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Brooks May Change Select Committee's Focus

The Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 coup attempt had (temporarily) given up on trying to talk to the members of Congress who knew all about it. The reason is simple: All them will refuse to come voluntarily and will refuse to obey subpoenas. AG Merrick Garland could indict them, but the trials would be in a year, with another year for the first round of appeals and another year for the Supreme Court to weigh in. The Committee is not interested in testimony sometime in maybe 2025 or 2026, so they aren't going to bother trying to get them to talk. It might be nice if a judge said to a person who clearly violated a subpoena: "You violated a subpoena, so you are going to prison right now." But it doesn't work like that.

But Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who was recently dis-endorsed for the Senate by Donald Trump, suddenly changed the picture. He said that for months Trump has been urging him to help remove Joe Biden from the White House and re-install Trump there.

This bombshell got reporters to ask him whether he would testify before the Committee if asked. He said he would consider it. The Democrats on the Committee are already champing at the bit to ask him. We wouldn't be surprised if Brooks was willing to appear and tell the Committee what he already said in public. The main downside for him would be that his opponents in the Senate would compete to call him names like turncoat, traitor, Benedict Arnold, socialist, Communist, Democrat, RINO, transgender lesbian vegetarian, Hillary Clinton's secret lover, and whatever else they think Alabamians might hate. Then he would lose the nomination. But that is probably already lost and will be even more lost if Trump endorses either Katie Britt or Michael Durant. Brooks probably realizes that even if he stays in the race he's toast. Trump sees that, too, which is he yanked the endorsement.

A new poll from Emerson College just out shows Durant at 33%, Britt at 23%, and Brooks at 12%. The poll was taken after Trump dumped Brooks, and the disendorsement might have played a role in the responses. But it is pretty clear now that Brooks is not going to be Alabama's next senator. Britt still has a chance since she has the complete backing of her current boss, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), and his support is definitely worth something. Whether it will be enough is another matter, though. The primary is on May 24.

While spilling the beans for the Committee won't make Brooks a senator, it will at least extract a certain amount of revenge for the Trump dump. That will ease some of the pain. Certainly, it is better that two aspirins. Depending on what Brooks plans to do after leaving Congress, he might or might want to tell even more than what Trump told him. After all, he has spoken with many members of Congress and probably knows a lot about what some of them have been thinking and doing. If he tells all he knows, that will probably eliminate any possibility of running for office again, becoming a lobbyist, or getting a cushy gig on Fox. But at 67, he could decide to retire. The first move is up to the Committee, at which time Brooks will have a big decision to make. (V)

Collins Will Vote to Confirm Jackson

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has decided to vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. She has been hemming and hawing for weeks, but this was actually an easy call for her. If she voted the party line on everything, no one would buy her claim to be a "moderate." So once in a while, she has to buck it. But the best time to buck it is when: (1) she is sincerely in favor of the thing or person she is voting for and (2) her vote doesn't matter anyway. Collins certainly has no problem with putting another woman on the Supreme Court, and from what she has said, she thinks that Jackson is perfectly qualified. Indeed, since Collins already voted to confirm Jackson once (to the D.C. Court of Appeals), it probably would have been worse, politically, for Collins to vote "nay" than for her to vote "yea."

Now that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he is a vote to confirm Jackson (and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ, was never in doubt), Collins' vote is just icing on the cake. With the confirmation not in doubt, she can act "bipartisan" and brag about it to Democrats in her next election campaign and they will "ooh!" and "aah!" about how moderate she is. What she won't do, at least not very often, is vote against her party when her vote actually matters.

Another Republican senator who might vote for confirmation is Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Her situation is more complicated. She certainly is in favor of having more women on the Supreme Court, and Jackson would be the fourth one. She is also smart enough to know that Jackson is perfectly qualified to serve and that presidents get to pick people they like. Like Collins, she voted to confirm Jackson to the D.C. Court of Appeals. If Murkowski does it again, though, Trump-endorsed challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, will beat her over the head with the vote. On the other hand, on Aug. 16, there will be a nonpartisan primary for the Senate, with eight candidates on the ballot. The top four finishers will be on the ballot in November in a ranked-choice election. Murkowski will certainly be in the top four, and so will advance, but she will probably need to get Democrats to put her in as their second choice in November. Voting against Jackson will anger the Democrats and cause many of them to make her their fourth-place choice. If that happens, she could lose the election. So she has to decide whether giving Tshibaka a talking point and getting many Democratic second-place votes in November is better than no talking points and fewer second-place votes from Democrats.

Barring a surprise, the only other Republican senator who might vote to confirm Jackson is Mitt Romney (R-UT). He normally has the backbone of a jellyfish, but once in a while he does what he knows is the right thing to do. No matter how he votes, it won't make a whit of difference for his reelection campaign in 2024, if he decides to run again. The main argument for his voting against confirmation is that if Collins and Murkowksi both vote to confirm, a third Republican vote will actually make it start to look bipartisan, which will put the other Republican senators in a bad light. After all, if three Republicans thought Jackson was qualified, why did all the others think she was not qualified? Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would probably not like to have anyone ask that question and might ask Romney to vote to oppose just on those grounds. McConnell understands that the two women don't want to appear anti-woman, so he won't punish or berate them for voting to confirm. (V)

Trump Continues to Court Putin

There aren't a lot of things where Republican and Democratic voters largely agree, but one of them is that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a Bad Person™. Polls show that not only do most voters back all the sanctions and weapons transfers that Joe Biden has initiated, but many of them want him to go further to hurt Putin. However one Republican is out of step here and keeps making it worse for himself: Donald Trump. The former president is now begging Putin to release dirt on Hunter Biden.

Trump said: "Why did the mayor of Moscow's wife give the Bidens, both of them, $3.5 million dollars? That's a lot of money." There is not a shred of evidence that the mayor's wife gave either Biden anything. Trump just makes this up as he goes and his supporters lap it up.

Maybe Trump is confusing Russia with Ukraine. Hunter Biden was actually on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, so he does have a connection to Ukraine and he was certainly paid for his presence on the board. The mayor Trump is referring to is the late Yury Luzhkov, the former mayor of Moscow. He was married three times, but none of his wives were on the board of Burisma. Maybe Trump thinks one of them was. More likely, Trump is confusing Russia with Ukraine. After all, they are both far away and use a common alphabet that looks weird. People confuse them all the time.

Trump's remarks are causing Republicans grief. Very few of them want to come out and say Trump is making up stuff And even fewer like the idea of begging Putin for favors. Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has an even more flexible backbone than Mitt Romney, has said: "I think Putin is evil. I think he's a dictator. I think he's murdering people right now." For many people, the details of all this are too confusing, but the overall message the Democrats can turn it into is: "Trump loves Putin." It even fits on a bumper sticker. That is not a message other Republicans want to be out front and center during the midterm campaign.

While we are on the subject of Hunter Biden, The Washington Post got a hold of the contents of the laptop computer Hunter Biden supposedly brought to a repair shop in Delaware and left there. The Post hired two forensic specialists and they confirmed that the laptop really was from Hunter Biden. However, the chain of custody from the repair shop to the guy who gave the contents to the Post is very cloudy and there is evidence there was some tampering with it. The laptop contained 129,000 e-mails. The two experts said that 22,000 of them actually were from an account that Biden used because the messages have cryptographic signatures that are virtually impossible to forge. The other 100,000+ could not be verified and might have been made up. Most of the 22,000 verifiable messages were routine and contained political newsletters, fundraising appeals, hotel receipts, news alerts, product ads, real estate listings, and messages from the school Biden's daughters go to. There were also many messages from banks, including 1,200 from Wells Fargo alone. Nothing incriminating or even odd showed up in the verifiable messages.

So, unless Trump can show some evidence that one of the wives of the late mayor of Moscow gave either Biden some money, one should just assume Trump made this up out of thin air. We assume the former president is storing that evidence in the same place that he's keeping the evidence of massive electoral fraud in 2020. (V)

State of the State Gerrymanders

Politico has a long article about where we are in the gerrymandering process. We pointed out yesterday, all but five states have finished drawing their maps. Louisiana just finished, so only four states are left. Only one of them is a big swing state (Florida), so even though the process is not complete yet, we can get an idea of where we are by looking at the other 46 states. This is what Politico did.

Since no House races have been held in any of the new districts, a different methodology was needed. What can be done is to look at all the precincts in the new districts and add up the total vote for Joe Biden in 2020 and the total vote for Donald Trump in 2020. That gives at least some indication of how a new district leans, although without Trump on the ballot it could be different. Trump is a disturbing factor because he brings out voters from both parties and there is no good way to tell if he brings out more Democrats or Republicans. Nevertheless, this methodology is better than nothing.

Here is the state of play for the 46 states that have a map already, although Ohio's is still being fought over in the courts. The fourth, fifth, and sixth columns are the number of Democratic, competitive, and Republican seats in the new map, respectively.

State Seats Change Dem Competitive GOP Who benefits? Who controls the process?
Alabama 7 0 1 0 6 Little to no change GOP
Alaska 1 0 0 0 1 Little to no change Independent
Arizona 9 0 3 3 3 Small boost for GOP Independent
Arkansas 4 0 0 0 4 Little to no change GOP
California 52 -1 43 5 4 Big boost for Dems Independent
Colorado 8 +1 4 2 2 Little to no change Independent
Connecticut 5 0 5 0 0 Little to no change Both Parties
Delaware 1 0 1 0 0 Little to no change Dems
Georgia 14 0 5 0 9 Small boost for GOP GOP
Hawaii 2 0 2 0 0 Little to no change Independent
Idaho 2 0 0 0 2 Little to no change Independent
Illinois 17 -1 13 1 3 Big boost for Dems Dems
Indiana 9 0 1 1 7 Little to no change GOP
Iowa 4 0 0 3 1 Little to no change Independent
Kansas 4 0 0 1 3 Little to no change GOP
Kentucky 6 0 1 0 5 Little to no change GOP
Louisiana 6 0 1 0 5 Little to no change Both parties
Maine 2 0 1 1 0 Little to no change Both Parties
Massachusetts 9 0 9 0 0 Little to no change Dems
Michigan 13 -1 4 5 4 Little to no change Independent
Minnesota 8 0 3 2 3 Little to no change Both Parties
Mississippi 4 0 1 0 3 Little to no change GOP
Montana 2 +1 0 1 1 Small boost for GOP Independent
North Carolina 14 +1 5 3 6 Small boost for Dems GOP
North Dakota 1 0 0 0 1 Little to no change GOP
New Jersey 12 0 9 2 1 Little to no change Independent
New Mexico 3 0 1 2 0 Small boost for Dems Dems
New York 26 -1 21 1 4 Big boost for Dems Dems
Nebraska 3 0 0 1 2 Little to no change GOP
Nevada 4 0 0 3 1 Little to no change Dems
Ohio 15 -1 2 6 7 Small boost for GOP GOP
Oklahoma 5 0 0 0 5 Small boost for GOP GOP
Oregon 6 +1 4 1 1 Small boost for Dems Dems
Pennsylvania 17 -1 6 5 6 Little to no change Courts
Rhode Island 2 0 2 0 0 Little to no change Dems
South Carolina 7 0 1 1 5 Little to no change GOP
South Dakota 1 0 0 0 1 Little to no change GOP
Tennessee 9 0 1 0 8 Small boost for GOP GOP
Texas 38 +2 12 3 23 Big boost for GOP GOP
Utah 4 0 0 0 4 Little to no change GOP
Virginia 11 0 5 4 2 Little to no change Independent
Vermont 1 0 1 0 0 Little to no change Both Parties
West Virginia 2 -1 0 0 2 Little to no change GOP
Washington 10 0 6 2 2 Little to no change Independent
Wisconsin 8 0 2 2 4 Little to no change Courts
Wyoming 1 0 0 0 1 Little to no change GOP
Total 389   176 61 152    

All in all there are 176 strong Biden districts, 61 competitive districts, and 152 strong Trump districts so far. The number of strong Biden districts is +7 since 2020 and the number of strong Trump districts is +11 since 2020. These gains come at the expense of competitive districts, which are down 19 since 2020. The four missing states have 46 districts combined. Remember that Florida, which has many strong GOP districts, is not in here. Nor is red Missouri. The only blue state missing is Maryland. New Hampshire isn't finished either, but it has only two districts. (V)

What Is Pompeo Running for?

It looks like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is running for something. But what? He is methodically laying the foundation for a bid for president if Donald Trump skips the race. After all, he is one of the few cabinet officials Trump still likes and he could brag about that and Trump might even endorse him.

Pompeo has been traveling around, elevating his profile. He has raised $4 million for his PAC and is giving it out to Republican candidates in hopes of getting an endorsement should he need one some day. He has also been spending big time on Facebook. Among other things, his ads tell people that if they favor building the Great Wall of Trump, they should give Pompeo money. It doesn't entirely make sense since Pompeo is not quite in a position yet to build the wall, but if the rubes buy it, why not?

On the other hand, if Trump runs, Pompeo might be positioning himself as a possible veep choice. That race is wide open as it absolutely, most definitely will not be Mike Pence. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is also a potential veep, but he might be too outspoken and inclined to try to upstage Trump for Trump's tastes. Pompeo is not like that. Also, the fact that DeSantis and Trump reside in the same state is an issue. That could be resolved if one of them "moves" elsewhere, though Trump's ego might not allow him to re-establish residency in New York (which went for his opponent, big time, twice), while it's somewhat impractical for DeSantis to claim he isn't a Florida resident, what with being governor and all. And DeSantis doesn't conveniently have a vacation home in Wyoming, unlike some previous vice presidential candidates who also had to deal with this issue.

At the moment, Pompeo is going around praising Trump, declaring that the war didn't happen on Trump's watch because Trump and Pompeo were so mighty, it scared the daylights out of Vladimir Putin. More likely is that Putin was hoping Trump would win a second term and then pull out of NATO, so why do anything to jinx that? Putin might also have been worried about Trump's unpredictability and decided that there was a 10% chance Trump might respond to an invasion of Ukraine by nuking Moscow.

Nevertheless, the war in Ukraine also helps Pompeo (besides blaming it on Joe Biden) since as a former secretary of state he can claim special expertise in foreign policy that DeSantis and most of the other wannabes (except Nikki Haley, perhaps) can't claim. However, 2024 is years away and the war may be long over and forgotten by then, pushing foreign policy onto the back burner, where it usually is.

It is very early in the 2024 cycle, but clearly the shadow primary is underway already and Pompeo knows it. His goal is to position himself for a place on the ticket, no matter what Trump decides. The way he is doing this is traveling to many states, talking to many candidates, and nominally supporting Trump and not talking too much about himself—yet. There will be time for that later. (V)

Will California Voters Bet on Gambling in November?

While the focus of this site is on elections, mostly federal ones, once in a while a ballot initiative is also worth discussion. In November, California will have an initiative on the ballot that would legalize sports betting in California. Thirty-three states have already done so, but if California also does it, then likely all the rest will do so as well (except Utah, and maybe Hawaii). After all, the Black Sox scandal (in which several members of the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series in return for a payment from a gambling syndicate) was in 1919 and nobody alive now remembers that first hand. So why not try for a more modern version?

But the battle is more complicated than the people worried about corrupting sports vs. the people who don't especially care about that. It is more about control of online betting. Currently, Native American reservations have a special status that allows them to have gambling that is not allowed outside of the reservations in many states. They want to keep it that way since it is a huge source of income that keeps many tribes afloat financially. This is not sports betting, mind you, but there are only so many gambling dollars out there. If online betting goes nationwide, the tribes will lose a huge amount of revenue.

On the other side are two companies, FanDuel and DraftKings, that very much want to get into the online gambling business in California and the remaining holdout states. Their argument is that a small amount of the take in California would go to help the homeless, so online gambling would be a socially useful thing to have in California. Tribal leaders aren't buying it. They say online gambling violates the 1998 law that authorized gambling on Native American reservations in the first place and out-of-state corporations should stay out of state. The two companies and their partners have already ponied up $100 million to run ads encouraging voters to legalize online sports gambling in California. If that happens, their contributions will be repaid dozens or hundreds of times over in the coming years.

What nobody much talks about is where the money will come from if the whole country legalizes online gambling. There are few studies on online sports gambling but there is some evidence that low-income younger people who don't have a lot of money to lose, would be more likely to participate in online sports gambling if it were easy to do. If this is true, legalizing it in California is more likely to have detrimental effects than positive effects since it would effectively mean that the gambling would end up being pretty regressive, and taking a bite out of those who can least afford it. It would also enable gambling addicts. And, as noted, it would hurt Native Americans. This is probably not a great trade-off for society as a whole.

This said, the decision to legalize or not legalize is not just about greed and the desire for economic activity and tax revenues (even though those things are a big part of it). If a state does not have gambling, and its neighboring states (or countries) do have gambling, then what tends to happen is that residents cross state lines to feed their need. In that circumstance, the neighboring state gets to control the circumstances of the gambling (e.g., exactly how exploitative it can be, how well regulated it is) and it gets to collect the revenue, while the original state gets to deal with the deleterious effects (increased poverty, increased homelessness, addiction, suicides, etc.). If that's going to be the case, and most or all of the downsides are inevitable, then the state might as well have the control and the revenues that come with legalized gambling, so they have more tools with which to resist the downsides.

It is for this reason that Utah and Hawaii are the only states that currently have no form of legalized gambling—Utah because LDS voters simply won't abide by it, and Hawaii because it doesn't have borders with... anyone. Every other state has either casinos, or sports books, or a lottery, or bingo parlors, or some combination of the above. Considering lotteries in particular, 45 states now have their own or participate in a national lottery, like Mega Millions (the only exceptions to the lottery are the two aforementioned states, along with Alabama, Alaska, and Nevada). It took 27 years from the time the first modern lottery was established (in New Hampshire, in 1964) for the list to grow to 33 states (Louisiana, in 1991). Sports betting was only legalized nationwide in 2018, and so took less than 5 years to reach that same plateau. Given the pace at which it's spread, the smart money says it will be in nearly all states (with Utah and Hawaii remaining the probable holdouts) by decade's end. (V & Z)

New Missouri Senate Candidate Is in Trouble on Day 1

Trudy Busch Valentine (64), heiress to a beer fortune, just jumped into the Missouri Senate race as a Democrat. It took one day for her to get into trouble. The problem is not something she did recently. In fact, the problem goes back to something she did 45 years ago that was not a problem then but is a big problem now. In 1977, she was crowned Queen of Love and Beauty in the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis. The problem is that the organization didn't allow Black or Jewish members until 1979.

Valentine immediately began apologizing, saying: "I should have known better, and I deeply regret and I apologize that my actions hurt others. My life and work are way beyond that, and as a candidate for Missouri's next U.S. Senator, I pledge to work tirelessly to be a force for progress in healing the racial divisions of our country."

She should definitely known better, even in 1977. Civil rights groups had been protesting the ball for years and even crashed it in 1972 and unveiled the "Veiled Prophet." Can she survive a mistake from 45 years ago? In baseball, it is three strikes and you are out. In politics, it is sometimes one strike and you are out. There are so many people who said things and did things 50 years ago that don't fly anymore but were widely accepted then. Are they finished now?

One example where that wasn't the case is former Virginia governor Ralph Northam. He was photographed 40 years ago in minstrel-style blackface. That might have been tolerable then. It isn't anymore. But he accepted full responsibility, didn't blame anyone else, and survived. Will Valentine?

The situation in Missouri is complicated. The leading Republican candidate is former governor Eric Greitens, who escaped impeachment and conviction only because he resigned before the legislature could impeach him for sexually assaulting and blackmailing his hairdresser, with whom he was having an affair. If he is indeed the GOP nominee, any strong Democrat will have a shot at it. The question now is whether Valentine has been fatally wounded. To make it more complicated, Greitens is Jewish, so if it is Greitens vs. Valentine, Greitens is going to play the victim and call Valentine antisemitic. There really isn't any evidence that she is antisemitic. What happened is that the ball was run by a club for fancy rich people and she was a fancy rich person so she went. She probably never really thought about racism much when she was 19, and certainly never thought about running for the Senate.

There is another Democrat running for the nomination: retired Marine Lucas Kunce, who has no issues with old balls. He naturally didn't want any competition, so he criticized her entry into the race. However, for the Democratic Party, Valentine brings something important to the race: money. The DNC and DSCC probably aren't keen to dump much cash into Missouri because it is a longshot. Valentine can self-fund the race, which means with her they wouldn't have to spend any money and would still have a chance. Kunce is doing well with fundraising, but he certainly couldn't write his campaign a check for $20 million if need be. Valentine, who has a net worth well into the nine figures, could. So if Valentine survives the initial hit, the Democrats will have a competitive race with two very different sorts of candidates. (V)

March... Sadness, Part V (The Legislative Branch, Round 2)

And, after an eventful week, we're back at it. Today, it's the next round for the least admirable members of Congress:

The Legislative Branch bracket now looks like this:

#1 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vs. #8 Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA);
#4 Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) vs. #5 Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH);
#11 Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) vs. #3 Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL);
#10 House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) vs. #15 Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)

The voting for this round is here. If you haven't yet cast your votes for the executive branch, that is located here; if you haven't yet cast your votes for the governors and judges, that is located here. The voting for those three brackets, and for the "others" bracket (unveiled tomorrow) runs until Monday at noon. We continue to welcome comments on the matchups. (Z & V).

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