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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden's Budget...Better?
      •  Biden's in the Poll-drums...
      •  ...But Ketanji Brown Jackson Isn't
      •  The Walls Close in on Trump Just a Little More, Part I
      •  The Walls Close in on Trump Just a Little More, Part II
      •  And Cruz May Be in Trouble, Too
      •  About This Weekend

Biden's Budget...Better?

Joe Biden unveiled his proposal for the next federal budget, the second of his presidency. And while it is not obviously an attempt to reboot Build Back Better... it's pretty obviously an attempt to reboot Build Back Better.

What is the meaning of this double-talk? Well, there's nothing in this budget from Build Back Better—no child tax credits, or pre-K, or additional funding for healthcare. What there are, however, are some nice, juicy bones for centrist Democrats. Most obviously, the budget—if passed, as is—would reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion. It's not going to be passed as is, of course, but Joe Manchins of the world will surely appreciate the sentiment. The proposal also allocates $30 billion in new funding for state and local law enforcement, which, according to our thesaurus, is the polar opposite of "defund the police."

This is not to say there's nothing there for the progressive wing of the Party. The budget includes the proposed billionaires' tax which, as we noted yesterday, is not likely to go anywhere. Still, the Bernie Sanderses of the world will surely appreciate the sentiment. More plausible are the $200 million increase in antitrust enforcement, $17 billion for climate research, and doubling the funding for Title I grants, which go primarily to majority-minority schools. Biden also made clear that while he wasn't putting Build Back Better stuff into the budget proper, he would still like to see much of that legislation passed through reconciliation.

Despite the various tips of the cap to the progressives, however, this is very clearly a centrist bill. The fact is that the centrists are calling the shots right now, and so they are the ones who get most of the goodies. The progressive wing appears to be reconciled to that, at least for the moment, although they will most certainly expect Manchin to get on board with a reconciliation bill if he gets a significant portion of what he wants in the main budget. Of course, he got a significant portion of what he wanted in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and then turned around and yanked the rug out from under the reconciliation hill, so the Democrats might want to get something in writing from him before they fulfill his budgetary dreams. (Z)

Biden's in the Poll-drums...

Joe Biden is pulling the worst numbers of his presidency in some (though not all) of the regular polls, with NBC News the latest to have him bottoming out (40% approval, 55% disapproval).

This result, and several other bad ones of recent vintage, may seem to suggest that the President's approval has taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks, but it's really not so. His approval and disapproval have been consistent for pretty much all of 2022. Consistently mediocre, but consistent nonetheless. Even with a slight Ukraine bounce in some polls, he's been between 40-42% approval and 52-53.5% disapproval, on average, for the last several months.

So what is keeping Biden stuck in the mud? Well, if you believe the crosstabs of the new NBC poll (and nearly any other poll that breaks things down by issue), it's the economy. He's getting absolutely slaughtered there, with roughly one-third of Americans approving of his economic stewardship while roughly two-thirds disapprove. On the other big issues of the moment, most obviously the pandemic, he's actually on the upswing.

On the other hand, if you look at the trendlines, you get a different answer to the question of what's hurting Biden. Here is FiveThirtyEight's rolling average for Biden's approval rating:

approval was in the mid-to-low 50s until August of last year, then it quickly dipped to the low 40s, where it remains.
His disapproval was in the mid 30s to mid 40s until that same time, then it spiked to the law 50s, where it remains.

As you can see, there was a pretty clear flip from "above water" to "below water" in mid-to-late August of last year. That coincides with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which took place primarily between July 30 and August 30.

If it really is the bitter taste of Afghanistan that's dragging Biden down, then there is hope for him, since those memories will fade, and may also be replaced with memories of effective leadership in response to the Ukraine war. On the other hand, if it really is the economy, stupid, then Biden and the Democrats should be stocking up on antacid, because nobody can really control or "fix" the economy, and it looks like current conditions (e.g., high inflation) are set to linger well beyond the midterms. (Z)

...But Ketanji Brown Jackson Isn't

A prospective Supreme Court justice is not the subject of polls as frequently as a sitting president is. Still, there are some, and the ones that have been done suggest that Joe Biden's nominee is pretty popular. Roughly 53% of Americans approve of her, versus 26% who disapprove, which puts her close to 30 points above water. In modern politics, and for someone linked to the bitterly partisan Supreme Court nomination process, that is very good. The last justice to be viewed as favorably during their confirmation process was... John Roberts.

Undoubtedly, part of Jackson's popularity is due to the fact that she's the nominee of a Democrat, and there are more Democrats in the country than Republicans. Also, she's been quite impressive in her hearings, whereas the last several Republican nominees were a bit less so (or a lot less so), and came with some baggage. That said, one wonders if she's also getting some sympathy support, in response to Republican showboaters (Sens. Josh Hawley, R-MO; Ted Cruz, R-TX; and Lindsey Graham, R-SC) working so hard (and so unfairly) to tear her down.

Really, the better strategy for the Republicans would surely have been to play nice, and to vote for Jackson's confirmation. She's going to be approved anyhow, and that would have allowed the red team to claim that they're not the ones making the process so nasty, and also that they are willing to be bipartisan when it's apropos. This would have been spin, but spin that was salable if they'd approached the Jackson hearings in the right way. However, there are a lot of Republican voters who don't want to see a Black woman on the Court, and there are a lot of Republican voters who want "revenge" for Brett Kavanaugh. Further, going along quietly with Biden's pick, while it might have been more classy, would not have afforded the aspiring presidential candidates a chance to bloviate. So, the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee went for the jugular.

If and when Jackson is approved, maybe she'll have some coattails, and her popularity will help to elevate Biden a point or two or three. Every little bit helps. (Z)

The Walls Close in on Trump Just a Little More, Part I

No, not that wall. That was only one wall, and for it to close in on anyone, it would have to actually exist first, which it does not. We mean the legal walls, which keep creeping closer and closer to Donald Trump.

As is so often the case, Trump got some bad legal news on Monday, courtesy of Judge David O. Carter, of the United States District Court's Central District of California, Southern Division (not to be confused with the United States District Court's Southern District of California, Central Division). Carter has been overseeing the case involving Trump adviser John Eastman, and whether or not Eastman's e-mails to the former president (and his inner circle) are privileged or not.

In a ruling issued yesterday, Carter decreed that most of the e-mails are not privileged, and ordered Eastman to turn over more than 100 messages to the 1/6 Committee. But the real bombshell in the 44-page, scorching-hot ruling, was this: the Judge concluded that it is "more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021." He also added that the events of 1/6 were "a coup in search of a legal theory." This comes not from someone in the peanut gallery, but from someone who knows the law and who has seen (some of) the evidence up close.

That said, the matter before Carter, namely the assertion of privilege, is just one piece of the puzzle, and the Judge has now played his particular role in the drama. In the ruling, he specifically noted, "This is not a criminal prosecution; this is not even a civil liability suit. At most, this case is a warning about the dangers of 'legal theories' gone wrong, the powerful abusing public platforms, and desperation to win at all costs." In other words, "the ball is now in your court, Attorney General Garland." The nation will wait to see if Garland actually makes a move, though he's not going to lay all his cards on the table until the 1/6 Committee concludes its work and issues his report.

One thing Garland is willing to do right now is pursue obstruction of justice charges against those who defy the 1/6 Committee. The Department of Justice is already going after Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows, and now the Committee has asked the AG to add two more names to that list: Trump White House advisers Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro. They've resisted cooperating with the committee, and now they may have to pay the piper. Garland has yet to comment on the Committee's suggestion, but presumably the members brief him before making public announcements, so it's likely that the long arm of the law will nab the two Trumpers sometime soon. (Z)

The Walls Close in on Trump Just a Little More, Part II

It's not just on the federal level where Donald Trump is potentially in hot water. No, sir—he's also got a peck of problems at the state level. It's really quite a display of federalism in action. Among the states that are hot on his tail, of course, is New York. With Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg apparently getting some cold feet, though, it's now up to state AG Tish James to put the full-court press on the former president.

On Monday, James got some good news on that front when the New York Supreme Court (which is not, in contrast to other states, the highest court) ordered the Trump Organization to comply with a subpoena issued almost 2 years ago. The company has to hand over the records that James wants, and while they do so, they are—on the orders of the Court—going to be watched closely by a third party, namely computer forensics company HaystackID, which will conduct weekly audits of the documents being turned over and will report to the Court whether or not it thinks the Trump Organization is complying with the subpoena.

One has to assume that the Trumps will appeal the decision, because that is what Trumps do. The next rung on the ladder is the New York Court of Appeals, which is the state's highest court. Presumably, the Trumps will lose there sometime in the next 1-6 months, and then, what, the U.S. Supreme Court? SCOTUS never sides with Trump on these things, so that will eventually be a dead end, too. In short, there's still room for some dragging out to be done, but the writing is on the wall.

Meanwhile, with Bragg hesitating, James is surely just going to double and triple her efforts. She's not going to see years' worth of work go up in smoke, and she's not going to let the Trumps get away by working the system. If they're going to escape her, they are going to have to do it by winning in court. And maybe they will, although all the foot-dragging suggests they don't much care for their chances. (Z)

And Cruz May Be in Trouble, Too

The Washington Post, which is all over the 1/6 insurrection for obvious reasons, dropped a bombshell story this week that's getting some attention, but maybe not as much as it should. In short, and to nobody's surprise, Ted Cruz took a leading role in trying to get the 2020 presidential election overturned. He was the point man in the Senate, and worked closely with John Eastman, someone he's known for more than 20 years.

Cruz's plan was to object to the electoral votes of the six close Biden states (Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan) in the Senate, and have allies in the House do the same. This, in turn, would have facilitated a "delay" in certifying the election results, and would have justified an "audit" in those states. And during the "audit," the state legislatures would be in a position to step in and unilaterally award their states' EVs to Trump.

Cruz cares not one whit for Donald Trump, of course. No, the Senator's goal in helping a man who once called Cruz's wife ugly, and once accused Cruz's father of aiding in the Kennedy assassination, was to set himself up as the heir apparent. If Trump had served a second term, then he'd be term-limited, and he'd have to pick someone to succeed him. And the "clear" choice would be the senator who "saved" Trump's second term.

Famously, Cruz is supposed to be one of the most brilliant minds in the Senate. Perhaps the most brilliant mind. We continue to search for even a shred of evidence that is really so, because this whole plan is so colossally stupid it boggles the mind. It is madness to think that a whole bunch of members of Congress would play along with a coup like this, or that a bunch of state legislatures would (remember, it's not enough for just one or two state legislatures to play along). It's also madness to think that the American people would sit idly by and allow someone as hated as Trump to seize a second term like that.

And that's before we get to the utter idiocy of Cruz's expected "rewards." To start, has the Texan never noticed that Trump turns against everyone eventually? And if Trump had somehow miraculously pulled this sort of coup off, then the (faux) president would quickly convince himself that he did it all by himself. That would make Cruz an inconvenient fly in the ointment, and surely he would quickly be villainized so that the Donald could take all the credit. And even if Cruz wasn't villainized, does he really think he'd get Trump's blessing? Trump wants Ivanka to succeed him, not a man that he does not like and does not respect.

In any event, Cruz's plan did not work, and did not come close to working, which supports our assertion that it was a stupid, irrational, unrealistic, harebrained scheme. And now, he's left himself with some potential criminal exposure, and he is on the radar of the 1/6 Committee (and, quite possibly, the Justice Department at some point down the line). Oh, and if and when he does try to run for president again, do you think this might just come up? And do you think that voters might just hold it against him?

There was one other surprising revelation in the Post's story: "As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump's base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles." That's right, apparently the Senator has friends. Who knew? (Z)

About This Weekend

As most readers know at this point, we took the weekend off after multiple years in a row without missing a day. So, there was no Q&A posting on Saturday and no letters on Sunday (though both will be back this weekend).

We got a sizable number of very kind messages of encouragement, thanking us for our work, and wishing us a well-deserved vacation. These were much appreciated, and we will make certain to acknowledge each individually. We also got a number of messages expressing concern that the absence of the posts indicated that something was wrong, either in general, or with (Z) in particular. This being the case, we thought we should point out that there is/was nothing wrong. In fact, in a strange quirk of fate, it is possible that the events of this weekend actually prevented something rather bad from happening.

What happened, in brief, was that (Z) traveled to Las Vegas this weekend for a brief respite. That said, with work still to be done on the weekend posts, he took his desktop computer with the intention of completing that work. Why the desktop? It's pretty portable, and it's much better set up to do the work than his laptop. It was not until late Friday that he realized, however, that he'd forgotten to bring... the keyboard. Even in Las Vegas, acquiring a keyboard at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning is not an especially doable thing. The hotel did not have one, the "business center" in the hotel was closed, and the only stores open that might plausibly sell keyboards did not stock them. Even in Las Vegas, Walmart and Target and Staples are no longer 24 hours. Around 3:00 a.m. Saturday, consulting via e-mail sent from a cell phone, agreement was reached between (Z) and (V) to take a weekend off. It was at that point that we put up the message announcing the decision.

This is where things get a little bit strange. As chance would have it, during the several hours of keyboard searching, there was a string of robberies at the hotel where (Z) was staying (the Rio), and they happened on the floor where (Z) was staying (the 13th). It is not clear how many rooms were hit, since the hotel isn't exactly volunteering that information, but (Z) spoke to half a dozen others who were victimized. All he spoke to were asleep while their rooms were burgled, and many of them lost thousands of dollars.

In (Z)'s case, only a few hundred dollars worth of electronics were taken (in fact, the least valuable devices in the room; clearly these thieves were not Rhodes Scholars). And they were taken while he wasn't present. However, had he remembered his keyboard, he would not only have been present in the room when it was raided, he would have been wide awake. Had the thieves been armed, and confronted with someone in a position to identify them and/or sound the alarm? Could have turned... unpleasant. So, the only "bad news" those missing posts indicate is a forgotten keyboard. However, the forgotten keyboard also turns out to have been something of a stroke of good luck. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar28 Biden's Trip: A Success, but the War is Ongoing
Mar28 Biden's Sanctions Are Working
Mar28 What Would Happen If Russia Launched a Cyberwar?
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Mar28 Fortenberry Quits
Mar25 Will Jackson Get Any Republican Votes?
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Mar25 Virginia Thomas Pushed Meadows to Overturn the 2020 Election
Mar25 Prosecutor Who Left the Manhattan D.A.'s Office Says Trump Committed Felonies
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Mar24 Is Tucker Carlson the New Leader of the Republican Party?
Mar24 Cawthorn and Greene Agree: Zelenskyy Is a Thug
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Mar24 March... Sadness, Part IV (Judges and Governors, Round 2)
Mar23 The Race to the Bottom
Mar23 Braun Takes Things to Extremes
Mar23 No Profile in Courage Here
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Mar23 Well, He Is an Actor, After All
Mar23 Hey, Trump Won One!
Mar22 And So It Begins...
Mar22 Of Course Ted Cruz Is an A**hole (Exhibit 321)
Mar22 Of Course Eric Greitens Is an A**hole (Exhibit 119)
Mar22 Trump Endorsements: Not Worth the Paper They're Written On
Mar22 "News" on the Hunter Biden Front
Mar22 March... Sadness, Part III (Executive Branch, Round 2)
Mar21 Five Questions Ketanji Brown Jackson Will Probably Be Asked
Mar21 Marie Yovanovitch Gives Her Take on Ukraine
Mar21 Cheney: Chemical Weapons Would Be a Red Line for NATO
Mar21 Chinese Ambassador Says China Is Providing Baby Formula to Russia
Mar21 Putin [sic] Dumps on the Oligarchs
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Mar21 Has the Post-Trump Era Already Begun?
Mar21 Chaos in Ohio
Mar21 Dean of the House Dies
Mar20 Sunday Mailbag
Mar19 Saturday Q&A
Mar18 Iran Nuclear Deal Is In Trouble