After a couple of weeks of doing... not a lot, President Joe Biden unveiled his response to the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization on Friday. Following a fiery speech—well, fiery by his standards—Biden announced that he would sign an executive order meant to protect access to abortion rights as much as it is within his power to do.
Here's a rundown of the main provisions of the EO (which he did indeed sign on Friday night):
Will that be enough to placate folks who are angry at Biden for seeming to drag his feet? Depends who you ask, it would seem. The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin is moderate-to-conservative, and her response was headlined: "Biden has put the forced-birth crusaders on notice." On the other hand, The Guardian's Moira Donegan is much more liberal, and her response was headlined: "Biden's executive order on abortion is better than nothing. But not much better."
Incidentally, on the subject of perceived foot-dragging, The Washington Post had a story documenting the 2 weeks between the Dobbs decision and Friday's speech and EO. The basic thrust of the piece:
To many increasingly frustrated Democrats, Biden's slow-footed response on abortion was just the latest example of a failure to meet the moment on a wave of conservative rollbacks, from gun control to environmental protections to voting rights. Some aspects of the White House reaction have felt to some Democrats like a routine response, including stakeholder calls and the creation of a task force, to an existential crisis.
The article also makes explicit something we had already inferred: The White House is unwilling to do things that are symbolic rather than substantive, and is also leery of doing anything that might be struck down by the courts.
This is probably not the end of the administration's maneuvering on this subject. White House insiders concede that declaring a national health emergency is still on the table as a possibility, and legal experts generally agree that the administration has legal cover for getting the DoJ involved in "you ordered abortifacients via mail" lawsuits, and also for helping Medicaid recipients to travel across state lines for abortion services. The government can't fund the actual abortion in the latter case, thanks to the Hyde Amendment, but it probably can foot the bill for the travel.
In any event, Biden is clearly running a marathon rather than a sprint, so abortion is going to be "the" story for many—and probably most—weeks between now and the midterm elections. (Z)
We assume that the timing of "issue an executive order on abortion" and following that with "travel to the Middle East" is basically coincidental, excepting that Joe Biden did not want to let things linger for another week (and to let Democrats get a week angrier) while he headed off to work on foreign affairs.
Still, the timing is not great, since Biden will be spending time in Saudi Arabia. That country does not have the best record when it comes to women's rights, to say the least, and the Democrats who are most irritated with Biden right now are the same ones who tend not to accept the realpolitik that sometimes a president has to deal with nations that are not the greatest citizens of the world.
Given that he's in for a flaying from the right, and probably from some on the left, Biden published a Washington Post op-ed explaining himself. He (or, really, one of his staffers) writes:
As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure. We have to counter Russia's aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world. To do these things, we have to engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes. Saudi Arabia is one of them, and when I meet with Saudi leaders on Friday, my aim will be to strengthen a strategic partnership going forward that's based on mutual interests and responsibilities, while also holding true to fundamental American values.
Much of the piece is dedicated to running through a list of the administration's accomplishments in the Middle East over the past 18 months. Biden (or, again, his staffer) also has harsh words about the record "my predecessor." Unfortunately, the President never identifies this person by name, and the staff researcher has been busy all weekend preparing for National Blueberry Muffin Day today. Our money is on William Henry Harrison. After all, how much did he accomplish in the area of Middle Eastern policy? Not much, we can tell you that.
Also on the PR front, the administration is also making much noise about the $100 million for Palestinian hospitals that will be "awarded" during the trip. The money, of course, was allocated by Congress long ago, but there will be a photo-op or two with lots of handshakes. It is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that tends to side with Palestine, so this is clearly another tip of the cap in the direction of the Bernie Sanderses and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes of the world. If they grumble too much about the trip, the President will say, "What? You don't want Palestinians to get money for hospitals?"
Biden will be abroad through the end of the week. Since modern presidents tend to be less constrained in foreign policy rather than in domestic, and since Biden is clearly more comfortable working on the former rather than the latter, it's certainly possible that something very productive could come from this. (Z)
Steve Bannon, adviser to Donald Trump, was one of the first people to defy a subpoena from the 1/6 Committee. And he was the very first to be indicted on contempt charges. With his trial scheduled to begin in one week (next Monday), Bannon has apparently decided that he's willing to talk to the Committee after all. Last week, his attorney sent a letter to Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) & Co. explaining that "While Mr. Bannon has been steadfast in his convictions, circumstances have now changed. Mr. Bannon is willing to, and indeed prefers, to testify at your public hearing."
Why the change of heart? Who knows with him? The simplest explanation, of course, is that Bannon is nervous about a potential visit to the crowbar hotel and he is now trying to save himself. Agreeing to cooperate at this point is not likely to stop the trial from happening, however, since it would not be wise to allow would-be witnesses to manipulate the system like that. That said, there is zero chance that the committee allows him to testify in public without hearing from him in private first. So, when they tell him that, he may cry and moan that "I tried to cooperate, and they told me to pound sand," and then use that in his defense at trial.
Alternatively, Bannon might have concluded that he and many others are badly exposed, that the rats are about to begin jumping ship, and that it's way better to be one of the first rats rather than one of the last ones. Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony scared the wits out of many people in TrumpWorld, and it's possible that Bannon was one of those.
That said, Bannon has always come off as a True Believer, someone in the mold of G. Gordon Liddy (who offered to stand on a random street corner and allow himself to be gunned down, so that Richard Nixon could claim the secrets of Watergate died with him). And so, it's very possible that all of this is political theater designed to help Trump. Last week, the former president made a big show of "waiving" executive privilege for Bannon, writing:
When you first received the Subpoena to testify and provide documents, I invoked Executive Privilege. However, I watched how unfairly you and others have been treated, having to spend vast amounts of money on legal fees, and all of the trauma you must be going through for the love of your Country, and out of respect for the Office of the President.
Therefore, if you reach an agreement on a time and place for your testimony, I will waive Executive Privilege for you, which allows for you to go in and testify truthfully and fairly, as per the request of the Unselect Committee of political Thugs and Hacks, who have allowed no Due Process, no Cross-Examination, and no real Republican members or witnesses to be present or interviewed. It is a partisan Kangaroo Court.
Why should these evil, sinister, and unpatriotic people be allowed to hurt and destroy the lives of so many, and cause such great harm to our Country?
This obviously allowed Trump to fire a few barbs in the direction of the Committee, and also to give off the impression of control he doesn't actually have. That is to say, the claim of executive privilege was laughable, particularly in Bannon's case. Still, Trump and Bannon may have cooked up this exchange in order to make the former president look strong to the base, and to send the message that, ultimately, Trump is calling all the shots here. Alternatively, it's also possible that Trump became aware that Bannon was preparing to turn traitor, and the letter was sent so that Bannon's testimony did not look like the ultimate act of defiance.
The upshot is that Bannon and Trump are both getting desperate, are both quite dishonest, and are both prone to theatrics and putting on a public performance. So when it comes to the question of what's going on here, anything is possible. If we had to guess, we would guess that Bannon's plan is to show up to give "testimony," and then to spend his time pleading the Fifth and railing against the Committee. But we really don't know. And neither does the Committee, which is why they will never allow his first appearance before them to be public. (Z)
In case you needed a reminder of the downside to electing judges, we give you the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is arguably even more partisan than the United States Supreme Court. Although the elections are nominally nonpartisan, everyone knows that Wisconsin Court is currently made up of four far-right Republicans, one swing Republican, and two Democrats. As with SCOTUS, the one swing Republican is not enough to stop their far-right colleagues from doing whatever they get it in their minds to do.
We offer that as prelude to the news that the Wisconsin justices, in a—wait for it—4-3 decision ruled that drop boxes for absentee ballots are not permitted under current Wisconsin law. So, it's another win for the right in their ongoing program of making it harder to vote.
Note that the underlying elements of the case were such that reasonable (legal) minds could plausibly disagree. In short, the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission said the dropboxes were OK. The highly gerrymandered, Republican-dominated state legislature said they were not OK. The Court ruled that ultimate authority for election procedures lies with the legislature, not the Commission, and so the legislature's views win out.
Fair enough, perhaps, but the four justices in the majority showed their hand in their ruling. Throughout the majority opinion, authored by Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley, who may be the far-rightest of the bunch, there are allusions to the "legitimacy" of the 2020 election. For example, she writes: "The failure to follow election laws is a fact which forces everyone to question the legitimacy of election results... [H]undreds of ballot drop boxes have been set up in past elections [and] thousands of votes have been cast via this unlawful method." That pretty much could have been written by the MyPillow Guy.
In any event, the midterm elections will proceed in Wisconsin without drop boxes. Again, that's meant to hurt the Democrats, and maybe it will, easing the path to reelection for Sen. Ron Johnson (R) and doing the opposite for Gov. Tony Evers (D). However, there's a pretty large body of data showing that people who want to vote find a way to make that happen. Further, if you've set up a system where voter enthusiasm is rewarded, well, the abortion issue appears to have lit a fire under Democrats this cycle (more on that later this week). So, the ruling might actually work to the detriment of the red team. (Z)
It was the worst-kept secret in the world of business: Tesla CEO and world's richest man Elon Musk rushed into his purchase of Twitter and then, when it became clear that he'd blundered, started backtracking. On Friday, he announced he was officially pulling out of the deal.
The purchase agreement contains a clause that allows Musk to walk away from the deal... if he pays a $1 billion termination fee. He can certainly afford that, but apparently he doesn't want to go through his couch and collect his spare change, so he's fighting the termination fee in court. Musk's attorneys have cooked up a number of arguments on his behalf; all amount to "Twitter breached the contract," and all are pretty shaky. Given Musk's weak position, and Twitter's desire to avoid years of litigation and bad PR, the odds are that some sort of settlement is reached wherein Musk pays up, but the check is for considerably less than $1 billion.
It is possible that Musk is just trying to force the sale price down, and that he'll still acquire the social media platform. However, we have always doubted the deal would actually come to fruition, and nothing has happened to change our minds. If he does not take over, then conservatives' hopes that Twitter will become the Wild, Wild West of "free speech," and that Donald Trump will be restored to the platform, will be pretty much dashed.
As you can imagine, that has led to much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments in TrumpWorld, particularly from the Donalds Trump. Junior took to Truth Social to complain that there is "Zero chance of free thought or speech [on Twitter] at this point." The irony of posting such a thing on a platform that aggressively censors Trump-critical content is thick. Meanwhile, Senior was in Alaska this weekend for one of his rallies, and he slurred Musk as "another bull**it artist."
We are not sure what other "bull**it artist" Trump was thinking of. We can certainly think of a prominent businessman who has a decades-long reputation for peddling bull**it, but we doubt that The Donald was thinking of himself. In any event, the anger expressed by the Trumps is a pretty clear evidence that Senior's claim that he is no longer interested in being back on Twitter was, well... bull**it. (Z)
When former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated last week, he was campaigning for candidates in this weekend's House of Councillors elections. Those elections went forward as scheduled, and Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won big. Was there a sympathy vote, thanks to the fallen leader? Almost certainly; turnout was considerably higher than expected. And it left the LDP with 87 Councillors in its own right, and the LDP-Komeito governing coalition with 146 seats (out of 248 total).
The House of Councillors is the upper chamber of the Japanese National Diet. The lower chamber is the House of Representatives. The LDP-Komeito coalition already had a supermajority in the latter, and now it has a supermajority in the former. This puts the coalition in a position to propose changes to the Japanese constitution, which would then be put before the citizenry for final approval.
So, what might the triumphant LDP do with this power, now that they've got it? Well, current PM Fumio Kishida is an LDP member, of course. And although the party's name may cause Americans to conclude that it's the equivalent of the Democrats, it is not. The LDP is Japan's conservative party. And while Kishida and Abe did not see eye-to-eye on some key issues, they have always agreed that Japan's pacifist constitution is no longer in the nation's best interests, and that it would be a good thing if the nation could arm itself more aggressively. So, a push in that direction is likely in the cards. Or, since it's Japan, in the riichi mahjong tiles.
And that is the American angle to the story. East Asia is already touchy enough, with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan on one side and China and North Korea on the other. A much more militarized Japan, if that comes to pass, would represent a fundamental change in the balance of military power. Maybe that works to the United States' advantage, since Japan is an ally, and would be a further check on Chinese military power. On the other hand, maybe it upsets the delicate balance that has held for the better part of a century, and plunges the region into chaos and/or open warfare. (Z)