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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  State of the Union: Our Take
      •  State of the Union: Their Take
      •  Texas Is Always Good for a Few Surprises
      •  McConnell Reminds Rick Scott Who Is, and Who Is Not, Minority Leader
      •  District Maps 1, Frederick Keller 0

State of the Union: Our Take

Though Joe Biden addressed a joint session of Congress last year, that is not considered a State of the Union address, which therefore makes last night's speech Biden SOTU #1. The assembled crowd of dignitaries, minus designated survivor Gina Raimondo, listened to the President speak for just over an hour, which is middle-of-the-road for SOTUs, but is pretty brief by Biden standards.

Here's a rundown of the subjects that stuck out most to us, in the order they appeared:

  • Ukraine: Most SOTUs don't start with a lengthy portion on foreign policy but, then again, most SOTUs aren't delivered a week after a major nation invaded one of its neighbors. Biden offered the expected laudatory words for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his fellow citizens. He also asked Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, to be in attendance, and had her stand to be recognized. In addition, quite a few members of Congress were wearing blue and gold. Those are the colors of UCLA, of course, although the members politely claimed they were honoring Ukraine, whose flag also happens to be blue and gold.

    The SOTU is time for the sitting president to take a few victory laps, and Biden certainly did in this segment. For example:
    We spent months building a coalition of other freedom-loving nations in Europe and the Americas to the Asian and African continents to confront Putin. Like many of you, I spent countless hours unifying our European allies. We shared with the world in advance what we knew Putin was planning, and precisely how he would try to falsify and justify his aggression.
    That's definitely braggadocio, though it's pretty restrained by SOTU standards, and at least Biden acknowledged the efforts of others in addition to his own work. Not all presidents in recent memory did that.

    Of course, the flip side to praising Ukraine is slamming Russia, and Biden also did a fair amount of that. The basic notion was that Putin screwed up, he's paying the price now, and he'll pay even worse in the future. "When the history of this era is written," Biden remarked, "Putin's war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger." The President also announced that American airspace will be closed to all Russian flights, thus turning the screws a little bit more.

  • American Rescue Plan/Build Back Better: Again, as is wont to happen with SOTUs, Biden took his bows for the legislation he helped get passed, in this case the American Rescue Plan. He managed to turn that into a twofer, simultaneously poking Republicans in the eye: "Unlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefited the top 1 percent of Americans, the American Rescue Plan helped working people—and left no one behind." That got one of the loudest rounds of applause from the Democratic side of the aisle. There was a tad less enthusiasm on the Republican side.

    That said, the President was less interested in collecting laurels, and more interested in using this high-profile opportunity to try to reboot Build Back Better. He laid out an updated version of the plan, with a price tag of $1.5-$2 billion, and asserted that "Seventeen Nobel laureates in economics said my plan will ease long-term inflationary pressures. Top business leaders and, I believe, most Americans support my plan."

    Of course, it is neither Nobel Laureates nor most Americans to whom Biden was speaking. He was primarily addressing himself to one member of the audience who, in an... interesting choice, was sitting on the Republican side of the gallery. Afterward, Sen. Joe Manchin (D?-WV) quickly pooh-poohed the President's proposals, saying "I don't know where that came from," and that "There might be parts they want to talk about. I don't know. That was a little bit far." The Senator also firmly disagreed with those 17 unnamed Nobel laureates in economics, observing "I've never found out that you can lower costs by spending more."

  • COVID: The modern president ignores polls at their own peril, and as a 50-year veteran of the arena, Joe Biden knows that well. If there were any doubts on that point, they were laid to rest by portions of the SOTU that were clearly crafted in direct response to public opinion. The COVID section was one such portion. While the President pointed out that there could be new variants of the disease, and promised that he and his administration would do everything possible to be ready for them, the dominant message in this section was "time to move on." Specifically, he declared: "Because of the progress we've made, because of your resilience and the tools that we have been provided by this Congress, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines."

  • The Police: This was another area where Biden has clearly been paying close attention to the polls, and possibly to folks who say that wokeness is killing the Democratic Party. Among other things, the President declared: "We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. It's to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with resources and training. Resources and training they need to protect their communities." Anyone who says the Democrats aren't aware of their messaging issues, and aren't trying to do whatever they can to fix them, is just not paying attention. The problem is not that the Democrats don't get it, it's that the opposition party and its sympathetic media are so very effective at using the views of a few (generally more extreme) Democrats to tar the entire Party.

  • Supreme Court: Given that this should, and presumably will, be a major feather in Biden's cap, it was surprising how very little he said about the Supreme Court. The President recognized Stephen Breyer for his service, said a few complementary things about Ketanji Brown Jackson, and then moved on. Presumably he thinks that he'll get plenty of kudos at such point that Jackson is confirmed, and doesn't need to overdo it right now.

  • Health: The last 10-12 minutes of the speech were given over to a number of proposals related to health and healthcare, which is quite a bit more than one might have expected. Biden talked about some of the standard Democratic policy positions, like giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices, but he particularly focused on cancer. This is understandable, since he has a personal connection to the horrors wrought by the disease (his son Beau died from cancer, which the President noted), and since cancer is something of a signature issue. Biden said he wanted to do more, in particular, to help fight cancers that are particularly common in veterans, and he also floated a few of his newer policy proposals, such as the creation of ARPA-H, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.

    While Biden was speaking about his son, he was heckled by a notable female Republican representative from Colorado. Very, very classy. He was heckled on another occasion by that same member, and also by a notable colleague of hers from Georgia. We thought we should mention it, since it got a fair bit of attention, particularly on the news programs. However, we're not using these two members' names, because they don't deserve the cheap publicity that they are so shamelessly willing to pursue, no matter how inappropriate their behavior is. How sad it must be for someone's entire brand to be "obnoxious."

On the whole, the speech was a solid double. Hopefully it's OK to use a baseball metaphor, especially since it appears metaphors are the only baseball we're going to get for a while. This SOTU is not going to blow anyone's socks off. But Biden hit his marks, rarely stumbled over his words (though he did once substitute "Iranian" for "Ukrainian"), and was in command of the room. And apparently he even improvised a bit. Reportedly, a portion about banning assault rifles was not followed by the question "You think the deer are wearing Kevlar vests?" until Biden added it in the moment.

Ultimately, a solid double is pretty much all that Biden could have realistically hoped for. He's not Barack Obama, and never will be, barring a very unusual remake of the movie Freaky Friday. Further, SOTUs are just a laundry list of talking points, and are not known for being memorable. If the President can get a few of his ideas out there and circulating more widely than they were, then that's a win for him. And we think he likely pulled that off, particularly with his remarks on Ukraine, and possibly with some of his proposals for health and healthcare.

Of course, we can only speak for ourselves. Let's now see what others think... (Z)

State of the Union: Their Take

Undoubtedly, there will be more discussion and dissection of Joe Biden's State of the Union in upcoming days. But for now, let's look at the insta-response.

CNN has gotten into the business of doing polls immediately after major political events (conventions, debates, important speeches) to see how they were received in the moment. The network's own headline for last night's poll was "Speech watchers have mostly positive reaction of Biden's State of the Union, CNN poll shows." On the other hand, Mediaite's headline for the exact same poll "Just 41% of Viewers Had 'Very Positive' Reaction to Biden's SOTU Speech, Says CNN—Lowest Since George W. Bush." So, it would seem that the response to the address was pretty good... or pretty bad. Who knows, although we've never been all that clear on these gradations between "mostly positive," "positive" and "very positive." If you want something at least a tiny bit more subjective, Biden got 91 rounds of applause, which is an above-average number for a SOTU. And, if nothing else, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) didn't tear up the speech on camera. So Biden passed that test, at very least.

Here are assessments from various commentators, arranged roughly from "most liberal pundit" to "most conservative pundit."

  • Joan McCarter, The Daily Kos: "This was a speech that was heavy on bipartisanship and unity, which might work to make Republicans look even worse when they don't do it. His opening on Ukraine was extremely strong. His closing was strong—the middle was pretty much laundry list."

  • Kevin Walling, Fox: "President Biden's first State of the Union showcased American resolve, deep patriotism, and a recommitment to the values of democracy and pluralism. His speech had something that all Americans could agree on, and of course, disagree on; but that's the hallmark of a vibrant, engaged democracy, something Vladimir Putin will never understand."

  • Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg: "The symbolism of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris sitting behind Biden without masks was perhaps more important than the words Biden used. Political scientists rarely find evidence of presidential speeches changing minds, but it's at least possible that some Democratic viewers who have grown pessimistic about the coronavirus during the delta and omicron waves may take both the words and the symbolism as encouragement to start feeling better about it."

  • David E. Sanger, The New York Times: "Biden left unaddressed, at least for now, several of the hardest questions about where America goes next—and how it will ultimately emerge from Mr. Putin's audacious effort to dismantle a world order largely designed in Washington."

  • Jeff Greenfield, Politico: "The Joe Biden who began his first State of the Union speech Tuesday night was someone we have not seen very much of: a passionate, strong-voiced speaker, seeking a united, free world and hailing his administration's response to Vladimir Putin's aggression... But when the speech turned to matters at home, it was very much a mixed bag for Biden. At times, his delivery was rapid, almost rushing. The inevitably undramatic sections of a State of the Union speech—arguing for the passage of a grab bag of legislative proposals unfamiliar to most of the audience, and whose prospects range from slim to none—all but guarantee a sense of anticlimax, compared to the ringing defense of a free nation and its people under attack."

  • Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post: "President Biden delivered his first State of the Union address at a critical moment in the existential battle between liberal democracies and autocracies. Biden needed to focus on riveting events in Ukraine, but didn't want to stint on issues, such as inflation, that voters care most about. He had the unenviable task of closing the gap between voters' perception (Everything's terrible!) and his record that includes major wins (e.g., infrastructure, covid in retreat)... The result was almost two separate speeches: One (on democracy and national security) was historic and inspiring; the other (on his domestic agenda) was detailed and targeted to reassure Americans nervous about inflation."

  • Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal: "An anxious world is looking for American leadership in a dangerous new era. Instead Mr. Biden offered a rehash of his first-year domestic agenda that has brought him to his low political ebb. It's dispiriting that a White House facing so many daunting challenges could come up with so little. The President really does need to fire some people and get better advice."

  • Henry Olsen, The Washington Post: "Time and again, [Biden] failed to read the room and stepped on his own applause lines. Good politicians know that speech-making is as much about performance and delivery as it is about the words on the teleprompter. Forty years since he first won a Senate seat, Biden either does not know that or, worse, can no longer execute a basic political task."

  • David Bossie, Fox: "Biden's 2022 State of the Union address was a huge missed opportunity to change direction and turn the page on a terrible first year that the American people will never get back. The comparisons to Jimmy Carter will only continue to grow from here."

  • Dana Perino, Fox: "Well, let me be generous and say that there were 91 applause lines, but I have to say I thought the speech was uninspired. I agreed that it sounded like he did not actually change anything. It's almost as if they had the speech. It fell on the floor. All the pages got shuffled around and they just put it back together and they didn't actually reorder it."

So, there you have it. To nobody's surprise, lefties liked the SOTU, righties largely didn't, and the folks in the middle were the ones who actually had something useful to say. (Z)

Texas Is Always Good for a Few Surprises

Texas kicked off the 2022 primary season in rip-roarin' fashion last night, with some crushing victories, and a few very interesting outcomes. Here's the rundown of the contests of interest:

  • Governor: Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) easily fended off his two challengers from the right, laying claim to a somehow very apropos 66.6% of the vote. Beto O'Rourke (D) had an even easier time of it, taking 91.2% of the vote. They will now do battle directly, which should be quite a spectacle.

  • Lt. Governor: Since the Lt. Governor runs the legislature in Texas, they are arguably more powerful than the governor is. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) cruised to renomination with 76.4% of the ballots. He will face off, and defeat, the winner of a runoff between Mike Collier (D) and either Michelle Beckley (D) or Carla Brailey (D).

  • Attorney General: Scandal-plagued and Trump-endorsed AG Ken Paxton (R) got more votes than any other candidate, with 42.7% of the vote. That's not enough to avoid a runoff, however, and so he and George P. Bush (R), who claimed 22.8% of the vote, will face off again on May 7. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) was also in this race, and appears to have finished an embarrassing fourth place behind those two and Eva Guzman (R). If the non-Paxton support coalesces behind Bush, then the AG could lose, which would also be a black eye for Donald Trump.

    The Democratic side of this contest will also go to a runoff, between Rochelle Garza, who got 43.6% of the vote and either Joe Jaworski (19.5%) or Lee Merritt (19.3%).

  • TX-15: This is Texas' only real swing district. The Republican candidate will be the Trump-endorsed Monica De La Cruz, who took 56.5% of the vote. The Democratic side will go to a runoff between Ruben Ramirez, who got 28.3% of the ballots, and any of three other candidates who are currently sitting between 17% and 20%.

  • TX-28: Here, Tannya Benavides and her 4.7% of the vote played spoiler in the race between incumbent-but-enmeshed-in-scandal Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), who got 48.5% of the vote, and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros (D), who got 46.8%. Benavides is quite lefty, and if her voters head to Cisneros in the runoff, that could be enough to knock off Cuellar. Whichever wins that contest will be strongly favored to win in the general.

  • TX-35: This was another spot of good news for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, as the very lefty Greg Casar, a Democratic Socialist, crushed his challengers, collecting 61.2% of the vote. This is an open district after Lloyd Doggett (D) decamped for bluer pastures. Despite that, TX-35 is very safely Democratic, so Casar has a long career in the House ahead of him, if he wants one.

The lessons here are: (1) It was a pretty good night for progressive Democrats, (2) it's great to be an incumbent, and (3) it's not so great to be under criminal investigation or indictment. The next primaries are on May 3 in Ohio and Indiana. (Z)

McConnell Reminds Rick Scott Who Is, and Who Is Not, Minority Leader

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would prefer not to have a party platform this cycle. Campaign promises can only get you into trouble, especially when your party does not control the White House. Plus, when you're the minority party, you don't want to divide your members by talking about silly things like policy.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is running for reelection, is leading the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) this cycle, and thinks he is a viable presidential candidate in 2024. In contrast to McConnell, he would like to have a platform very much. A very Trumpy platform that is heavy on culture wars stuff and very, very short on actual, plausibly policy goals. And so, sensing an opening, Scott issued a platform of this very sort last week. Officially, it's just the manifesto that is guiding his personal Senate campaign. But given his leadership of the NRSC and the absence of any competing document, it is going to be taken as the Republican platform, not just the Scott platform. Scott knows this very well.

McConnell also knows this very well. And while the Minority Leader may have issues maintaining discipline among members of his caucus once they get serious about their presidential aspirations next year, we're not quite there yet. And so, during a press conference yesterday, McConnell cracked the whip a bit, addressing himself to Scott's specific proposals that the 50% of Americans who do not pay taxes should be forced to cough up some dough, and that maybe it's time to shut Medicare and Social Security down:

Senator Scott is behind me, and he can address the issue of his particular measure. If we're fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I'll be the majority leader. I'll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor. Now let me tell you what will not be part of our agenda: We will not have as part of my agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda.

Really, who knows what Scott was thinking with those proposals. He must realize that there are a lot of poor Trumpers who do not pay taxes, and a lot of old Trumpers who receive Social Security and Medicare, right? Similarly, Scott is still running in Florida, a state with an enormous number of old people, right? In any event, McConnell knows electoral poison when he sees it, and knows when he needs to call one of his members out. So, that is what the Kentuckian did.

Interestingly, and somewhat amusingly, Scott wasn't actually present to hear himself be lambasted. Knowing full well what was coming, he snuck out of the room right before McConnell spoke, so as to avoid being caught on camera looking uncomfortable. Still, you can be certain that the Floridian heard every word of what the Minority Leader said. What he does in response remains to be seen. (Z)

District Maps 1, Frederick Keller 0

Pennsylvania is losing a seat in the House, which means a nice, big game of musical chairs for the members of the state's congressional delegation. Rep. Frederick Keller (R), who won his seat in a special election, was basically the member who lost his seat, and had announced plans to challenge Rep. Dan Meuser (R) in nearby PA-09. Now, Keller has thought better of that plan. On Tuesday, he made this announcement:

Rather than pit Republicans against Republicans, which the congressional map chosen by the liberal Pennsylvania Supreme Court does, I am committed to helping take back the House, holding Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seat, and electing a conservative Governor. To that end, I am not going to run against another member of Pennsylvania's Republican Congressional Delegation.

Keep in mind that the new map is almost certain to generate a delegation that has 9 members of one party and 8 of the other, which is a pretty fair reflection of Pennsylvania's underlying demographics. But perhaps the Representative knows a type of math that we are unfamiliar with, such that 18 - 1 = 18.

On paper, Keller vs. Meuser seems to be a pretty even matchup. They're both Trumpy, PA-09 is very red, and each is in his first term in the House. Perhaps Keller didn't want to spend the time and energy involved, only to be faced with, in essence, a coin flip. Or maybe he had polling that gave Meuser the edge. Or maybe Keller took note of the fact that Meuser is pretty wealthy, and has some well-heeled friends, and would be able to win the fundraising game pretty easily. Whatever it was, he's the 46th member of the House to voluntarily give up his seat this cycle. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar01 Russia Stumbles out of the Gate
Mar01 Tucker Carlson Is in the Minority
Mar01 About That Good News for Trump...
Mar01 Feinstein's Husband Passes Away
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Mar01 Cawthorn Is Safe for Now...
Mar01 ...But Maybe Not Gosar and Greene
Feb28 Why Aren't the Sanctions Tougher?
Feb28 Germany Will Rearm
Feb28 State of the Union Speech Will Make Biden a Wartime President
Feb28 Primary Season Is Upon Us
Feb28 Some Issues That Are Sure to Come Up During Jackson's Confirmation Hearing
Feb28 Yet Another Poll Shows Biden in Trouble
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Feb28 Barr: Prospect of Trump Running again is Dismaying
Feb28 Charlie Cook Shifts Two Senate Races Toward Republicans
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Feb27 Sunday Mailbag
Feb26 Saturday Q&A
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Feb25 Signs Point to Jackson Nomination, Probably Today
Feb25 Abbott Targets Trans Youth
Feb25 Inhofe May Be Done...
Feb25 ...And Lee May Be in Trouble
Feb25 This Week in Schadenfreude
Feb24 The Empire Strikes Back
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Feb22 Californians Are Bearish on Biden
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