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Biden Will Strip Russia of Permanent Normal Trade Relations

Just in case Russian President Vladimir Putin thought Joe Biden was done punishing him and Russia, he has another think coming. Biden is about to strip Russia of permanent normal trade relations (formerly called most-favored nation status), which means that the U.S. can impose whatever tariffs it wants to on Russian goods (and vice versa, of course). In addition, Biden is working behind the scenes to get all of America's allies to do the same thing. This is crucial because aside from vodka and the odd fur hat, Russia doesn't have anything Americans want. However, Russia does export more to European countries, and if they impose tariffs, that is certain to reduce Russian sales and thus hurt its economy even more than the current measures. Biden may seem like a gentle elderly grandfather, but he is absolutely intent on nailing Putin to the wall.

Biden also signed an executive order banning the export of luxury goods to both Russia and Belarus. The order doesn't say what a luxury good is. It gives the authority to make that decision to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. If we were making the call, we'd put the new Apple MacBooks with the M1 chips on top of the list, but Raimondo might decide to block Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing sedans, Gulfstream III private jets, Tom Ford clothes, Jimmy Choo shoes, Tiffany jewelry, and other basic necessities of life for oligarchs. For the average Russian, this ban means nothing, but the oligarchs will definitely notice. And given the ban on international air travel from Russia to just about everywhere that isn't Belarus, the oligarchs won't be able to zip over to London for a weekend shopping spree.

But wait. There is more. The X.O. will also bar any new investments by U.S. companies or individuals in Russia. It also introduces guidelines for cryptocurrencies that will make it more difficult for Russia to evade all of the sanctions.

Will all these measures have an effect? The managing director of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, who is a Bulgarian with a Ph.D. in economics, yesterday told Margaret Brennan on CBS' Face the Nation that she expects a deep recession in Russia as a result of all the measures the West has taken. She also said that Russia might well default on its sovereign debt. It has the money to service it, but that money is all frozen and can't be accessed. She also said the effects of all the measures could go far beyond Russia, including famine in Africa because wheat prices are skyrocketing with Russian exports effectively cut off (because there is no way to pay for them). But she is more worried about Moldova and the Central Asian Republicans that do a lot of trade with Russia.

While speaking to the media, Biden also said that he is concerned that Putin might unleash chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. Chemical weapons, like the mustard gas used in World War I, have a limited range, but unleashing a biological agent (e.g., smallpox) that started a new pandemic would take things to an entirely new level. We think Putin might be at least slightly hesitant to use biological weapons since diseases don't respect national borders and a new pandemic would surely spread to nearby Russia quickly (and also affect the morale of Russian troops in Ukraine), but if Putin is desperate, who knows what he could do? (V)

Two-Thirds of Americans View Russia as an Enemy

A new YouGov poll contains some good news for Joe Biden and some bad news for Donald Trump. And no, the poll is not about a 2024 rematch. It is about how Americans perceive various countries and whether those countries are seen as allies, friends, unfriendly or enemies.

Except during a brief period when Donald Trump was impeached for trying to extort President Volodymyr Zelensky, most Americans probably drew a complete blank on Ukraine. Now everybody knows where it is and what is going on there and 81% of Americans see it as a friendly country, even an ally. In contrast, way over half of Americans see Russia as an enemy, as shown below:

Attitudes toward Ukraine and Russia. 
In 2020-21, about half of America saw Ukraine as an ally or as friendly, while 40% had no opinion and 10% saw them as
unfriendly, and very few saw them as an enemy. Now, close to 75% see Ukraine as an ally or as friendly, while 
15% have no opinion, 10% see them as unfriendly, and very, very few see them as an enemy. For Russia, in 2020-21, it was
10% friendly, 10% not sure, 35% unfriendly, and 45% enemy. Now it's 5% friendly, 5% not sure, 20% unfriendly, and 70%

Now how does this relate to Biden and Trump? Biden has made it very clear that Russia is America's enemy and he is doing almost everything he can to punish Russia. To him, Russian President Vladimir Putin is an evil person. This view is very much in sync with what Americans overwhelmingly think. In contrast, Donald is very pro-Russia and has always cozied up to Putin. That is hugely out of step with what Americans think. Depending how the war in Ukraine ends (assuming it does end), that could seriously affect how people think of Trump, especially if he ends up backing a loser. Foreign policy is usually not decisive in U.S. elections, unless there is a war going on, but if this war spreads and people come to regard Russia in an even worse light, Trump could lose some support as a result. (V)

Russia Asks China for Weapons

The Washington Post is reporting that Russia has asked China to supply it with some weapons. What kind of weapons was not specified. Since part of Russia's foreign currency reserves are held in China in yuan, Russia could pay for them.

How China reacted is not known. How the U.S. reacted is very well known. NSA Jake Sullivan has told China in unmistakable terms that there will absolutely be consequences if China helps Russia. And if China didn't get the message, Sullivan will deliver it in person when he meets with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, today in Rome.

Sullivan believes that China knew about the invasion of Ukraine when Putin came to China during the Olympics and that Chinese President Xi Jinping asked Putin to hold off until after the Olympics were over. But Sullivan thinks China may not have understood the scale of the planned invasion. That is certainly possible, because Putin has lied to Xi Jinping before, as he has lied to others.

So far, China has abided by the sanctions the U.S. and its allies have put in place. However, if China were to start delivering weapons to Russia (which apparently Russia needs or it wouldn't be asking), that would be a game changer. Helping Russia would be tweaking the U.S. but China badly needs the U.S. to keep buying Chinese-made products and supplying equipment, parts, and more to Chinese companies. If China were to start helping Russia, there would be certain retaliation since the U.S. has plenty of leverage over China (and vice-versa). Would Xi risk that just to annoy the U.S.? Russia isn't really that important to China and they are only nominally allies. Sullivan is surely going to bring this all up today in his meeting with Yang. It is good to remember that China cares a lot about trade and doesn't want to disrupt it. If Sullivan tells Yang to inform his boss that Chinese help for Russia will have a serious and negative effect on trade, it is something Xi will have to think long and hard about. (V)

Progressives Warn about Looming Disaster

Progressives see the writing on the wall and they don't like what it says. It says they are going to get very little of their agenda passed this year. The problem, of course, is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). He doesn't like the expanded child tax credit in which the government simply gives money to the parents of poor and some middle-class children and he doesn't like quite a few other things they want. At least he is in favor of reducing drug prices, which they do like. On the other hand, he likes reducing the federal debt, which they don't especially want to do. But his vote is crucial, so they are stuck.

Many of the parents who were getting the expanded child tax credit and aren't anymore are going to be unhappy, and when people are unhappy, they usually take it out on the president's party. To make it worse, Republicans are making inroads with parents by emphasizing their school issues, especially banning discussions of sexual orientation and gender identification in school, not to mention Critical Race Theory.

The net result of all this is that progressives are predicting that if Manchin gets the bill he wants, women all over the country will be furious with the Democrats, so the party will have a bloodbath in November. They are pleading with Joe Biden to get more involved. They are accusing him of ignoring them. One (anonymous Democrat) said: "There's a debate about the future of children and families going on, and they've taken a step back on it." But of course, Biden has talked to Manchin many times and may finally be convinced that the Senator simply will not budge, so there is no point in talking to him for the 39th time and getting the same answer as the first 38 times.

The child tax credit isn't the only program the progressives wanted and are not going to get. They wanted to upgrade child-care facilities around the country, cap the cost of child care, create universal pre-K education, and provide home-based care for older Americans. Manchin isn't really opposed to pre-K, but that might not make it in there for budgetary reasons. The other programs have little to no chance.

Most progressive members of the House kind of know this, so they are starting to press Biden to start sending out X.O.s like they were Xmas cards. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) reminded Biden that Harry Truman integrated the armed forces that way and that a lot can be done using only presidential power. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) helpfully pointed out that the Emancipation Proclamation was also an X.O. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said that while she preferred doing things by legislation, where that can't be done, executive action is called for.

The people who would have benefited from most of the programs that Biden wanted and Manchin (and also Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ) are blocking are low-income Black and Latino parents. These voters are crucial to Democratic hopes in November. If they are all very disappointed with the Democrats, many of them will not vote and Republicans will capture the House and maybe the Senate. Then all the discussions will change from talking about helping children to talking about impeaching Joe Biden. Biden has been warned, but at the moment he has his hands full with dealing with Vladimir Putin, and there may not be much he can do on the domestic front, anyhow. (V)

Biden Will Go to His First Fundraiser as President Tonight

It isn't that Joe Biden doesn't care about the midterms. He cares very much, despite what some progressives think. He is just approaching them his way. His way includes attending a high-dollar fundraiser in D.C. tonight. Biden knows that people will pay big money to see him, but COVID-19 has limited his willingness to get out and meet people. As if to underscore that, Barack Obama, who is 60 and not 79, just announced that he has tested positive for the disease. But apparently Biden feels that risk/reward ratio is now small enough to attend fundraisers in person.

Tonight's event is for the DNC and has already raised $3 million and could go higher. And it is expected to be the first of many events Biden will do for DNC, DSCC, DCCC, DGA, and even individual candidates he thinks need a boost. Last year the RNC narrowly outraised the DNC $159 million to $151 million, but the Democrats have a couple of not-so-secret weapons they can use now: Biden and Obama. They also have Kamala Harris, but she doesn't have the kind of star power the current and former president have. The Republicans can't use Donald Trump because he is interested only in raising money for himself, while George W. Bush has retreated from politics altogether. (V)

Why Don't They Like Us More?

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who represents much of the historic Hudson Valley, is himself historic (see below). He is the current chairman of the DCCC. Running the Democrats' House reelection campaign when everyone is expecting the Democrats to lose the House has to be hardest job in politics right now. He is trying to answer a very basic question about the voters: "If they agree with us on the issues, why don't they like us more?" It is a very good question and House Democrats' fate hinges significantly on whether he can figure it out and do something about it.

Maloney's tentative answer (no doubt based on a lot of polling) is that the voters think the Democrats are too divisive and too focused on cultural (woke) issues. They think Democrats believe they know better than parents what schools should teach. They think Democrats are too preachy.

Maloney wants Democrats to embrace the President. Republicans want this, too. Hey, the parties agree on something! Maloney thinks the Democrats have to stick with their leader and Republicans think Biden is toxic and would love to see Democrats cling to him. At the recent Democratic retreat, Biden told the attendees that he has had little kids giving him the finger. He said "You guys probably don't get that kind of response." Then Nancy Pelosi interjected "I do" to great laughter. Biden told the Democrats that they need to find out where the infrastructure money is flowing in their state or district and make the voters aware of the upgrade they are going to get on account of him. Still, the mood at the retreat was bleak.

Some members agreed with Maloney's take. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) said that they can get soap-boxy from time to time and ought to spend more time listening to what the voters care about and less time telling them what they ought to care about. The trouble is: What does a candidate say when a voter tells him that he doesn't care about the environment but he cares a lot about gas prices going up 50¢/gallon and wants to government to allow more off-shore drilling to lower gas prices? Oops.

One thing that Maloney is emphasizing is having the candidates analyze their districts and determine where their campaigns can make a difference. In some districts, that is in well-to-do suburbs, where college-educated voters are potentially Democrats if given the right pitch. In urban districts, it may not be necessary to convince anyone but turning out the vote is the key. In rural districts it will be tougher, but even there some pitches might work. Rural voters tend to be patriotic and pointing out that Republicans are supporting an evil dictator who invaded a peaceful democratic country might help.

Another strategy might be to run against Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who recently released his 2024 platform and who claims it is what the Republicans stand for. Among other things, Scott wants Social Security and Medicare to automatically terminate after 5 years and cut IRS funding 50%, so rich people can get away with cheating on their taxes more easily. He also wants to raise income taxes on the poorest half of the country, many of whom pay no federal income tax because they don't earn enough. Just harp on his whole program. It is a target-rich environment.

Whether Maloney is the right guy for this job right now is a bit of an open question. In any event, he is certainly historic. He is married to a man and they have adopted three children of color. Lots of progressives think it is fantastic that such a person could run one of the five major campaign committees (and Jaime Harrison, who is Black, runs another one of them, namely the DNC). But like it or not, there are voters who look more at the messenger than the message and may not like what they see. And in many districts, Democrats need their votes. Maloney has his work cut out for him. (V)

Liz Cheney Hopes Democrats Will Save Her

With Donald Trump doing everything he can to defeat Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), Cheney is running an unorthodox campaign. She is quietly appealing to Democrats to save her neck. her pitch to them is simply this: "Look, there is no chance you can elect a Democrat to the House, so why not at least elect a Republican who supports democracy instead of one who opposes it?"

She has been avoiding town halls and other events where Republicans will show up and shout her down in favor of controlled events where that is less likely. Next week she will speak at Jackson's Center for the Arts at a small fundraiser, Jackson being a well-off blue enclave in a very red state. Her hope is that enough Democrats switch to the GOP and vote for her in the Aug. 16 primary that she can eke out a narrow win, especially if Republicans are split between Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman and state Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R). Wyoming does not have runoffs, so getting 34% of the vote is enough if the other two candidates each get 33%. Also, Wyoming allows only Republicans to vote in Republican primaries, but also allows any voter to switch registration on Primary Day. It is a longshot, but if enough Democrats forget Dick and embrace Liz, she has a chance.

Cheney's problem is that she needs to court Democrats under the radar. Openly asking Democrats to switch parties and vote for her might anger all Republicans, even anti-Trump ones, since they tend to see the Democrats as the devil's spawn.

Wyoming political strategists are looking at the 2018 open-seat Republican gubernatorial primary for hints of what could happen. Then-state treasurer, Mark Gordon, was facing a tough challenge from the right. More than 10,000 voters switched sides then. Gordon won the primary by 9,000 votes in a total turnout of 116,000. Is that possible in 2022? Cheney sure hopes so. After all, there are some Democrats in Wyoming. Joe Biden got 73,000 votes in 2020. If she can get half of them to switch and vote for her, she might be able to pull it off. The biggest problem is addressing them under the radar so the Republicans don't see her as a turncoat and come out in droves in the primary to defeat her.

Trump actually understands this. He backed a bill inrroduced in the state legislature that would have ended the ability of voters to switch their registration on Primary Day, but it died last week after the state House Appropriations Committee voted it down. Reviving a dead bill requires a super majority. So Cheney can still follow her (only) path, but doing it quietly will be tricky. (V)

The Not-Trump Lane Is Getting More Crowded

Richard Nixon once told the press not to pay attention to what he said but to watch closely what he actually did. That's actually pretty good advice for understanding any politician's actual priorities. Nearly all Republicans are saying that Donald Trump will run again in 2024 and pundits are echoing that. But some very savvy professional politicians are betting the farm on the opposite—that either he won't run or he will be such damaged goods by then that, even if he does run, he won't be a shoo-in for the GOP nomination. So far, the most prominent 2024 candidates to move to the starting blocks in the non-Trump lane are Mike Pence and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY).

Now another POTUS wannabe has joined them: the former U.S. representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. And again, it is her actions, not her words that matter. Specifically, she has backed the reelection of Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), knowing that Trump was going to back her challenger, Katie Arrington. This move was carefully designed to put some distance between Haley and Trump without confronting him head on. South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis (R) said: "Nikki's very smart—it'd never occur to me that she doesn't know exactly what she's doing.

On Saturday, Trump was in Florence, SC, to hold a rally for Arrington, so as to punish Mace, who has criticized him. Of course, he also talked about those old chestnuts, like how he actually won in 2020 and how Putin would never have invaded Ukraine if he were president now. That might be right, but even if so, Trump's reasoning is all wrong. Trump thinks that Putin is so afraid of him that he wouldn't dare have invaded Ukraine for fear of angering the Mighty Trump. In reality, Putin might have held his horses because he believed he could convince the ever-gullible Trump to withdraw from NATO. Or maybe until Putin could bribe him with a promise to allow him to build Trump Tower Moscow.

Something new was Trump's call to "lay down their very lives" in the fight against Critical Race Theory—which is not taught in any elementary or high school in South Carolina. That sounds a lot like Trump is calling for violence, perhaps against school boards. Most of Trump's supporters are not likely to risk their lives fighting the nonexistent CRT, but there could always be a few that think this is a hill to die on.

Naturally, Trump dangled another run in front of the crowd, saying: "We may have to run again." "Have to?" As in "Have to be president to avoid going to prison"?

It isn't that Mace isn't conservative enough or even Trumpy enough. In 2018, she ran for and got the GOP House nomination for her district by cozying up to Trump. Only she lost the general election to a Democrat. The state legislature made sure that can't happen again by making the district much more Republican, so whoever wins the GOP primary is almost certain to win the general election this time. (V)

A Huge Number of Mail-in Ballots Were Rejected in Texas Primary

In the 2018 midterms, about one-third of 1% of absentee ballots were rejected in Harris County, home to Houston (and a large percentage of the state's Democrats). In last week's primary, 19% of absentee ballots were rejected, a 50x increase over the previous midterm election. What happened? Is the USPS delaying ballots in the mail again?

No, the new Texas law, SB 1, is working exactly as it was designed to work. It is keeping people's ballots from being counted, especially in Democratic areas (in rural areas, people tend to vote in person). The new law requires people voting by absentee ballot to include on the form a partial Social Security number or a driver's license number. Many people didn't realize this or didn't have the relevant numbers, so their ballots went into the circular file instead of into the vote-counting machine.

The Harris County election administrator, Isabel Longoria, said: "These restrictive voting laws continue to undermine our efforts to expand voter access and will have repercussions for many elections to come." She resigned last week.

In Travis County (Austin), another Democratic stronghold, the rejection rate was 8%, better than Houston but still vastly higher than in 2018. Travis County probably did better than Harris County due to a better-educated population that was more aware of the new law on account of Austin being the seat of the state government and the location of the flagship campus of the University of Texas, which has 50,000 students and 24,000 faculty and staff

Texas Secretary of State John Scott (R) said that in the future, his office would put more emphasis on educating voters about the new law. Voting-rights advocates said that's well and good, but Congress needs to step up and pass a new voting rights law. Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters in Texas said: "The federal Voting Rights Act must be restored to ensure that every voter in Texas has equal access to the ballot box and is protected from unfair laws and practices that make it harder for people to vote." Then she added: "It is a tragedy for our democracy when state leaders choose to support a partisan agenda instead of voters when writing state election law resulting in a massive rejection of vote-by-mail ballots." (V)

Poll: Don't Say "Don't Say Gay"

A number of states, led by Florida, are busy passing laws forbidden elementary school teachers from even discussing sexual orientation or gender identity. Some people label these as "Don't say gay" laws. So if a child asks: "Can a child have two mommies?" the teacher would be required to ignore the child and change the subject. A new ABC News/Ipsos poll shows that a large majority (62%) opposes these laws and only 37% support them. Thus, politicians like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) who strongly support these laws are taking a risk of offending a majority of voters. Of course, this is not the only factor voters take into consideration when voting, but having over 60% of the voters against you on a highly visible issue is never a plus.

DeSantis probably knows all this, but is to busy burnishing his credentials as the new Trump. He presumably feels safe enough in 2022 to be already thinking about 2024 and how to be the Trumpiest of them all in the event Trump doesn't run. Or maybe even if Trump does run, so he can offer himself as a younger version of Trump without all the baggage.

Support and opposition for the DSG laws is relatively uniform across demographics although there is more support for these laws amng older people than among younger people. The only group that has majority support for the laws is self-identified Republicans. So likely DeSantis knows exactly what he is doing and is running a base-only strategy. It worked for Trump in Florida in 2020, so it is understandable that the Governor is trying to pull of the same thing. (V)

Twitterland Is Not America

The media pay an extraordinary amount of attention to social media and to hyperpolarized cable news channels. Maybe too much. Axios took a look to see how immersed the country is in Twitter. It is not as much as one might think given the attention it gets.

For starters, only 23% of adults user use Twitter, and most of the users are 18-29, with 42% of them using it. Among seniors only 7% use it. Twitter usage also grows with education level, with 14% of people with high school or less using it, rising to 33% of college graduates. Same holds for income, which correlates strongly with education. Urban dwellers use the site more (27%) than people in rural areas (18%). So, to a first approximation, Twitter is for well-off, college educated people who live in cities. In other words, Democrats.

Among other social media sites, YouTube and Facebook are the most popular, but generally less political than Twitter. They are used across all demographics. In contrast, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are definitely for young people. Somewhat surprisingly, WhatsApp is used by 46% of Latinos and 23% of Black people, but only 16% of whites.

Now moving on to television, on an average weeknight, only 1% of adults watched primetime Fox News and 0.5% watched MSNBC. Fox News gets a lot of credit for setting the country's agenda, but if only 1% of adults watch it, maybe it is getting a bit more credit than it deserves.

Finally, nearly three times as many Americans (56%) donated to charities during the pandemic as donated to politicians and parties (21%). The country is clearly polarized, but maybe not with the intensity some people think. Yes, people in Wyoming vote Republican, but that doesn't mean every other sentence is a quote from Tucker Carlson. Also, the rise of independents over the years is noteworthy:

identification over time. In 1990, 37% of people were Democrats but now it is 29%, 31% of people were Republicans but
now it is 27%, and 33% of people were independents but now it is 42%.

But keep in mind, most independents aren't really neutral. They generally vote for one party most of the time.They just like to present themselves as voting for the best candidate. It just so happens that most of the time, they manage to conclude that person is a Republican (or a Democrat).

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