When Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson goes before the Senate today to commence her confirmation hearing, the Democrats will be nice to her and (some) of the Republicans will turn the grandstanding up to 10. Amber Phillips of the Washington Post has provided a list of five questions Jackson is almost certain to be asked—along with good answers she could give. Since Jackson is on the D.C. Court of Appeals and lives in the D.C. Metro area, there is a decent chance that she reads the Post and might just take Phillips' advice to heart. Here is a brief summary:
Lots of questions will be asked at the hearing but there will be no serious discussions, just a lot of grandstanding and evasion. To paraphrase Macbeth, a Senate confirmation hearing is a tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.
Well, maybe that's a bit harsh. It could signify something. Three Republican members of the Judiciary Committee are more-or-less champing at the bit and will almost certainly run for president in 2024 if Trump decides not to run (and in some cases, even if he does decide to run, but appears wounded in some way). They are Sens. Tom Cotton (AR), Josh Hawley (MO), and Ted Cruz (TX). Hawley and Cotton might also be thinking about the veep slot on a Trump ticket. Cruz' ego is commensurate with the great state of Texas so he probably wouldn't accept the offer if it were made, which is exceedingly unlikely in the first place since there is insufficient room on the ticket for two egos that size.
In any event, the three upwardly mobile senators' performances should be judged in that light. How much red meat will they throw out to potential voters? Will they be able to show the racists in their base how little respect they have for Black women, but be able to do it in such a way as they can completely deny it when the media call them on it? Will they be able to generate video clips and sound bites that might be useful in the 2024 campaign?
All of them had some practice when Joe Biden nominated Jackson for the D.C. Court of Appeals last year. They all voted against her confirmation. But this hearing is going to get much more attention, so the stakes are greater. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) hit the nail on the head when she said: "For some of the folks around here, it's all politics all the time, and if their moment in the spotlight is purchased at the expense of a Supreme Court nominee, I think that may just be fine with them." She understands how the Senate works (or doesn't work).
For the record, Cruz and Cotton both graduated from Harvard Law School. Hawley is a Yalie. If they start asking about the Harvard affirmative action case, keep that in mind.
The other Republicans on the Committee are probably not going to go all out to take Jackson down. She won't change the balance of power on the Court and they can't defeat her, so why employ scorched-earth tactics when it doesn't matter—unless you want the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, of course? Also, she doesn't have any scandals in her past. Besides, voters are more focused on inflation and Ukraine now, and those issues are not likely to come before the Supreme Court, so the other Republican senators will probably try to score a few points here and there, but don't see this confirmation as really all that important. (V)
It seems like 100 years ago when long-time foreign service officer Marie Yovanovitch, then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified before the House Intelligence Committee, which was considering impeaching Donald Trump for the first time. Trump ordered her not to testify, but she bravely did anyway. While she was testifying, he attacked her on Twitter. She probably knows as much about why Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine as anyone, so Politico has interviewed her and asked for her insights.
Yovanovitch said that "perfect" phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy explains a lot. Even then, Zelenskyy was begging Trump to send him the javelin antitank rockets that Congress had approved but Trump was blocking. He flattered and appeased Trump as best he could, but he didn't give into Trump's demand that he investigate Hunter Biden, even though Zelenskyy sensed that a Russian attack wasn't that far off. He did pretend to agree, however, with Trump's false and unwarranted attacks on Yovanovitch, who has trying to end some of the endemic corruption in Ukraine.
One conclusion that Putin might have taken away from the phone call is that the United States didn't actually give a sh*t about Ukraine and wouldn't defend it if push came to shove. Trump probably wouldn't have, but as of Jan. 20, 2021, there was a new sheriff in town and Putin had to recalibrate his plans. Nonetheless, he still might have gotten the impression from the call that Ukraine didn't actually matter at all to the U.S. That could easily have emboldened him.
Yovanovitch said she had spoken with Zelenskyy many times and that his platform when he ran for president was simple: end corruption. In the runoff election he got 73% of the vote and won every oblast (province). As U.S. ambassador, she tried to help him weed out corrupt officials, and this earned him the undying emnity of Rudy Giuliani, who was working closely with the corrupt officials and absolutely did not want them weeded out. This is why Giuliani told Trump to fire her, which he did.
Yovanovitch told Politico that Biden is doing exactly the right thing now in Ukraine. He got much of the world united against Russian and is causing Russia a lot of pain. He is also moving weapons to Ukraine at lightning speed. She knows that Putin doesn't like any of this, but she said he is the aggressor and he doesn't get to set the rules of engagement. Specifically, she said of the Russians: "They have invaded a peaceful nation, and that is simply wrong. And what history has shown us is that if we don't push back, Russia will keep on going." So the bottom line is that their fight is our fight.
Yovanovitch thinks that Putin doesn't want to "own" Ukraine because then he would have to govern it and provide services, which would mean diverting them from Russia. Putting in a puppet government and letting it fend for itself might not even work because the Russian army might have to stay there permanently to keep the puppet government in power, and that also means diverting resources Putin would rather use elsewhere.
She also thinks that Putin thought he could run circles around Zelenskyy. That was totally in error. The more Putin squeezed Zelenskyy, the more the Ukrainian president wanted to join NATO and the E.U. Putin was not expecting that at all. Yovanovitch was also surprised herself. As she saw Giuliani working closely with the corrupt prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, and not in a good way for Ukraine, she reported that back to the State Department. To her surprise, they told her that everything was fine when she knew better. The State Dept. itself had been corrupted and as a long-time foreign-service officer she had never seen that before. When she didn't give up, Trump decided that she had to go. (V)
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) also has some thoughts on Ukraine. She shared them with Chuck Todd yesterday on Meet the Press. Cheney said: "We need to stop telling the Russians what we won't do. We need to be very clear that we are considering all options, that the use of chemical weapons is certainly something that would alter our calculations." Of course, the Cheneys have never met a war they didn't like, but if Russia did decide to use poison gas on Ukrainian civilians, it would absolutely force Joe Biden to rethink what he was willing to do and not do. Cheney knows that the Russians have bombed schools, theaters, and hospitals, but for her, introducing chemical weapons would be a game changer.
Biden hasn't responded to Cheney's comments, and with good reason. In 2013, then-president Barack Obama said that if Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, that would be a red line that would force the U.S. to intervene. Assad called his bluff and used sarin—a nerve agent that paralyzes the muscles involved in breathing and causes death within 1-10 minutes of its inhalation—on his own people, killing 1,500 of them. Obama knew this and did not substantively change his approach to Syria. So Biden is going to be extremely cautious about making pronouncements about red lines and what he might do if they are crossed.
Of course, if Putin does start to use poison gas as a weapon, Biden could step up his game. He could make the sanctions even tougher (blocking even energy exports), remove Russia from SWIFT entirely, give the Ukrainians even more lethal weapons, implement a no-fly zone over at least part of Ukraine, start major cyber attacks on Russian infrastructure (while vigorously denying it), encourage Japan to occupy the Kuril Islands (which both Japan and Russia claim), and perhaps things he doesn't want to talk about (e.g., hacking banks where Putin has stashed his money and "repurposing" it). One thing he probably won't do, though, is give Ukraine chemical weapons to use against Russian soldiers, even though the U.S. undoubtedly has stockpiles. Biden could hardly condemn Putin for using chemical weapons if he was encouraging Ukraine to use them as well.
Nevertheless, Cheney has raised a valid point: What should the U.S. do if Putin decides to raise the ante? It certainly gives Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin something to think about. (V)
While Chuck Todd was talking to Liz Cheney, Face the Nation's Margaret Brennan was interviewing the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., Qin Gang. She specifically asked Qin if China was going to continue to provide Russia with weapons and military assistance. Qin, ever the diplomat, said: "What China is doing is sending foods, medicine, sleeping bags, and baby formulas, not weapons and ammunition ... to any party." That's right, Putin requested baby formula and China is delivering. After all, what Russia desperately needs from China now is baby formula, even though about 15 years ago, 50,000 Chinese babies were hospitalized and many died from poisoned Chinese baby formula.
Qin went on to say that China and Russia have trade, financial, and economic relations, which are normal between sovereign countries. Of course, Brennan knew very well that getting Qin to tell the truth about what China was doing has about as much chance as getting a candidate in a Senate confirmation hearing to tell the truth about what she really thinks about some issue, but at least her questions were honest and she wanted a straight answer (unlike the senators).
Joe Biden spent two hours on a video call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week. Xi knows exactly what Biden wants from him. He also knows what Putin wants from him. So he has to decide which relationship is more important for China. China doesn't do a lot of business with Russia, but a huge fraction of its economy is based on trade with the U.S. It is at least conceivable that Xi does not want problems with the U.S., so he really is sending baby formula to Russia. Who knows?
One person Brennan didn't talk to yesterday is the Indian ambassador to the U.S. That might have been a more informative discussion. While India doesn't sell much in the way of weapons to Russia, it is the world's leading buyer of Russian weapons, propping up the inefficient Russian weapons industry and providing Russia with billions of dollars worth of hard currency in exchange for those weapons. India buys Russian weapons because they are the cheapest ones out there. In other words, Russian weapons give the most bang for the rupee. Literally.
India has over 250 Su-30 MKi Russian fighter jets, seven Russian Kilo-class submarines, and 1,200 Russian T-90 tanks. It has also ordered a nuclear submarine and S-400 antiaircraft systems. India's current military hardware is 70% Russian, but it is trying to diversify, with 27% of recent purchases from France and 12% from the U.S. But it will take years, if not decades, to replace all the current Russian gear. This explains why India abstained from condemning Russia at the recent U.N. General Assembly meeting: It doesn't want the supply of spare parts to suddenly dry up. (V)
Yep, Vladimir Putin lit into the Russian oligarchs, not Joe Biden. That's why we put [sic] in the headline, to emphasize that it is not a typo. Putin recently said: "Russians living in Miami and the French Riviera who cannot do without foie gras, oysters, or so-called gender freedoms are traitors to their homeland." Take that, oligarchs! We don't understand why he threw in "gender freedoms" but maybe he knows one of the oligarchs is gay. As a former Lt. Colonel in the KGB, he probably still has his sources.
Putin also said that Russian expatriates living abroad are "ready to sell their own mother," because they sympathize with the West. Maybe he thinks the market for used mothers is better in Miami than in Moscow. He also said that the Russians who live abroad think they belong to a higher caste, a higher race.
It is not clear why Putin is going after the oligarchs, since most of them at least nominally support him. It is possible that the sanctions on them have actually hit him personally, but little is known about where Putin has stashed his billions. It is true, however, that Miami has one of the largest Russian expat communities in the U.S., largely concentrated on the coastal strip of Sunny Isles and Fisher Island. It is also well known that Miami, along with Manhattan, is where ill-gotten Russian money tends to be laundered via real estate purchases. If Putin owns expensive real estate in Miami, it is possible that as investigations ramp up, he is starting to feel the heat, so he is just lashing out. (V)
In the past week, Russia hasn't really made any military progress. It also hasn't really taken over any major Ukrainian cities, although it is getting closer in Mariupol. What it is good at is killing Ukrainian civilians, but that isn't how wars are won. They are won by taking out the other side's military forces without sustaining too many losses yourself. But (conservative) current estimates are that 1,000 Russian soldiers a day are being taken off the battlefield by being either killed or injured, while an unknown number are deserting every day. If this continues for a few more weeks, the Russian losses could become intolerable and most of Ukraine would still be unconquered. Here is the Washington Post's map of what Russia has conquered so far—and what it has not conquered:
Note that most of the country is still white, meaning there isn't much Russian presence there. Of course, if the Russians can capture Kyiv and install a puppet government, the situation could change rapidly, but so far all attempts to take Kyiv have been rebuffed.
It is often said that an army travels on its stomach. Logistics are the underrated key to winning on the battlefield. If your troops are hungry, have burned through all their ammo, and have no fuel, they are not going to be a great fighting force. So far, the Russian logistics have been surprisingly poor, with Russian soldiers sometimes raiding local farms to get some chickens for dinner.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges (ret.) and military academic Julian Lindley-French have written an article in which they assert that Russia cannot continue like this for very long. To continue, they will have to bring in reinforcements. If the reinforcements' arrival can be blocked or substantially slowed, the troops in the field will be in trouble.
While the Russian Army is huge, most of it consists of conscripts who are not battle-ready and don't have the will to die for a cause they don't even understand. U.S. sources believe that Russia has already committed about 75% of its combat-ready troops, and they are stuck. Beefing that up by a third may not be enough. Western intelligences sources believe that at least 7,000 Russian soldiers have already died in Ukraine and another 20,000 have been injured, all in 3 weeks. That is simply not sustainable. Of course, Russia might learn from its initial mistakes, but if most of the combat-ready troops are already deployed, learning what they did wrong will only provide material for future courses in the Russian officers candidate school.
Could Russia beat Ukraine by encircling the major cities and starving the people to death? Sieges can end in different ways. During World War II, Adolf Hitler liked the idea of capturing a large city then called Stalingrad (now Volgograd). He sent hundreds of thousands of troops to encircle it and hundreds of bombers to flatten it and the city was turned into a giant pile of rubble. But it never surrendered and the Germans never captured it.
However, further to the north was an even bigger prize: Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg). Hitler's troops encircled it and bombarded it. Some 600,000 civilians died in the first year of the siege, many from illness, starvation, and exposure. People ate wallpaper paste and weeds in an attempt to survive. The city created a special police unit to crack down on cannibalism. But 900 days later, the will of the Russians wasn't broken despite Hitler having thrown everything he had at them. No brutality was too much for him, but the Germans couldn't take the city. The story ended with the Russians in Berlin and Hitler dead in his bunker. And the defenders of Stalingrad and Leningrad didn't have top-of-the-line antitank and antiaircraft weapons.
Putin knows this all too well. He was born in Leningrad and his older brother, Viktor, died of diptheria during the siege of Leningrad. That doesn't mean Putin won't try siege warfare if a frontal ground attack on Kyiv fails. After all, he styles himself as a better military strategist than Joseph Stalin. However, he well knows that sieges don't always work out the way the attackers were hoping.
But maybe Putin knows the lessons of Stalingrad and Leningrad all too well and isn't counting on winning multiyear sieges. He might have settled on Plan C, which Thomas Friedman describes as creating so many refugees pouring into Poland, Hungary, and Romania as to destabilize those nations and create fissures in NATO. Of course, if the Ukrainians can kill enough Russian troops or get them to desert in huge numbers, the war might not last long enough to create the chaos Putin needs. Also, and this hasn't come up much anywhere, suppose when the fighting has stopped the U.S. refuses to return the hundreds of billions of dollars in the Russian central bank's account and says that money has to go toward rebuilding Ukraine under the motto "You broke it, so you have to pay to fix it"?
If Russia concludes that it can't win without losses that are unacceptable to the Russian military, it may have to negotiate a settlement and leave with its tail between its legs (which would be tricky, because bears have very short tails). Even if Ukraine promised not to join NATO or the E.U., most of the world would see this as "Ukraine defeated Russia" and, perhaps more importantly, "Ukraine defeated Putin."
For Joe Biden and the Democrats, this could be a very unexpected godsend. "Trump appeased Putin. Biden beat him!" might even fit on a bumper sticker in a decent size font. If Biden could plausibly claim he "won" a war, especially against someone like Putin, whom most Americans strongly dislike, it could give his popularity a huge boost and might help the Democrats in the midterms. Of course, in war, like in politics, a week is a long time, but at the start of this year when everything looked bleak for the Democrats, if anyone said: "Biden will be a successful wartime president and rejuvenate his party" people would have called for the men in the white coats to take him away. (V)
A good case can be made that slowly, but surely, Donald Trump's influence is waning and we are moving into the post-Trump era. It is unlikely that Trump will vanish in one fell swoop (unless he has one Big Mac too many and keels over). It is more likely to be death by 1,000 cuts. Of course, if he runs for president and wins, this picture could change abruptly. But let's look at some recent developments.
Two weeks ago, Mike Pence spoke to a gathering of major Republican donors and told them there is no room in the Republican Party for Putin apologists. Trump is a Putin apologist. So Pence basically said Trump doesn't belong in the Republican Party. Pence recently visited Israel. Nothing unusual about politicans visiting Israel, per se. They do it all the time. But Pence didn't fly El Al. He flew Adelson Airways—the private jet of Miriam Adelson, the widow of super megadonor Sheldon Adelson. Once there, Pence and Adelson dined with Benjamin Netahayu. Trump despises Pence, but if Pence decides to run against Trump in the primary and Adelson decides to toss half a billion shekels (about $150 million) at his super PAC, that alone would keep his campaign going for quite a while.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is hardly keeping it a secret that once he is safely reelected in November, he might well consider challenging Trump in a primary and is taking actions and signing bills that position him well for a 2024 run. Little Red Riding Ron is obviously not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.
One of the many victims of the war in Ukraine is Trump himself and it was self-inflicted. He has tied himself firmly to Vladimir Putin and we can't foresee any scenario in which Putin comes out of this smelling like a rose. And the stench is going to rub off on Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) recently broke with Trump on Putin and Russia and longer the war goes on and the more brutal Putin gets, the more Republicans are going to join McCarthy. Having much of the Republican Party on the record opposing your taste in dictators isn't a plus.
Former AG William Barr has written a book that attacks Trump as stupid and childish. Now Barr is just trying to salvage what he can of his tattered reputation, but the mere fact that a top former Trump insider has no fear of him now speaks volumes. No doubt Barr won't be the last insider to go after Trump.
The prestigious and conservative American Enterprise Institute just had a big event for top Republicans. Trump wasn't invited.
Another problem is Trump's new social media site: Truth Social. It has bombed so far. Maybe Trump can resurrect it, but it's probably going to go the way of his ill-fated blog last year.
Meanwhile, the House Select Committee is continuing to collect documents and testimony. The more Trump appears to be defanged, the more people will be willing to speak out against him. It may not always be the top people, but the sworn testimony of a secretary who was in the room when Trump broke the law is just as valuable as that of a Secretary.
What about Trump's influence on Senate races? Trump endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) for the seat of retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Brooks is doing so badly that Trump is mulling pulling his endorsement in order to avoid lowering his batting average. What kind of message does that send Republican candidates? It tells them that (1) Trump's endorsement doesn't matter, (2) his opposiiton is not the kiss of death, and (3) once it becomes clear who is ahead, he'll just jump on the bandwagon to get another "win." So no need to fear him.
None of these things and others like them is a game changer, but there are increasingly many items like these that show that Trump's influence and power are waning. And a huge test will come after the primaries when it becomes clear whether candidates Trump endorsed early on and stuck with (like Rep. Ted Budd in North Carolina) triumph over the candidates he opposed. (V)
State law in Ohio ultimately gives the state legislature the power to draw (i.e., gerrymander) the congressional and state legislature maps. But the courts have the power to say: "Nope." However, the courts don't have the power to say "Forget it. We're just going to draw the maps ourselves." So all they can do is reject the legislature's maps and tell the lawmakers to try again. And Again. And again.
That's where we are now. No maps and a primary on May 3. Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who does not have the power to change the primary date, is kind of in a bind. So he sent a letter to the Redistricting Commission telling the members that time is up and we are in deep electoral doo-doo. He has ordered counties to stop sending out ballots and told them to stop reprogramming systems that depend on the maps. Tasks not related to the maps, like recruiting poll workers and telling people how to register to vote, are allowed to continue.
The whole election got off to a bad start when the Census Bureau was late providing the data on which the maps are based. When the data finally arrived, Senate President Matt Huffman (R) and House Speaker Bob Cupp (R) secretly drew a very partisan map. When the state Supreme Court threw it out, they did it again and again. Now they have until March 28 to make another one, while the whole election process is at a complete standstill. Candidates can't file if they don't know where the districts are. But there isn't much time left.
If Huffman and Cupp come up with another highly gerrymandered map on March 28 and the state Supreme Court throws it out again, they do have a Plan B: impeach Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor. She is a Republican but refuses to play ball with them and keeps joining the Democrats in rejecting highly partisan maps. That is a plan because Republicans do have a majority in the (highly gerrymandered) state House and a two-thirds majority in the (highly gerrymandered) state Senate. If O'Connor is impeached and convicted for the crime of trying to have fair election maps, Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) could appoint a more pliable replacement for O'Connor. There could be a bit of bad PR for doing that, but that might be a price worth paying for maps that will lock in Republican domination of the congressional delegation and the state legislature for a decade. (V)
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has died on the job at 88. He has been in the same House seat for 48 years and was kind of stuck to it. He was known for his salty language and displaying, in his office, the pelt of a bear he claimed to have strangled himself. Alaska doesn't have a lot of pigs, but as the former chairman of the House Natural Resources and Transportation Committees, he has sent billions of dollars in pork to his sparely populated state. Maybe he got a hint that his time was up when he won the 2020 GOP primary by a mere 304 votes. He also has been rebuked by the House Ethics Committee and investigated by the Dept. of Justice. Young once said: "I've been under a cloud all my life. It's sort of like living in Juneau. It rains on you all the time."
It's no wonder Young got elected 25 times. He was an absolute fanatic for pouring money into his largely empty state, including being a huge supporter of the famous $220 million "bridge to nowhere." Oddly enough, Young was born in California and grew up there, graduating from what is now Chico State University, a school now known for its staunch left-wing activism. He moved to Alaska in 1959 and married an Alaska Native, Lu Fredson, in 1963. Initially he worked as a tugboat captain and teacher at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school, while also dabbling in fishing, trapping, and mining.
Young's political career began when he was elected mayor of Fort Yukon, a town of 500 people north of the Arctic Circle, and then to the state Senate in 1970. He hated the state Senate, so he decided to make a longshot bid for Alaska's lone House seat in 1972. He lost to a dead man. Specifically, then-representative Nick Begich (D) was in a small Cessna 310 that disappeared on Oct. 16, 1972 on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau. The plane and the four people on it were never found. In Dec. 1972, Congress declared the seat vacant and Young won the special election for it in March 1973. He has been in Congress ever since.
As the longest continuously serving member, he had the privilege of swearing in the speaker. Knowing how much Young curses, Paul Ryan remarked that he was to swear in the speaker, not swear at the speaker. One of Young's goals, besides getting even more pork for Alaska, was to become the longest serving House Republican in history. In 2019, he beat Joseph Gurney Cannon's record, so it was time for him to go and he went.
There will now be a special election for the seat. If Sarah Palin wants to get back into politics, this is her big chance. If not, there are no doubt current statewide officials and state senators who would like to move to a place that is much warmer, where it rarely snows, and where there are no marauding polar bears. Young won in 2020 by 9 points over Alyse Galvin. Given that every man, woman, child, and bear in Alaska knew his name, and nobody knew hers, that wasn't such a big margin. In the special election, the new top-four primary will get a tryout in a few months. By state law, the date must be between 60 and 90 days from the vacancy—that is, between May 17 and June 16. The special general election will almost certainly be on Aug. 16, the date of the statewide 2022 regular primary. The winner of the special election will serve until Jan. 2, 2023, and beyond if they win re-election in their own right in November. If the Democrats can find a decent candidate, that person might even have a chance to make the top four and thus advance to the Aug. 16 special general election. However, that election is likely to have high Republican turnout because Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will be facing off against Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka. (V)