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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Senators Wrestle with Gun Control
      •  Insurrections Have Consequences
      •  Trumps Fire Shot Across Rick Scott's Bow
      •  Louisiana Map Struck Down
      •  You Lose Some to Win Some?
      •  Johnson Cut Down to Size
      •  Guest Columnist: Thoughts from a Texas Marine

Senators Wrestle with Gun Control

According to "key senators," the upper chamber is definitely, maybe, possibly close to agreeing on some sort of gun control measure. Nobody seems to be saying what exactly the agreement might be, while everyone is managing expectations, observing that most of Joe Biden's wishlist from his speech will go unfulfilled. Still, they might hammer something out. And something is usually better than nothing.

Indeed, "something"—and probably something relatively minor—is about the best that the Democrats can hope for right now. People in general, and Americans in particular, do not like change. If the Democrats want to get serious about this issue, it's going to be a marathon, not a sprint. We've been working on a deep dive into what that might look like, and over the course of the next several days, we'll look at some of the strategies that the Party would have to adopt. But today, we want to review how profound the opposition they face is, and will be.

The foundation of all of this, of course, is the voters who embrace the Second Amendment to the point of fetishizing it. For many of them, the guns aren't just about the guns, they are about their masculinity, or their sense of self, or their understanding of freedom, or their desire to "own the libs," or their belief that they and their families are not safe without the weapons, or some combination of the above. Democrats tend to have ideas about guns, but many Republicans have beliefs. And beliefs are far harder to change than ideas.

Of course, the generally easy access to guns means that gross acts of violence are committed, sometimes against children. This creates some amount of cognitive dissonance, because even gun lovers don't want to see innocent children gunned down. However, the Second Amendment crowd has gotten quite good at resolving this cognitive dissonance. Many of them flatly refuse to believe there's a problem at all, suspecting that these mass shootings are just put-ons by "the libs" to provide an excuse to take the guns away. At the NRA Convention, the one that happened just days after the Uvalde shootings, there were almost as many conspiracy theories in circulation as there were bullets. For those Second Amendment zealots who accept that the mass shootings are real, the answer is often: "Well, that's the price you pay." For example, a CBS News/YouGov poll released yesterday reveals that 44% of Republicans—nearly half!—feel that mass shootings are an unfortunate but unavoidable part of living in a free society.

The Second Amendment-loving voters, of course, vote for folks who think like they do (or, at least, who pretend to), and who validate and reinforce some pretty fanatical points of view. Last week, for example, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) attended remotely the House Judiciary Committee's markup of the gun control bill that they are working on. And since he was at home, he was able to use his speaking time to slowly display and discuss many of the guns he owns, including a SIG Sauer P226, a SIG Sauer 320, and a SIG Sauer P365 XL, making the (ostensible) point that there's no value in changing the laws, because there will always be a gun that skirts the rules. Of course, that's also an argument for why you shouldn't outlaw abortion, but this did not seem to occur to the Representative.

When it comes to gun-enabling, however, Steube is an amateur. The real pro is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has been honing his skills for over a decade by virtue of being the NRA's biggest beneficiary. Consider the "interview" that Cruz had with Mark Stone, who works for the British outlet Sky News, the weekend of the Uvalde shooting:

Cruz: It's easy to go to politics...

Stone: But it's important. It's at the heart of the issue.

Cruz: I get that that's where the media likes to go.

Stone: It's not. It's where many of the people we've talked to here like to go.

Cruz: The proposals from Democrats and the media, inevitably, when some violent psychopath murders people...

Stone: A violent psychopath who is able to get a weapon so easily—18-year-old with two AR-15s.

Cruz: If you want to stop violent crime, the proposals the Democrats have—none of them would have stopped this.

Stone: But why does this only happen in your country? I really think that's what many people around the world just—they cannot fathom, why only in America? Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?

Cruz: I'm sorry you think American exceptionalism is awful.

Stone: I think this aspect of it...

Cruz: You've got your political agenda. God love you.

The Senator spoke a grand total of 66 words, and in those he did not come within a country mile of answering the basic question, which was: Why does this only happen in America? On the other hand, in those 66 words, Cruz managed to communicate his views that the Democrats' ideas are B.S., and that the notion that the U.S. has a gun problem is a creation of: (1) the media, (2) people with a political axe to grind, and/or (3) people who hate America.

Finally, in addition to the voters and the politicians, there's the third part of the gun-loving trinity, namely the lobbyists. Few activist organizations in U.S. history have been as successful as the NRA, which still has enormous clout despite being low on funds and enmeshed in scandal. And that's to say nothing of the other gun rights' groups, many of which make the NRA look positively moderate by contrast. The lobbyists have already started cracking the whip, making clear that a national red flag law, any limits on semiautomatic weapons, and any expansion of background checks are all no-fly zones. And at least a few GOP senators have already gotten the message; Thom Tillis (NC) and John Cornyn (TX) have already announced that an increase in the minimum age to buy semiautomatic weapons is not happening on their watch.

Again, it's not clear whether folks like Cornyn, Cruz, Tillis, Steuben, etc. are true believers, or if they are just pretending to be because they have no choice. What is clear is that any dissent from the party line is potentially fatal to a Republican's career. Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-NY) represents the Buffalo suburbs. Not the exact area where the Buffalo shooting took place, but close by, and the people in his district (NY-27, the most Republican district in New York state at R+11), certainly heard about the incident. Jacobs was upset about the shooting, and said that if a bill banning civilians from buying military weapons comes up in Congress, he will vote for it.

Bad move. Jacobs got a great deal of what electrical engineers call negative feedback. In fact, he got so much of it that he has decided not to run for reelection. The Republican establishment is so pro-gun that when a congressman whose district is adjacent to one where a mass shooting just occurred says he would vote to ban AR-15s, he is toast.

It should be noted that the situation is slightly complicated. Jacobs won a special election in June 2020 for the remainder of the term of Chris Collins, who resigned after pleading guilty to insider trading. Jacobs can't run for a full term in NY-27 because the state lost a House seat and NY-27 is the district that will vanish next year. He was planning to run in nearby NY-23, but the reaction to his announcement that he would vote to ban civilians from buying AR-15s was so strong, he realized that he had no chance in the NY-23 primary against a bunch of Second Amendment fanatics, so he threw in the towel. He will continue to serve out his term, though.

All of this goes to show how difficult gun control will be unless Democrats get functional control of both chambers of Congress and abolish the filibuster. For a Republican congressman who represents a district very close to where a high-profile mass shooting occurred to support any form of gun control is simply fatal. The lesson Democrats need to take from this is that they will not get any support for any form of serious gun control from any Republican under any circumstances. If they want to achieve it, they will have to win enough seats in both chambers of Congress to do it on their own. There is no other way. And since they don't have that right now, it means that small victories are the only ones plausible in 2022. (V & Z)

Insurrections Have Consequences

Nobody knows how the story of 1/6 will end, of course. But here we are, just shy of 1½ years out, and more and more of the participants in that event are getting closer and closer to paying the piper.

To start with, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four others were charged with seditious conspiracy yesterday by the Department of Justice. They had already been charged with conspiracy, but the sedition adds a new layer, and essentially means that the DoJ is confident it can prove that Tarrio and the others were attempting to undermine the U.S. government. Here is the relevant federal statute (18 U.S.C. § 2384):

If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

Already, several Oath Keepers (that's the rival group of nutters) have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, while one Proud Boy insider—Charles Donohoe—has turned state's evidence, and was not among those charged yesterday. Add it all up, and Tarrio & Co. look to be going away for quite a long time.

Meanwhile, the walls seem to inch a little closer to Donald Trump every day. Last Friday, while the Department of Justice chose not to indict Dan Scavino and Mark Meadows, it did indict Trump adviser Peter Navarro on contempt of Congress charges. This confirms, then, that there is a grand jury that is focused on the 1/6 insurrection (at least part of the time), and that the DoJ may be moving quietly, but it is moving.

On Monday, yet another piece of the puzzle was made public, as an e-mail from the Trump Campaign to the alternate "electors" in Georgia was disclosed. These are the electors who would, in theory, have cast the state's electoral votes for Trump had the necessary number of votes been "found" by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R).

Trump insiders have insisted that the appointment of these alternate electors, in Georgia and several other states, was not an attempt to commit fraud, and instead was a form of protest against the election results. The newly released e-mail cuts that claim off, right at the knees. The message was written and sent by Trump campaign operative Robert Sinners, which is just about the most appropriate name we've ever heard of. It reads, in part: "I must ask for your complete discretion in this process. Your duties are imperative to ensure the end result—a win in Georgia for President Trump—but will be hampered unless we have complete secrecy and discretion." Needless to say, protests are not generally conducted in complete secrecy, since that kinda defeats the point. Conspiracies are, though!

It remains the case that the former president might survive unscathed, even if many in his inner circle pay the price. The Donald puts even Richard Nixon to shame when it comes to his ability to get people to stick their necks out on his behalf. That said, he's certainly got to be at least a little nervous, especially given that he's now got both federal- and state-level exposure in Georgia. (Z)

Trumps Fire Shot Across Rick Scott's Bow

As long as we are on the subject of the Trumps, the family's polling house, Fabrizio Lee, has apparently polled the question that everyone has desperately been waiting to see answered: Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) or Donald Trump Jr.? And by "everyone," of course, we mean "absolutely no one."

Anyhow, the result of the poll is that Republican primary voters favor Junior over the Senator, 56% to 32%. It would be hard to imagine a polling result that has less meaning, however. First of all, Tony Fabrizio's polls always seem to produce results that will make the Trumps happy. Second, the poll hasn't been publicly released, so nothing is known about the polling sample, what questions were asked, etc., other than this bit of data. Third, this is a hypothetical matchup for a Senate race that won't be happening until 2024. It's Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who is up this year, not Scott.

So if the poll is meaningless, then why are we writing about it? Because its purpose is to warn Scott to stay in his lane, and to stop making noise about running for president. The message: If he challenges Donald Sr., he will not only lose (if Fabrizio Lee is to be believed), he might just "inspire" Donald Jr. to run for the Senate, thus leaving Scott high and dry. In other words, the Trump political machine thinks that the chances of the former president running again are high enough that they are trying to squash potential rivals like bugs. We doubt that Scott is going to be cowed by one poll, particularly a dubious one by Trump's personal pollster. Scott is a multimillionaire and has been elected to statewide office in Florida three times. He is quite capable of asking his own trusted pollster to ask that question of Floridians if he really wants to know the answer.

Beyond Scott—who, let's be honest, is delusional if he thinks he's going to become president—there is one potential rival that may already be too big to squash, namely Ron DeSantis. As Trump's star fades, the Florida Governor's star just keeps rising, at least in many Republican circles. This week, at one of the seemingly endless string of conservative conferences/gatherings/confabs/hoedowns/fish frys, namely the Western Conservative Summit, DeSantis actually outpolled Trump among those in attendance, 71% to 67%. One poll does not a king make, but it's nonetheless clear that many Republican activists are looking at DeSantis and seeing a Trump clone, but without the baggage. (Z)

Louisiana Map Struck Down

The redistricting process has certainly produced a fair bit of drama. Florida's gotten the most headlines, followed by New York and Ohio, but Louisiana isn't far behind. Back in March, the Republican-dominated legislature adopted a district map that would have maintained the status quo: 5 very red districts and 1 very blue district. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said that was not acceptable, as the state is one-third Black, and that population is distributed in a manner that calls for two majority-Black districts. So, he vetoed the map. Then, in late March, the state legislature overrode the veto, a move made possible when three independents and one Democrat sided with the Republicans in the state House (the Republicans didn't need any help in the state Senate, where they are in the majority 27-12). That same day, a coalition of civil rights and voting rights groups filed suit in federal court.

The complaint ended up on the docket of U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, an appointee of Barack Obama, and currently the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. Yesterday, Dick issued her ruling, concluding that Edwards is right, and the map is not kosher. Or, since it's Louisiana, maybe it's not creole. In any event, she ordered that a new map be drawn, with a deadline of June 20. If the legislature can't get it done by then, Dick will appoint a special master to do the job.

This now puts the Democrat Edwards and the Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin on a collision course. As soon as Dick announced her decision, Edwards promptly promised to call the legislature into special session so that they might do as she ordered. At nearly the same time, Ardoin's office filed a notice of appeal. That means the case will go to the notoriously conservative Fifth Circuit, which this cycle has already reinstated one map (Alabama's) that was found to be discriminatory by a lower court.

Time is a factor here, as the deadline for aspiring candidates to file their intent to run is July 20. That's probably enough time for the Fifth Circuit to hear the appeal, and maybe enough time for the U.S. Supreme Court to give it a look-see, but you never know. Florida is likely to get away with a problematic map because Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) managed to run out the clock, such that any appeals will be heard too late to affect the 2022 midterms. If Dick's decision does stand, then the seat Democrats lost due to DeSantis' machinations will be balanced out by the seat they gained thanks to Edwards'. (Z)

You Lose Some to Win Some?

Matt Bai, writing for The Washington Post, published an interesting piece yesterday. He argues that Democrats may very well get trounced in the midterms, and that they may very well lose the House, but that result may be what it takes to keep the White House in 2024.

Bai acknowledges that the short-term pain will be... substantial. He writes:

I'm not saying the costs of a Republican takeover in November won't be steep in the short run. These aren't the conservative revolutionaries of 1994 or even tea-party types of 2010. This is the mutant-gene version of a Republican uprising, a full-on crazy-eyed dystopian movement of conspiracists and authoritarians.

Brace yourself for no end of mindless investigations, assaults on the electoral system and nativist proposals—a virtual "peach tree dish" for paranoia as governance, to quote Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

However, his notion—which has some merit—is that this kind of lunacy will prompt a backlash in 2024 that will sweep the Republican House majority away, and may well defeat the Republican presidential candidate.

Bai observes, quite rightly, that every Democrat who has served in the White House since Lyndon Johnson has benefited from Republican overreach. Jimmy Carter won election thanks to the crimes of Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton avoided the "midterm curse" in 1998 because of the Newt Gingrich-engineered impeachment shenanigans. Barack Obama didn't run against John McCain so much as he ran against the excesses of the Bush administration. And Joe Biden's #1 qualification, in the minds of millions of voters, was that he was not Donald Trump.

For Biden, the loss of the House would theoretically free him to become a different kind of president. Since there would be no more Democratic legislation passed with a Republican House, the President would be done refereeing between the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party. Instead, he could become the rallying point for opposition to the many and varied abuses of power that are surely coming down the pike if House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) or one of his colleagues becomes Speaker. Add to that the Supreme Court's far-right body of jurisprudence, and the ongoing behavior of Trump and Southern-state governors like Ron DeSantis and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), and Biden (or his successor as the Democratic nominee) might actually have more to work with than they do with a Democratic trifecta.

Needless to say, it's much better to be able to actually get things done. But if your choice is between a slim and basically unworkable majority, or spending a couple of years in the minority in the lower chamber, it may indeed be the case that taking some bitter medicine in the short-term pays off in the long-term.

It should be noted, however, that losing the Senate is a whole different ball of wax. If Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) becomes Majority Leader Addison M. McConnell III (to use his actual name), Biden won't get any judges, justices, cabinet members, agency members, or anyone else comfirmed without making major concessions to the Republicans. As in: "You want a deputy assistant secretary confirmed? OK, but you have to sign a law banning all abortions after 4 weeks." (Z)

Johnson Cut Down to Size

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson might be the only Western leader facing greater difficulties right now than Joe Biden. They've both got the Ukraine war, of course, and the ongoing pandemic, and the worldwide economic turmoil, and high gas prices, and so forth. On top of that, though, Johnson has Brexit, which isn't going too well, and he's got the ongoing scandal from the Christmas parties he and his staff enjoyed at a time when such gatherings were a violation of government policy implemented by... the Johnson government. Voters in general do not like hypocrisy from their politicians, and British voters seem to be particularly put off by such behavior.

Consequently, a fair percentage of the MPs from Johnson's own party think it might be time for a change in leadership. Abraham Lincoln quite correctly pointed out that it's not always wise to change horses midstream, but he never said a word about what you should do if you've hitched your wagon to an ass (but that would have been the other party's problem). So, 54 Conservative MPs (the minimum required) called for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which took place yesterday. This was a wholly Conservative affair, and did not involve the MPs from other parties. Johnson survived, which was expected. However, the vote was 211 to 148, which was much closer than folks in the PM's inner circle predicted.

Although Johnson will keep his job for now, this is still very bad news for him. The British system is built on party discipline, and for that many members to rebel against him does not bode well for his future effectiveness as a leader. Three of the last four conservative PMs faced such a vote; one of them (John Major) limped on for another 2 years, a second (Teresa May) lasted only 5 more months, and a third (Margaret Thatcher) was cashiered. So, don't be betting that Johnson will still be in office when the next U.S. presidential election rolls around. Heck, he might not even make it to this year's midterms. In theory, he cannot face another no-confidence vote until June of next year, but rules can be changed, and Conservative voters are likely to be very unhappy on June 23, when the party is likely to lose two by-elections (the British term for special elections called to fill a vacant seat in Parliament). Both seats were held by Conservatives, one was expelled after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and one was forced to resign after being caught watching pornography during a session of Parliament.

Of course, we are not experts on British politics. However, we have readers who are. And we'd like to pass along this report from S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK:

Last night, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a vote of confidence from his own MPs by a margin of 211 votes against 148 votes. It hardly needs pointing out that when over 40% of MPs from your own party do not consider you a fit person to run the country, you are in some difficulty.

The last 6 months have been torrid for Johnson, starting with a botched attempt to stop a long-serving Conservative MP being disciplined for breaching parliamentary standards. This led to the MP resigning and the loss of his ultra safe seat to the Liberal Democrat party. At the same time, the first indications emerged that, whilst most of the country was following strict lockdown rules during the COVID pandemic, alcohol-fueled social events were taking place in 10 Downing Street, both in the Prime Minister's main office and his residence. An investigation by a leading civil servant into what exactly happened had to be paused when the London police, after initial reluctance, began investigations into potential breaches of the law. This led to over 80 people being fined in relation to over 120 offenses. These included misconduct by Johnson, his wife and his chancellor, for attending a surprise birthday gathering for Johnson himself. Johnson now has the distinction of being the first Prime Minister found to have broken the law whilst in office. Quite why he was not fined for attending other events where breaches also took place has yet to be clarified by the police. Once the investigation was complete, the civil servant issued her report, which was a damning indictment of the events and culture in Downing Street during the lockdown.

The fact that these events have been only slowly revealed over a protracted period has made the agony and resultant anger worse, especially among those who suffered loss and bereavement during the pandemic. This has been exacerbated by a series of somewhat lukewarm, verging on the insincere, apologies by Johnson. So, 15% of his MPs finally submitted requests for a confidence vote which was announced on Monday morning and concluded on Monday evening.

Where does this leave Johnson? According to his supporters, vindicated and ready to "plough on." With the U.K. facing similar headwinds to the other major Western economies, it seems unlikely that there will be any good news on the economic front soon. An inquiry has already been launched into whether Johnson lied to parliament when answering questions on "Partygate"; traditionally, ministers who are found guilty of doing so are expected to resign, but given that he saw no reason to do so after being fined for lawbreaking, why would he? And on June 23rd the Conservatives face not one but two difficult by-elections, one in a seat they captured from the Labour party at the last general election and another in a deeply rural seat unnervingly like the one they lost to the Liberal Democrats last December. So Johnson's travails seem far from over and his victory may be very Pyrrhic. After all, if 41% of your own MPs don't think you're fit to be Prime Minister, why should the voters?

Thanks, S.T.! It would seem that things look grim for BoJo no matter what side of the pond you happen to be on. (Z)

Guest Columnist: Thoughts from a Texas Marine

For the rest of this week, we are going to run guest columns (again). This time, we'll stick with the same theme all week, namely gun violence. Then, once this week has concluded, we'll have a poll up asking readers for their thoughts on these experiments. Up today is a piece sent to us by B.T. in Leakey, TX. B.T.'s demographic profile might suggest "Second Amendment zealot," but not so much, as you will see:

I am a Texan. I served in the Marines. I know what damage an M16/M4—or its equivalent, an AR15—can do. I shot expert on every range at every distance. A head shot at close range is a certainty.

The request for use of DNA to identify the 10-year-old victims in Uvalde was because the remnant headless torsos were unrecognizable. An AR-15, fueled by high-capacity magazines, will make any sane, vest-wearing policeman think twice about charging the shooter at close range. With that gun, a shooter can fire multiple head shots... in seconds.

And it did.

Which is precisely what the AR-15/M4 is designed to do.

I own handguns. I own true, "real," hunting rifles. My last use of an assault rifle was in the Marines. There is no need for any use of an assault rifle in my post-Marine life. Period.

My residence is 30 miles north of Uvalde. I went to the memorial site at the Sacred Heart Church. I heard president Biden respond "We will!" to the chants of "DO SOMETHING!" after mass on Sunday as he walked to his car. He saw the pictures of the victims. Met with their families. Jackie Cazares had just made her First Communion there at that very church:

Picture of a 10-year-old in her First Communion
dress, posted on a wall outside the church, surrounded by other items, like a pink teddy bear

Her picture at the Communion was her last picture.

President Biden was a co-author of the assault weapons ban that Ronald Reagan approved of, and that Bill Clinton signed on Sept. 13, 1994. It had a sunset clause that kicked in on Sept. 13, 2004. President Reagan himself had been shot, his press secretary Brady permanently incapacitated. If the weapon had been an assault rifle, we would have had a President Bush 7 years earlier. The bill passed by a two-vote margin with Reagan's support.

Bush's son let that law expire with no attempt to renew it. The statistics of before/after are startling.

My firm hope is the Democrats will play the tapes of "Saint Reagan" supporting the assault weapons ban—exactly as it was enacted in 1994. Force the Republicans to take a stand. If it cannot be passed in a one-step process now, then the Republicans' recalcitrance can be the basis for a congressional reset that will allow for re-enactment of the 1994 Bill in 2023.

Thank you, B.T. Tomorrow, as noted, we'll continue on this theme. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Jun04 Saturday Q&A
Jun03 Democrats "Tackle" Gun Violence
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Jun03 Michigan Gubernatorial Candidates Will Stay off the Ballot
Jun03 Trump Endorses in Arizona Senate Race
Jun03 "Stop the Steal" Descends into Predictable Madness
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May31 Memorial Day Quiz: The Answers
May30 Uvalde: Situational Analysis
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May29 Sunday Mailbag
May28 Saturday Q&A
May27 The Uvalde Shooting: The Politics (Short-term)