Senate page     Apr. 05

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New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

Prediction: Thursday (or Friday), 53 (or 52) to 47

Admittedly, this is not the boldest prediction we've ever made. In fact, all we had to do was read the headlines to know, to a virtual certainty, that later this week, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the 116th person appointed to serve on the United States Supreme Court, by a margin of about five votes.

To a large degree, Jackson's confirmation has been a certainty for weeks (or months), and the Senate hearings were nothing more than kabuki theater. In terms of résumé, Jackson is surely in the 90th percentile for Supreme Court nominees. She has an impeccable academic record, extensive service as a public defender, and extensive service as a judge. If she's not qualified, then just about nobody is qualified. Perhaps more importantly, given the way modern politics works, she was subjected to two intensive dirt-digging/skeleton-searching campaigns. The first of these was courtesy of the Democrats, who did not want any Kavanaugh-style surprises. The second of these was courtesy of the Republicans, who desperately wanted to spring a Kavanaugh-style surprise on Jackson. The fact that neither side's oppo researchers came up with anything tells you that she's as clean as a whistle.

What this means is that none of the 50 Democrats in the Senate had any reason to vote against Jackson (and if they had any concerns, the time to share those was many weeks ago). So, you knew—and we pointed out several times—that by the time the Senate Judiciary Committee commenced hearings, the only remaining questions were: (1) Would the Republican members of the Committee be able to score any political points through smears on the nominee?, and (2) Would any Republicans be persuaded to vote for her? Yes, it is technically possible that if Jackson had utterly botched the hearings, she might have derailed her nomination. But she's too smart for that and, besides, is it really possible to botch a confirmation hearing worse than Brett Kavanaugh botched his? And he was approved, of course.

As of Monday, we have pretty good answers to both of those questions. Based on polling, it does not appear that Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) or Tom Cotton (R-AR) did any damage to Jackson, or did themselves any real good. In fact, with his low blows and his petulant behavior, Cruz may have made himself even more unlikable, assuming that is possible. Meanwhile, we also know that Jackson is going to get three Republican votes. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) came out in support of the nominee last week. And yesterday, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) did the same. That means that, compared to her appointment to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Jackson lost Graham's vote and picked up Romney's.

This weekend, we were taken to task by reader C.C. in Nashville for describing Romney as "spinless" and a "jellyfish." Certainly, in view of the Senator's support for Jackson, that remark appears particularly prescient. However, let us explain our meaning. Dante wrote:

"Master, what is it that I hear? Who are those people so defeated by their pain?"

And he to me: "This miserable way is taken by the sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise.

"They now commingle with the coward angels, the company of those who were not rebels nor faithful to their God, but stood apart."

This has been distilled, first by Theodore Roosevelt, and later by John F. Kennedy, into: "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

The common problem with Romney—although not this time—is that he often makes clear he believes in X, but he nonetheless votes for Y, with X usually being some version of going against his party, and Y being what Donald Trump wants or what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants. If a politician wants to do what they think is right, then they should do what they think is right, particularly if they are bulletproof (as Romney is). And if they want to be a party man (or woman), or they want to be a Trumper, then that is their right, too. But by saying one thing and yet voting the opposite, the politician is essentially trying to have it both ways. That is the sort of cowardice that Dante was talking about, and it's the sort of cowardice we were talking about.

Anyhow, while Romney is not guilty of this particular offense right now, several of his colleagues certainly are. For example, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who is retiring this year and who no longer needs to "play politics," conceded that Jackson is "qualified," and that her appointment will be "historic" and a "high point" for the court, but said that he won't vote for her. Or there's Graham, who is ten times the jellyfish that Romney is, and who has been twisting himself into pretzels to explain why he voted to confirm Jackson a year ago, but why she's now "too radical" and "an activist judge."

With 50 Democrats (or possibly 49, if Alex Padilla of California can't get back to Washington in time), and the three Republicans, Jackson's confirmation is secure, and she'll be approved 53 or 52 to 47. As to the timeline, the Judiciary Committee voted on the nomination yesterday and deadlocked 11-11 as expected. Under the rules that currently govern the 50 (plus the VP)-to-50 Senate, that meant that the upper chamber had to hold a procedural vote to advance the nomination, which it did yesterday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that he will be able to bring Jackson's nomination up for a final vote on Thursday or Friday, and so by the end of the week she should have her commission. Fin. (Z)

Republican AGs Sue over Border Policy

Between 1944 and 1946, Congress passed a group of laws dealing with public health, social welfare, and civil rights that became Title 42 of the United States Code. During the Trump years, someone—and our money is on Stephen Miller—took a gander at the code and noticed that Chapter 6A, Subchapter II, includes this passage:

Whenever the Surgeon General determines that by reason of the existence of any communicable disease in a foreign country there is serious danger of the introduction of such disease into the United States, and that this danger is so increased by the introduction of persons or property from such country that a suspension of the right to introduce such persons and property is required in the interest of the public health, the Surgeon General, in accordance with regulations approved by the President, shall have the power to prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places as he shall designate in order to avert such danger, and for such period of time as he may deem necessary for such purpose.

In March 2020, the Trump White House announced that this policy would be deployed, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to expel asylum-seekers. Because these were expulsions, legally speaking, rather than deportations, the asylum-seekers were not afforded their day in court, and thus an opportunity to make a case for being allowed to stay in the United States. The policy was vastly more effective at cutting down on immigration than any wall, real or imagined.

For its first year in office, the Biden administration has maintained the Trump-era policy. But, now that the country is pretending that the pandemic is over, the White House has announced that the policy will be repealed. However, ostensibly in order to give people time to get vaccinated, the repeal will not take effect until May 23.

Predictably—and we kinda guess the White House was expecting this—several red-state AGs have filed suit to keep the policy in place. Specifically, it is the AGs of Arizona, Louisiana, and Missouri, which raises the obvious question: What happened to the AGs of Texas and Florida? In any event, the suit was filed in Louisiana, which means the Fifth Circuit will hear it. The Fifth Circuit is notoriously conservative, which may just have occurred to the plaintiffs. Their argument is the standard one in these cases, namely that immigrants are icky and scary. Oh, wait, no, they didn't say that part out loud. No, their argument is that the Biden administration did not follow the proper procedures in making this particular decision.

It's no surprise that a bunch of Republican AGs took advantage of a high-profile opportunity to perform anti-immigrant sentiment. And we're sure it's just a coincidence that two of those AGs (Eric Schmitt in Missouri and Mark Brnovich in Arizona) are trying for a promotion to U.S. Senator this year, while the other AG (Jeff Landry in Louisiana) is expected to try for the governor's mansion next year. Undoubtedly, the three men were just doing their duty, and if they just so happen to attract more support for their runs for high office, then that's the way the cookie crumbles.

In any event, we can't help but wonder if the White House was not secretly a bit happy at the news of the lawsuit. On one hand, the Democratic base does not generally approve of a strongly anti-immigration policy. That is particularly true of the Mexican-American voters the blue team craves. On the other hand, immigration—documented or undocumented—is one of the Republicans' most potent weapons. And then there's also the issue that every new arrival in the U.S. could possibly be carrying some new variant of COVID.

The point is, the Biden administration kept this policy in place—and even defended it in court—for a reason (or reasons). Maybe it's the reason(s) we listed, maybe it's some other reason(s). However, by trying to rescind the policy, and then getting blocked by some persnickety Republicans, Team Biden might have the best of both worlds, politically. The administration can avoid the anti-immigrant label heading into the midterms, while also avoiding the potential political baggage that might arise from a large number of actual immigrants coming into the country. (Z)

A Tale of Two Representatives

Reps. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have much in common. They are, in effect, professional provocateurs who support their careers with the paycheck they "earn" from serving in Congress. They are both severely truth-challenged, are both prone to bigotry of various sorts, are both obsessed with their own victimhood, and are both more than willing to violate Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment, and to throw their Republican colleagues under the bus when it serves their needs. And it serves their needs often, apparently.

At this point, you've probably heard about Cawthorn's latest. He was on a right-wing podcast, and declared:

The sexual perversion that goes on in Washington ... being kind of a young guy in Washington, where the average age is probably 60 or 70—[you] look at all these people, a lot of them that I've looked up to through my life, I've always paid attention to politics. Then, all of a sudden you get invited—"We're going to have a sexual get-together at one of our homes, you should come." ... What did you just ask me to come to? And then you realize they're asking you to come to an orgy. ... Some of the people leading on the movement to try and remove addiction in our country, and then you watch them do a key bump of cocaine right in front of you. And it's like, this is wild.

As he was spinning these tales, it apparently did not occur to Cawthorn that: (1) the folks he's talking about don't generally come across as the orgiastic type, and (2) his claim that he saw cocaine being consumed strongly implies that he accepted at least one of these hypothetical orgy invites.

Meanwhile, Greene's latest—at least, as of this writing, although with her there could be some new offense by the time you read this—is her first reelection ad, which you can watch, if you are a glutton for punishment:

Marge Green puts out her first campaign video since filing for re-election, and it’s straight QAnon/New World Order conspiracy stuff. Interestingly, she includes Mike Pompeo and Lindsey Graham along with the usual suspects.

— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) March 31, 2022

As you can see, it's not only nutty, it accuses fellow Republicans Mike Pompeo and Lindsey Graham of being part of the Illuminati, or Trilateral Commission, or Deep State, or Village People, or something. Oh, and literally while we were writing this paragraph, she did indeed come up with a new offense against the members of her party, accusing any senator who votes for Ketanji Brown Jackson (in other words, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney) of being pro-pedophile. Hope that trio likes pizza.

In short, both Cawthorn and Greene are wildly out of line, and have made the Joseph McCarthy error of turning their paranoia and their lies against members of their own party. But while Greene continues to suffer no real blowback for her bad behavior, the Republicans are out for blood with in comes to Cawthorn. This week, one of the senators endorsed someone in a House race. Happens all the time, right, so what's the big deal? But the senator in question is Thom Tillis (R-NC) and he has endorsed state Sen. Chuck Edwards (R) who is challenging Cawthorn in the Republican primaries. That's right, Cawthorn is so toxic, even to Republicans, that his own senator is trying to get rid of him. That's a big deal. It doesn't happen very often.

On making the endorsement, Tillis explained: "The 11th Congressional District deserves a congressman who is fully dedicated to serving their constituents. Unfortunately, Madison Cawthorn has fallen well short of the most basic standards Western North Carolina expects from their representatives, and voters now have several well-qualified candidates to choose from who would be a significant improvement. I believe Chuck Edwards is the best choice."

In other words, it's not like Edwards is special in some way. It's that Cawthorn has to go and Edwards just happens to be the best one of the challengers. If Edwards were to drop out, Tillis would automatically go for the next best challenger. Either way, Cawthorn has to go.

It is true that the North Carolina representative has been on something of a run, lately. In addition to the offenses already discussed, Cawthorn has called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a "thug" and the Ukrainian government corrupt and woke. There's certainly some truth in the "corrupt" part, as former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch pointed out (and was fired for doing so). But woke? Zelenskyy is woke? You can't make this stuff up. Unless you are Cawthorn, in which case you can and do make this stuff up.

And Tillis isn't the only prominent Tar Heel Republican who has had it with Cawthorn, either. The other North Carolina senator, Richard Burr (R-NC), has called Cawthorn an "embarassment." Kevin McCarthy said of Cawthorn: "I'm very disappointed. I told him he's lost my trust. He's lost my trust. He's going to have to earn it back. Cawthorn hasn't lost the primary yet, but it is never helpful to have both of your senators and the party leader of the House being against you.

What interests us, beyond the fact that Cawthorn's race could get hairy, is: Why isn't Greene getting the same treatment? She's surely as bad as Cawthorn, right? This question has also interested other commentators, including CNN's Chris Cillizza, who wrote a piece headlined "The *real* reason so many Republicans are mad at Madison Cawthorn " and Politico's Elena Schor, who wrote one headlined "Why Cawthorn got more GOP blowback than MTG." They are basically in agreement, concluding that Cawthorn attacks Republicans more directly than Greene does. For example, Schor writes: "Greene, [Rep Lauren] Boebert [R-CO] and [Rep. Paul] Gosar [R-AZ] don't antagonize their fellow Republicans as broadly and directly. Greene has occasionally slammed her own in the GOP, but she reserves her harshest rhetoric for Democrats, as do Boebert and Gosar."

Maybe that's all there is to it, but we suspect there are a couple of other dynamics in play, too. We would suggest that the current state of Republican politics is such that Greene's lies, her embrace of kooky conspiracy theories, her flirtations with white supremacism, and her antisemitism are not deal-breakers, but Cawthorn's claims are. Conservatives have been obsessed with drug abuse and with policing sexual morality for generations, back to when the Democrats were the conservative party (and thus the morality police). Accusing other Republicans of misdeeds in terms of sexual conduct/drug use crosses a line that is not terribly easy to cross (accusing a fellow Republican of having a secret abortion, or of being a closet Muslim might do it, though—Cawthorn ought to try it out).

The other dynamic, we would posit, is that politicians are sharks, and they feed on the weak. Greene is basically untouchable, since many in the Republican conference think she's speaking truth to power, and since she comes from a district that's more red than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was at the time of his honeymoon. On the other hand, Cawthorn's district is considerably less red, which means his far-right politics aren't a great match. He's vulnerable to an establishment Republican, like Chuck Edwards. In other words, when it's necessary to thin the herd, you start with the weakest elephant.

In any event, that congressional race (Cawthorn and Edwards are running in NC-11) is going to be a barnburner. The primary is theoretically going to take place on May 17, though dickering over maps could cause that to be postponed. (Z & V)

The Truth about TRUTH Social

TRUTH Social, Donald Trump's social media website, has been pretty much as disastrous as everyone expected. After a moderately successful rollout, in which about 800,000 people downloaded the app, it's all been downhill. The site is buggy, has been offline several times, is populated by many users whose goal is to make trouble and to embarrass Trump, and still doesn't have enough capacity to enroll all the users who were put on a waitlist 6 weeks ago. Other issues:

There are many, many problems with TRUTH Social, such that success was always a longshot. Perhaps the most visible one, however, and the one that is seemingly most fixable, is this: Donald Trump doesn't use the platform. He's sent one TRUTH, and that was before the platform went public. He is literally the only selling point that TRUTH has, and if he's not going to use the platform, then there's nothing to see here. It's like the website Garfield Minus Garfield:

The orange cat Garfield
has been erased from a three-panel comic, such that in the first panel his owner Jon says I made a mistake,' in the second panel
Jon looks forward, and in the third panel, he looks backward. It's very postmodern.

Without the orange-hued star, it's just not the same.

So, how come Trump doesn't use his own platform? He's not saying, of course, but we have a couple of ideas. The first possibility is that he doesn't like to be associated with losers, even if the loser is... Donald Trump. If so, he's created something of a Catch-22. He doesn't want to use the platform to avoid embarrassment when it fails. But if he doesn't use it, it's guaranteed to fail.

The other possibility, and the one the SEC is looking into, is that this was all just a scam to fleece the rubes, and Trump has gotten what he wanted out of it. Here's the stock price for Digital World Acquisition Corporation, the SPAC that funded TRUTH Social:

It started at $10/share, and jumped to almost $100/share
on the IPO. Then it fluctuated between $100 and $40 for several months before returning to nearly $100 again in late February. Since then, it's 
been pretty much downhill, and now it's trading around $60

As you can see, those who got in at the beginning, like Trump, made a pretty penny. Since then, there was a brief period of "break even" time if you got in at the peak, but mostly it's been downhill. And in the last month, the price has dropped by one-third. Given the problems outlined above, would you want to bet your money that it's going to do anything other than sink further and further? We wouldn't.

One cannot help but contrast this with the news, which broke Monday, that after threatening to build his own social media platform several times, Elon Musk bought a 9.2% stake in Twitter. Since he made the purchase last month, he's realized gains of several hundred million dollars. This may be a case study in what happens when an actual billionaire with actual business acumen decides to actually get serious about investing in social media.

In any event, barring a near-miraculous turnaround, TRUTH Social is headed toward irrelevance (assuming it hasn't already arrived at that destination). And so, we expect to write just one more item about the platform, the one in which we note that, as expected, it has been shut down. (Z)

Maryland Has Its Maps

Last week, as we noted, a Maryland judge tossed the district map that the Democratic-controlled legislature had passed, and then re-passed over Gov. Larry Hogan's (R-MD) veto. The issue was that the map, which was a clear gerrymander, featured districts that were something less than compact, which is a violation of state law.

As a consequence of this, the legislature went back to the drawing board and came up with a map that is... less gerrymandered. There's only so much to be done, since Maryland is pretty blue, and most of the Republicans live in the eastern portion of the state (the part that borders Delaware). It would appear that Maryland Republicans are satisfied, as most of them said that this map is a significant improvement over the last one. And yesterday, Hogan signed off on it. Presumably, the governor's approval, not to mention the looming deadlines for the state's primaries (April 15 for candidate filing, July 19 for the primary election) will forestall any further lawsuits, and this will be the final map.

Under the map that was struck down, Maryland would have had seven deep blue Democratic districts and one deep red Republican district (MD-01, represented by Republican Andy Harris). Under the new map, the state will have four deep blue Democratic districts, two that are solidly Democratic, one toss-up, and one deep red Republican district. Barring unusual circumstances, then, a map that would have produced a 7D, 1R delegation will now produce either 7D, 1R or 6D, 2R. So, the Republicans basically squeezed half a seat out of their lawsuit. Not bad for a week's work. (Z)

March... Sadness, Part VII (Executive Branch, Round 3)

And we move on to the round of 16:

The Executive Branch bracket now looks like this:

#1 Former president Donald Trump vs. #13 Postmaster General Louis DeJoy;
#11 Former first son Donald Trump Jr. vs. #15 Former attorney general William Barr

Here is the ballot for this round of voting:

This round of voting runs until Monday, April 11, at noon. As always, comments on the matchups are welcomed. (Z & V).

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