Joe Biden has been canceling bits and pieces of student loan debt since he took office, but each piece was very targeted—for example, the debt of students that went to a for-profit college and were basically ripped off. Yesterday, after endless thinking about it, he canceled up to $10,000 in student loan debt for former students now making up to $125,000/year and $20,000 in debt for students who went to college using Pell grants. The latter group are generally poorer students. In addition, the payment moratorium was extended until past the midterms.
This formula for debt cancellation addresses one of the objections there has been to canceling student loan debt: Why should a doctor or lawyer who went to Harvard with a student loan and is now making big bucks have the government pay off his or her debt? Under the Biden plan, people now making boatloads of money aren't eligible for debt cancellation, so the bulk of the relief goes to poor and middle class families.
Some Democrats, including Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), wanted Biden to cancel up to $50,000, but he didn't go that far. NAACP President Derrick Johnson said this is "not how you treat Black voters." If Black voters wanted college to be free, they voted for the wrong guy in South Carolina in 2020. They should have voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Some people are worried that this measure could spike inflation, but they probably don't understand how this will work. Someone owing $28,000 (the average debt) will now owe $18,000 and will still have to pay that over time. Nobody will get a check for $10,000. Instead, monthly loan payments will go down a little bit. That means former students will have a little bit more spending money. While that could have a slightly inflationary effect, it is not likely to be noticeable.
The politics of this move are hard to judge. Many blue-collar workers who didn't go to college but borrowed money to buy, say, a truck, won't get relief and might be angry (unless they have a child who got relief). The question is how many people who planned to vote for Democrats will be so angry that they will switch to the GOP? If most of the angry people were planning to vote Republican anyway, it may not cost the Democrats many votes. A really, really angry Republican doesn't get more votes than a merely angry Republican. If they did, Donald Trump would have won the popular vote by at least 50 million votes.
On the other hand, former students who get relief may now have an answer to the question: What has Biden done for me? Some of these people might have otherwise stayed home and might now be motivated to vote (Democratic) since they got some goodies from Biden. Over 45 million people, all of them over 18, have some student loan debt, so this is not a small group. Will it pay off politically? Probably yes, but how much is not certain at all.
And finally, Republicans are sure to go to court to challenge Biden's authority to cancel student debt without an act of Congress. Depending on the timing, it is possible that a judge rules that everyone has to keep paying off the old loan until the courts make a decision, years from now. When the courts stymied Trump while he was president, he railed at the courts. Biden won't do that. (V)
As all readers of this site know, the president's party usually does very poorly in the first midterm, especially when the president's approval rating is way under water. But special elections give a way to test that. Unlike a primary, a special general election almost always pits a Democrat against a Republican. There is valuable information in a special election, even in a heavily skewed district. For example, on May 1, 2021, there was a special election in TX-06, a district that skews Republican by 11 points. The Republican won. So what? Well, the Republican won by 25 points, far more than expected. That was good news for the GOP. They were outperforming the normal case.
FiveThirtyEight has taken this idea further and analyzed all 13 special elections since Joe Biden was inaugurated. Rather than using Charlie Cook's PVI to measure each district, FiveThirtyEight has its own metric, which is calculated slightly differently than Cook's. Using the FiveThirtyEight metric, Nathaniel Rakich divided the special elections into pre-Dobbs and post-Dobbs. Here are the results. An asterisk indicates a top-two primary.
In the pre-Dobbs elections, the Republicans held a slight edge, R+2. In the post-Dobbs special elections, that average jumped to D+9. That is an 11-point shift toward the Democrats since the Supreme Court decision. That's not peanuts. And some of the changes have been in deep red districts, where one might have expected Dobbs to have a positive effect rallying conservatives.
There have been exceptions to the norm of "president's party loses in the midterms," but they are almost always due to some specific event that year. The 9/11 attack killed 3,000 Americans, but it saved the Republican Party's hide in 2002. The Republicans' impeachment process of Bill Clinton, which played out in the fall of 1998, backfired spectacularly and saved the Democrats in the 1998 midterms. Might Dobbs be a similar event, so important that it breaks the norm? We should point out that voters have exceedingly short memories and will soon be subjected to over $5 billion worth of ads, many of the them saying the Democrats are somewhere to the left of Chairman Mao. So we don't know if the clear momentum the Democrats now have can be sustained.
So much for Nate Silver & Co. The other Nate, The New York Times' Nate Cohn, wrote a very similar article yesterday entitled "Growing Evidence Against a Republican Wave." He also observes that Democrats have outperformed "normal" in the special elections since Dobbs. But he also notes that low-turnout special elections in the summer are not the be-all and end-all of election forecasting.
Cohn also notes that Democrats have been improving on the generic ballot for months. He also looked at individual races and said there is no actual evidence of a red wave anywhere to be found.
But winning the House is a game of numbers. A party needs to win 218 separate elections to gain control. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo notes that there are eight open Democratic seats that voted for Trump in 2020 (FL-05, FL-07, FL-13, GA-06, MI-10, TN-05, TX-15, and WI-03) that the Democrats aren't even bothering to seriously contest. Another eight open seats (AZ-06, IL-17, NC-01, NY-03, NY-18, OH-13, OR-05, and PA-17) went to Biden, but by small margins. Finally, he lists five seats with Democratic incumbents that voted for Trump (AZ-02, IA-03, ME-02, OH-09 and PA-08). These 21 seats could determine control of the House, no matter what the special elections or the generic poll shows. Ultimately, it's all about the math—and the cartography. (V)
Happy birthday to Ukraine yesterday and also to the war in Ukraine. Ukraine celebrates its independence on August 24. Also, the war there was now ½ year old yesterday, having started on Feb. 24. It is still going strong. Russia has occupied about 20% of Ukraine's territory, but has been unable to capture any more, though Ukraine has been unable to get any captured territory back. It is not quite World War I, with enemy armies lined up in parallel trenches at opposite sides of a field shooting at one another for weeks, but it is closer to that than to any other recent war. Here is the current military situation.
Ukraine can only keep going against the much bigger Russia if the U.S. and European countries keep giving it military aid. Joe Biden clearly wants to impress Russian President Vladimir Putin with the fact that he is in this for the long haul and does not want to give Russia a win. Consequently, Biden just approved another $3 billion in military aid for Ukraine. The total U.S. military aid to Ukraine so far is $10.6 billion.
The package will contain lots of nice goodies for the Ukrainian army, including three kinds of drones. There are the small, hand-launched Puma drones, the longer-range catapult-launched Scan Eagle surveillance drones, and the ship-launched British Vampire drones. Drone warfare is clearly all the rage now and the Pentagon is learning a lot about how well drones work in warfare. The package also contains lots of ammo, especially for the HIMARS systems that have proved very effective at precisely hitting targets 50 miles away.
The HIMARS system is the main reason Russia hasn't been able to take new ground. It has been used to take out high-value targets way beyond the range of standard artillery. These include ammunition dumps, logistics systems, bridges, and other targets the surveillance drones have pinpointed.
Unlike previous aid packages, which contain weapons that were intended to be used immediately, these are weapons that make sense in a long, drawn-out war, which this one looks like it is becoming. The large size of the package is also intended to reassure the Ukrainians that the U.S. has their back and is not getting cold feet. So does NATO. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: "Winter is coming, and it will be hard, and what we see now is a grinding war of attrition. This is a battle of wills, and a battle of logistics. Therefore we must sustain our support for Ukraine for the long term, so that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation."
There is no indication that Putin intends to end the war anytime soon. In fact, Russia has adopted a new tactic intended to frighten the Ukrainians into giving up. Russian soldiers have kidnapped over 1,000 Ukrainian children so far, transferred them to Russia, and given them to Russian families to adopt. These families then get a one-time payment from the Russian government for doing so. This operation is clearly a war crime. Putin has a law degree from what was then the Leningrad State University, but he was probably not paying attention when the professor talked about the laws of war.
If you are interested in a daily report on the military situation in Ukraine, a good place to look is the website of the Institute for the Study of War.
One thing the war has done is destroy Russia's image as a military superpower. Ivan the Russian soldier is not 8 feet tall and invincible. He is 5 feet tall and scared when he is not drunk. And his tank is 30 years old and his gun doesn't work—even when bullets are available. Phillips O'Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said the war shows that Russia "is not able to run complex operations in the way the British or French or Israelis can do, so in those terms it isn't even a second-tier military power."
Another huge—and not easily fixed—problem is the structure of the Russian army. The officer ranks parallel the U.S. Army fairly well, from four levels of general down to lieutenant, although the Russians have three grades of lieutenant rather than two. Below the junior lieutenants are just draftees, who are barely trained and serve just 1 year. In contrast, the U.S. Army's secret weapon is a large cadre of non-commissioned officers, especially sergeants, many of whom have 20 or 30 years experience and know what a war is like on the ground. They are given general orders about their missions but are expected to use their extensive knowledge and skills to accomplish their missions as they see fit. They are also told that if a brand-new second lieutenant fresh from West Point gives them an order that seems stupid, to politely ask the officer if he might want to reconsider, given the conditions on the ground. In the Russian Army, questioning an order is almost a capital crime.
Needless to say, the Pentagon is collecting as much information as it can about the Russian military: its equipment, its weapons, its logistics, its command structure, and its morale. This could be a gold mine in future conflicts with Russia.
One area where Russia has done better than Biden expected is the economy. Early in the war, Biden pushed for heavy sanctions and said he was going to turn the ruble into rubble. That hasn't happened. Here is a chart showing how many rubles it has taken to buy one dollar since Aug. 2021.
Throughout 2021, it took 70 rubles to buy one dollar. In Feb. 2022, that shot up to 135. Now it takes only 60 rubles to buy one dollar, so the ruble has actually strengthened a little since a year ago. The Russian economy has been hit hard by the sanctions, but is being kept afloat by the sale of oil and gas to China, India, and Europe. Nevertheless, the lack of western parts and supplies is hurting many manufacturing sectors, including military equipment, some of which use western chips no longer available.
All in all, Biden has strengthened NATO, damaged the Russian economy, and practically destroyed the Russian army. If he runs for reelection, he can make a pretty good case that he has done well in the area of foreign policy. (V)
An approval rating of 41% is not great for any president whose party is worried about being drubbed in the midterms, but it is a lot better than being in the 30s, where Joe Biden's has been stuck for months. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll has Biden up 5 points since the July poll, a surprisingly large gain. Undoubtedly the gain is due to the various bills he has signed in the past few weeks, indicating that he is actually getting things done.
The poll shows the raw partisanship of the country. 78% of Democrats approve of Biden (up from 69% a month ago), but only 12% of Republicans do. The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday.
In addition, a Yahoo News/YouGov poll also has Biden up 5 points in August, so the effect is probably real. (V)
Republicans tend to believe in "every man for himself," while Democrats are more communal. It's extremely rare for a Republican politician to do something that hurts himself in order to help the Republican Party as a whole. With Democrats, that has been known to happen. The most recent example is among five Democratic challengers running for the Senate, who have agreed to split donations in order to help the Democrats retain control of the upper chamber. The five are: Mandela Barnes (WI), Cheri Beasley (NC), Val Demings (FL), and John Fetterman (PA), and Tim Ryan (OH). All of them are running the risk of having to give money to one or more of the others in return for possibly being in the majority rather than the minority if they win.
So how much has each one raised and spent, and how much does each have on hand? Open Secrets keeps track of campaign spending and here is what it is reporting, rounded to the nearest thousand.
|State||Democrat||Raised||Spent||Cash on hand||Republican||Raised||Spent||Cash on hand|
|WI||Mandela Barnes||$6,949,000||$5,959,000||$990,000||Ron Johnson||$17,318,000||$15,339,000||$2,024,000|
|NC||Cheri Beasley||$15,932,000||$11,110,000||$4,822,000||Ted Budd||$6,330,000||$5,617,000||$1,783,000|
|FL||Val Demings||$47,207,000||$39,161,000||$8,818,000||Marco Rubio||$36,467,000||$2,117,000||$15,022,000|
|PA||John Fetterman||$25,826,000||$20,328,000||$5,499,000||Mehmet Oz||$18,996,000||$17,870,000||$1,127,000|
|OH||Tim Ryan||$21,516,000||$17,949,000||$3,567,000||J.D. Vance||$3,614,000||$2,995,000||$629,000|
Now, interpreting this data isn't so simple and the gang of five hasn't said how they are going to divvy up the pot. They certainly aren't going to add up all the receipts and divide by five, or anything like that. They have to consider factors like:
For example, J.D. Vance has the lowest cash on hand, but that hardly matters. He could just whip out his phone, call Peter Thiel, and say: "Hi, Peter, I'm short on cash. Could you please put another $20 million in your super PAC and start spending it?" Mehmet Oz could just write himself a check. In fact, he might have to, because the NRSC has basically given up on him.
The polling matters because candidates who are on a glide path to win, like John Fetterman, can easily give some money to candidates like Cheri Beasley, who are in tight races. Pennsylvania looks so good for the Democrats right now that gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro (D) has discussed giving some of his money to downballot Democrats in the state.
All that said, Democrats are famous for fighting with one another, and this group spans the field from progressives like Barnes to moderates like Ryan. Still, that they are willing to cooperate and share money to help produce a Democratic Senate is quite unusual. (V)
Politicians used to have the decency to wait until the midterms were over to start running for president, but those days are no more. Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) won a somewhat unusual election focused on schools against a sleazy, weak Democratic retread, and is already making a list of who gets to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. Rather than governing Virginia, he is traveling around the country to states nowhere near Virginia to give speeches, help other Republican candidates, meet local politicians, and collect chits which he expects to cash in a couple of years.
Nevada is not terribly close to Virginia and the demographics and issues are quite different there, but Youngkin is going there in 2 weeks to help gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo (R), who he probably doesn't even know. But what he does know is that Nevada is an early primary state and talking to local Republican politicians now and helping them raise money is something he could remind them of, should the need ever arise.
Virginia can run on autopilot for a while, so Youngkin is also going to campaign for Republicans in New Mexico, Oregon, and Kansas (states where Republicans want to knock off a Democratic governor) and other states as well.
We'll give Youngkin credit for this, though: He is not being coy. He is telling anyone who will listen that he is presidential material. However, he has not announced a run yet. There is the little problem of Donald Trump that he hasn't quite solved. But if Trump doesn't run, Youngkin wants to be ready to go. Of course, if Trump doesn't run, for whatever reason, Youngkin will have quite a bit of competition and he is much less well known than Mike Pence and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), so Youngkin feels he needs to get to work now. (V)
The bad news keeps coming for Mehmet Oz. He is constantly being mocked for being out-of-state and out-of-touch. Now another little tidbit has come out that is not going to help him.
Oz was recently asked how many houses he has. He said "two." Turns out it was 10. That's twice as many as John McCain had in 2008, and to McCain's everlasting credit, he at least told the reporter he didn't know and would have his staff work on it. One of Oz' 10 houses is now in the news, and it isn't the one he just bought in Pennsylvania so he could claim he lives in the state.
The news-y house is a multimillion-dollar beachfront mansion in Palm Beach County, FL, not that far from his once-buddy Donald Trump. Oz has described the house as "heaven." He recently put in millions of dollars to upgrade the residence, including putting in a pool and spa. After all, if you are tired of swimming in the ocean, it would be nice to have a pool as an alternative. It is not known if he added a special refrigerator for keeping crudités properly chilled.
Palm Beach County has a regulation that is intended to encourage people to upgrade old historic homes in the county, like Oz' house. On May 3rd, the county commissioners approved a tax rebate for Oz that will save him at least half a million dollars. This is all perfectly legal, but for a candidate who just bought a house in Pennsylvania so he could say he technically lives there (which he doesn't), getting a big tax break on a house in yet another state doesn't really reinforce the idea that he lives in Pennsylvania, knows anything about it, or cares about the people there. In contrast, his opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA), was born in the Keystone State, grew up there, and graduated from Albright College in Reading, PA. As a consequence, Oz' carpetbaggery has become one of the biggest issues in the campaign. Yet another piece of news about Oz' connection to still another state that isn't Pennsylvania isn't going to help him. (V)
Make that Carolyn Maloney's job as chair of the House Oversight Committee, not Sean Maloney's job as chairman of the DCCC—a thankless job, especially if the Democrats lose the House. Due to redistricting and a game of musical districts started by Sean Maloney, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) ended up in the same district as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Nadler won the primary. This means that the top Democratic slot of the House Oversight Committee will be vacant as of Jan. 3. If the Democrats hold the House, the chairmanship will be hugely important, but even if the Democrats lose the House, the job of ranking member will still be significant.
The top slots on the Oversight Committee matter because the Committee is enormously powerful. It has the authority to investigate just about anything the chair wants to investigate. If the Republicans take over, count on massive investigations of the FBI and Hunter Biden's laptop. While the ranking member wouldn't be able to stop the investigations, he or she would still be able to have some impact on them and at least ask questions the chairman would never ask.
Already, four of the 24 Democrats on the Committee have sort-of thrown their hats in the ring for the job (and more could follow). They are Reps. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD). Connolly was the first to jump in, saying: "We need a tested leader who will not be timid in the face of Republican insurrectionists. One who has a deep understanding of the issues facing our Committee and our country. I can be that leader." Not much hesitation there.
Lynch wrote a letter to House Democrats pointing out that he is the most senior Democratic House member on the Committee and that for the past 17 years has chaired or been ranking member of one of the subcommittees. The letter discusses his youth growing up in Boston with five sisters and his travels to Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Mali and other places that definitely need a lot of oversight. He challenged Maloney for the top role in 2019 and lost, but could win against weaker players. Raskin played a big role in Donald Trump's impeachments and is very close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Khanna is popular with progressives, but he hasn't made a formal decision yet.
One person who is not running for the job is not actually a member of the House, Del. Eleanor Norton (D-DC). Actually, there are 330 million Americans are who not members of the House and also not running for the chairmanship of the Oversight Committee, but Norton is special. Since D.C. is not a state, it doesn't have any representatives per the Constitution, but the House has long recognized this as an injustice to the people living in D.C. and allows them to elect one delegate to the House. Norton has been that delegate since 1991. The delegate can do anything a member can do except vote on the floor of the House. Norton has more seniority than anyone else on the Committee, but she is running for the top slot on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where she also has the most seniority.
The chair or ranking member will be elected by the Democratic caucus in December. (V)