The process of investigating a tricky legal case has sometimes been compared to an onion: You start with the outer layers, and then work your way toward the center, where things really stink. On Tuesday, two entirely different entities announced moves that come perilously close to the cores of two different Trumpy onions.
First up is the latest from the 1/6 Committee, which had a couple of big pieces of news on Tuesday. To start, Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) & Co. have acquired phone records from Eric Trump and from Donald Trump Jr.'s paramour Kimberly Guilfoyle. The duo did not surrender the records voluntarily, of course, but unfortunately for them, they aren't the only ones who have the records. And AT&T knows very well whose side the law is on here.
In addition, subpoenas have gone out to Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell, three of the lawyers who were most responsible for pushing election fraud claims in court. One wonders how Lin Wood didn't make the list. Maybe the Committee was printing out the subpoenas in alphabetical order by last name and ran out of paper. In any event, Giuliani and Powell seem like the type of folks to defy a congressional subpoena. On the other hand, doing so is all-but-certain to earn them a contempt of Congress charge, and they've got enough legal problems on their plates right now, so maybe they'll decide they don't need more. We'll find out soon.
Meanwhile, there was also news out of New York. State AG Letitia James (D) has filed paperwork indicating that her office has identified "misleading statements and omissions" in Trump Organization financial statements. She wants to chat with the Donalds Trump, Sr. and Jr., and with Ivanka Trump, in order to get to the bottom of the matter. The Trumps already got subpoenas from James; this filing is meant to persuade the court that they must be compelled to appear.
In any event, the long arm of both federal and state authorities is grabbing members of Trump's inner circle, as well as members of his family. There just aren't that many layers of the onion left before the whole thing has been peeled... (Z)
All eyes are on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). In fact, you might even say that his feet are being held to the coal. Anyone and everyone who might plausibly influence him is trying to get him to change his mind about changing the filibuster in anticipation of today's scheduled vote.
Among the aspiring influencers is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), but you already knew that. New to the party are a whole gaggle of former Democratic senators. Doug Jones, who was elected to represent Alabama for two years after Republican candidate Roy Moore proved to be a sexual predator, fired up his account on Medium in order to post an open letter to Manchin. This excerpt captures the general tone and tenor of the letter:
The filibuster was shaped to protect the voices of the minority in the Senate and on occasion has promoted debate and advanced compromise. But it has also been abused by minorities of senators of both parties to block civil rights, anti-lynching, and voting rights legislation over the years. We can all agree that our country is better off for having overcome the opposition to those bills. Unfortunately, the chamber has proven that it is incapable of rising to the occasion today because of a minority aided time and again by the filibuster.
Also signing on to the letter were former senators Kent Conrad (ND), Tom Daschle (SD), Byron Dorgan (ND), Bob Graham (FL), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Mary Landrieu (LA), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Mark Pryor (AR), Mark Udall (CO), and Mark Begich (AK). With only one or two exceptions (most obviously Udall), that's essentially a who's who of recently retired moderate Democratic senators, and a group of people who know full well what it takes to win elections in red states like West Virginia.
Also speaking up—and this kinda came out of nowhere—were a group of prominent people from the world of sports. You can read the letter, which is addressed to Manchin, here. The key passage reads:
We come from some of our Nation's most popular sports leagues, conferences and teams. Some of us have roots and shaped our lives in West Virginia, others followed very different paths and some of us have been rivals in sports or business. But we are all certain that democracy is best when voting is open to everyone on a level playing field; the referees are neutral; and at the end of the game the final score is respected and accepted.
So we are united now in urging Congress to exercise its Constitutional responsibility to enact laws that set national standards for the conduct of Federal elections and for decisions that determine election outcomes. We commend you for ensuring that such legislation rests on critical features of our Constitution. These guarantee that all Americans have an equal voice in our democracy and that Federal elections are conducted with integrity so that the votes of all eligible voters determine the election outcomes.
The letter is signed by L.A. Lakers Hall of Famer Jerry West (born in WV and played at WVU), Alabama football coach Nick Saban (born and raised in WV), former Houston Oilers quarterback Oliver Luck (played at WVU), former Bills/Falcons/Vikings linebacker Darryl Tailey (played at WVU), and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (a Jersey-born graduate of Georgetown who has no apparent ties to West Virginia). The name that made headlines is that of Saban. He's not only the most successful college football coach of all time and very popular in West Virginia, he's also previously been entirely apolitical.
If someone had written in to the Q&A this weekend and asked us what kind of person Manchin might just listen to, we would have likely guessed "a moderate Democratic Senator who understands his situation" or "a celebrity popular with blue-collar folks in West Virginia." Well, on Tuesday, there were multiples of each of those.
As per usual, Manchin was defiant on Tuesday. Shortly before the Democratic caucus meeting held at the end of the workday, he said he didn't care if he draws a primary opponent during his next election bid. "I've been primaried my entire life. That would not be anything new for me," he sneered. Manchin also said that he's been consistent: He's not willing to go "nuclear" on the filibuster.
We continue to be confused by the lack of precision in Manchin's language. To go "nuclear" means to get rid of the filibuster entirely. Nobody is proposing that right now because they know it will never fly. What's being proposed is a return to the talking filibuster, which is not only not "nuclear," it's actually a return to how things were done up through 1970. Certainly the Senator knows this. So, is he using "nuclear" in an imprecise fashion because that's just the easiest way for him to communicate, particularly with constituents who might not follow the inside baseball of the filibuster? Or is he using "nuclear" to give himself room to agree to a change, and then to turn around and tell constituents: "See? I said I wouldn't go nuclear and I didn't." We're likely to find out today, when the question of changing the filibuster will be put to a vote.
Meanwhile, readers may notice that we have yet to mention the other holdout, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). That is because there was no news about her yesterday. The general sense seems to be that Manchin is the key, and that if he agrees to something, she will not stand as the only holdout. We may find that out today, as well.
Even if the two senators stick to their guns, as is likely, and thus decide that the filibuster is more important to democracy than, you know, democracy is, this story isn't necessarily at its end. Last week, we wrote about a series of parliamentary maneuvers that would allow Chuck Schumer to force a talking filibuster. You can click on the link for the detailed version, but the short version is that it would require Schumer to recess the Senate rather than adjourning (thus keeping the Senate in the same "legislative day") and to give the Republicans their full allotment of debate opportunities (two per senator per legislative day, meaning the GOP conference could deliver up to 100 sets of remarks, with time limited only by how long they're able to remain on the Senate floor without eating/going to the bathroom/falling asleep).
Reportedly, Schumer & Co. are now considering this option as a backup, if all else fails. This exact sort of backdoor talking filibuster hasn't been attempted in a long time, and so the details of exactly how it would unfold are hazy and would probably require input from Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough. However, it's clearly legal; then-majority leader Harry Reid used a version of the trick less than 10 years ago. Given that the Democrats, and arguably the American democracy, face an existential crisis right now, Schumer & Co. really have no choice but to give it a try. And, if that is what it comes to, we would be surprised if they don't do so. (Z)
As long as we're talking existential threats to the republic, Gen...er, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) continues to demonstrate that he's not only comfortable with the fascist/authoritarian elements of Trumpism, he embraces them. The latest to come from him: a proposal to create the Office of Election Crimes and Security (OECS), which would be a 52-person Florida police force that would be stationed at "field offices throughout the state," would "investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation" of election laws, and would act on tips from "government officials or any other person." We would also guess that the OECS uniforms would include black shirts. In Florida, law enforcement is part of the Department of State, which means that this police force would answer to...Ron DeSantis.
No other states have a police force like this. Note also that there is no obvious problem in Florida that the existence of such a force would solve, as the 2020 election went very smoothly in the Sunshine State. How do we know? DeSantis himself said so, describing the Florida elections as "gold standard" and bragging that "The way Florida did it, I think, inspired confidence. I think that's how elections should be run."
Presumably this is just political theater for the base. Certainly, other Republican officeholders in Florida—who are generally enthusiastic to rush in where wise men fear to tread—have reacted to the proposal with a noted lack of enthusiasm. If the force was to be created, however, everyone in the country knows exactly which voters would be subject to investigation, detection, apprehension, etc., and it ain't white people or Republicans.
As we pointed out yesterday, DeSantis is clearly making his play as the heir apparent to Donald Trump. It's not so easy to out-Trump Trump, but the Governor is certainly trying. DeSantis' problem is that, at the same time, he's sounding the alarm as to what a dangerous man he really is. And that means he could get Democrats to the polls just as effectively as Trump himself does. (Z)
On Tuesday, House Democrats #27 and #28 announced that this term will be it for them. The first to speak up was Rep. Jim Langevin (RI), who has decided that 11 terms are enough. He had previously been insistent that he was running again, even when it looked like Rhode Island might drop down to one district, leading to an incumbent vs. incumbent showdown. So, the retirement comes as something of a surprise. In addition to his long time in office, Langevin is notable as the first paraplegic to serve in the House.
Rhode Island hasn't approved new district maps, but Langevin's district (RI-02) is currently D+16, while the other district (RI-01), occupied by David Cicilline (D), is D+33. So, no matter how the Rhode Islanders slice it, the open seat is going to be in a deep blue district. The Democratic bench is loaded, and the jockeying for position is underway. It would not be surprising if one or more candidates from the very crowded governor's race decides to shift gears and shoot for a seat in the House.
The second Democratic representative to pack it in on Tuesday—just 10 minutes after Langevin—was Jerry McNerney (CA), who is serving his ninth term. He didn't really specify why he's retiring; his announcement—via Twitter—just emphasized that he was proud to have been elected, and that he looks forward to "continued opportunities to serve." At 70, he presumably didn't relish the thought of two or more years in the wilderness as a member of the (mostly silent) minority.
McNerney's district CA-09, is now D+8, and so he would have been safe in anything other than a red tsunami. His retirement announcement prompted a slight game of musical chairs, as Rep. Josh Harder (D) promptly jumped from CA-13 to CA-09. CA-13 is only slightly less Democratic, at D+7, but it is also one of the state's new majority-Latino districts. So, Harder presumably concluded that he was vulnerable to a challenge from a Latino candidate. In related news, state Sen. Anna Caballero (D) suggested strongly that she'd be running for the now-open seat in CA-13.
In any event, the story is the same here as with most of these retirements: Republicans aren't getting a huge number of pickup opportunities, but they are getting a tacit prediction that the majority will be theirs in November. (Z)
You've heard that "the party decides"? Well, would-be senator Mehmet Oz better hope that is not true, because Republican operatives in central Pennsylvania have taken a look at him and decided they don't like what they see. This weekend, the Central Pennsylvania Republican Caucus, which is made up of local party leaders, took a straw poll, and Oz got just one vote.
Here are the complete results:
|Businessman Jeff Bartos||49|
|Political commentator Kathy Barnette||30|
|Bush Administration official/CEO David McCormick||15|
|Trump Administration Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands||8|
|Dr. Mehmet Oz||1|
|Businessman and Deputy Sheriff Martin Rosenfeld||1|
|Attorney George Bochetto||1|
It is true that Oz entered the race fairly recently. However, David McCormick entered even more recently and seems to be doing fine. Further, Oz has been running ads and has near-universal name recognition, so it's not like people don't know who he is.
One does not want to put too much stock in a poll with only about 100 respondents, especially since activist types tend to support extremist candidates. That said, these are also the folks who are the connection to the grassroots activists. It's going to be hard for Oz to break through if the local leadership is entirely uninterested in his candidacy. Further, note that this is the Central Pennsylvania Republican Caucus. That means they represent the Alabama portion of Pennsylvania. Even if Oz survives the primary, he cannot hope to make up for the huge Democratic imbalance in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh unless he does really well in the region between those two cities.
The good news for Oz is that he's polled nominally better with voters than the other candidates. There hasn't been a quality survey of the state since early December, though, and the 11% that Oz got in that one, while higher than any other candidate, was dwarfed by the 63% of respondents who are undecided. So there's room for him to make a move. Of course, there's also room for his competitors to do the same. The primary is a little less than 4 months away (May 17). (Z)
Like a lot of people in their 60s, former New York City mayor Bill de Blasio (D) is out of work, and has a decision as to whether he wants to find a new job or maybe just retire to the old mayors home. He had been teasing a run for governor of New York, and the folks around him said it was all but certain he'd throw his hat into the ring. It would seem those folks were wrong, however, because yesterday de Blasio announced that he will not mount a campaign.
The only surprise here is that it took the former mayor this long to concede that a gubernatorial bid is a fool's errand. People outside of New York City don't generally love politicians who come from the city. People inside New York City don't care for de Blasio, who disappointed pretty much everyone with his leadership as mayor, taking the blame for the pandemic, the rise in crime, and the increase in homelessness. Those things might not be under his control, but politics is unfair like that. Consequently, de Blasio's approval rating, when his term came to an end at the start of this month, was in the 20s. And in polls of hypothetical gubernatorial candidates, he was only getting the support of about 10% of New Yorkers. That's a pretty steep hill to climb, especially with the primary a little more than 5 months away (June 28).
Given the iron grip that Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (both D-NY) have on their jobs, not to mention the deep, deep Democratic bench in New York, de Blasio's political career would appear to be over. He says he will spend his time "fighting inequality," though he did not specify how.
That leaves three serious candidates for governor, namely Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who will be running for a term in her own right; Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D), who is going to try to challenge Hochul's command of the moderate lane; and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D), who is the progressive in the race. If Hochul and Suozzi split the moderate vote, that could create an opening for Williams. However, that is not happening, at least at the moment. The latest poll, from Siena, had Hochul with 48% of the vote, followed by Williams at 11% and Suozzi at just 6%. It was the first major poll conducted since Tish James bowed out of the race, and it makes clear that much of the AG's support shifted to Hochul.
There are several Republicans running, of course. The two most prominent are Andrew Giuliani, son of Rudy, and Rep. Lee Zeldin. Those two are busily trying to out-Trump each other. Given that New York went for both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden by 23 points, then whichever Trumpy candidate survives the primary figures to get trounced by the Democrat, probably Hochul, in the general. (Z)
We may need to reformat this to be a little easier to parse, visually. However, for now, here is the list of predictions we've already published:
Remember, we've been persuaded to pre-judge boldness, so we're not influenced by hindsight. Anyhow, here's what the readers have in store for Joe, Kamala, and the gang at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:
Tomorrow, a look back at the Supreme Court. (Z)