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Congress Still Hasn't Passed a Standalone Bill Punishing Russia or Helping Ukraine

As Russian troops are regrouping for a possible future assault on Kyiv, grisly photos of some of the damage Russia has done and of the atrocities it has committed are being exposed. Six weeks ago, Ukraine was a modern country. Now much of it is a giant pile of rubble, littered with the bodies of thousands of dead soldiers, many of them teenagers or young men who were drafted.

When Russian troops crossed the border on Feb. 24, almost every member of Congress condemned Russia and said it will pay dearly for invading a democratic neighbor. Congress appropriated some money for Ukraine as part of a must-pass federal-spending bill and Joe Biden has placed sanctions on some oligarchs, but Congress still hasn't passed a standalone bill punishing Russia and helping Ukraine. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters on Feb. 8 that the Senate was getting close to passing a bill, but 8 weeks later, there still is no bill.

Why can't Congress get anything done when nearly all members are on the same page? There is the usual stuff like clashes of egos, partisan politicking, and the Senate's arcane rules, but there is also a long-term trend of Congress being unable to handle foreign policy. So, it just leaves it all to the president. Two centuries ago, the Founders saw Congress as the main organ for doing foreign policy. It gets to declare war and levy tariffs, the Senate has the power to ratify treaties, and Congress has the power of the purse. The president's role was to be commander-in-chief after Congress declared war. Where are all the originalists now?

Some foreign-policy experts see the logjam as a sign that Congress is hopeless. If it can't get its act together on an issue where nearly all the members want the same thing, how could it ever act on a divisive issue? Also, the old adage: "Politics stops at the water's edge" is dead and gone. It used to be that on foreign policy, everyone in Congress was an American first and a Democrat or a Republican second. Now that is reversed, with everyone looking for partisan gain from every issue, including foreign policy. Passing the buck to the White House is easy because, after all, that's where the buck stops.

In the past, the opposition generally didn't undercut the president when a war was going on, even if no U.S. soldiers were being shot at. Now, some Republicans have demanded that Biden do more and do it faster, while being unwilling to pass a law stating what he should do. And no Republican is willing to point out that Donald Trump's refusal to give Ukraine the weapons Congress had already approved, unless Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dug up dirt on Hunter Biden, might well have given Russian President Vladimir Putin the idea that he could invade and get away with it. If Trump hadn't made that "perfect" phone call, the message Putin would have gotten would have been: Ukraine asked for weapons, Congress quickly approved them, and they were shipped. It might have suggested a completely different lesson for the Russian president. So there is a very real chance that Trump effectively gave Putin a green light to invade, but no Republican even wants to talk about that now.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said that many Republicans really do want to punish Russia and help Ukraine but they are so conditioned to oppose everything a Democratic president does that they are just paralyzed now.

Add to this that every senator has his or her own ideas about what should be in the bill. For example, when the first bill came up, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), wanted a provision banning all imports of Russian oil. Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected to part of the bill dealing with human rights sanctions. The part about supplying Ukraine with MiG-29 fighter jets is also controversial.

Some Republicans are just grandstanding, and opposing nominees who would play a major role in carrying out provisions of the bill. For example, Biden has nominated someone to lead the Pentagon's logistics branch, which would actually manage delivery of weapons and aid. But Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has blocked the nomination until the Senate can first hold a hearing on the Afghanistan withdrawal.

The bottom line is that there is still no bill and Congress has basically ceded all of foreign policy to the President because it is incapable of putting partisan politics and big egos aside to get anything done, even when the members largely agree that something needs to be done. (V)

Ukraine War Is Dividing the Republicans

Ukraine is a problem for Republicans, and not just in Congress. A group of over 100 younger Trumpists met in D.C. last week under the banner of "Up from Chaos," to discuss dealing with the enemy—other Republicans—in light of the war in Ukraine and Joe Biden's response to it. The group was very concerned that the Republican establishment is largely in favor of helping Ukraine and not so interested in the isolationism they are trying to sell.

As a consequence, the invasion of Ukraine has broken up an uneasy marriage between America First Trumpists, who abhor foreign entanglements, and the neocon hawks, who never met a war they didn't like. After the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the neocons are reasserting themselves and the Trumpists are worried.

The conference speakers included Rand Paul, and Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Dan Bishop (R-NC) and Matt Rosendale (R-MT) among others, including would-be senator J.D. Vance of Ohio. Their goal was to recruit young conservatives to join their movement and fight against the neocons and the Republican establishment.

What is noteworthy about the conference is that speaker after speaker attacked not Joe Biden, not Russian President Vladimir Putin, but other Republicans and an expansionist foreign policy. Former OMB Director Russ Vought said that Ukraine is a side show. The main event is bringing American troops stationed abroad home. Joe Kent, who is running for Congress against Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), said we must be pragmatic. Specifically, that means giving Putin whatever he wants to avoid war. Rosendale said the real invasion wasn't taking place in Ukraine, but on America's southern border.

Much of the Republican establishment still supports Ronald Reagan's view that the Soviet Union (and now Russia) constitutes an "evil empire" and must be fought at every turn and defeated so democracy can thrive everywhere in the world. The speakers and attendees at the "Up from Chaos" conference don't give a hoot about the rest of the world. Of course, if they got their way, before too long Russia would control half of the world and China the other half and what would happen when they joined forces and came for America? The Trumpists aren't worrying about that. They are too fixated on the Mexican border right now. (V)

Select Committee Is Studying Gapology

Members of the Jan. 6 Select Committee are intensely curious about the 7½ hour gap in the White House phone records for Jan. 6, 2021. Committee member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) went on Face the Nation yesterday to announce that such a gap is extremely unusual, especially for a president known to be addicted to making phone calls. When asked if the gap could be due to mere incompetence (i.e., Hanlon's razor), Raskin said the Committee will consider that possibility, especially in light of the fact that Trump's executive assistant was off that morning. However, he also noted that the Committee has talked to people who were in contact with Donald Trump during the gap, so the members know Trump was actively involved in the events of the day, not just passively sitting around watching TV the entire day as events unfolded. Raskin didn't let on how much the Committee already knows about what happened during the gap, but it clearly knows something and is now trying to get more information.

One easy way to get information would be to subpoena the telephone records of people thought to have spoken with Trump during the gap and see where that leads. It is likely the Committee has already done that or will soon do it. If any previously unknown numbers show up, that could lead to one or more burner phones Trump used then. Going after its phone records could then bring the Committee to the mother lode. The Committee is trying to put together a minute-by-minute timeline of what Trump was doing and who he was talking to that fateful day. It is making progress, but there are still gaps to be filled.

We don't know what the Committee knows, but we do know what the Washington Post knows because it has published a partial timeline, as follows:

Timeline of Trump's actions on Jan. 6, 2021

The Post has divided Trump's day into six segments:

If individuals who testified before the Committee in camera have said they called Trump or were called by Trump during the day, that will add to the timeline. So will the metadata subpoenaed from the phone companies. Eventually a more complete picture will surely emerge. (V)

A New Way for Trump to Steal the 2024 Election

New times call for new strategies. Supporters of Donald Trump know that their preferred way of stealing an election—having the president of the Senate just toss out electoral votes he doesn't like—needs an update. The problem, of course, is that when the electoral votes are counted on Jan. 6, 2025, the master of ceremonies will be Kamala Harris, and she is certainly not going to do Donald Trump's bidding. So a new plan is needed.

For this reason, many Republicans are actually in favor of fixing the 1887 Electoral Count Act to make the role of the president of the Senate unambiguously ceremonial, and thus to hamstring Harris. The intention is to keep Harris from doing what they wanted Mike Pence to do, namely, throw out carefully selected electoral votes. But making it so Harris can't prevent a Biden victory in 2024 from being turned into a Trump victory addresses only half the problem. The other half is that without control over the counting process, how can they turn a Trump defeat into a Trump victory? But fear not, there is a way.

The key is that under current law, a simple majority of House members could appoint the next president. Since Republicans are widely expected to capture the House in November, that could be appealing for them. Here's how it works. The second clause of the Twelfth Amendment reads:

The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.

The Constitution empowers each chamber of Congress to make its own rules. Normally, each chamber votes to enter into a joint session with the other one for the purpose of counting the electoral votes. But suppose a Republican majority newly installed on Jan. 3, 2025, refused to pass a resolution to meet with the Senate to count the electoral votes? Additionally, all of the Republican members could agree to boycott the Jan. 6 count-fest, denying the House the constitutional quorum. Or maybe one Republican House member could go and, along with one Republican senator, object to the electoral votes from a few carefully chosen states. Then the House and Senate would be forced to meet separately to rule on the objection.

But what if the Republican leaders of the House simply refused to call a House session on Jan 6 to take up the matter? If they held out until Jan. 20, the offices of president and vice president would be vacant. At that point, the line of succession would kick in and newly elected House Speaker Donald Trump would become (acting?) president. Or anybody else the House elected as speaker. Remember, the speaker does not have to be a House member, or even an American or even 18. If a (tiny) majority of the House wanted Trump's granddaughter, Arabella Kushner (10) to be speaker, that is completely legal (though she could not become president, of course, so maybe wiser heads would prevail and Ivanka would be elected speaker if The Donald refused).

If the Democrats hold the Senate, the situation gets murkier. Suppose that on Jan. 6, the one House Republican and one Senate Republican object to some electoral votes and the House refuses to meet to consider the objections. Then, around Jan. 10, the Senate could say: "Apparently we don't have a president, so we are going to elect the vice president." And they vote on it. And the vote is 50-50. So President-of-the-Senate Harris breaks the tie by voting for the Democratic nominee for the vice presidency, potentially none other than Kamala Harris.

Of course, the House leadership could scream: "You can't do that. The Senate can't pick the vice president until the electoral votes have been counted and nobody got 270." The president of the Senate would then reply: "Sorry, but we just did." Cue the Supreme Court. Then cue the riots all over the country. (V)

Georgia Republicans Are Panicking about Walker

Donald Trump's Senate pick in Georgia, Herschel Walker, was struggling even before the bombshell hit (see below). Now it is even worse. Walker has gotten it easy so far. The other Republicans in the May 24 primary haven't run any ads going after him. That is about to change. The Republican establishment is convinced that Walker has so much baggage that he has almost no chance to knock off the popular and extremely well funded Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). The conclusion is that Walker needs to be taken down and right now. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who is one of Walker's GOP primary opponents, said: "Let the Democrats pour $140 million on top of domestic violence and threatening shootouts with police. Let that happen. That discussion is going to be had right now." In other words, Black (correctly) assumes against Walker, the Democrats could raise in excess of $100 million to run ads talking about Walker's threats to kill his ex-wife, his mental illness, his lies about his finances, and more. So, Black wants to run the ads himself now to make sure Walker doesn't even get the GOP nomination, despite Trump's endorsement.

Black is buoyed by some push polling, of all things. His super PAC paid for a poll in which the pollster asked respondents who they were going to vote for in the primary. Then the pollster told the respondents that Walker at least once pointed a loaded gun at his ex-wife and choked her into unconsciousness, so she got a court restraining order to keep him away from her. Then they asked if knowing this changed their voting preference. Turns out that for 34% it did. This is only one push poll, but it gives a hint at what $100 million in negative ads could do.

Actual polls show Walker at 66% and Black at 8%, but just wait until those ads hit. And remember, Black's goal is not to beat Walker on May 24, just to get him below 50% so there is a runoff in June.

Black is Georgia's commissioner of agriculture. He spends his day helping Georgia farmers grow more peaches and better peaches. He is a gentle guy, right? He'd never run a nasty ad, would he? Well, he already made this one. He just hasn't put it on television—yet. Take a look, but viewer discretion advised.

And all that was before it came out that when Walker said he graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, he was lying. In fact, he never graduated from any college or university. He was a student at the University of Georgia and played football for the school, but when Donald Trump's failed football team, the Jersey Generals, made him an offer to play, he dropped out of UGA and never got his degree.

Graduating from college is not a requirement for being a senator, although 99 of the sitting senators have a sheepskin on their office wall. Only Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) lacks one. He entered the University of Arkansas and, like Herschel Walker, was distracted by football and didn't graduate. But after playing for a while, Boozman went to optometry school and graduated from it. If any senator has trouble seeing things clearly, he or she can go to an ophthalmologist, Dr. Rand Paul, for an eye examination, and then to Boozman to get glasses prescribed, all without leaving the Senate floor. Well, that works for every senator except Paul, we guess. And unfortunately, he's the one who seems to have the most trouble seeing things clearly.

Walker's problem is not the absence of a degree. It's the lying about it. If he had said: "While in college, I was offered my dream job of playing pro football, so I dropped out and took it" no one would have thought it to be a problem. Now, after months of lying, it is just another problem and more grist for Black's mill.

A big question here is what Trump does when the above ad blankets the Georgia airwaves. Will Trump cut and run again, just as he did in Alabama when his horse in the race, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), was stumbling? If that happens twice within a couple of months—and the primary is only 7 weeks away, so he can't spend too long while he waits to see how this plays out—Trump's credibility among professional politicians will drop to near zero, no matter what the general public thinks. They will know that not only does his endorsement not guarantee an easy win, but it can be rescinded at any time. (V)

Jen Psaki Will Leave Her Job as Press Secretary

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is quitting her job and moving over to MSNBC. The date hasn't been finalized because this is actually a bit tricky. There are a bunch of laws that relate to how public employees can pursue private sector jobs while still on the government payroll. It is not expected that she will replace Rachel Maddow, who is changing jobs at the network. Most likely Psaki will join NBCUniversal's streaming platform, Peacock. Given how many reporters spend most of their time in the White House Press Room peacocking, it should be an easy transition.

The ability for a media outlet to set up a streaming service easily has increased the need for talent to fill the hours. People won't pay money for a streaming service unless it has something really good to offer. So networks are busy poaching talent wherever they can find it and giving the various stars they poached their own shows.

For Psaki, this will merely be a return to her roots. Before she became press secretary, she was a political commentator on CNN. Before that, she was deputy press secretary in the Obama administration. So she has gone back and forth before. She plays for both teams, as it were.

Other top visible government officials have also moved into the mediaverse. Kamala Harris' former spokeswoman, Symone Sanders, will get her own show on MSNBC. Donald Trump's first press secretary, Sean Spicer, has his own show on Newsmax, a channel that is apparently still on the air. Donald Trump's last press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, has joined Fox as a commentator. Former Bush administration official Nicolle Wallace has a show on MSNBC. Former OMB Director Mick Mulvaney is now a contributor at CBS. So this happens all the time.

Speculation has already begun over Psaki's successor. Communications Director Kate Bedingfield, who was Joe Biden's spokeswoman when he was vice president, is definitely in the running. She has never openly expressed interest in the position but Biden knows her very well. Then there is the deputy press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre. She is a Black immigrant lesbian from Haiti, so her appointment would certainly be historic. John Kirby, a DoD spokesman, is also a well-respected potential candidate.

Trump noticed Psaki's move and said: "You know she's going to MSDNC. They need a redhead. They don't have a redhead over there, so they need a redhead." MSDNC? Trump really needs to get better writers because many of his followers are unlikely to even understand the intended slur. Just ask your apolitical grandpa if he knows what the DNC is. Trump has a long history of commenting about Psaki's hair. He also has a longstanding habit of commenting on women's bodies in general. (V)

Sarah Palin is Running for Congress against Santa Claus

Nature abhors a vacuum and Sarah Palin thinks she can see a vacuum from her front porch so she jumped in and will run for the House seat left open by the death of Don Young. As it turns out, it is not a vacuum as there are more candidates than the number of mushers in this year's Iditarod race. According to The Anchorage Daily News, our go-to source for Alaskan news, Santa Claus is also running, though he would have to give up his seat as a city councilman in North Pole, 99705. Really. Honest. Sounds like there's potential for a sequel to Beverly Hills, 90210.

Here are some of the candidates (including Ms. Palin and Mr. Claus):

Some of the Alaska House candidates

Fifty people have filed to run, so it should be wild and woolly. The filing deadline has now passed, so there won't be any more, thank goodness. Combine that with the new rules and anything can happen. It is complicated, because there are two elections in play: the special election to fill out Young's term and the election for the Congress that will be seated on Jan. 3, 2023. There will be a nonpartisan mail-in primary that ends on June 11 for the special election and on Aug. 16 for the 118th Congress. The top four finishers will move on to the general election, which will be ranked-choice.

Palin has the advantage over 48 of the others that she is better known than they are, having served as governor of the state (though she got bored with the job and quit mid-term), and also having been John McCain's running mate in 2008. She's probably not as well known as Santa Claus, though. That's the actual legal name of the candidate who was formerly Thomas O'Connor, until he legally changed it in 2005. He says he is a Democratic socialist, which is appropriate for someone who likes to give presents to people. Claus used to work in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but didn't like the weather, so he moved north to a suburb of Fairbanks. Here is his campaign Website.

Despite her great name recognition, Palin is no shoo-in. For one thing, the Republican Party now is nothing like it was at the time of the McCain/Palin ticket. To a considerable extent, the change in the Party is due to Palin, though. She was Donald Trump before Trump was Donald Trump. She talked about "real Americans" long before Trump began sorting people into "white Christians" and "others." And she was doing smash-mouth politics long before Trump entered the spotlight. She also helped pioneer hating the media and accusing it of bias against conservatives.

One thing Palin has against her is that many Alaskans resent her quitting her job as governor mid-term. Alaskans aren't quitters. Also, some of the other candidates are at least reasonably well known, albeit not so much as Palin. Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman who ran for the Senate in 2020 and lost, is running for the seat as an independent. Nick Begich III (R), the grandson of former congressman Nick Begich and the nephew of former senator Mark Begich, is also running.

Palin's entry could also affect the fate of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Palin might get many Trumpists to vote who would not otherwise bother. While they are at it, they could easily also vote for Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka. And, of course, Trump might endorse Palin. In fact, she spoke to him before announcing her run, no doubt in an attempt to get his endorsement. It worked. Yesterday he endorsed her. Now Alaska Democrats can start printing bumper stickers for their bush planes and dog sleds reading "Trump hates Santa Claus." (V)

Fox News Has Its Presidential Candidate Already

The nation's preeminent conservative news network has found its true love—and it's not Donald Trump. It's Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Fox had something of a falling out with Trump when it refused to go along with his story that he won the 2020 election, and now it apparently has found its favorite for 2024 in the Florida governor.

DeSantis knows that many conservatives get all their news from Fox, so he has been very careful to synchronize everything he says with what the Fox anchors say. For example, when Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham blasted the Walt Disney Company for opposing Florida's new "Don't say gay" law, DeSantis not only signed the bill, but went a step further. Under current state law, the Walt Disney Corporation is effectively a local government on its Orlando property and not subject to the rules of Orlando or any other local municipality. DeSantis now wants to change that, even though the arrangement has worked well for over 50 years and saves the state money because Disney pays for its own police, fire, and other services.

On every other issue, from COVID-19 mitigation to CRT to Joe Biden's mental acuity, and beyond, DeSantis and Fox are exactly on the same page. It is not clear whether Carlson is telling DeSantis what to say or vice versa, but they are in perfect sync.

Of course, 2024 is a couple of years away, but being the nominee of choice for Fox is a huge plus for any Republican presidential wannabe. It means lots and lots of free and adoring publicity, and access to the network's dominance in conservative mindshare. So, DeSantis is in a good place, especially if Trump does not run, but maybe even if he does. (V)

Orban Wins in Hungary

In most countries, it is not politically wise to be on the side of Vladimir Putin. Hungary is not most countries, however. The world got a clear reminder of that this weekend when Prime Minister Viktor Orban, running for reelection on, in effect, an "I love Vlad" platform, won a fourth consecutive term in office (and a fifth term overall).

Orban is an authoritarian and a right-wing populist, and like many politicians who fit that description, his campaign was almost exclusively about the things he is against. Because Hungary depends on Russia for many things, most importantly petroleum, Orban was not only pro-Putin but also loudly anti-Volodymyr Zelenskyy, referring to the Ukrainian leader as an "opponent" of Hungary. Orban is also against the E.U., the Hungarian left, "bureaucrats," and anyone who's not a white Christian. We don't know for sure what his opinions on trans women swimmers or CRT or vaccinations are, but we bet we can guess.

The news coverage is emphasizing the landslide nature of Orban's victory; though polling had predicted a close race, he took 70% of the vote, winning nearly every district in the country. That includes Hódmezővásárhely, where Orban's opponent Péter Márki-Zay was elected mayor in 2018 with 57% of the vote. Nobody seems to be questioning the legitimacy of the vote totals, but we must admit that when an authoritarian who controls the election infrastructure, and who has a history of corruption, wins a surprisingly comfortable victory, we are at least a tad bit suspicious. We have a few readers in Hungary (and its vicinity), perhaps one or two of them will write in with some on-the-scene insights. In any event, Orban will stay on the job for another 4 years. (Z)

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