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Biden 2.0 Speaks Again

For 4 years, many Republicans longed to see a kinder, gentler Donald Trump. That person never showed up, of course. And now, for over a year, many Democrats have longed to see a louder, more aggressive Joe Biden—no more of the unflappable, work-behind-the-scenes, bipartisanship-is-great, six-term U.S. Senator. Unlike those Republicans from the Trump years, the Democrats may just get their wish. Yesterday, for the second time in as many weeks, Biden uncorked a scorcher.

If you want to watch the 30-minute speech, you can do so here; if you want to read it, you can do so here. The address was not only similar in tone to last week's speech, it was also similar in content. Here are the main themes, in the order they appeared:

  1. Democracy Assaulted on 1/6: You'd have to work pretty hard to miss this particular argument, since the President declared that during last year's insurrection, "a dagger was literally held at the throat of American democracy." Biden temporarily continued his practice of avoiding Donald Trump's name:
    But then the violent mob of January 6th, 2021, empowered and encouraged by a defeated former president, sought to win through violence what he had lost at the ballot box, to impose the will of the mob, to overturn a free and fair election, and, for the first time—the first time in American history, they—to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
    That said, everyone knows which "defeated former president" we're talking about here. Nobody thinks that Jimmy Carter was the one encouraging the overturning of the election results. And so, in contrast to last week's speech, Trump did eventually get name-checked in this one—when Biden made the case that Republicans are behaving hypocritically on voting rights, as they take advantage of options like absentee balloting ("President Trump voted from behind the desk in the White House... in Florida") while denying those options to others.

  2. Voting Rights: And that brings us to the second theme, namely that voting rights are under attack. Biden used the term (not invented by him) "Jim Crow 2.0," and decreed:
    Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion. It's no longer about who gets to vote; it's about making it harder to vote. It's about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all... It's not just here in Georgia. Last year alone, 19 states not [only] proposed but enacted 34 laws attacking voting rights. There were nearly 400 additional bills Republican members of state legislatures tried to pass. And now, Republican legislators in several states have already announced plans to escalate the onslaught this year.
    Deploying one of the most basic tools in the public speaker's toolkit, Biden alternated between dire descriptions of what's going on and mockery of what's going on. An example of the latter:
    When the Bible teaches us to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, the new Georgia law actually makes it illegal—think of this—I mean, it's 2020, and now '22, going into that election, it makes it illegal to bring your neighbors, your fellow voters food or water while they wait in line to vote. What in the hell...heck are we talking about?
    That may not seem like biting satire when you read it, but it got a good laugh from the crowd. Biden also observed that, at the end of his life, even Strom Thurmond was a supporter of voting rights for minority voters, while today's Republicans are not. In other words: "Today's Republicans have less regard for the rights of Black people than a guy who ran for president on a white supremacist ticket."

  3. Bust the Filibuster: This was, in theory, the main purpose of the speech—to put pressure on certain yacht-dwelling Democratic senators from West Virginia to make changes to the filibuster. And Biden—who, recall, was largely OK with the filibuster as recently as 9 months ago—did not pull punches:
    You know, last year, if I'm not mistaken, the filibuster was used 154 times. The filibuster has been used to generate compromise in the past and promote some bipartisanship. But it's also been used to obstruct—including and especially obstruct civil rights and voting rights.

    And when it was used, senators traditionally used to have to stand and speak at their desks for however long it took, and sometimes it took hours. And when they sat down, if no one immediately stood up, anyone could call for a vote or the debate ended.

    But that doesn't happen today. Senators no longer even have to speak one word. The filibuster is not used by Republicans to bring the Senate together but to pull it further apart.

    The filibuster has been weaponized and abused.
    Can't be too much clearer than that.

There was some controversy surrounding the speech. Republicans, particularly Georgia Republicans, were infuriated, of course. Beyond that, however, there was a significant divide among voting rights advocates/civil rights leaders (who are often one and the same, of course). Members of Martin Luther King Jr.'s family were there, but reluctantly, the general idea being that words are nice, but it's time for action. Stacey Abrams was not present; she said she had a scheduling conflict and tweeted her support of the President. Many other activists took a pass, and made no bones as to why they were not in attendance. For example, former NAACP president James Woodall said: "We do not need any more speeches, we don't need any more platitudes. We don't need any more photo ops. We need action..."

Meanwhile, even before Biden had uttered a word, he had an answer from the audience member he was most concerned with. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) spoke to reporters before Biden had even touched down in Atlanta, and said: "We need some good rules changes to make the place work better. But getting rid of the filibuster doesn't make it work better."

The headline of the piece we just linked to is "Manchin doubles down on filibuster ahead of Biden's speech." But did he really double down? The careful reader will notice that Manchin stood firm in his opposition to getting rid of the filibuster. That could fairly be said to cover carve-outs, as well. But the Senator did not say he was unwilling to change the filibuster. And he even went so far as to say that some sort of rules changes are needed.

The point is that the key players here—Biden, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as well—have set it up so that they can agree to restore the talking filibuster, and everyone can walk away saying they stuck to their guns and they got what they wanted. Biden and Schumer could say that they made it possible to pass voting rights legislation. Manchin could say he saved the filibuster and protected the "traditions" of the Senate while also helping the upper chamber to work a little better, and also allowing his party to try to protect democracy.

This does not mean that the various Democrats will have a meeting of the minds. Manchin, in particular, is awfully unpredictable. But it does mean that if they want to have a meeting of the minds, the necessary pieces are all in place. (Z)

A Big Night for the Democrats?

We had our first elections of the year yesterday, as four different localities held special elections to fill various vacant posts. The Democrats won all four, which an e-mail sent out by the Democratic Party last night assures us is a BIG DEAL:

The message has 'VICTORY'
in big letters, and says 'BREAKING: Democrats just SWEPT a wave of special elections in Maine, Massachusetts, and Virginia!'

Is it really a big deal? Let's take a look at the four elections in question:

  1. FL-20: This is the House seat left vacant by the passing of Rep. Alcee Hastings (D). The district is bluer than Frank Sinatra's eyes, at D+31. And so, in a result that should surprise nobody, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D) crushed Jason Mariner (R), 78.7% to 19.6%. This means that Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) margin of error just got a little larger, and that there's only one open seat in the House right now (the one vacated by Devin Nunes, R-CA; the special election will be held once California is in the moooooood to do so).

  2. Maine state House District 27: This seat was open due to the resignation of the Democratic incumbent. And the winner of yesterday's election is former state Sen. Jim Boyle (D), who collected 57% of the vote compared to 38% for Tim Thorsen (R) and 5% for Gorham, ME, town councilor Suzanne Phillips (I). Cook does not calculate PVI at the state district level, so we're not 100% sure about the fundamentals of ME-27, but Joe Biden won there by 5.8 points.

  3. Framingham City Council District 3 (MA): This election was necessary because the original election ended in a tie. In the rematch, incumbent Councilor Adam Steiner, whose office is officially nonpartisan but whose website announces that he is a "progressive Democrat," defeated Mary Kate Feeney, whose website announces that she is a "progressive Democrat." The tally was 716 votes to 532.

  4. Virginia state House District 89: This district has existed since 1983. And in that time, it has been represented by six Democrats, the most recent being Jay Jones, whose resignation triggered the special election. Jackie Glass (D) will make it seven, as she trounced Gio Dolmo (R), 75.1% to 24.6%.

Those who follow sports will know that when a championship game is played, merchandise is produced for both potential winners, so that maximal profits can be reaped from the post-victory excitement of the winning team's fans. The losing team's now-worthless merchandise is usually given to poverty-stricken people in a country far from the United States. In other words, only in Chad did the Buffalo Bills win four straight Super Bowls.

One has to assume that the people in charge of fundraising for the two parties do the same thing with election night e-mails, drafting messages to cover all plausible circumstances:

Whoever drafts those e-mails for the DNC surely had an easy time of it for this round of special elections. Getting back to the question we asked above, there was one election that the Democrats literally could not lose, another two that were nearly impossible to lose, and one that might maybe coulda been close under the right circumstances, but wasn't. While it's better to go 4-0 than 0-4 (sorry, Buffalo Bills!), one can hardly take last night's results as indicative of...anything.

In other words, it just might be the case that these fundraising e-mails oversell things by just a tad. Who knew? In any event, you better get your donations in to the DNC, because they're doing TEN TIMES MATCHING right now, as we understand it. (Z)

Tar Heel Theater Updates

Yesterday, we had an item on the court case challenging North Carolina's district maps. Actually, it was three court cases that were merged into one for purposes of efficiency. Several hours after our post went live, as expected, the three-judge panel issued its ruling. In short, the plaintiffs lost, and the maps will stay in place.

The judges certainly were thorough; their ruling is 260 pages. Either much of the document was written before the hearings were complete, or there was some serious burning of the midnight oil, or both. The justices conceded that the maps are an obvious gerrymander, but said that they do not see any basis in North Carolina law for ordering a change. The trio even seems to regret that; in the second paragraph of the decision, they write: "Judges, just like many of the citizens they serve, do not always like the results they reach."

The plaintiffs are already preparing their appeal, of course, so the final chapter of this story hasn't been written yet. In theory, they could go from Superior Court (where they just lost) to the Court of Appeals, and then to the North Carolina Supreme Court (NCSC). However, it would appear that they are not going to pass Go, are not going to collect $200, and are going to make the NCSC their next stop. If you think the appointing party of judges is instructive, we will note that the panel that just rejected the plaintiffs had two Republican appointees and one Democratic appointee, whereas the NCSC has four Democratic appointees and three Republican appointees.

And as long as we are at it, let's add a bit to the other North Carolina item we had yesterday, about the 11 Tar Heel State residents who are trying to get Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) kicked off the ballot under the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, which disqualifies from officeholding anyone who "shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the [Constitution of the United States], or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."

We were skeptical about this lawsuit's chances for success, for two main reasons. First, because courts are generally very leery of substituting their judgment for that of the voters. Second, because the standard for having "engaged in insurrection" is not well defined, and such a finding might require evidence that is not publicly available, and won't be publicly available before North Carolina's ballot deadline (pending, but likely moved to sometime in March).

Of course, we are not legal experts. Slate's Mark Joseph Stern is, and he writes that while the case against Cawthorn is a longshot, it might just succeed. The process will begin with a decision from a panel with a (likely) Democratic majority, before heading to the North Carolina Supreme Court, and then probably the U.S. Supreme Court. However, there is precedent; the Tar Heel State has disqualified at least two people from officeholding under the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment (albeit more than a century ago).

Stern's assessment of the problems of the case is basically the same as ours: (1) election officials may be loath to stick their necks out, and (2) they may not have enough evidence that Cawthorn is guilty as charged. However, Stern sees these things as serious obstacles, while we were thinking of them as near-fatal obstacles. In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens. And don't forget that if North Carolina establishes that Cawthorn can indeed be kicked off the ballot, then all the pieces will be in place to file a similar suit against Donald Trump if he's a presidential candidate in 2024. (Z)

More Republicans Back Rounds

Since we're following up on items from yesterday, let's also update the item about Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD). He dared to say that Donald Trump lost the election, got slammed by the former president, stuck to his guns, and got backup from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). We wondered if there might be a little coordinated pushing back against Trump going on here, either because "elections are BS" will not be good for the Republicans in 2022, or because the establishment Republicans would really like to sink Trump's political career.

Not too long after we posted that, several additional Republican senators declared that they are in agreement with Rounds. The most prominent among them was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who told CNN: "I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election. And I agree with him." The Minority Leader was echoed, one way or another, by Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), John Thune (R-SD), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), among others.

This does not prove that our hypothesis was right, of course. But it does strengthen our sense that maybe we were on to something. One problem for Trump is that he's pretty good at taking on one or two "enemies" at a time. However, if a whole bunch of Republican senators begin regularly pushing back against him, it's not going to be easy for him to respond in his usual manner, especially given that he's no longer on Twitter.

If the Republicans' game plan is to gradually have most or even all of the Republican Senate caucus push back on Trump, it could possibly backfire. Trump could tell his supporters that they shouldn't vote for any of them. If he does that and they win their primaries anyway, the Democrats are going to be running ads in the fall with Trump loudly proclaiming: "Don't vote for Sen. X. He's a RINO." (Z)

Another House Democrat to Retire

Maybe we need to make a macro of this line, but another Democratic member of the House has retired. The latest to call it a career is Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO). "[I]t's time for me to move on and explore other opportunities," the 68-year-old said in a statement. "There comes a time when you pass the torch to the next generation of leaders." First elected in 2006, he will thus end up serving 8 terms. He is Democratic retirement #26 overall.

The district that Perlmutter leaves behind is currently CO-07, and under the new maps that take effect with the 2022 election, it will... remain CO-07. It is going to be D+6 or D+7, depending on whose numbers you prefer. An ambitious Republican who ran a successful campaign might just win it, if everything broke right for them. However, the Republican bench is pretty thin in Colorado, and there is going to be another open seat, namely the newly created CO-08. That one is projected to be R+3, and is surely going to attract the most promising GOP candidate. Thus far, the six Republicans who have declared in CO-08 are somewhat underwhelming; Trumpy state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer is probably the frontrunner. Anyhow, the point is that if the red team is struggling to come up with a star candidate for a very winnable seat, they're surely going to struggle to come up with one for a tough-to-win seat. And so, although CO-07 is ostensibly competitive, it's probably safe for the blue team. (Z)

Bounty Law

Everyone knows, at this point, about the currently-in-effect Texas law that pays a $10,000 bounty to private citizens if they are able to prove that someone "aided" in an abortion (doctors, or nurses, or ministers who counseled abortion, or Uber drivers who provided the ride to the clinic, etc.). And it was obvious that if Texas was allowed to exploit this constitutional loophole they created, other states would follow suit. Well, the Texans have been allowed to get away with it, at least for now. And so, politicians in other states are rushing to follow suit.

In one group are the bounty laws that have a real chance of passing. A number of Republican-run states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Ohio, are working on legislation that is nearly identical. On the other side of the aisle, members of the California legislature are hammering out the details on legislation that would allow gunshot victims to recover a bounty from firearms manufacturers and sellers. Illinois is close on the heels of California, and New York Democrats are talking about the possibility, too. Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D) wants to award $10,000 to anyone who turns in a rapist or sexual abuser.

There are also proposals that seem to be longshots. Pennsylvania state Rep. Chris Rabb (D) has a bill that would require men to get a vasectomy at age 40 or after having three kids (whichever comes first), and would pay $10,000 to anyone who turns in noncompliant men. Oklahoma state Sen. Rob Standridge (R) wants parents to be allowed to object to any book in school libraries, and to be able to collect $10,000 per day for each day the book remains on the shelf.

In any case, it just gets more and more obvious that if the Texas law is allowed to stand, it's going to be a disaster. Red states will use their citizens to police behavior that is supposed to be protected by the Constitution but that conservatives don't like, blue states will do the same with things liberals don't like. Even if the decision is that only some of these bounty laws are legal, it will still be a disaster, as courts would spend voluminous time separating "acceptable" bounties from "unacceptable" bounties.

And if you don't believe us, then maybe you'll believe Jon D. Michaels. He teaches at the UCLA School of Law, so you know he's worth listening to. In an op-ed headlined "If the Supreme Court lets other states copy Texas's abortion law, it'll be chaos," his concern is not just the legal chaos that will ensue, but also the damage that will be done to the fabric of democracy as red/blue states take potshots at the rights that blue/red states hold dear. It will be even worse if the conservative-dominated Supreme Court tolerates the red-state potshots but strikes down the ones from blue states.

Of course, it's not just us who sees this. Chief Justice John Roberts only went to Harvard, but even he can see it. Objecting to the 5-4 ruling that allowed the Texas law to stand, at least temporarily, he wrote: "If the legislatures of the several states may, at will, annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the Constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery." Well, actually, Roberts didn't write that; he borrowed it from the 1809 case U.S. v. Peters. Still, the quote captures his views of the situation, which the three liberals also signed onto.

Currently the Texas law is working its way through the system, which means it probably won't get to SCOTUS this term. That means that Roberts and the three liberals have more than a year to peel off at least one of the five conservatives. Surely the laws we describe above are proof of concept that this is a Pandora's Box the Court does not want to leave open. On the other hand, that should have been obvious even before these laws actually became a reality. So, who knows what is actually obvious when an associate justice is examining the situation through red-colored glasses? (Z)

Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part II: Right-wing Politicians and Media

We're now into double-digit entries, and not close to the finish. Here are the first 10 predictions pieces:

Remember that we've decided to start assessing boldness now, since it's more accurate to do so contemporaneously, rather than looking backward. We haven't yet updated the first few "Looking Forward" entries for that, but we will. And with that out of the way, the readers' thoughts on what is coming from right-wing politicians and media:

In the next entry, we move on to the Biden administration (Z).

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