The Senate has many peculiar customs such as the filibuster and the Byrd Bath, but one of the most peculiar and pointless is the vote-a-rama. When the majority has a bill it wants to vote on, it has to first allow the opposition to introduce amendments. None of them are going to be accepted, but they have to go through the charade anyway until everyone gives up. Experienced senators know how to prepare for it. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said: "I went to Trader Joe's and bought a few hundred dollars worth of snacks for all the floor staff, for fellow senators and other people working late tonight." He specifically stocked up on dark peanut butter cups and chocolate-covered espresso beans. He also bought some nuts and veggies for those senators who prefer healthy food. Booker didn't say whether or not he was going to share his haul with the Republicans. Maybe he was planning to barter chocolate peanut butter cups for votes.
On Saturday and Sunday morning, for 16 hours, Republicans got to introduce amendments to the Joe-Manchin-and-Kyrsten-Sinema-approved Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The bill survived unscathed. The Senate was the biggest obstacle, so it is assured of passage now.
Some of the Republicans introduced amendments that they really, genuinely wanted. In particular, there were amendments to remove additional funding for IRS so it could go after big-time tax cheats, some of whom no doubt appreciated the effort and will thank the Republicans for at least trying.
The vote-a-rama tends to be paired with a certain amount of grandstanding. Even friendly fire. At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tried to change the language relating to the corporate tax to make it tougher and use the money to increase child tax credits. He got to explain why he wanted it—even though all the other senators already knew why, didn't care, and were tired. It is not that the Democrats all opposed Sanders' amendment. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), a big supporter of the idea, argued with Sanders that making any change risked the entire bill, so the amendment could not be approved. The bill was carefully crafted with a scalpel to get all the Democrats on board and any change could upset the applecart so no change could be tolerated, not even a change most Democrats actually approved of. So the amendment failed 97-1, with Sanders being the 1.
The vote-a-rama is not 100% for show—even at 4 a.m., when only vote-a-rama devotees are tuned in. Some amendments require Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough to make real-time rulings on sections of the bill that amendments addressed. One success the Republicans had was a provision in the bill that capped the price of a month's supply of insulin at $35 for both the Medicare market (which the government pays for) and also the private market (which the government does not pay for). She ruled that the provision for the private market had to be stricken because it did not affect federal revenue or expenditures, but the Medicare provision was allowed. MacDonough also ruled that a tax on methane leaked by oil and gas producers was allowed because it increased federal revenues.
Some of the amendments were very specific and related to some of the senators' pet projects, like these provisions to:
Just about every vote taken was a straight party-line vote. Yesterday afternoon, the bill passed the full Senate 51-50, with President of the Senate Kamala Harris carrying out her one constitutional duty: breaking ties in the Senate. The bill will now be sent to the House, where it will be taken up Friday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will not tolerate any amendments since then the bill would have to go to conference and the whole carefully constructed deal could fall apart. It will be a straight up-or-down vote. Take it or leave it. It will undoubtedly be a straight party-line vote again.
The big political question is: "Will the bill affect the midterms?" We don't know, of course, but a month ago it looked like the Democrats were running on empty. Now they can point to action on lowering drug prices, dealing with climate change, and encouraging advanced manufacturing in the U.S. (the CHIPS Act). Throw in abortion and they are in much better shape than they were a month ago. Will that be enough to overcome the out party's usual advantage? We don't know, but things look a lot brighter for the blue team than a month ago.
One potential problem for the Democrats is public perception. If Joe Biden had proposed the current bill, which lowers drug prices for seniors and does more to protect the planet than any bill in history, in Jan. 2021 and had Congress pass it in Feb. 2021, he would have been seen as a legislative giant, along with LBJ and FDR. But because the bill is so much smaller than his original proposal, which died about a dozen deaths, this bill seems a bit anticlimatic (though not anticlimate). Politico Playbook described the situation by writing: "Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act will make Biden one of the most legislatively successful presidents of the modern era. We once noted that the mismatch between the size of Biden's ambitions and his margins in Congress made it seem like he was trying to pass a rhinoceros through a garden hose. It ended up being more like a pony, but it's still pretty impressive."
Let's look at the score so far:
|Bill||Amount of money|
|American Recovery Act||$1,900 billion|
|Inflation Reduction Act||$700 billion|
|Infrastructure and Jobs Act||$550 billion|
|Chips and Science Act||$280 billion|
Our calculation comes to a total of $3.43 trillion. That's not chicken feed. Biden also oversaw a major expansion of NATO and passed a new (weak) gun safety law. It may or may not work, but it sure gives Democrats something to run on and rebut Republican claims that Biden did nothing. (V)
Last Tuesday we had six states holding primaries. That's tough to beat. Tomorrow there are four, but that's still pretty good for August. Only there are no fireworks expected like the Kansas referendum on changing the state constitution. Here is the line up for tomorrow:
So, in summary, a few interesting House races, but probably not a lot of big surprises like last week. (V)
Speaking of last week, the Kansas initiative has shaken many Republican candidates to the core. Many of them were planning to run on banning abortion as the main plank of their platform. All of a sudden that doesn't seem to be such a great idea, not even in deep red districts. But what's a candidate to do when all he "stands for" is banning abortion and that is now: (1) possible and (2) very unpopular? Talk about the dog who caught the car.
One approach has been to suddenly talk mostly (or only) about how important exceptions for rape are, even though many Republican candidates were against such exceptions as recently as last Tuesday at about 8 p.m. Central Time. Doug Mastriano (R), who is running for governor of Pennsylvania is taking a different approach. He says it is up to the people of Pennsylvania, not the governor. Wrong. If the Republican-controlled state legislature passes a bill banning all abortions, it does not land on the desk of the state treasurer or the auditor general. Guess where it lands.
Dorothy may have noticed that she wasn't in Kansas anymore, but Republican strategists are worried silly that all candidates are now in Kansas. They haven't figured out how to deal with this. Some say candidates should emphasize how they want to care for women during and after their pregnancies. This could take some practice since no Republican has ever tried this. Other strategists are advising candidates to stick to inflation and hope the abortion issue goes away. But since Democratic strategists are going to be telling their candidates the top three issues are (1) abortion, (2) abortion, and (3) abortion, that might just not work.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) says the way to go is to press for expanded gynecological and obstetrics care, more access to contraception (including emergency contraception), and even protecting the right of women to go to a different state for an abortion. Of course, voters and reporters are going to keep asking about the 10-year-old girl in Ohio who was raped and fled to Indiana for an abortion. Saying you are for better access to contraception doesn't really solve the problem of 10-year-olds being raped.
Scott Jensen, the likely Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, suddenly began talking about providing oral contraceptives over the counter (which a state can't do without FDA approval) and giving women who give up a baby for adoption a $2,500 state tax credit. But for teenagers who don't work and don't have any income, a tax credit is worthless. Try again, Scott.
Some Republicans that can cast themselves as moderates by offering empathy toward pregnant women. Sure. Republicans are now the party of empathy toward women. Maybe that is better than thoughts and prayers, but not much.
And no matter how creative Republican candidates get, they still have to deal with (and get the votes of) hard-core anti-abortion voters who don't want thoughts, prayers, or empathy. They want jail terms for people aiding anyone who helps kill an unborn zygote, embryo, fetus, or baby. If a candidate softens his message too much, the base will stay home and if he doesn't the independents and Democrats will clobber him.
One problem with the "strategy" of "softening" their stance on abortion, is that primaries in most states are finished and most of the winning Republicans took a hard line on abortion to win the primary. Oppo researchers are going to have a field day with that. Like this ad in Michigan:
Dixon can stand on her head if she wants to, but this ad is going to define her. Similar ads using footage from the candidates' own campaigns are going to surface everywhere. Escaping it will be impossible. (V)
We (and others) have written at great length about the terrible Senate candidates Donald Trump has foisted upon the Republican party, including Blake Masters (AZ), Mehmet Oz (PA), J.D. Vance (OH), and Herschel Walker (GA). If the Democrats do a good job, all of them could lose winnable races and keep the blue team in charge of the Senate, possibly with even a net gain in seats.
Less has been written about Trump's terrible choices for governor, but they are especially important in states with Republican controlled legislatures, where the presence of a Republican governor means right-wing bills (e.g., about voting) get signed and the presence of a Democratic governor means they get vetoed. States that come to mind here include Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. (And the only reason Georgia isn't on the list is that Trump's candidate, David Perdue, lost the primary to Gov. Brian Kemp, R-GA.)
Trump has a special place in his heart (if he has one) for Kari Lake, who nosed out Karrin Taylor Robson last week for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Arizona, even though Robson outspent her 5 to 1. Lake is a former TV news presenter and is Trumpier than Trump. If she is asked about her family, a likely response is: "They are fine, but they would be happier if Trump hadn't been cheated out of victory in 2020." If she is asked about the weather, a likely answer is "It's OK, but it would be better if we had fair elections." He has talked about her so much that there is wild speculation that if she is elected governor of Arizona, a key swing state, he might pick her as his 2024 running mate.
However, Lake has a couple of problems that don't seem to have registered with Trump. First, governors—unlike senators, who just have to vote the way their whip tells them to vote—have to actually run a state. Lake has never even run a donut franchise, let alone anything as big and complicated as the state of Arizona. Republicans may not care, but Democrats and independents probably do, especially since her opponent, Katie Hobbs (D), was elected minority leader in the state Senate twice and statewide as secretary of state once, where she oversaw the state's election machinery.
Second, Lake is attached to Trump like a Siamese twin. People who don't like Trump (and the 2020 election suggests that is a majority of Arizonans) aren't going to like Lake. It is like he is on the ballot. That worked fine in a Republican primary. It may be a lot less fine in a general election.
Third, Lake was born in Iowa, grew up there, and went to college there before settling in Arizona. Hobbs was born in Arizona, grew up there, went to college there, served in the state legislature, and has never lived outside the state. Is this crucial? Probably not, but making the point that you have spent 52 years in the state, living in different parts of it, could help a litte.
In Maryland, Trump's candidate for governor, Dan Cox, beat out the more establishment candidate, Kelly Schultz. In a blue state like Maryland, the only way for a Republican to win the governor's mansion is to be a RINO, like Gov. Larry Hogan (R?-MD). Cox is a lost cause. Wes Moore (D) will almost certainly be the next governor of Maryland.
Michigan is another problem for the GOP. Beating an incumbent, in this case, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), is always difficult since governors have universal name recognition in their states and challengers have to earn it. But Trump's choice here, Tudor Dixon, another TV personality like Lake, is also very far right. She opposes all abortions except to save the life of the mother. She is against aborting fetuses conceived as a result of rape. Post Kansas, that may be a tough sell. Like Lake, Dixon believes that Trump was cheated in 2020. Unlike Lake, she has some business experience, but it was selling heavy machinery in her father's company. She never actually ran anything herself. Again, Trump was attracted to a pretty face who was on TV, repeats his lies, and is utterly unqualified to run a big and complex state.
Finally we come to Pennsylvania. Trump's, guy, Doug Mastriano, won the primary and will face Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro. Unlike Lake and Dixon, Mastriano does have some qualifications for office. He has a masters degree from Air University and another from the Army War College in strategic studies. He also has a Ph.D. in history (albeit from a Canadian University, so...). He served in military intelligence in Europe and retired in 2017 as a colonel in the Army. In 2018 he ran for a vacant seat in the U.S. House, but a week after he filed, the state Supreme Court redrew the gerrymandered map. He lost. In 2019 he was elected to the state Senate. His knowledge of foreign affairs and national security would be an asset to someone running for Congress, but is less useful for a governor.
Mastriano's problem is that he is really, really far right and that he is running for governor of Pennsylvania, not governor of Wyoming. His campaign website has his platform. Here is a screenshot of the top category on it.
The careful reader will notice that all six items in the "freedom category" are opposition to measures to intended to stop the spread of COVID-19. The second category is about election integrity, and features points like prohibiting private money (like Zuckerbucks) in elections as well as banning no-excuse absentee voting and requiring photo ID for voting. Other items include banning all abortions and cutting corporate taxes, which is fairly standard Republican boilerplate.
In June, Politico had a long article about Mastriano entitled: "'Comes Across as a Cult Guy': The Pennsylvania Candidate Freaking Out Both the Left and the Right." He is an election denier and Christian nationalist. His rallies are more like old-fashioned revival meetings. He was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He went to Arizona to watch the Cyber Ninjas pretend to recount the votes. He wants to purge all voters from the rolls and force everyone to reregister. He has compared gun control to Nazi Germany and said Roe v. Wade is much worse than the Holocaust and is generally anti-Semitic.
Neil Oxman, a veteran Democratic ad maker, said of Mastriano: "He's a nut bag." Shapiro engaged in a little ratf**king during the primary to help Mastriano get the nomination because he thought Mastriano was so far off the chart as to be unelectable in Pennsylvania. One prominent Republican operative feels Mastriano may collapse so fast that Shapiro may be able to redirect campaign funds to downballot races in Pennsylvania. The (anonymous) Republican added: "No one wanted him."
So if everything breaks right for the Democrats, Trump's influence could cost the Republicans four winnable Senate seats and four winnable governorships. It would be quite an achievement. (V)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has prepared a (microscopic-by-Senate-standards) four-page bill to make same-sex marriage legal throughout the country. (For comparison purposes, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is over 700 pages.) Technically the marriage bill is not needed right now because the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision says that such marriages are guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. However, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, among others, are known not to believe in constitutional rights for things not actually in the Constitution, so Obergefell could be overturned the next time the opportunity arises.
Consequently, the Democrats want to pass a law explicitly allowing any adult to marry any other adult, anywhere in the country, without regard to their sex. However, Many Republicans are scared to vote for it. It isn't that they actually care about the matter. Most probably have little interest in it one way or the other, but they know the Republican base is heavily homophobic, so they have to watch their asses. For the bill to pass, 10 Republican senators need to vote for cloture to break the expected filibuster.
The person working on "lobbying" the 50 Republican senators is Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). She is the ideal person for two reasons. First, she was the first openly gay person elected to Congress. She was in a same-sex relationship at the time, but they broke up. Second, she is a typical Midwestern nice person, quiet and reserved, who never tries to upstage another senator. For that reason, all the other senators like her. Think of her as the polar opposite of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who the other 99 senators all hate. She is working day and night to line up 10 Republicans to vote for cloture. Note that she doesn't need them to vote for the bill, only for cloture. A senator could easily take the position: "I oppose this bill but the subject is important enough that I feel the full Senate should vote on it, even if I will vote 'no'."
Baldwin's lobbying may be paying off. She got Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who is retiring and whose son is gay, on board quickly. She claims to have four other senators who are definite "yes" votes lined up. She is working on five more. The other senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, who is in a tough reelection battle with a young progressive, Mandela Barnes, told her that if the bill is strictly about marriage and the Democrats don't try to sneak in something unrelated, he would not oppose the bill.
Baldwin is optimistic that the tide has turned and she will get five more senators to at least vote for cloture, which will allow the bill to pass since all the Democrats support it. Schumer doesn't want to bring up the bill until Baldwin has assured him that there are 10 votes for cloture. The bill has already passed the House, so it is five senators away from becoming law.
One thing Baldwin has not been doing is lobbying the Supreme Court. Senators aren't supposed to do that. But if the bill passes and is signed into law, that doesn't mean same-sex marriage is home free. It is absolutely certain there will be a lawsuit about it, probably from some county clerk in a red state who refuses to issue a marriage license to a gay couple. That case will eventually end up at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court could potentially rule that the Constitution does not grant Congress the power to regulate marriages, so the law is unconstitutional. And by the way, Obergefell was wrongly decided, just like Roe v. Wade, so it's history. Would that decision be popular? No, but all it takes is five votes and two of them (Thomas and Alito) are slam dunks. (V)
It's a tough call and we don't know the answer. What does Donald Trump like best: fleecing the rubes or getting revenge on his enemies? He did pretty well in Michigan last week, supporting a candidate who took down Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) for voting to impeach him.
However, he did less well in Washington, as the race in WA-04 has now been called and impeachment supporter Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) made it into the top two while Trump endorsee Loren Culp did not. Newhouse will face off against Democrat Doug White, a farmer and restaurant owner, in November. Trump could theoretically back White in order to get revenge against Newhouse, but the district is R+13, so not only would that anger his base but would probably lower bis batting average as well. So he'll probably grit his teeth and sit this one out.
In nearby WA-03, the race is too close to call and more votes will be announced later today. As in all Washington primaries, this is also a top-two race. Currently, Democrat Marie Perez has locked up the top slot. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), who voted to impeach Trump the second time, is in second place, but only 257 votes ahead of Trump endorsee Joe Kent. Depending on how the final votes go, only one of them will make it to November to face Perez. The district is R+5, so it could go either way although any Republican has a slight advantage. Needless to say, if Beutler wins the primary, every Republican in Congress will take note of that fact that Trump's opposition is not the kiss of death. (V)
There are a couple of interesting experiments that will be carried out on Nov. 8, albeit not by design. Jonathan Last over at The Bulwark noticed something interesting in a recent poll of the Pennsylvania Senate race. In the crosstabs, he saw that 17% of the people who voted for Donald Trump in Pennsylvania are planning to vote for Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA). He noted there is no way Trump can bleed almost one in five voters and be a viable candidate. The poll also answered a nagging question he has had for a while: What would a Democratic version of populism look like. Now he has an answer. It would be 6' 9", ride a motorcycle, and wear Carhartt pants instead of Brooks Brothers suits. If the exit polls in November show that Fetterman indeed got nearly a fifth of the Trump vote, that strongly suggests that Fetterman or someone with a similar profile (even if a little shorter) would be a powerhouse Democratic candidate for president in 2024.
The Second experiment is being conducted some 400 miles west of Pittsburgh. Progressives have long said that young no-excuses progressive candidates will bring thousands of marginal young voters to the polls in swing states, more than enough to make up for the loss of some conservative Democrats. That test will be done in Wisconsin, where Mandela Barnes is facing Ron Johnson. Barnes is 35, Black, very progressive, and not shy about it at all. Johnson is very Trumpy. Like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin is a swing state. If Barnes greatly increases turnout above the 2018 level and crushes Johnson, that shows a true lefty can win in swing states and also points to the type of candidate the Democrats might want in 2024.
The third experiment is in Ohio, which is about R+8 these days. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is about as good a fit for a blue-collar state as can be. he is also running against a weak (but well financed, thanks to Peter Thiel) opponent who is Trumpy as hell, J.D. Vance. If Ryan can win that one, it shows that Democrats can win red states with the right candidate. If he can't, there is probably not a lot of hope for the Democrats in red states and they should probably focus more on emerging swing states like North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona.
Last also has an interesting observation about the Democrats' new tendency to engage in ratf*cking in House races in a big way. What they do is run ads "complaining" how conservative some far-right candidate is, in the hope that the ads will actually help the candidate with conservative voters. What they are trying to do is get the most conservative candidate possible to win the Republican nomination in the hope that independents can't stomach the candidate in the general election. But this strategy is a double-edged sword. If it works, the Democrat can win a race and maybe flip a seat. However, if it fails, they have just increased the membership of the Freedom Caucus and possibly given Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) a new buddy. A more defensive strategy would be to "back" a moderate Republican so that in the event of a GOP win, the damage wouldn't be catastrophic.
A race where we may find out if ratf*cking is a good idea is MI-03 (PVI R+5). The Democrats spent millions there to defeat Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), who voted to impeach Trump and to give the Republican the nomination to the very Trumpy John Gibbs. If centrist Hillary Scholten (D) can beat Gibbs, that will suggest ratf*cking works. If Gibbs wins, what they have done is replace a Republican who votes with the Democrats sometimes with one who will be against them 100% of the time. So keep an eye on MI-03. (V)
A CPAC conference tradition is a straw poll among attendees for who they want to be the Republican nominee for president next time. It is a semimeaningless poll, but does have some amusement value. This year, Donald Trump won with 69% of the votes. Second choice was Ron DeSantis at 24%
The pollster, Jim McLaughlin, also asked who the attendees wanted if Trump declines to run. DeSantis won that easily with 65% of the vote to Donald Trump Jr.'s 8%
The reason the poll doesn't mean much is that CPAC attendees are not even close to being a cross section of Republican primary voters. These are activists who have traveled to Dallas at their own expense, paid for their own hotel and food, and ponied up $295 to attend and possibly another $375 for the cattleman's ball. What makes them different from the average Republican voter is that (1) they are extremely devoted to the cause, (2) have plenty of money, and (3) have plenty of free time to be spending 3 days listening to speeches from Republican politicians and strategists. The average Republican voter these days is an angry blue collar worker, not someone who can take off a few days and spend a couple of thousand dollars to hear Republicans bash Joe Biden. Nevertheless, the straw poll may give an idea of what elite Republican activists want. (V)
Last Monday, we had an item about The Washington Post's handicapping the Democratic primary in the event Joe Biden bows out. In the interest of balance, or something, the Post now has handicapped the Republican presidential primary in the event Donald Trump decides not to run (or some jury decides that for him). We agree with some of their picks and strongly disagree with others. Read on.
The Post also has a few other possibilities including Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), Rob Portman, and some others who are even less probable, like Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Abbott uses a wheelchair, which would be a huge logistical problem in a national campaign, Portman hates politics, which is why he is leaving the Senate, and Blackburn is as crazy as a loon and has no redeeming features at all. (V)
Dick Cheney, sometimes known among Democrats as Darth Vader, has kept a low profile since ending his term as vice president. But now he has waded into one particular House race with an ad in which he faces the camera directly, in a cowboy hat, and says that Donald Trump is the greatest threat to the country in its 246 years because he tried to steal an election with lies and violence.
Here is the ad. It is worth watching, even if you were not much of fan of his when he was in office. We'll let you guess who the ad is for. Watch it to find out.
Among other things, Cheney calls Trump a coward, one of the worst things anyone could call Trump. The ad is kind of a swan song for the old cold warrior, but it is not a bad way to go. (V)