Joe Biden is heading to Atlanta tomorrow to give a speech. He is expected to reiterate his Jan. 6 message about the dagger at the throat of democracy and then go beyond, endorsing a filibuster carveout for voting rights legislation. Georgia is an odd place to do it, since the speech will be directed at a single senator who hails from a state 200 miles north of Georgia. However, that senator's state is not terribly friendly to Democrats, so maybe Georgia is the best Biden can do.
Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to Biden, said: "We are doubling down, kicking it into another gear, we are going right to the belly of the beast, or ground zero, for voter suppression, voter subversion and obstruction." Richmond also said that Biden is working the phones.
While traveling to Georgia and giving a speech shows that Biden is doing something, we can't see how this is going to change the mind of the one person who matters: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). We also think going for a carveout may not be the best approach, since Manchin is clearly on record saying that he does not want to abolish or weaken the filibuster.
What might be a more effective approach is for Biden to argue for forcing the Republicans to engage in an actual Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster. That would allow Manchin to save face by saying he was just voting to return the filibuster to its roots, not voting to weaken it. If the 50 Republican senators could average 8 hours of Bible reading each, that would take 400 hours or 16.7 days. If they could average only 6 hours each, then 300 hours is 12.5 days. Remember also that many of the Republican senators are in their 70s or 80s, so standing and reading the Bible or the Alabama phone book for 6 hours with no food, drink, or bathroom breaks might not be so easy for them. The upshot is that the Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster might be enough to drag a vote out by couple of weeks which is a lot, but is also far less than the current upper limit of infinity.
Giving a speech endorsing a carveout will get a lot of PR, but again, the goal isn't to win the hearts and minds of the editorial page editors of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It is to win the vote of one recalcitrant senator. (Actually, it is two senators, but if Manchin flips, the other holdout, Sen, Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ, is almost certain to go along with him since otherwise the failure of the voting-rights bills would be 100% her fault and she could never survive that in 2024.)
Biden isn't the only Democrat working Manchin on the filibuster. A number of moderate Democratic senators are also talking to the West Virginian under the radar. Well, not that much under the radar, since we and everyone else know about it. These include Sens. Tim Kaine (VA) and Jon Tester (MT) as well as Sen. Angus King (I-ME). They have met with him at least a dozen times. Tester might carry some weight with Manchin since his state is almost as red as Manchin's. Manchin also noted that his phone line has been lighting up with other heavyweights including Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, plus staffers who worked for his predecessor in the Senate, Robert Byrd. Byrd's staffers might be especially important since they can point out how Byrd changed from an Exalted Cyclops in the KKK to a senator who eventually got a 100% rating from the NAACP—and survived—and in West Virginia!
Manchin is not against the underlying voting-rights bill itself—at least not against the one he personally wrote. What he is against is the carve out. He put this succinctly when he said: "Anytime there's a carve out, you eat the whole turkey."
While Manchin is in favor of (his version) of the underlying legislation, not everyone is. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) went on CBS' "Face the Nation" yesterday to praise Georgia's new voting laws. He said only American citizens should vote in elections (thus opposing New York City's plan to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections). He also criticized Manchin's idea of letting people to use utility bills for ID, saying that only a government-issued photo ID is secure enough. In short, Raffensperger believes Georgia's new voting laws are great and sees no reason for Congress to override them. If he keeps going on like that, he is going to cease being the Democrats' fourth-favorite Republican, after Rep. Liz Cheney (WY), her dad, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL). (V)
It's a miracle! Democrats and Republicans actually agree on something. They both want Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) to run for reelection. Democrats think they can hang Donald Trump around the Senator's neck like a millstone. Republicans don't see a lot of other options for them in the Badger State. Anyhow, in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal yesterday, Johnson announced that both sides are going to get their wish.
When Johnson first ran for the Senate, he said he would serve at most two terms and then retire. But the power of power is apparently enormous. He couldn't give it up, so he is going to try to hang on for another 6 years. The subhead of the op-ed is "I'd like to retire, but I think the country is in too much peril." That is the standard explanation given in this circumstance: "I don't want to run again, and I'm certainly not doing it for myself, it's just that the country needs me so very much right now." What a public-spirited fellow!
Charlie Cook rates Wisconsin as a tossup (along with Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania). It's possible that he revisits that, now that Johnson's plans are known. The Senator is not a good fit for a swing state like Wisconsin. He got 51.9% of the vote in 2010 and 50.2% in 2016, not really overwhelming. He started out as a tea partier and seamlessly transitioned into one of Trump's biggest supporters. Democratic strategist and writer Ed Kilgore described Johnson thusly in a long piece in New York magazine: "He's sort of a cross between a local chamber of commerce president whose views of government and fiscal policy were formed in the 1950s, and a right-wing talk show host in a very small market." Johnson has described climate change as "bulls**t" and has supported the use of Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 remedies. Wisconsin is full of sensible Midwesterners and this kind of talk might presage the end of Johnson's lucky 2-0 streak.
The Democrats smell blood in the water, so several high-profile Democrats have filed to run against him. These include Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D-WI), state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski (D), and Milwaukee Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry, among others. A recent poll by the Marquette Law School shows that only 38% of Wisconsin voters want to see Johnson reelected. This is why Democrats actually prefer running against an incumbent than for an open seat, which is a very unusual sentiment.
It is possible that the Senate race this year will be overshadowed by the gubernatorial race, however. Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) wants another term, in no small part to veto any bills the Republican-controlled state legislature passes in any attempt to make voting harder. Also, he would like to be the one to sign the certificate of ascertainment in 2024, rather than some Trumpy flunky. Former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch (R) is running against Evers, but he may get competition from businessman Kevin Nicholson and possibly Trump's favorite, Rep. Sean Duffy (R). If enough people show up to vote for the high-profile race for governor, that could tip the scale either way in the Senate race. (V)
Ron Johnson's decision was a bit of a surprise. No one really knew what he was going to do, especially since he earlier said he would retire after two terms. Minority Whip John Thune's (R-SD) decision to run again is not nearly as surprising since (1) his reelection is close to 100% certain even if he doesn't bother to campaign and (2) as the #2 Senate Republican, he is the most likely person to become leader of the GOP caucus when the current leader decides to shuffle off to the Old Turtles' Home. Nevertheless, Thune took his time about making an announcement and people were beginning to wonder if he had it in him to hang on for 6 more years. On Saturday, the Senator finally removed all doubt and formally announced that he's up for another 6 years.
From a control-of-the-Senate perspective, his decision doesn't make any difference. The last time South Dakota elected a Democrat to the Senate was in 2008, and those days are so long gone it might as well have been 1908. If Thune had stepped down, one of the statewide officers, all of whom are Republicans, would have gotten the job. The most likely one would have been Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD). That would have helped her campaign for the vice presidential slot in 2024, but it wasn't meant to be. Now she will have to campaign for veep from Pierre, a buzzing metropolis of 14,000 people that is right smack in the middle of nowhere. It does have an airport, though—with a total of two flights a day—both on Key Lime Air to Denver. Noem wanted the state to buy her a jet, but the South Dakota Dept. of Transportation vetoed that. As a consolation prize, she got a 6-year-old Beechcraft prop plane. Anyhow, she's probably the biggest loser when it comes to Thune's announcement. (V)
Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) is term limited, so there is lots of interest in the job from other politicians. State AG Josh Shapiro (D) appears to have his party's nomination locked up, so all the action is on the Republican side. The latest entrant is Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has pushed to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the state. In particular, Mastriano has called for an Arizona-style audit of the 2020 election—presumably not done by Cyber Ninjas, though (see below). Mastriano is also against pretty much against all rules that try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Mastriano is clearly angling for Trump's endorsement in the race. At his announcement, he had former NSA Michael Flynn and attorney Jenna Ellis, who tried to get the courts to overturn Joe Biden's victory. Since he just entered, it is hard to gauge how big Mastriano's base is. He does have 160,000 followers on Twitter, although it is not known how many are registered Republican voters in Pennsylvania. Or are real people, for that matter.
Fifteen people have already filed to run for the Republican nomination, so Mastriano will have plenty of competition. Former representative Lou Barletta is probably the best known of the bunch due to his failed 2018 Senate run. There are also a couple of state senators, another former representative, a county commissioner, a former U.S. attorney, and miscellaneous others. But Mastriano is probably the Trumpiest of the high-profile candidates. In early polling, Undecided is leading, with over 55% of the vote. The primary is May 17. (V)
Although the Senate just approved a batch of Joe Biden's nominees for various positions, many more are stalled in the Senate due to the Senate's arcane rules that allow members of the minority to put nominations on hold indefinitely if they want to. So far, only 41% of Biden's nominees have been confirmed. For the nominees who have been confirmed, the average time between nomination and confirmation has been 103 days. That is twice as long as during the Clinton administration and three times as long as during the Reagan administration. Back then, the minority was generally willing to confirm the president's choices unless there was actually something seriously wrong with the nominee. Now the prevailing view among Republicans is: "If Biden wants this person, that is sufficient reason to oppose the nominee." The system of getting nominations through is completely broken now and many departments and agencies can go years without leaders.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) summed up the situation in remarks on the Senate floor: "The truth is that some Republicans' unprecedented obstructionism is straining the system to the breaking point." For example, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) briefly refused to confirm five U.S. attorneys until he was able to force Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to apologize for interrupting him at a hearing 8 months earlier. Much of the problem is due to Senate rules that allow one senator to completely gum up the works.
Senators sometimes do this out of spite (e.g., Cotton) and sometimes to score political points. For example, the Republicans are blocking the nomination for deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration because the nominee, Dilawar Syed, is a Muslim and because the SBA provided pandemic aid to abortion groups. Of course, Syed didn't approve the aid since he hasn't been confirmed, but on the campaign trail the story is going to be "I blocked a Muslim who wants to kill babies." No one has said Syed is unqualified for the position but a candidate's qualifications often don't matter anymore.
Sometimes the Republicans block someone and then complain about the vacancy. For example, they want to block people trying to sneak into the U.S. from Mexico, but so far they have refused to vote on Ed Gonzalez, the sheriff for Harris County, TX, to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which hasn't has a permanent leader since 2017. With ICE leaderless, more people will sneak into the U.S. and then the Republicans can complain about ICE not stopping them.
This month, Biden resubmiited over 100 nominations that the Senate didn't vote on last year. Probably they will slowly come up for votes during the coming year. When a vote is actually taken, most nominees are approved. The bottleneck is the procedural hurdles before the vote.
Oh. And there is more. Due to federal law, local judges in D.C. need Senate confirmation as well. The bottleneck there is even worse than for federal judges. Sixteen of the 62 local judge positions are currently vacant and three of the nine slots on the appeals court are also empty. Some of the vacancies go back 8 years. Judges are overburdened and cases are backlogged. Criminal cases, civil lawsuits, child custody disputes, and much more are delayed and no one can do anything about it until the Senate confirms more judges. Unfortunately, both parties tend to prioritize federal judges, leaving the D.C. nominees to languish. (V)
A new poll sponsored by the UVA Center for Politics has shed light on how people view the events of Jan. 6, 2021. The results are... alarming.
About 30% of the voters believe the rioters are patriots who should be applauded for their actions. The other 70% think they should be prosecuted as criminals. That covers a fairly wide spectrum and shows that the country is at war with itself. The biggest single predictor of whether someone is in the 30% group or the 70% group is whether they believe the 2020 election was stolen. That makes sense, since if you think the election was stolen, then trying to stop the "loser" from being inaugurated could possibly be seen as an act of patriotism.
The partisan breakdown is as follows: Among Biden voters, 90% think the rioters should be prosecuted and 10% think they should be applauded. Among Trump voters, 48% think the rioters shouls be prosecuted and 52% think they should be applauded. We find it surprising that 10% of the people who voted for Biden are happy that a mob tried to stop their candidate, who won the election, from being inaugurated.
Among the people who see the rioters are patriots, there is a tendency for them to believe in many of the following statements, which are ranked starting with the most widely believed:
Among the people who see the rioters are criminals to be prosecuted, there is a tendency for them to believe many of the following statements, also ranked starting with the most widely believed
The events of Jan. 6 show how deep and wide the national divide has become. The two groups have completely different visions of what the country is and should be. About a third of the country believes that the presidency was stolen from them, that they are losing their country, and that the American government is undemocratic and corrupt beyond repair. The other two thirds completely disagrees with them. The chasm seems to be unbridgeable. (V)
As you probably remember, when the Arizona State Senate got the idea to audit the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County, it hired Cyber Ninjas, a Florida firm with no expertise whatsoever in election audits. Maybe Senate President Karen Fann thought: "It's hot in Arizona and it's hot in Florida, so they can handle it." Or maybe Cyber Ninja's complete lack of experience in the job to be done was overshadowed by the fact that the firm's CEO, Doug Logan, was an outspoken Trump supporter and major purveyor of groundless conspiracy theories. Much to the surprise of the State Senate, the months-long audit claimed that Joe Biden actually got 99 more votes in the County than the official tally and Donald Trump got 261 votes fewer votes than the official tally. County officials attacked the company, its methods, and the report it issued, saying that Cyber Ninjas didn't have a clue what it was doing.
But at least Cyber Ninjas is now a household name and can expect plenty of new business doing election audits for other Republican-controlled state Senates, right? Not exactly. After a judge ordered it to pay a fine of $50,000 a day until it turns over documents relating to the audit, the company fired all of its workers, including Logan, and shut down. A lawyer for the company, Jack Wilenchik, said the company is insolvent. He hasn't been paid and wants to quit, but the judge won't let him off the hook until a successor can be found. So what might have seemed like a great gig to Logan a year ago—getting to show that Trump won Arizona and be paid for it—didn't quite pan out. Not only did Trump not win Arizona, but now the company went belly up as a result of the contract. Cyber Ninjas should have known that wherever Trump leads, failure follows.
Logan has said that he might set up a new company with the same workers, but that might not be so easy. U.S. law has a concept of "successor liability" that is intended to thwart companies that shut down and then reopen under a new name in order to dodge debts the original company had. This concept says that when a company shuts down but a new one springs up with essentially the same people doing essentially the same thing as the first one, it is liable for debts incurred by the first company. It is up to a judge to determine if the new company is fundamentally a reincarnation of the old one. One key issue is if the same people are running the new company as were running the old one. Also relevant is whether there is a lot of overlap in the lists of employees and whether they are in the same business as the old company.
In addition, a judge would likely look at the nature of the liability the company is trying to evade. Judges tend to frown upon this kind of chicanery when it is blatantly done to avoid a court order to pay a penalty for disobeying a judge's orders. Logan could try to stymie the courts by formally declaring bankruptcy, but then the bankruptcy court will appoint a trustee to sell all the assets the original company still has (buildings, office equipment, proprietary software, etc.), making it more difficult to start a new one. Also, the trustee would likely supply the judge with all the documents that Logan apparently does not want on the public record, so bankruptcy seems unlikely. If the company does not formally file for bankruptcy, the owners could become liable for its debts. None of the options for Logan seem terribly attractive.
Will this mess deter other state legislatures from beginning audits? Probably not, since they have no skin in the game, but finding a firm willing to do the audit just got a bit more challenging. (V)
Maybe COVID-19 will be over by the summer of 2024. The RNC is hopeful it will be and is planning a real convention. Cities that want to host it have already submitted bids and the RNC has whittled the list down to four cities: Milwaukee, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Salt Lake City.
Milwaukee and Pittsburgh are obvious choices since Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are key swing states. If the new voter-suppression laws in Arizona and Georgia result in the 2024 Republican candidate winning those states, then that person is still not home free. In 2024, the 2020 red states plus Arizona and Georgia will have 265 electoral votes, six more than in 2020 but still five shy of a majority. So flipping Wisconsin or Pennsylvania is key. Thus Milwaukee and Pittsburgh make good sense.
Tennessee and Utah are anything but swing states, but they made the short list. Why? First of all, cities have to bid for the convention. Charlotte might be a fine place politically, but if Charlotte doesn't want the convention, that's the end of it. Only eight cities entered a bid. Houston, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Kansas City bid but were scratched off the list early on.
Second, the weather is a factor. Miami in July? Not a dealbreaker, but not a plus, either. Third, hotel capacity is an issue. Over 50,000 people show up for a convention, including delegates, alternate delegates, Republican politicians, donors, reporters from all over the world, media crews, TV anchors, spinmasters, photographers, bloggers, oppo researchers, technical personnel, public safety teams, medical personnel, prostitutes, alternate prostitutes, and more. Even if Kristi Noem becomes the odds-on favorite for veep and pitches Pierre, it doesn't have the hotel capacity required for a big convention. Fourth, corporate sponsorship is important, as conventions are expensive. Often companies are willing to chip in big bucks if the convention is in their home town. And sometimes other factors (e.g., how easy it is to get there) can even play a role. So while Nashville and Salt Lake City may not be in swing states, they may well have scored well on the logistical issues.
A more subjective factor is whether the RNC believes a city can pull it off without making a mess of it. Having hosted a successful convention recently is prima facie evidence that a city can do it, but hosting other very large events like, say, the Olympics, is also evidence that a city is up to the job. Milwaukee was the planned host for the 2020 Democratic National Convention until that event was converted into a TV show, so Milwaukee has some experience, at least concerning the planning.
The Democrats are not as far along. Milwaukee is an obvious potential choice since it is in a swing state and it was the winner last time, even if the convention didn't happen, but there will surely be other candidates. In case you are wondering, the last time a city hosted both conventions in the same year was 1972, when both were held in Miami Beach. Apparently, weather was less of a concern back then, before climate change hit hard. (V)