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Political Wire logo Biden’s Approval Hits New Low
Red States Not Prepared for Post-Roe Baby Boom
‘Cheating by Tweeting’
Republicans Warn that Herschel Walker Can’t Win
Two Members of Biden Advance Team Sent Home
Eastman Provides Details of Trump’s Direct Role

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Day After
      •  Two Days After
      •  Biden Is Eastbound and Down
      •  Democrats Tackle Formulagate
      •  House Also Stages Some Show Votes
      •  Guest Columnist: Biblical Literalism and Abortion

Sorry about the lateness today, and in general this week. One of us is traveling, and the other is in the middle of finals-week grading.

The Day After

Tuesday was the biggest day of the year, election-wise—excepting Nov. 8, of course. And lots of storylines unfolded yesterday, as the dust began to settle. Here are brief reviews of the eight most significant and/or interesting ones:

  1. Clack-a-Mess: It's now clear what happened with the ballots in OR-05, where incumbent representative Kurt Schrader (D) has 39.5% of the vote and progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner (D) has 60.5% with just 54% reporting. The problem is that the print shop responsible for producing ballots for use in Clackamas County screwed up and printed the forms with blurry bar codes. The problem can be fixed, but it requires a fairly detailed process that takes a person around 5 minutes per ballot. There are around 40,000 ballots left to be counted, and at 5 minutes per, that means it would take a team of 10 people working 10 hours a day a little more than a month to work through them all. It's not clear what kind of resources will be deployed, but it seems likely there won't be a final result for a while.

  2. Keystone Kops: Oregon isn't the only place that's going to need some time to figure things out. The Republican U.S. Senate primary, with Mehmet Oz and David McCormick neck-and-neck, and the Democratic House primary in PA-12, with progressive Summer Lee and moderate Steve Irwin also neck-and-neck, are waiting for all the absentee ballots to be counted. Then, both are likely to be close enough (0.5% margin or less) to trigger an automatic recount. The upshot is that the victor in the battle of the carpetbagger senate candidates won't be known until June, most likely. Presumably the House contest will be resolved more quickly, due to there being 90% fewer ballots to count.

  3. Not All He's Quacked Up to Be: We think that Oz's lead is big enough that he'll eventually come out on top. However, polls make clear that he's not especially popular with Republicans. Roughly speaking, 40% of them have an unfavorable opinion, 30% have a favorable opinion, and 30% have no opinion. Republican voters are pretty good at swallowing hard and casting their vote for a crummy candidate, but this is not a good profile for a would-be Senator running in a purple state against an apparently very popular Democrat. In case you're wondering, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) has the approval of 67% of Democrats against just 12% who don't approve, and 21% who have no opinion.

  4. Victory Goes to the... Dishonest: Donald Trump may be the world's most impatient person, and he doesn't want to wait to find out if he "won" the Pennsylvania Senate primary. Plus, the former president might have learned a little something from Florida 2000, when the George W. Bush campaign seized the advantage by prematurely declaring victory. Anyhow, yesterday Trump advised Oz to just skip the formalities and to declare himself victorious. To his credit, Oz did not take the advice (at least not yet). Will the doctor's unwillingness to take marching orders dampen Trump's enthusiasm for him? Maybe.

  5. Kingmaker?: Speaking of Trump, we're not the only ones who noticed that he's putting together a mixed record when it comes to endorsements. The Hill had a piece on the subject yesterday, as did Republican operative Douglas Heye, writing for CNN.

    We, like these other commentators, are trying to put our finger on what kinds of elections Trump is most able to influence. And what we've come up with so far is that he seems to do best in three-way contests where the contenders have relatively similar levels of support. J.D. Vance, Rep. Ted Budd, Mehmet Oz, Bo Hines? All three-way races where Trump may have put his guy over the top. In two-way contests, Trump's candidate tends either to crush the opposition or to be crushed by them. This, in turn, suggests that his blessing moves something like 5% of the vote in Republican primaries—enough to make a difference when it only takes 30% or so to win, but otherwise generally inconsequential.

    One thing that limits the power of Trump's endorsements is his weakening grip on the Republican Party. But another factor, and we kinda suspected this was the case, is that the base doesn't always believe they're his endorsements. The Washington Post had an interesting quote from a Trump voter yesterday, in a story about Trump's endorsement of Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC): "It didn't mean anything to me, because right now I think Trump is very busy, and I think he relies too much on his handlers to give him the scoop on candidates running. And they didn't give him the scoop on Madison Cawthorn."

    We don't know if that voter has really assessed the situation in that way, or if he's just giving himself permission to "betray" the Dear Leader. Either way, it makes clear that Trump cannot even firmly command the votes of his base.

  6. Whither Madison?: Speaking of Cawthorn, The Bulwark had a piece on his defeat yesterday, arguing that he's a special case, and his loss is not an indication that the Republican Party is veering back in the direction of sanity and decency. They also think he didn't really want to be in Congress, and that he's happy to be able to pursue something different and more lucrative, possibly a talking-head gig. We are inclined to agree with all of this, actually wrote the same thing about him not liking Congress yesterday, and almost wrote the rest, as well. However, we would like to see what happens in a few more contests like this one before we declare that he's an anomaly. And as to his future plans, we're not 100% sure he makes sense as a talking head. He's such a loose cannon, he could, and probably would, say something that would either piss off viewers or get his employer sued. Maybe both. He probably fits best at OAN, but they might not be in business much longer, given that they're now off DirecTV.

  7. Progs Rock?: Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, are thrilled by how many successes they had on Tuesday night, especially since their candidates generally beat moderates who had big money, establishment backing, or both. They are confident they will build on this success in upcoming weeks. And they might, but let's also tap the brakes a bit. Two of their big wins (Cheri Beasley in North Carolina and Charles Booker in Kentucky) were essentially unopposed, a third (John Fetterman in Pennsylvania) doesn't actually call himself a progressive, two others (McLeod-Skinner and Lee) won't know if they won for multiple weeks, and the last (Andrea Salinas) won in deep-blue Oregon. It's a nice haul for the bluest part of the blue team, but it may not be easy to replicate. Especially next week, when it's three Deep South states heading to the polls.

  8. No Bang for His Bitcoin: And finally, speaking of big-time money that backed a (relative) moderate, Bitcoin billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried dropped more than $11 million on Carrick Flynn, and was rewarded with 19% of the vote and a third-place finish. This is the most ever spent by a single person/PAC on a House race (including House races where the candidate won). In other words, Bankman-Fried is in Michael Bloomberg territory. Meanwhile, given how Bitcoin is doing these days, Bankman-Fried may soon be wishing he had that money back.

That's the latest. We'll see what turns up today. (Z)

Two Days After

Tuesday's elections aren't the only news story where the dust is still settling. The new New York district map, which looks to be about 48 hours from becoming official, has already begun to produce serious drama.

To start, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D) currently represents NY-18. As soon as the new map was unveiled, he said he'd jump over to NY-17, where his residence is located. Conveniently for him, NY-17 is going to be a bit bluer than NY-18. Inconveniently for him, NY-17 is already occupied, by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D). Quite a few Democrats are hopping mad, due to (1) a white guy muscling out a Black guy and/or (2) the guy who gets to decide where Democratic House campaign funds are spent taking on a sitting member who does not have that power. Jones may jump over to NY-16, but that would pit him against a different sitting member, namely Jamaal Bowman (D). There is much pressure on Maloney to reverse course, but he's not likely to do so.

The other story that's emerged involves one Bill de Blasio. When his mayoralty came to an end, New York City Democrats almost organized a parade. His presidential campaign went nowhere, his gubernatorial bid died before it could begin, and he's currently got a worse favorable/unfavorable rating than Andrew Cuomo. And yet, de Blasio is persuaded that voters want more of what he's selling. So, he is teasing a run in NY-10, a district that will be located in the far western portion of Brooklyn. Because of the new maps, the seat is currently set to be open, and is very blue. Most New York Democratic movers and shakers were horrified by the news. For example, here's what The Atlantic's Molly Jong-Fast tweeted:

No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no

That pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

These are, of course, just the early moves. Once the map is official, the chess game will really get underway, and we'll see who ends up with what seat in this little game of musical chairs. (Z)

Biden Is Eastbound and Down

Just in case he doesn't already have enough on his plate, Joe Biden will be jetting off to Asia today for a whirlwind 4-day trip.

The President will address a few important diplomatic issues while he's abroad; he wants to tighten the relationship between the U.S. and India (which is now a hedge against both Russia and China), and he is going to argue with South Korea's leaders about putting nukes in their country that are pointed at North Korea. They want the bombs and Biden doesn't want to provide them.

The main agenda item, however, will be trying to drum up support for his Indo-Pacific Economic Framework proposal. This would be an economic partnership between the U.S. and most of the major nations of Asia, with an eye toward containing the influence of China (who would not be part of the agreement, of course).

Perhaps you've heard of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework before, back when it was called the Trans-Pacific Partnership? That Obama-era notion became toxic enough that even Hillary Clinton, who played a key role in negotiating the pact, was compelled to turn against it in 2016. Have Democratic voters become more friendly to trade agreements in the 6 years since that? Or have they become more desperate to contain China? Or both? Is Biden just hoping that a new name and a fresh coat of paint will be enough to make some magic happen? Maybe so; remember that the Affordable Care Act is considerably more popular than Obamacare despite both being exactly the same thing.

As a reminder, it takes two-thirds of the Senate to ratify a treaty, so if Biden is planning to reach a formal agreement like that, he's going to need a bunch of Republican votes. Maybe he knows he's got them, or maybe he plans to cross that hill (cross The Hill?) when gets there. We don't know the answers to any of these questions and, because Biden is playing things close to the vest, it appears that nobody else knows, either. It's worth keeping an eye on, though. (Z)

Democrats Tackle Formulagate

Politics is a strange business. Nearly 300 Americans die from opioid overdoses every day, and nobody bats an eye. And yet, if baby formula is in short supply? It's a national crisis.

Yes, we recognize that infants are unusually vulnerable members of the species, and that the shortage of formula is not their fault. On the other hand, drug addicts are unusually vulnerable members of the species, too, and, according to the professionals, suffer from a disease that is not their fault. That their deaths are basically a non-issue suggests that many Americans haven't really embraced the notion that addicts aren't to blame for their addiction.

The funny thing is that the current formula shortage was caused, in part, because the federal government stepped in and shut down a couple of formula production facilities for not being up to code. If those facilities had been allowed to keep operating, and some tainted formula had gotten out there, and a few dozen infants had died, would people blame the government? We don't think so. They might blame the producers, but that would be about it. When was the last time there was a recall of some food product or automobile or medical device and people said "Damn that federal government—sleeping on the job again!"? Indeed, we should note that some infants did die back in February; that's why the shutdowns were ordered in the first place. The fact that those deaths were not front-page news for multiple days would seem to prove our thesis.

The executive summary, then: (1) Many dead addicts—not a major political issue; (2) Some dead infants—not a major political issue; (3) Many hungry infants/inconvenienced parents—huge political issue. As we said, politics is a strange business.

Whether it makes complete and total sense or not, a major issue is what it is, and so the Democrats in Washington are expected to do something about it. And this week, just as Joe Biden is busy packing his chopsticks and his iPod and his Fodor's Guide to Seoul, they've unveiled their response. To start—and this news actually broke on Monday—the FDA has finished inspecting the main formula production plant that was shut down—Abbott Nutrition's Sturgis, MI, location—and cleared it to reopen, following extensive improvements.

Yesterday, the blue team took the next step. Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act in order to allow him to requisition civilian resources in order to tackle the problem. Specifically, he's going to deploy the civilian airplanes the government already pays to lease; those planes will be used to transport formula from suppliers abroad, primarily Canada. (And so it begins?)

The White House is also working with American companies, particularly Target, to smooth out logistical kinks and to get product on shelves as rapidly as is possible. To make sure all interested parties, particularly parents, are up to date, the administration also set up a website with the latest information.

Shortly after the White House unveiled these plans, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) did her part, steering two bills through the House. The first is the Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, which would provide $28 million in funding to address the formula shortage. It passed 231 to 192, with 12 Republicans crossing the aisle to join all of the Democrats. We are not sure what the 12 Republicans have in common, but we'll point out that 11 of them are men, 6 of them voted to impeach Donald Trump, and at least 4 of them are not standing for reelection.

The second bill was the Access to Baby Formula Act, which makes it easier for food stamp (WIC) recipients to use their aid to buy formula. That one passed easily, 414-9. The nays were all Republicans, and you can probably guess at least five or six of them without our help. But, just for the record, it was: Andy Biggs (AZ), Lauren Boebert (CO), Matt Gaetz (FL), Louie Gohmert (TX), Paul Gosar (AZ), Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), Clay Higgins (LA), Thomas Massie (KY) and Chip Roy (TX). If only Pelosi had written the bill such that it allowed WIC recipients to buy formula... or guns, then we bet should could have gotten those nine votes.

The two House bills will now head to the Senate, where the latter will surely pass, and the former... who knows? We actually know full well why baby formula has become such an issue, and it's not just because infants are sweet and vulnerable. It's because Republican politicians have wielded the issue as a cudgel against the Biden Administration. First, it dovetails pretty well with "Democrats are baby-hating abortion lovers." Second, because the government tends to buy in bulk, and in advance, it's had enough formula for refugee immigrants, even while some native-born babies were going without.

For example, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), who never misses a chance to bash Democrats or immigrants, quickly seized upon the opportunity for a two-fer and last week issued a statement declaring: "While mothers and fathers stare at empty grocery store shelves in a panic, the Biden administration is happy to provide baby formula to illegal immigrants coming across our southern border." Fox picked up the story and ran with it, as did several Republican members of the House of Representatives. Some of those Republican members are so concerned about the problem that... they voted against one or both of the bills that were before the House yesterday.

From where we sit, this all looks pretty reprehensible. We are entirely on board with the government helping to solve this problem (we're just also on board with the government doing something more substantive about the opioids). But it's pretty sleazy to argue that immigrant children should be deprived because they're immigrants. That's not their fault, and they are no more or less worthy than native-born children. It's also quite sleazy to make hay out of "but will nobody think of the children?" and then to put up roadblocks when actual solutions are put forward.

Still, it is what it is, and now the Democrats have done what they can to blunt this line of attack. It may not be terribly fair that they get the blame, particular if they continue to get the blame after having taken significant and concrete steps toward addressing the problem. But, as they say, politics ain't beanbag. (Z)

House Also Stages Some Show Votes

Did we mention that politics is a strange business? We can't remember if we have brought that up recently, or not. In any case, Nancy Pelosi & Co. were busy little bees yesterday. In addition to the formula-related bills, the House also voted on two other bills. We would describe both of these as show votes, albeit for different reasons.

The first bill we'll talk about is the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022, which would establish offices focused on domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the FBI. These offices would track domestic terrorist activity, and would produce biannual reports. The bill passed the House 222-203. That's all 221 Democrats, plus Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). The bill actually has three Republican co-sponsors, namely Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Don Bacon (NE) and Fred Upton (MI). All three voted for the baby formula bills (see above), but apparently decided that the domestic terrorism bill was no longer to their liking after various amendments. The measure, which is obviously a response to the Buffalo shooting, will now head to the Senate, where bills like this one go to die. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has promised a vote next week, and once that performance has concluded, and the bill has taken up permanent residence in the circular file, the Democrats will have a talking point, we guess.

The second show bill, by contrast, passed the House easily. It's HR 1125, a bill that "calls on elected officials, faith leaders, and civil society leaders to condemn antisemitism in all forms [and] calls for renewed efforts to combat antisemitism domestically, globally, and online." The number of yeas was 420, which is dope, while the number of nays was... 1. The one was not who you think, although it probably wouldn't take you too many guesses to get to the right person, namely... Thomas Massie. You would think that his first statement after voting "nay" would be "Now, hear me out...", but he refused to explain himself to the media. Anyhow, for those keeping score at home, Massie is apparently pro-antisemite and anti-baby.

The antisemitism bill will also head to the Senate, where it will presumably pass, probably with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) casting the sole "nay" this time. We call this a show vote because... then what? Those who believe in resisting antisemitism, which is most of us, are presumably already doing so. And those who don't presumably aren't, and won't be changing their ways due to a congressional resolution. (Z)

Guest Columnist: Biblical Literalism and Abortion

This week, we are running guest columns each day. Here's the one we initially meant to run yesterday that—although not planned that way—serves as a counterpoint to the Nose-Holding Trump Voter piece we ran on Tuesday. This is courtesy of reader B.P. in Pensacola, FL:

Those who oppose abortion almost universally do so on the basis of a religious belief (and almost as universally claiming Christianity as that basis). Except for Roman Catholics, quite often those are the same people who insist on Biblical literalism. However, the view that life begins at conception is Biblically unsupportable, as both the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament) and the New Testament universally view "breath" as the designator of life. And I say this as a devout Christian (but not a "fundamentalist"). Indeed, religious fundamentalism is quite clearly among the things that Christ unequivocally and repeatedly condemned and which also, not coincidentally, led directly to His execution. Setting aside the constitutional issues of "establishing" a religious belief opposing abortion, it is worth examining the actual biblical legitimacy of the anti-abortion position.

One must start in analyzing Christian beliefs (and any alleged biblical basis of those beliefs) with some undisputed fundamentals. First, Jesus was a Jew and a devout one at that. He revered the Word of God as then manifest in what we now call the Old Testament, and knew it deeply and intimately—indeed, if one accepts that Jesus was divine as well as human, more deeply and intimately than any human who had ever lived or who ever will. Second, the early Christian Church viewed itself not as a new faith or even a new sect, but as fundamentally Jewish. They continued being observant Jews until well after they were ejected from the Temple and Jewish community. Even then, and even now, Christianity remains pervaded with Jewish tradition, ranging from Christian reverence for the Old Testament to male circumcision, and a host of things between. This is crucial because what Jewish tradition and the Old Testament say about things is not only material but highly pertinent, particularly if one is interpreting or seeking meaning in the Old Testament, or basing claims of belief in the Old Testament. And for those asserting biblical literalism and inerrancy, the Old Testament is essential. Finally, notwithstanding the puzzling reverence many folks have for the King James Version of the Bible, the Bible was not written in 17th Century English—which is, of course, why it is the King James "Version" of the Bible. King James did not author the Bible; his effort was simply an attempt to translate the original Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) into what was then contemporary language so that it could be more widely read and understood.

So what does the Bible actually say about when life begins? Interestingly, what it says is not far from the "viability" standard set in Roe v. Wade, though it is expressed in terms that the scientific understanding of the day would understand. Biblically, life begins and ends with the presence of breath. No more, no less. Indeed, this concept is reflected in Hebrew in the word "Ruach" (or alternatively spelled, "Ruah") which means "the spirit of life" or "the breath of life," and sometimes simply "life," "breath," "spirit" or "soul." Some older commentators translate it as the "vital principle which resides in and animates the body." Interestingly, it also means "wind," which is also used often in the Bible to demonstrate the presence of works of God.

This concept is most dramatically illustrated in the story of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37, where God brought together dry bones, and put sinew and flesh on them. But they were not alive until they were given "breath" from the wind. The same concept is found in Genesis, where the "breath of life" is mentioned repeatedly (Genesis 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; 7:15; 7:21-22). The idea is found throughout the Old Testament—breath as the indicator of life. For example, see Job 12:10, 33:4; Psalm 104:24, 29; Psalm 135:15-17; Psalm 146:3-4; Ecclesiastes 3:18-19, 11:5, 12:5-7; Isaiah 42:5; Jeremiah 10:14, 51:17; Habakkuk 2:19; Wisdom of Solomon 15: 10-11; Ecclesiasticus 33:21; Letter of Jeremiah 6:24-25; 2 Maccabees 7: 23; and 2 Esdras 3:4-5.

In the New Testament, Jesus' death is indicated in the Synoptic Gospels by declaring that He "breathed his last," per Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37, 39; and Luke 23:6. At the other end of the New Testament, in the Revelation to John, we see breath as the force that resurrects the prophets. That's Revelation 11:9-11.

That a pre-birth fetus is not considered "alive" is also evident in Exodus 21 (at 22-25), where, immediately before the "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" instruction is given, an injury to a pregnant woman that results in a miscarriage is merely fined. And, in Numbers 5:11-31, an induced abortion is prescribed as a test for married women who are suspected of an adultrous pregnancy. And that belief regarding the beginning of life remains the predominant Jewish view today—that life begins with the first breath.

All of this leads, of course, to at least a brief mention of Biblical "literalism" which, like Constitutional "originalism," is often highly selective and non-contextual, and also often entirely disregarded when it yields an undesired result. Here, literalism leads unequivocally to the conclusion that opposition to abortion is simply not based in the Bible because the Bible makes clear that life does not begin at conception but at birth, when "breath" occurs. Given the penchant of fundamentalists, both literally and figuratively, to "thump" the Bible to support their beliefs, for those persons to claim that life begins at a time earlier than "breath" is to take a position that is unquestionably directly contrary to biblical teachings, and is hypocritical at best.

The Roman Catholic position is more nuanced because it is not grounded biblically at all and does not pretend to be because Catholics are not biblical literalists. Rather, it is based upon an inferred value of the sanctity of life from Jesus' teachings (which is an unquestionably fair inference, and also supports Catholic opposition to the death penalty), coupled with a simple declaration at some point in church history by someone that life begins at conception. The exact source of the Catholic dogma on life beginning at conception does not seem to be known other than that it appeared in catechisms as at some point in the first century. However, that position is, as shown above, not based upon biblical tradition or text; it is simply an accepted facet of Catholic faith. Given that the Catholic Church's declaration of beliefs being not biblically supportable was a major reason for the Protestant Reformation, it is historically surprising that this particular facet of non-biblical Catholic declared belief is so predominant among the "more Protestant" denominations than those that are "less Protestant."

The point of this long explanation is twofold: (1) to show that biblical literalists are hypocrites when it comes to abortion and when life begins; and (2) to suggest that for non-Catholics, unless their belief is based upon the acceptance of Catholic dogma (which for Protestant fundamentalists it almost certainly would not be), there is decidedly something else going on. And there is, but that is the basis for another long essay at some point and a topic about which there has been plenty written recently by others.

Thanks, B.P.! Tomorrow, we will be running something on education. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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