Senate page     Jan. 13

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New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
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Inflation Is Roaring

Prices in Dec. 2021 were up 7% compared to Dec. 2020. Much of the increase is due to the clogged supply chain caused by the pandemic. For example, there are 100 ships loaded with containers outside the Port of Los Angeles waiting to unload on account of a shortage of port workers. When they are finally unloaded, there won't be enough truck drivers to get the goods to their destinations because some of the truckers are sick. When products are in short supply, stores can get away with raising their prices. Similar pandemic-related problems are present in other sectors of the economy, as well.

Many people don't understand this, however, so they blame the president. Everyone thinks they know where the buck stops. Inflation is never good for the president's party because it is something people run up against every time they they buy groceries, gas, or other products whose former prices they know. Somebody has to get the blame and that somebody is generally the president, even though there is little he can do about it.

Inflation has been higher than this before, but it has been 40 years, as shown below:

Inflation since 1960; it was way worse
in the mid 1970s and early 1980s, was about the same as now in 1970 or so and 1990 or so, and was lower in all other years.

People under the age of 55 probably have never felt serious inflation before and aren't saying: "Oh, inflation happens from time to time, no big deal" Older people might remember how it was in the 1970s and 1980s, but if they are living on a fixed and tight budget now, the recollection that it used to be worse is not going to put them in a good mood. Inflation is hitting hard in four sectors of the economy, as follows:

People tend to have short memories and if prices stabilize before November, maybe the damage won't be so great for the Democrats. But if prices keep rising until, say, August, and then level off, people who are not economists are likely to miss that and still be angry that the Nov. 8, 2022, prices are still higher than the Nov. 8, 2021, prices. If the Democrats had working control of Congress, and wanted to take some of the heat off themselves, they could cut payroll taxes and increase taxes at the high end to be budgetarily neutral. But Republicans will oppose that with all they've got and some Democrats will probably resist as well, so it is not likely to happen. (V)

Schumer Has Found a Trick to Allow Voting Rights Bill to Be Debated

Normally a motion to begin debate on a bill can be filibustered. Consequently, all attempts to even begin debate on voting rights have failed to clear this hurdle, since Republicans don't even want to talk about them, let alone vote on them. However, there is one exception. When a bill has cleared both chambers in different forms, a simple majority is all that is needed to bring the conference bill up for debate

It turns out that a bill to allow NASA to sell underutilized assets to private industry meets that test. So what is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) going to do? He is going to bring it up and accept an amendment that removes the entire contents of the bill to create what is called a "shell bill." He will then put the voting-rights bill in the shell and bring the bill to the floor for debate. That doesn't guarantee passage, but it does guarantee a debate. However, if the Republicans announce they are filibustering it, then it won't come up for a vote.

At that point the rubber will meet the road as Schumer will try to modify the filibuster. Maybe he has made a deal with the two holdouts and maybe he hasn't. We will soon find out. (V)

Select Committee Wants to Hear from McCarthy

It was going to happen sooner or later. Now it has. The Jan. 6 Select Committee wants to hear from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). In particular, they want to ask him what was said on his phone call with Donald Trump while a mob was swarming the Capitol. McCarthy earlier said the call was "heated." The panel members want a bit more detail on that. For example, did McCarthy, never a profile in courage, ask Trump to call off the coup attempt in order to save his own hide and did Trump refuse? Inquiring minds want to know.

It is hard to imagine that McCarthy will comply voluntarily. In fact, he already said he would not comply. Trump would go ballistic if he did. However, what will happen if Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) sends a subpoena and the Supreme Court rules that the other folks subpoenaed have to comply?

Two other members of the House have been asked to testify: Reps, Scott Perry (R-PA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH). If a court were to order Perry to testify, he might do it. Jordan would probably prefer refusing and taking his chances on a possible criminal trial. He's that kind of guy. Nobody ever said that Jordan doesn't have cojones. And nobody ever said that McCarthy does. (V)

Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down State House Maps

Yesterday, the Ohio Supreme Court vetoed the new map for the Ohio state House and Ohio state Senate, calling it a partisan gerrymander that didn't meet the standards set forth in the state Constitution, which require maps to reflect voter preferences over the past 10 years. The map gave the Republicans 67 seats in the state House to the Democrats' 32 seats. The state Senate was gerrymandered to 23 Republicans and 10 Democrats. In statewide elections over the past 10 years, Republicans have won 54% of the vote to the Democrats 46%, so the maps were way out of whack. This is not surprising since the redistricting commission had five Republicans and two Democrats, both of whom opposed the new map.

Lawyers for the commission argued that the language in the Constitution was merely "aspirational." The justices disagreed and said it was mandatory. The key vote was Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Republican, who voted with the three Democrats to produce a 4-3 decision. O'Connor wrote that perhaps the voters will now wish to pursue a constitutional amendment taking the mapmaking power completely away from the legislature and give it to an independent commission. But that is for another day.

The Court ordered the commission to draw a new map and it wants it within 10 days and it reserves the right to review the new map. The filing deadline for state legislative offices is Feb. 2. Candidates can't file if they don't know the district boundaries, so once the map is known they will have at best a week to decide where to run.

Republicans are holding their breath because the state Supreme Court is also looking at the map for the U.S. House, which is equally gerrymandered. A ruling on that is pending. (V)

It's the Logistics, Stupid

A lot of people read (or, in our case, write) articles about politics, and follow the subject on Twitter, Facebook, or TV, and get angry about it. But according to a piece by Ezra Klein, all that anger is just "political hobbyism" and doesn't really matter that much. What matters is the logistics. Part of that is getting laws passed that safeguard democracy. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) understands this and is working on it.

But there is more, and much of it is down in the weeds, off the radar. Klein talked to Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, and asked him what he did all day. Wikler said he spends his days obsessing about mayoral races in towns with 20,000 people because those mayors appoint clerks who decide whether or not there should be drop boxes for absentee ballots, and if so, how many and where. Also, how many polling places should there be. It is worth noting that in the April primary in Wisconsin, Milwaukee—a city of 600,000—had only five polling sites and correspondingly long lines. A few thousand votes statewide could determine whether Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) gets a third term and thus potentially whether the Democrats can hold the Senate.

Wikler is also frantically trying to recruit poll workers who believe in honest elections, lest all of them be people Steve Bannon has recruited and who are not big fans of the idea. Bannon has what he calls the "precinct strategy," which is about taking control of elections at the lowest level and a couple of levels higher, like county election boards. If a state has, say, 3,000 precincts, and local officials at each one can squeeze one extra vote out of each precinct—for example, by denying an eligible voter the right to vote on some (possibly imaginary) technicality—those 3,000 votes could swing a close election. County election boards can often make it easier or harder to get absentee ballots, decide what kind of voting equipment is used, and determine what kind of security the elections process gets. Republicans are focused on the logistics and mechanics of elections more than Democrats, and that could matter almost as much as the laws. (V)

Secretary of State Races Are Suddenly Hot

Not all the election action is at the bottom of the totem pole. Once-sleepy races for secretary of state and other election officials are being flooded with money. The direct impetus was Donald Trump's request of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to "find" another 11,780 votes for him and Raffensperger's refusal to do so. Democrats are afraid that if Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) beats Raffensperger in the primary, he will somehow "find" enough votes next time if need be. Republicans are worried that Raffensperger won't "find" any new votes next time, so he has to go. The same dynamic is playing out in many other states, as well.

In five battleground states, at least 10 Republicans claim that Trump won in 2020 and are fundraising off this. Trump just laps this up and has endorsed candidates in Arizona, Florida, and Michigan.

In many states, secretaries of state have to certify the election results. A corrupt one could refuse to certify results he doesn't like, claiming fraud, and could start an investigation. That "investigation" could consist of conspiring with like-minded county clerks who suddenly "discovered" bags of votes in nooks and crannies they had previously missed.

Or, the secretary could tell county clerks to please recheck all the ballots to see if there were any overvotes (hint, hint). All of a sudden, on the second counting, lots of ballots would be discovered to be defective due to overvotes and other problems. Creating lots of new votes out of thin air is a bit tricky, but invalidating ballots by putting marks on them after they have been counted the first time isn't so hard if the county clerk is on the same page as the secretary. For example, a corrupt clerk could change a ballot to show two votes for some office way down the ballot and then ask the secretary for instructions, and the secretary could order the clerk to invalidate the entire ballot. Or clerk could write some message on the ballot that the vote-counting machine would not see and the secretary could rule that the ballot was invalid.

In Georgia, Raffensperger raised four times as much money by last June than he had by June 2018. But Trump-backed Hice raised $500,000 more than Raffensperger. Out-of-state money is pouring in. In Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) has raised five times what she raised last time. But there is more. Everyone who reads this site probably knows about the DCCC and DSCC, but did you know about the DASS—the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State? In the first half of 2019 it raised $202,000. This year it cleared $1 million in the same timeframe. Republican totals are also up. In short, secretary of state races are heating up, and depending on who wins them in 2022 might end up being a big factor in the 2024 races. (V)

Preview of Trump II

Suppose Donald Trump wins in 2024. What might his second term be like? We don't know, but Trump is a lot like U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. And we know what he is trying to do because he is already doing it. This could be a template for Trump. For that reason, it is worth taking a look at what Johnson is up to. Here are some of the topics that bills currently moving through Parliament address.

There will always be an England, but it would be a very different England if these laws pass.

None of these things have happened yet, but they give an idea of what Johnson wants. And he has a very large majority in Parliament, so he can easily get what he wants as there is nothing like the filibuster in Parliament. We don't see anything in the list that Trump would reject. In fact, it could be a convenient template for where to start if Republicans control Congress. Of course, the Democrats would filibuster in the Senate, if the filibuster is still standing in 2025, but even if it is, the handling of these bills could be the motivation for abolishing it. If the Democrats think: "We will keep the filibuster because we may need it some day," they should seriously consider the possibility of the Republicans abolishing it when the Democrats used it to block legislation they want. That would be a double whammy: (1) the filibuster would prevent the Democrats from enacting their agenda when they had the trifecta (i.e., now), but (2) the Republicans simply abolished it when they had the trifecta. (V)

Poll: Substantial Number of Americans Want an Autocrat

A new poll by Hill Research Consultants shows that a significant number of Americans want to replace democracy with autocracy and want to put Donald Trump back in power by any means necessary, including armed revolt. However, majorities still support democracy. An article in The Bulwark discusses the poll's results. Five years ago it wasn't necessary to run a poll to determine that a majority of Americans still support democracy but it is nice to know.

The questions are much more extreme than most polls, with some questions "slanted" left and some right. Here are the results. Below are a few of the questions with the agree/disagree numbers for it:

There were more questions and some information about the breakdown of the respondents in the file. One immediate conclusion is that a substantial number of Americans would be willing to throw out the Constitution, democracy, and the rule of law and support a strongman would restore American to "traditional values." The poll obviously didn't ask about the bills pending in the U.K. Parliament (previous item), but our best guess is that at least a third of Americans would be quite happy to see such bills become law in the U.S.

The author of the Bulwark article, Tom Hogan, a former lecturer in Holocaust and genocide studies at Santa Clara University and UC Santa Cruz, sees clear parallels between America now and Germany's slide into totalitarianism in the 1930s. Among the correspondences are these.

Hogan concludes that everyone is asleep at the switch and that something needs to be done, and now, not later. (V)

New Mexico Democrats Go for Broke

New Mexico is one of the seven states where the Democrats control the show. The state's new congressional map has just been approved. Below we show the old and new maps:

New Mexico map after 2020 redistricting; there used
to be a safe Republican district and two safe Democratic districts, now there is one safe Democratic district and two that lean Democratic

As we have pointed out repeatedly, partisan map makers have basically two choices. They can go for broke and try to capture the other party's seats or they can play it safe and protect their own incumbents. This cycle. we have seen Texas Republicans play it safe and Illinois Democrats go for broke. Now New Mexico Democrats have adopted the Illinois strategy and are betting the farm on a new map. In the best case, they will win all three seats. In the worst case they will lose two, and maybe even all three if there's a giant red wave.

Fundamentally, the mapmakers took a large number of Republican voters from Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM) and donated them to Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM), whether or not she wanted them. Actually, she didn't want them. They also put Democrats from Rep. Teresa Fernandez' district in Herrell's district. These two moves changed Herrell's district from R+14 to D+4. Herrell has a big problem now, but Fernandez could definitely be a casualty in a red wave.

The most interesting race will be in NM-02. In 2018, Herrell lost an open-seat race to Xochitl Torres Small by 2 points. In 2020, she tried again, and this time flipped the district, beating Torres Small by 7 points. Torres Small hasn't said whether she wants her old job back, but the new district is one that Joe Biden won by 6 points. This makes Herrell one of the most endangered Republicans in the House.

The other two districts have a slight Democratic lean, so the two incumbents have a leg up, but in a bad year, they could both lose. In particular, Fernandez inherited a large number of Republicans in eastern New Mexico who probably won't vote for her. Still, if she can boost turnout in the northern part of the state, she might be able to hang on. (V)

The Battle of the Johns

When Kentucky changed its law to prevent Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) from replacing Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) with a Democrat should McConnell leave in the middle of his term, all ears in the Senate perked up. Why would the state Republicans suddenly do this? Did McConnell give the word that he might exit before 2026? Nobody is talking, but all of a sudden a trio of Johns started jockeying for position to succeed him, if it comes to that. They are Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD), former whip John Cornyn (R-TX), and the #3 Republican in the Senate, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), ever the astute follower of inside baseball, said: "They're all named John. Wow."

However, all of them are going to have to cool their heels for a while. McConnell said that he will run for party leader after the midterms, no matter what happens. If the Republicans capture the chamber, it is 100% certain he will stay on. If they are wiped out, he might decide to let someone else deal with the mess, although he knows that Donald Trump will cheer on his departure.

As the current whip, Thune is best positioned to move up if there is a vacancy at the top. He is next in line, after all. On the other hand, Thune is somewhat relaxed and Cornyn is more aggressive. If the caucus wants an aggressive leader, it could be Cornyn, who used to hold the whip and was also chairman of the NRSC for two cycles. Barrasso is more likely to move up to #2 than to #1, but he could be a compromise candidate.

The last time there was a leadership change, it happened in an instant. When the late senator Harry Reid suddenly announced his retirement, he simultaneously endorsed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as his replacement, even though Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) was the whip then (and, in fact, still is). Whether McConnell would endorse anyone to succeed him is unknown. He tends to play his cards pretty close to his vest.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said the Party is "fortunate to have three Johns to choose from." She noted that Thune is next in line, but that is not exactly an endorsement. Still, the question of succession is premature since McConnell doesn't appear to be going anywhere soon. (V)

Another Republican in a Safe District is Retiring

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) has announced that he will not run for a fifth term, even though he could win easily in his R+13 district. When he entered Congress, he said he would serve only four terms and, unlike Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Hollingsworth is keeping his promise.

Last year Hollingsworth sponsored a constitutional amendment limiting House members to four terms and Senate members to two terms. Needless to say, the bill went nowhere.

So far, 13 Republicans and 26 Democrats have announced their retirements. Only two of the Republicans are in somewhat competitive (R+6) districts. In contrast, 10 Democrats are in districts that range from R+4 to D+6, so the Democrats will have a lot of tough races in the open-seat districts and the Republicans won't. And this is on top of history, inflation, and Biden's sagging popularity.

Given the partisan lean of the district, the winner of the Republican primary will almost certainly be elected to Congress in November. (V)

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