Originally, the Democrats' voting rights bill was supposed to come up for a vote on Friday. However, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) contracted COVID-19 on Thursday, and then yesterday was the MLK Jr. holiday. So, the commencement of the voting rights maneuvering was postponed to today. Conveniently, that also gave the arm-twisters, from Joe Biden on down to the (alternate) assistant vice-associate coat checker in the Senate cloakroom, time to try to work some magic on the two openly recalcitrant Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ).
Today, however, is the day, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) can't countenance further delays. He wants to take advantage of the existing momentum, such as it is, for voting rights reform, as well as whatever inspiration might be afforded by yesterday's holiday. Further, the elections are looming. The longer the Democrats wait, the easier it will be for red states to go to court and say "There just isn't time to implement these changes before this year's elections."
On top of that, the two senators have thus far been able to have it both ways: they say they favor voting rights, and they say they want to keep the filibuster intact. But they can't have both, something that has been obvious for a very long time. So, it is time for them to go on the record with which one is more important, and then to face their colleagues and their constituents with the consequences of that vote. They are both up in 2024, for the record.
We are not going to find out how this little drama ends today, incidentally. Schumer will introduce the bill, and then the various senators will debate the bill, looking to create some soundbites for their webpages and YouTube feeds. At 5:00 ET, presumably after the chamber has recessed for the day, the Democrats will hold an all-hands-on-deck, everyone-must-be-there-in-person meeting of their caucus. They might as well call it the "Well, Joe and Kyrsten, now what?" meeting. If some sort of compromise is going to be worked out, this would seem to be the final opportunity. The final vote on the voting rights bill is scheduled for Wednesday.
Incidentally, in case the bill actually becomes law, here's what's in it:
This may seem to be everything plus the kitchen sink, but there are some items from the Democrats' wishlist that didn't make the cut, since Manchin said they were non-starters:
The bill also does not include any changes to the Electoral Count Act, not because of Manchin, but because the Democrats hope and expect to be able to work on that separately.
As noted, barring the unexpected—say, another case of COVID—everyone will be laying their cards on the table this week. And whatever happens, for the rest of 2022, American politics will be looked at through the prism of whatever the outcome is. (Z)
The Democrats have not passed Build Back Better, and they might or might not get something done on voting rights. However, as we wrote a couple of weeks ago, the blue team is approving judges at a record clip. That's expected to continue at least through the first part of this year, as Joe Biden already has another 33 nominees cued up. If the majority of those are approved in the next month, the President will be on pace to seat close to 300 judges during his term, which would be a record for a one-termer, and would outpace all presidents except for the two-termers Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
As we pointed out, however, there are two big questions whose answers will determine whether or not Biden has a chance to keep up the pace throughout his term. The first of those is whether or not the Democrats hold the Senate this year. If they don't, the flow of approved judges will slow to a trickle, assuming would-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allows any judges to be approved at all. This question, of course, will not be answered until November.
As to the second question, recall that for the last century, members of the Senate have been given a "blue slip" for each judicial nominee nominated to serve in their home state. The weight accorded to the blue slips has varied over time, but there have been a number of periods when an objection from one senator was fatal to the nomination. Sometimes, it took objections from both senators to kill the nomination. As you might imagine, the power of the blue slips has been somewhat degraded as the two parties hustled to seat as many judges as is possible. Still, two senatorial "nays" have generally been a huge problem for a nominee—either instant failure, as noted, or else a massive hurdle to overcome.
As we noted in the piece a couple of weeks ago, Chuck Schumer started with the low-hanging fruit before a decision had to be made on the blue slips:
Thus far, Biden's appointees have all been to seats in D.C. or in blue states. Up soon will be Andre Mathis, who is nominated to a seat in Tennessee, and who is opposed by both of that state's Republican senators. If the Democrats ram Mathis through, then the blue slips are really and truly dead.
Well, the Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to take up Mathis' nomination. That means the blue slips have effectively been ignored. Assuming Mathis doesn't blow his confirmation hearing, then he'll be approved.
In short, the Democrats have clearly made their choice, and will be using every tool at their disposal to seat as many judges as is possible. They really have few options; if the other side is going to play hardball, then they have to play hardball in return. Federal judgeships are just too important. This means, of course, that there will be a greater number of extreme judges on both sides, and fewer centrists. In other words, the same thing that is happening to the House of Representatives is happening to the federal bench.
The happy news for the Democrats is that, now that they're operating with zero hands tied behind their backs, they will be able to populate the federal judiciary with a sizable majority of Democratic-appointed judges. The unhappy news for the blue team is that "A lot of Republican judges were appointed" tends to get Republican voters to the polls in hopes of more of the same, but it doesn't tend to work that way with "A lot of Democratic judges were appointed" and Democratic voters. Of course, Republicans usually pair that with an issue, like "We got a lot of judges appointed in hopes of outlawing abortion." If Democrats do the same, like "We got a lot of judges in order to protect election integrity," it could become an effective talking point for them. (Z)
As you will notice, if you look up at the URL, we are not TMZ.com or Wonkette. So, we are not interested in squabbling between politicians for its own sake. This is why, for example, we haven't written much about the alleged drama in Kamala Harris' office—we know about it, but we just don't see how it's relevant. Lots of politicians have a rocky relationship with their staffs, and it doesn't mean much until it leads to leaks, or lawsuits, or other clear consequences. For the same reason, we stay away from most of the sniping that comes from the direction of Mar-a-Lago. Most of it is just sound and fury, signifying nothing, and told by... well, you know.
Sometimes, however, the sniping has actual relevance to American politics. It can be tough to separate the significant stuff from the hot air, but our sense is that the current war of words between Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Donald Trump is shaping up to be quite consequential, indeed. In our GOParadise item last week, we pointed out that a number of Republican senators close to Mitch McConnell said, very loudly, that Trump did not win the election of 2020. At the same time, the relationship between the Governor and the former president has cooled, at least in part because DeSantis is not doing enough to kiss the ring.
DeSantis' brand, especially nationally, is that he is a warrior for "liberty" in the face of the pandemic. Trump, of course, has been charting a more moderate course recently, up to and including advocacy of vaccination. The Governor, who is as machiavellian as it gets, saw his opportunity and on Friday he struck, like a Florida Cottonmouth, declaring that he advised Trump in the early days of the pandemic, and lamenting that he should have told Trump to do more to resist nationwide lockdowns and other such measures. The drama is detailed in a New York Times piece that Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman published on Sunday under the headline "Who Is King of Florida? Tensions Rise Between Trump and a Former Acolyte."
Clearly, DeSantis did his sniping with plenty of malice aforethought. You don't take a shot at the former president, especially when he's already mad at you, and expect it to blow over. The Governor is spoiling for a fight, and is clearly trying to out-right-wing-populist Trump on one of the few issues where that's possible. They are both in the same place on most other hot-button issues, but there's now some space between them on the pandemic, and DeSantis wants all Republican voters to be aware of it. He surely also suspects that if he waits too long to get out from under Trump's shadow, it will be too late.
At the same time, a number of Republican elites are turning against Trump or, at least, publicly expressing caution. There are the various senators last week, starting with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who pushed back against the former president and then refused to back down when Trump pitched a fit. In the Times' article, pundit Ann Coulter—who fell out of love with Trump long ago—declared him to be "done" and urged the newspaper to stop "obsessing" over him.
Perhaps most instructive is what's happening with Fox's Laura Ingraham, who sat for an interview this weekend with Northern Virginia magazine. The bomb-throwing talk show host, who was previously squarely in the Trump camp, said she's not yet willing to commit to voting for Trump in 2024. But her concern is not his political program. As she explains: "I mean, his policies worked. Trump's blueprint for policy—a forward-looking, optimistic set of pro-America policies—that blueprint, without a doubt, is winning."
That sounds an awful lot, to us, like someone who wants a candidate with the Trump agenda, but without all the Trump baggage. And "a candidate with the Trump agenda, but without all the Trump baggage" is a pretty good way to describe DeSantis in 12 words or less. It's also likely that such a person—one who behaves in a predictable fashion, and acts like a grown-up—would be satisfactory to McConnell and the other Republicans in the Senate.
Of course, the Republican elites don't get to pick the presidential candidate. If they did, then Trump would never have become the Party's nominee in the first place. And, by all indications, the base still prefers the former president above all challengers. So, if DeSantis is going to win this game of "king of the hill," he's got that problem to overcome. The Governor could out-politic Trump, something that might be facilitated by the fact that one of them is up for office this year, and also has Twitter access, and one of them does not.
Alternatively, depending on how things unfold, we could also imagine a deal along the lines of "You tell the base that I am the new Dear Leader, and I will pardon you for any and all federal crimes if I am elected." That wouldn't help Trump in New York or Georgia, but it might be a good swap for him nonetheless, depending on what AG Merrick Garland does. It may be worth pointing out that many Democrats in Congress now think there is a "good chance" that Trump faces a federal prosecution. That's not very specific, and it's not based on inside information, but it's also more than most politicians are generally willing to say out loud. (Z)
Each quarter, the folks at Gallup ask Americans about their partisan preferences. There are five options: (1) Democrat, (2) independent but lean Democratic, (3) independent with no lean, (4) independent but lean Republican, and (5) Republican. The numbers for 2021 Q4 were just released, and the big news is that more Americans now lean Republican than lean Democratic. At the start of 2021, it was 49% Democratic/lean Democratic and 40% Republican/lean Republican. Now it's 47% Republican/lean Republican and 42% Democratic/lean Democratic. That's a shift of 14 points.
If you want more detail, here are the numbers for the last four quarters:
|Partisan ID||Q1, 2021||Q2, 2021||Q3, 2021||Q4, 2021|
As you can see, many of the categories are shifting within the margin of error. It's entirely possible, for example, that the number of Democrats has been entirely stable at 29% or so. Most of the actual movement has been among people who identify as independent (many of whom aren't really independent).
We pass this along because we focus on politics, and in particular political polls, and this is squarely in that wheelhouse. But does the poll actually mean anything? That we are not certain about. There are the obvious problems that a national poll is not especially predictive of local results, and also that it's many months until the 2022 elections. Beyond that, "What do you consider yourself?" isn't the same thing as "How will you cast your vote?"
We're definitely more than a little skeptical about the implied message of this poll, namely that people have watched the Democrats struggle with Build Back Better, and with the pandemic, and have said, "You know, a party with strong authoritarian impulses that tolerated an insurrection attempt on 1/6 isn't looking so bad, after all." To us, this "political leaning" poll is basically just a presidential approval poll (and Gallup's "leaning" numbers track very closely with national "Biden approval" numbers). And a presidential approval poll gives only some indication as to how people will vote in the midterms.
Let's put it another way: The Democrats were flying high in this same poll last year, averaging 48% Democratic/lean Democratic to 43% for Republican/lean Republican. And while the blue team won the presidential race, and a couple of close (but wonky) Senate races in Georgia, they otherwise did unexpectedly poorly downballot. So, the "national partisan lean" doesn't seem to have been much of an advantage. Still, we note the Gallup survey because there aren't too many polls at this time of year, and perhaps the conclusions readers draw will be different from ours. (Z)
We got a large number of e-mails from folks who were interested in our thoughts about this op-ed from The New York Times' Thomas Friedman, which argues for a Biden-Cheney (or Biden-Murkowski, or Harris-Romney, or Abrams-Cheney, or Klobuchar-Cheney, etc.) Democratic ticket in 2024. Very well; your wish is our command.
Friedman's argument is that the United States faces an existential crisis in 2024, and it is essential for the one non-wacky party to put together a fusion ticket that can attract the votes of all Americans who wish to save democracy. He draws inspiration from Israel, where partisans whose only commonality is "We think Benjamin Netanyahu is out of control" united to send the former PM packing.
As you can tell from the headline, we're not buying it. Not one bit. Just to start, the Israeli parallel is facile, and unworthy of a three-time Pulitzer winner. Friedman briefly acknowledges that "America does not have the flexibility of a parliamentary, proportional-representation system," and then leaves it at that. But this is a Mt. Everest-sized difference. In the Israeli elections, most voters were able to vote their feelings, their politics, their conscience, or some combination of the above. Voters from the United Arab List Party were not asked to vote for candidates from the Israel Resilience Party. It was 61 folks elected by those voters, still acting as representatives of their parties, who managed to piece together a fusion government. And even then, it took weeks of negotiations, and before that four different national elections.
Turning to the United States, the point of a fusion ticket would be to attract more voters for the Democrats than they would otherwise accrue with a traditional Democrat-Democrat ticket. However, if the blue team picks a moderate like Biden, and then pairs him with a right-winger, then progressives will blow their tops. And they would be right to do so; the Party would effectively be saying that the concerns of independents/moderates are more important than the concerns of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Some progressives would swallow hard and vote for the fusion ticket, but others would vote third party, and many (especially younger voters, the folks who got excited about Bernie Sanders) would stay home.
Meanwhile, it is true that there are some Republicans who are willing to put country above party, and to vote for a Democrat when the alternative is Donald Trump (or a Trump clone). However, those people already voted Democratic in 2020, and can be expected to do the same in 2024. There just aren't that many people whose votes would flip because the Democrats gave their #2 slot to a Republican. And the ones who do exist would not offset the defectors from the left. This is why John McCain ultimately decided against a fusion ticket with Joe Lieberman in 2008; the number of Democrats that McCain-Lieberman might flip would be much smaller than the number of right-wingers who would jump ship.
And let's zoom in on the Biden-Cheney pairing, since that is the one Friedman favors. The President is going to turn 80 this year. He'll be 82 on Inauguration Day 2024, and 86 by the end of a hypothetical second term, after 8 years of doing the hardest job in the world. The chances that he doesn't finish a second term are...significant. That would be the talking point of the 2024 election, and it would leave Democratic voters very skittish, since pretty much the only thing where Democrats and Cheney see eye-to-eye is the events of 1/6. There would also be a million history-focused op-eds, such that by Election Day 2024, everyone in the country would know that the three successful fusion tickets in U.S. presidential election history (William Henry Harrison/John Tyler, Zachary Taylor/Millard Fillmore, and Abraham Lincoln/Andrew Johnson) all saw the president perish, and then the country stuck with a replacement who could not function because they were viewed with suspicion by members of both parties.
Meanwhile, Liz Cheney is the wrong kind of Republican for this kind of ticket. Yes, she's the new face of the NeverTrump faction. And while some independents/moderate Republicans might appreciate that, it would be a rallying cry for Trump's base. In that way, she's more likely to help the Republican ticket than the Democratic ticket in 2024. Meanwhile, she's also a hardcore, neocon right winger. That's the sort of thing that plays well in deep red states—the exact sort of states the Democrats won't win regardless of which candidates they run. If the fusion ticket idea was even going to be tried, it would have to be with a very moderate Republican who hasn't spent the last 5-10 years opposing 95% of the Democratic Party's political program. We're talking someone like former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, or former Maine senator Olympia Snowe, or former Florida representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Ultimately, Biden is probably going to run again, and as we wrote yesterday, he's likely to keep Kamala Harris as his running mate. But if either slot, or both, ends up filled by someone else, the odds are overwhelming that both people will be Democrats. (Z)
As long as we're on the subject of Liz Cheney, The Washington Post had a long piece on her, from the pen (well, the keyboard) of David Montgomery. It's one of those pieces where he decided to give the company credit card a spin, and to criss-cross a candidate's home state in search of insight.
Who knows exactly how many people a reporter talks to for these pieces. Dozens? Hundreds? They do always seem to give disproportionate attention to nutters. This gives the piece "color," presumably. In any event, while collecting a bunch of anecdotes from folks at the Whistle Pig Saloon is not exactly a scientific study, there are a couple of things that definitely emerge from the article. The first is that Cheney is in trouble. She has her defenders, but a sizable number of Cowboy State citizens who previously voted for her now consider her to be a traitor. She has four Trumpy challengers, and she really, really needs at least two of them to remain viable and to split the Trumpy vote. Otherwise, she'll be former representative Cheney.
The second theme that runs through the article involves Cheney's motivations. It turns out that a lot of Wyomingites, and in particular the ones who now loathe the Representative, have reached the same conclusion that we did: Cheney might be motivated by civic spirit, in part, but she's also a politician who saw a chance to lay claim to the neverTrump lane heading into 2024. To us, that was just shrewd political strategy. To her critics, it was a self-serving betrayal on the order of Judas Iscariot. Anyhow, if she can't even hold her seat, then that's another strike against Biden-Cheney 2024 (see above). (Z)
Back to the predictions. Here are the entries that have run so far:
Again, we are awarding five points for accuracy, and up to five points of extra credit for the boldness of whatever portion was accurate, for a maximum possible total of 10 points. And now, predictions about what would happen with the Biden Administration in 2021:
In "Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part II: Donald Trump's Family and Supporters," there was a prediction that Lin Wood or Sidney Powell would be disbarred, followed by a prediction that none of Donald Trump's supporters would be disbarred. We gave no credit for the former and full credit for the latter. However, several readers pointed out that Rudy Giuliani's bar card has been suspended, which is disbarment-adjacent. He's not Wood/Powell, so the zero there has to stand, but we were persuaded that the "nobody gets disbarred" prediction is not fully accurate, so we went back and dropped that from 5/5 to 3/5.
That means the readers' running tally, heading into today, is 102.5/360. As to the new round of predictions, our count says that the readers got 38/140, thanks to a strong finish. That's .271 for the day, and a new running tally of 140.5/500, for a new running batting average of .281. Tomorrow, we'll see what the readers think 2022 will bring for Team Joe. (Z)