Senate page     Mar. 18

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Sorry it's up much later than our target launch time! Some days, teaching duties demand a particularly large chunk of time.

Iran Nuclear Deal Is In Trouble

International diplomacy is a strange thing, particularly in the 21st century. As you may have heard, relations between the U.S. and Russia are a bit frosty right now; something having to do with an unprovoked invasion by the Russians. And so, in that particular conflict, the two nations are on opposite sides, with the U.S. supplying large numbers of weapons that, if used successfully, will kill large numbers of Russians. However, when it comes to hammering out a new version of the Iran nuclear deal, the two nations are partners, and are theoretically working together.

We say "theoretically" because the Russians are complicating things with a bunch of last-second curve balls. Why are they doing this? Few people, outside of Vladimir Putin and a few of his lackeys, know for sure. Maybe the Russians have legitimate concerns that they just happened to discover this week. Maybe they are trying to help out their friends in Israel and Syria. Maybe they are poking the United States in the eye. Maybe they are attempting to create a distraction, given how poorly the war effort is going. Anything is possible.

In any case, because of the Russians' machinations, Iran Nuclear Deal v2.0, which was once hours away from being a done deal, is in deep trouble. And that may not be a bad thing. In terms of geopolitics, Iran is much closer to being a nuclear power than it was when Donald Trump killed the original deal, and has also committed a number of bad acts in that time. But the new deal would actually be softer than the old one was. While just about everyone wants Iran's nuclear program to be handcuffed, a weaker set of controls at a time when stronger controls would appear to be called for is not a great outcome. And so, there is much opposition in the U.S. (including more than 100 members of Congress) and elsewhere to the current version of the deal.

Meanwhile, in terms of domestic politics, many voters have been persuaded that any deal with Iran, no matter how skillfully constructed, is a deal with the devil. And so, if a new deal is negotiated, Republicans will use it to hammer Joe Biden and the Democrats for (allegedly) being soft on terrorism. If the deal dies, then that cudgel is taken away. And the silver lining is that the President could blame Putin, thus giving more justification for Russian sanctions and other anti-Russia actions. This would be known as "taking lemons and making lemonade."

We've been told many times now that the deal is imminently going to either come together or collapse. So, presumably its fate will be known soon, one way or another. (Z)

Nobody Saw It Coming

When we wrote up the newly passed Senate bill that would theoretically establish year-round Daylight Savings Time, we observed that there was no indication this was coming down the pike, and also that nobody seemed to know why the senators had all of a sudden gotten on board with the idea, en masse.

It turns out that we weren't the only ones who were surprised and a bit confused. In fact, most of the senators were, as well. The bill was passed by unanimous consent, which is really the only way for there to be a unanimous vote in the Senate. What was not publicly known on Tuesday was that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked for unanimous consent, and expected Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) to object. The Floridian didn't actually expect to secure passage, he just wanted to be able to send out an "I'm trying" tweet and press release in an election year. And because Rubio (and everyone else) expected an objection, there wasn't much communication among members of the Senate (or among their staffs), and most members weren't even on the floor of the chamber when the matter came up. That meant that when Wicker, in a rather big surprise, decided he didn't care enough to object, the Senate inadvertently approved the bill unanimously. A sizable number of senators only found out about it when they were asked by reporters, or when they read about it online.

It's hard to believe this is for real, and is not, say, a Marx Brothers short ("Oops! Sens. Groucho and Harpo accidentally declared war on Canada!"). In any case, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has put the legislation on the back burner for now. If she wants to kill it, or if Joe Biden does, there's now plenty of justification for them to do so. (Z)

Hawley Has His Line of Attack

Next week, the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson will commence. There was a time in U.S. history when a person could be nominated to SCOTUS in the morning and be approved by that afternoon, but not anymore. Currently, the Senate Judiciary Committee has her scheduled for four days of grilling, during which the would-be justice will demonstrate how many different ways she can say "I will rule consistent with the Constitution and existing precedent." We bet you could take the answers that, say, Samuel Alito gave to the Judiciary Committee, and the ones that Sonia Sotomayor gave, and if the names were not attached, you wouldn't be able to tell whose answers were whose, because the entire thing is an exercise in saying as close to nothing as is possible.

Anyhow, Jackson is unusually lacking in skeletons in her past that might be held against her. Plus, as we've pointed out several times, being overly aggressive with someone who is Black and a woman could come off badly. On the other hand, the Senate Judiciary Committee has not one, not two, but three Republican members who flatter themselves that they are plausible 2024 presidential candidates: Tom Cotton (AR), Ted Cruz (TX), and Josh Hawley (MO). This trio is preternaturally unable to pass up on a chance to grandstand and to try to score points with the base. And so, all three have undoubtedly been looking under rocks for anything they might weaponize for use against Jackson.

Hawley, who is probably the most delusional of the three when it comes to thinking he's a viable presidential candidate, has finally come up with something. Jackson has helped impose sentences in an unusually high number of cases involving sex offenders, particularly child pornographers. And some of those sentences might appear to be too tolerant, if you were unaware of three things: (1) that the sentences were at or above federal sentencing guidelines, (2) that the sentences were imposed by a panel of judges who were in unanimous agreement, and (3) that many people feel the sentencing guidelines are unduly harsh because they don't do enough to distinguish a person who possesses the porn—possibly by accident—from someone who actively produces child pornography. Of course, Hawley has made a career of exploiting his supporters' ignorance, so he has no problem misrepresenting Jackson's record.

Will other Republican senators want to go there, essentially implying that Jackson is a pedophile enabler? Cruz, at the very least, is apparently intrigued by the line of attack. In fact, you get the sense that he was jealous that he didn't come up with it first. It's not easy to do research from the beaches of Cancun. For the other members of the red team, however, it might be a bit too much, especially since it puts them within shouting distance of the kooky Pizzagate conspiracy theory. They're going to have to lay their cards on the table next week, so we'll find out then. (Z)

Ohio Republicans Fail, Fail Again

Everyone knows what they say about "If at first you don't succeed..." Of course, everybody also knows that the third time is supposed to be the charm. Not always, though, as it turns out. Three times, the Republicans that control the Ohio legislature have tried to come up with district maps that will pass muster with the courts. And, thanks to a 4-3 court ruling yesterday, they have now failed three times.

At its heart, the problem—beyond out-of-control, undemocratic hyperpartisanship—is the wonky system that Ohio adopted in order to ensure "fair" maps. In short, the state's courts have veto power over maps, and are free to make suggestions as to what needs to be done to secure their approval. However, in contrast to many states, Ohio courts cannot impose court-drawn (or special-master-drawn) maps if the politicians come up short. All the courts can do is send the politicians back to the drawing board.

And so, it will be back to the drawing board yet again. Maybe the Ohio Republicans will get the message, and will do what the court has "hinted" they should do, like submit their maps for public comment. Maybe they won't get the message although, given the lack of Democratic buy-in, the best the red team can do right now is get their maps in place for the next two election cycles. Whatever happens, there's no longer time to get the maps worked out in time for Ohio's scheduled primaries (May 3), so those will certainly be postponed. That means additional weeks of Senate candidate J.D. Vance having a platform for his... views. Fantastic! (Z)

Stacey Abrams Becomes President

You may have thought that Democrat Stacey Abrams was running for governor, and that the election wasn't until later this year. Ha! How foolish you are. She's already made it all the way to president. Who needs the governorship of Georgia when you can be president? Right, Jimmy Carter?

Of course, there is some fine print we should mention. It's not the presidency of the United States, it's that of United Earth. Also, Abrams won't be inaugurated for another thousand years or so. That's because she was playing a character on Star Trek: Discovery, namely the unnamed President of United Earth, whose term in office commences on or about the year 3190. The episode became available for streaming earlier this week.

Abrams—who dabbles in fiction writing herself—has long been a Star Trek fan, so good for her for getting an opportunity to be a part of that universe. We also generally see only good things for politicians who engage with popular culture a bit. It humanizes them and may cause some otherwise uninterested voters to give their candidacy a look. Playing a future Earth president on a somewhat cult-y streaming series isn't quite playing the saxophone on Arsenio, but it ain't bad. (Z)

You Can't Keep a Sleazy Man Down

Speaking of would-be governors, we doubt Andrew Cuomo will be appearing on Star Trek anytime soon. Well, unless they decide to reenact the death of Dexter Remmick:

Outside of that, however, Cuomo's not exactly the right type for the Trek universe.

You know what he is the right type for, apparently? The governorship of New York. Despite the myriad scandals that brought him down, and forced his resignation, he still polls well with New York voters (and with Black voters, in particular). A poll from The Hill earlier this week has him with 33% of the vote, which is within 4% of the 37% that Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) is polling at. Given the margin of error of the poll (4.3 points), that's a statistical dead heat. It's also a message to Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY, 7%) and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D, 4%) that New Yorkers aren't buying what they are selling.

It's only one poll, of course. And it's an internally inconsistent poll, at that, since a big chunk of the respondents who said Cuomo would have their vote also said they don't want him to run. Still, it's clear that his political career was only mostly dead. Cuomo, for his part, is currently on a speaking tour, giving addresses in which he defends himself, calls himself a victim of cancel culture, and lays out his agenda for what he would do if maybe somehow possibly he ever became governor again. That is pretty close to the polar opposite of the "Full Sherman." He also has $16 million in the bank, though he's spending some of that... running pro-Cuomo TV commercials. In short, he could very well throw his hat into the ring this year if he decides that enough New Yorkers have forgiven and forgotten. He's got until April 7 to decide. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

Speaking of sleazy men, Tucker Carlson certainly qualifies. And he generally attracts a whole universe of adjunct sleaze to his show. He's the sleaze king, and they're the sleaze vassals, as it were. One of the Fox host's very favorite guests is his alleged foreign policy "expert," Col. Douglas Macgregor (ret.). Macgregor will say the things that Carlson wants said, like that Russia should be allowed to annex Ukraine. We also wonder if Carlson's history is rusty, and he thinks he's dealing with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. We'll have to see if the host ever asks about that promise to return to the Philippines. Anyhow, outside of the hallowed halls of Fox, Macgregor is a man so deeply problematic that when Donald Trump tried to appoint him ambassador to Germany, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider the nomination.

The thing that makes Macgregor problematic, especially for a posting to Germany, is that he's got a rather lengthy history of casual antisemitism. It is not clear whether Carlson views this as a feature or a bug. In any case, Media Matters decided to take a close look at the Colonel's recent speaking engagements, and they came up with some real doozies. Most notable was a speech from October of last year in which Macgregor lamented the fact that the neighborhood in which he grew up had been "overrun" by Asians, and that:

This is a microcosm of everything that's wrong now in the United States, because we have a huge problem with a class of so-called elites, the people who are wealthy, very wealthy in many cases and they are, as the Russians used to call certain individuals many, many years ago, rootless cosmopolitans.

For those who don't have their Webster's Third New International Dictionary of Bigotry close at hand, "rootless cosmopolitan" was Josef Stalin's preferred euphemism for "Jews," and was a big part of the propaganda campaign undertaken as justification of bloody anti-Jewish pogroms.

Macgregor's retrograde views were not a secret prior to this, but now they are getting wide attention. At very least, people are getting a reminder of what kind of people Carlson associates with and relies on for "expertise." At most, Macgregor will become too toxic, even for Fox airwaves, and Carlson will be deprived of his lapdog Russia "expert." Either way, it's certainly cause for some schadenfreude. (Z)

March... Sadness? (Round of 64, Part II)

This bracket concept is a work in progress. We do expect future entries, considering questions like "Most destructive politician in history," perhaps, or "Best movie about politics." But for now, we're doing the "worst political figure in America," and using that to work out some of the kinks.

For example, we collected the first round of responses using the website SurveyMonkey. However, the bracket idea was so popular that we used up nearly all of the monthly allotment of responses we'd paid for. If we'd kept going at the same pace, then we would have ended up with a bill for something like $8,000. So, we've switched to a different provider, SurveyPlanet, where that won't happen. That is why today's ballot will look different from the previous one.

Remember that as you make your picks, these are some things we suggest you consider:

  1. How much harm the political figure has done in the past.
  2. How much harm the political figure will do in the future, short-term and/or long-term.
  3. How personally likable the political figure is.
  4. How often the political figure has bent or broken "the rules."
  5. To what extent the political figure is governed by venal self-interest, as opposed to genuinely held beliefs.
  6. Whether or not the political figure has ever publicly saluted insurrectionists in the midst of an insurrection.

Again, it is ultimately up to each reader to decide for themselves what makes a political figure bad.

Recall also that we developed our initial lists with input from a selected group of readers. However, the seeding was determined by Google, and how many hits "hate" + "person's name" generated. That produced some unfortunate results, like giving Stephen Miller an out because he was matched up against Donald Trump. But a few unfortunate matchups always present themselves in bracket competitions like these. That said, there are some great matchups in the portions of the bracket we're revealing today.

And without further ado, the third quadrant of the bracket:

#1 Senate Minority Leader
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vs. #16 Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO); #2 Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) vs. #15 Sen. Kyrsten
Sinema (D-AZ); #3 Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) vs. #14 Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC); #4 Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) vs. #13 Rep.
Lauren Boebert (R-CO); #5 Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) vs. #12 Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); #6 Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez
(D-NY) vs. #11 Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY); #7 Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) vs. #10 House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
(R-CA); #8 Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) vs. #9 Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN)

In case you are interested, here are the names of the last four people who did not make the cut for this bracket, and the basic reasons why:

  1. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY): We just couldn't persuade ourselves that he inspires even a tenth of the vitriol of the other three major party leaders in Congress.

  2. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX): There's only room for so many unpleasant Republican members, and Gohmert is leaving Congress after this year.

  3. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ): It was down to him or Jim Jordan, and only one of them looked the other way while sexual assaults were committed. The "hate" meter also supports this choice; Gosar only generates 142,000 hits while Jordan generates 985,000.

  4. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): Yes, there are many Republicans who hate him as an avatar of progressivism. And there are many Democrats resentful about 2016. However, we think both sentiments are fading; the former because AOC has taken his place and the latter because 2016 is quickly receding in the rearview mirror.

And the fourth quadrant of the bracket, where things are going to get very interesting:

#1 Podcaster Joe Rogan vs. #16
Megadonor Charles Koch; #2 Fox personality Tucker Carlson vs. #15 Proud Boy founder Enrique Tarrio; #3 Trump adviser
Steve Bannon vs. #14 Ohio U.S. Senate Candidate J.D. Vance (R); #4 Infowars personality Alex Jones vs. #13 Anti-vaxx
activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; #5 Trump adviser Roger Stone vs. #12 Missouri U.S. Senate Candidate Eric Greitens (R);
#6 HBO personality Bill Maher vs. #11 Democratic strategist James Carville; #7 Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani vs. #10 Fox
personality/Former speaker Newt Gingrich; #8 Republican strategist Karl Rove vs. #9 Fox personality Sean Hannity

In case you are interested, here are the names of the last four people who did not make the cut for this bracket, and the basic reasons why:

  1. Trump lawyer Sidney Powell: Redundant with Rudy Giuliani.

  2. Megadonor George Soros: He was there as the counterpoint to Koch, but he's not hated by a large number of people, he's very loudly hated by a small, lunatic fringe.

  3. White supremacist Richard Spencer: He's an ass, no doubt, but he's not as well known as Tarrio, who ultimately knocked him off the list.

  4. Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse: We were inclined to include him, but several of our reader consultants said "he's just a dumb kid."

If you want to cast your votes, the link is here. The deadline for submissions is Tuesday at noon, PT.

When we reveal the results for these rounds, we will definitely run some reader comments. If you have some, either about the brackets in general, or about a specific matchup, let us know. Don't forget to include your city and initials.

First-round results, and second-round matchups, coming next week! (Z & V)

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