, as several of them announced sanctions of their own. British PM Boris Johnson also used the word "tranche," and announced that the Brits would be targeting most of the same individuals and banks that the U.S. will be targeting. The EU is on board with that as well, as is France. Germany's Olaf Scholz announced that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will be put on hold for now, and may be reevaluated. Canada also announced sanctions, and deployed troops to aid with the crisis. If Putin was planning to celebrate Defender of the Fatherland Day today with poutine and Molson's, he's got another think coming.
In addition to key allies, Democrats are unified in their support of Biden's handling of the situation. That includes Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is a pinko, of course, and who has previously been skeptical of Russian sanctions. He posted a statement to Twitter that reads, in part: "Vladimir Putin's latest invasion of Ukraine is an indefensible violation of international law, regardless of whatever false pretext he offers. There has always been a diplomatic solution to this situation. Tragically, Putin appears intent on rejecting it."
So, who is not unified? How about the Republicans? Some of them, like apostate Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) are squarely behind Biden. After all, they are holdovers from the time when Republicans did not like Godless Commies in general and Russia in particular. Similarly, although he attempted to place some of the blame for this situation on Biden, due to the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for "the toughest possible sanctions" against Putin.
By contrast, Donald Trump went all-in when it came to his love for Putin and his hatred for Biden. Speaking to right-wing talker Buck Sexton, the former president said:
I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said this is genius. Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine—of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that's wonderful. So Putin is now saying it's independent—a large section of Ukraine. I said how smart is that? And he's gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That's the strongest peace force. We could use that on our southern border. That's the strongest peace force I've ever seen. There were more army tanks than I've ever seen. They're gonna keep peace all right.
No, but think of it. Here's guy who's very savvy. I know him very well—very, very well. By the way, this never would've happened with us. Had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened. But here's a guy, that says, "You know, I'm gonna declare a big portion of Ukraine independent." He used the word independent. "And we're gonna go out, and we're gonna in and we're gonna help keep peace."
You gotta say this pretty savvy. And you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response. They didn't have one for that. No, it's very sad. Very sad.
Again, for those keeping score at home, that's a former president taking sides with the United States' worst enemy against the current president. And noted Russophile Tucker Carlson was also on board the Traitorial Express, waving away the situation in Ukraine as a "border dispute." Wonder if Putin has naughty tape recordings of the Fox host, or some other kompromat.
Ultimately, at least based on what is known right now, Biden appears to be playing his hand pretty well. He managed to build a coalition that responded swiftly and with unanimity to Putin. He's clearly acting like a leader right now, and at the same time that his predecessor is acting like anything but. All in all, a good day's work for the President, though you never know what tomorrow will bring. (Z)
Donald Trump can't buy a win in court (and we wouldn't be surprised to learn that he's tried). Last Friday, he took a rather serious loss in Thompson v. Trump, which used to be three cases that have now been combined into one. The three suits were brought by 11 members of the House and a couple of Capitol police officers, and target Trump (and others in his orbit) for actions taken on Jan. 6, 2021. More specifically, they accuse the former president and his inner circle of violating the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which prohibits efforts to "prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person from accepting or holding any office, trust, or place of confidence under the United States, or from discharging any duties thereof ... or to injure his property so as to molest, interrupt, hinder, or impede him in the discharge of his official duties." The Act was originally written to try to protect local Southern officeholders, but here it's being used to (potentially) protect members of Congress.
Trump's defense is exactly what you think it is: "I was the president, and cannot be sued for anything I did while acting in that capacity." This would fly in many cases, as there is precedent that a president cannot be sued for anything they did while acting in an official capacity. But Judge Amit Mehta wasn't buying it. In his 112-page ruling, Mehta eviscerated the former president's argument. For example:
A sitting President has no expressly identified duty to faithfully execute the laws surrounding the Certification of the Electoral College. So, perhaps it is not surprising that President Trump does not identify any law relating to the Certification that he was purportedly executing through his tweets and the January 6 Rally Speech.
Mehta thus allowed the lawsuit to proceed, and for discovery to commence. The decision will be appealed, but for now we have yet another area where the former president is seriously exposed, and where his defense has not impressed the judges.
That's not the only recent loss for Trump, either. The Supreme Court had already declined to stay a lower court's decision regarding the release of Trump-era documents to the 1/6 Committee. Consequently, Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who is also the Thompson in Thompson v. Trump, has had the documents for a couple of weeks now. Still, the former president vowed to fight on. And, as of yesterday, the fight is officially over, as the Supremes said that they will not hear the case.
As we've noted a couple of times already, when it comes to the various legal cases he's involved in, Trump is on a serious losing streak. We can't come up with a single case or substantive motion he's won in months, and we also can't see where his next win might come from. He's been so reckless, his legal position is so weak, and his counsel is so mediocre that it's likely defeats as far as the eye can see. Back when he was president, he won maybe 30% or 40% of his cases, but not anymore. It seems pretty clear that the courts, even the ones populated with Trump appointees, were very careful about the office of the presidency, but they are not impressed at all by private citizen Donald John Trump. If so, it does not bode well for him in the next 1-2 years. (Z)
As we have noted many times, nature abhors a vacuum. When it comes to the 2022 elections (and the 2024 elections, and the 2026 elections, etc.), the Republican Party would not have a platform if it was up to Donald Trump. He doesn't really grasp the concept all that well and, besides, he prefers that the stated position of the Party be "whatever Trump says." Mitch McConnell would prefer not to have a platform either. Unlike Trump, he understands the concept perfectly well, but he knows that committing to any specific policy goals could give the Democrats ammunition, divide an already shaky GOP, and set him up for failure since Republicans may retake Congress but they aren't going to take the White House in 2022. Well, at least not until JFK Jr. returns from the dead and restores Trump to power.
The lack of platform from the pooh-bahs has cleared the way for Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) to seize the initiative. Scott is arguably the second most important Republican in the Senate right now, by virtue of his chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which works to elect Republican senators. Scott also flatters himself that he's a 2024 presidential candidate, despite the fact that he's currently not exciting anyone. Anyhow, in a desire to get some attention, and to assert himself as a Republican power broker, Scott has taken the initiative and released a platform outlining his "11-point plan to rescue America." Ostensibly, it's just for his campaign, but given his leadership of the NRSC and his eyeing of the White House, and the absence of any competing document, it's de facto the 2022 (and 2024) Republican platform.
One does not need to read far to see that Scott in particular, and the Trump wing of the Republican Party in general, are all-in on the culture wars. Indeed, these are the first two paragraphs of Scott's platform:
The militant left now controls the entire federal government, the news media, academia, Hollywood, and most corporate boardrooms—but they want more. They are redefining America and silencing their opponents.
Among the things they plan to change or destroy are: American history, patriotism, border security, the nuclear family, gender, traditional morality, capitalism, fiscal responsibility, opportunity, rugged individualism, Judeo-Christian values, dissent, free speech, color blindness, law enforcement, religious liberty, parental involvement in public schools, and private ownership of firearms.
Those militant leftists certainly are busy beavers, aren't they?
Here, incidentally, are Scott's actual "11 points":
- Our kids will say the pledge of allegiance, salute the Flag, learn that America is a great country, and choose the
school that best fits them.
- Government will never again ask American citizens to disclose their race, ethnicity, or skin color on any government
- The soft-on-crime days of coddling criminal behavior will end. We will re-fund and respect the police because they,
not the criminals, are the good guys.
- We will secure our border, finish building the wall, and name it after President Donald Trump.
- We will grow America's economy, starve Washington's economy, and stop Socialism.
- We will eliminate all federal programs that can be done locally, and enact term limits for federal bureaucrats and
- We will protect the integrity of American Democracy and stop left-wing efforts to rig elections.
- We will protect, defend, and promote the American Family at all costs.
- Men are men, women are women, and unborn babies are babies. We believe in science.
- Americans will be free to welcome God into all aspects of our lives.
- We are Americans, not globalists.
One has to look long and hard, and squint very carefully, to find anything here that could be considered in the ballpark of a serious policy proposal. The Contract with America, on which this is modeled, had actual policy ideas (though some of them were pretty inside baseball). Scott, by contrast, is offering things that have virtually no meaning ("starve Washington's economy"?), or else things that aren't achievable (e.g., getting rid of separation of church and state). Of course, there are also generous dollops of fascism (mandatory flag saluting) and irony ("we believe the [alleged] science" on gender identity, but not on, say, vaccines or global warming).
McConnell is not going to be happy about this, and things aren't going to get better for the Minority Leader's ability to maintain discipline as half a dozen or so members of his conference pursue presidential bids in the next 2 years. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Tim Scott (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL) don't care what's good for the Republican Party; they care what's good for Sens. Cruz, Hawley, Cotton, Scott, and Rubio, respectively.
That said, McConnell consistently wins elections in landslides, while Rick Scott has won two gubernatorial elections by less than 70,000 votes, and his Senate election by just more than 10,000 votes. Yes, Florida's a different state than Kentucky, but these totals just affirm our general sense that the Kentuckian is a more skilled political operator than the Floridian (who, by the way, laid out more than $100 million of his own money in those squeaker elections). So, until proven wrong, we have to assume that McConnell is right, and that Scott's far-right platforms/screed is going to work to the detriment of the Republican Party, particularly in Florida, which has a senatorial and a gubernatorial election this year. (Z)
Oklahoma is quite red; depending on your standard, it's in competition for the title of "reddest state in the union." And four of its five congressional districts are completely unavailable to the Democrats, with (current) PVIs ranging from R+15 to R+29. The fifth, OK-05, is not especially promising for the blue team, at R+7. Still, it was represented by a Democrat as recently as last year (Kendra Horn, who served 2019-21), and with the right candidate, you never know. The Party thought it might just have a winner in Abby Broyles, a charismatic former TV news reporter and current attorney.
Not so much, as it turns out. Over Valentine's Day weekend, Broyles was present at a sleepover for teenage girls hosted by a friend. And she had a less-than-stellar evening, to put it mildly. To be specific, the candidate got soused on wine, and spent time berating several of the teenagers at the party, slut-shaming one, slurring the (Latina) ethnicity of another, and criticizing the acne of a third. The grand finale was throwing up in a laundry hamper.
Initially, Broyles claimed she wasn't even at the party. Later, she fessed up and apologized, but blamed her behavior on wine and sleep medication she got from a friend. We shall see if she sticks with that, or if v3.0 of Broyles' story shifts even more of the blame away from herself. In any event, for a Democrat to win in a district like that, they have to run a near-perfect campaign. Getting drunk at a teenage slumber party, and performing a one-woman edition of Mean Girls, is not exactly near-perfect. It does not help that her campaign website says she is "dedicated to fighting for our kids," which has already been turned by her opponents into "dedicated to fighting with our kids." Broyles says she's staying in the race, but she's done for, and Oklahoma's delegation is going to remain 5 Republicans, 0 Democrats. (Z)
If anyone on the Supreme Court deserves the title "judicial activist," it's Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, whose rulings are as results-oriented as those of any justice in recent memory. Meanwhile, his wife Ginni is a far-right political activist whose efforts often create ethical situations that are blurry, at best, for herself and her husband. They certainly focus their efforts in the same basic directions (e.g., getting rid of Roe v. Wade), and on more than one occasion Ginni has been signatory to an amicus brief in cases over which her husband was presiding. Normally, a Justice would recuse themselves in such a circumstances, for fear of politicizing the Supreme Court. Clarence doesn't much concern himself with the Court's reputation, however, and this concern does not really register with him. And so, he recuses himself from cases considerably less often than any of his eight colleagues.
Yesterday, The New York Times Magazine published a piece detailing exactly how heavily involved Ginni was in trying to overturn the 2020 election. She was involved in planning the pre-insurrection rally and in the organization of slates of fake electors. She also has very close ties to key conspirators in Donald Trump's orbit, including Steve Bannon and John Eastman. Keeping in mind that Clarence participated in some of the election-related cases, and that he sometimes backed Donald Trump, and that the Justice could end up hearing more such cases in the future, it's not a great look for the Thomases or the Supreme Court.
The fundamental problem, of course, is that because of the incredible deference the Congress shows to SCOTUS, there is nothing on the books about conflicts of interest, judicial ethics, or much of anything else when it comes to the behavior of the Supremes. They are expected to police themselves, and even if they obviously fail to do so, there is no recourse. Only once has a justice been impeached, and that was over 200 years ago and did not result in a conviction.
Could that change? Doubtful, given the lack of interest in changing the Court on the part of approximately 50 Senate Republicans. That said, one has to imagine that Chief Justice John Roberts is not happy with Thomas, and that there may be some arm twisting going on behind the scenes. It's also the case that the other eight justices do have the potential ability to freeze a colleague out if that colleague is deemed to be fatally compromised. When William O. Douglas suffered a debilitating stroke but refused to retire, the other justices put on the full court press to try to get him to step down, while also agreeing among themselves that they would postpone any case in which his vote would be decisive. Again, not likely here, but you never know, particularly if the Republicans retake the Senate and Roberts & Co. were persuaded that any vacant seat would remain open. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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