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The United States Senate: A Farce in One Act

Given the imminent Supreme Court decision that will strike down Roe and Casey, there was much pressure on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to do... something. And yesterday, he "delivered," staging a show vote on legislation that would protect abortion nationwide. The measure failed, and with the exact vote you think: 51 nays, 49 yeas, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) crossing the aisle to vote with the Republicans.

Obviously, there isn't much the Majority Leader can do here. There's the small matter of the filibuster, which is apparently as firmly ensconced as the Great Wall of China. And even if there was no filibuster, Schumer still doesn't have 50 votes, since the West Virginian in his caucus is not pro-choice. It's true that two of the Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) claim to favor abortion rights. However, they voted "nay" on yesterday's bill, claiming it was "too expansive." They, and in particular Collins, also used their votes to help seat the justices who are going to strike down Roe. So, it's hard to take seriously their claims to be pro-choice.

Of course, it is possible that both women really are personally pro-choice and would definitely help a friend or relative who needed an abortion get one, but they understand the political price for voting "pro-choice" is simply too high.

Neither Schumer, nor any other member of the Democratic caucus, was under any illusions about what would happen yesterday. The purpose of the vote, such as it is, was to draw bright, red lines that make clear which senators are pro-choice and which ones are not. This will theoretically give the Democrats talking points for the midterms. That said, we're not clear which member who is up in 2022 will be harmed by yesterday's vote. Possibly Murkowski, although we strongly doubt that she would lose enough voters to power Joe Stephens (I) to victory. (Z)

Supreme Court Continues to Leak Like A Sieve

In theory, what happens at the Supreme Court stays at the Supreme Court until they're ready to share with the rest of the world. That's also how it's worked in practice, generally speaking... until the last couple of weeks. Not only did Politico get an early copy of Samuel Alito's draft decision in Dobbs, but both that outlet and The Washington Post appear to have a mole in the Supreme Court building, or a bug in the justices' deliberation room, or something, because everything that happens there seems to be front-page news within hours.

The latest from Politico is that there are currently no other opinions circulating among the justices right now—no revision of the Alito opinion, no dissents. There presumably will be soon, since the term ends in about 6 weeks, but there aren't any yet. Also, the vote remains 5-4, with the conservatives holding firm on one side and the liberals and John Roberts holding firm on the other.

There is still nothing known about the identity of the individual or individuals who are violating the allegedly oh-so-important sanctity of the Court. However, some of the information that Politico and the Post have uncovered is stuff that only the justices would know, and arguably that only conservative justices would know. It certainly suggests that either one of the justices is talking to the media, or else that one of the justices did not hear about how loose lips sink ships, and is talking to someone they should not be talking to, and that person is the stool pigeon. Heck, maybe it really is Ginni Thomas.

If one of the justices is the actual culprit, it increases the odds that their secret will remain safe. Someone that senior and that savvy is likely to know how to cover his tracks. Further, even if Roberts does discover their identity, he might keep that under his hat. Or, under his robes. Especially since this is already the greatest embarrassment for a chief justice in over a century. (Z)

NATO Likely to Get a Bit Bigger

In an announcement that's been expected all week long, the leaders of Finland announced today (just minutes before this post went live) that they plan to request membership in NATO. That's great for NATO and bad for Russia, and so the Finns are likely to be welcomed with open arms. And if any NATO member objects, Joe Biden will squash them like a bug.

The Finns aren't big fans of the Russians, of course, thanks to the Winter War of 1939. On the other hand, Russia is big and powerful and is right next door. So, Finland has generally played both sides of the street, bowing to various demands from the Russian government, but also making nice with NATO and stocking up on arms purchased from the U.S.

That the balance has tipped far enough that Finland is now ready to choose one side of the street is not good news for the Russians. At the moment, Russia has about 750 miles of borders with NATO members. When and if Finland joins, that number will more than double (to about 1,600 miles). And given that Finland is not only well armed, but well armed with the exact things that the leading members of NATO already use, they're in great shape to participate directly in any NATO missions they might choose to join.

If Vladimir Putin's goal really was to make Russia more secure, well, that doesn't seem to be working out so well, does it? Oh, and there's also a possibility that Sweden will decide to join NATO in the next week or two, too. That would mean abandoning a couple of centuries of neutrality, which is not easy, but oh, baby, baby it's a wild world. So, it could definitely happen. (Z)

What's Going On... in Ukraine, Part IV: International Sources within Ukraine

On Monday, we ran down the five sources readers most often recommended for information about the war in Ukraine. Tuesday was the five best aggregators, and yesterday was the best sources within Ukraine. Up today are international sources:

  1. Cornucopia: This is written by a Swede, and it's in Swedish. However, it is still readable by non-Swedish speakers. Reader P.L. in Stockholm, Sweden, explains: "The author, whose wife is from Ukraine, updates more or less continuously (during Swedish daytime) about what has happened and is happening in Ukraine. It is a discussion of war progress and the situation for the civilians, etc. The blog is in Swedish but using translation in Google Chrome seems to work fairly well. The author is not objective—and he states that clearly. He is pro-Ukraine and anti-Putin/Russian government/Russian military, but not anti-Russian people."

  2. BBC News: They've been doing this kind of thing a long time, and are pretty good at it, such that they were recommended by numerous readers. Among those is M.M. in San Diego, CA: "Their articles are brief and concise, but there are a lot of them and are regularly updated from the field. BBC's foreign reporting covers the entire world, unlike media in the U.S."

  3. Deutsche Welle: This site offers analysis from a German perspective (although it is available in English). They also have a presence on YouTube, with live programming.

  4. Radio Free Europe: "The ever-reliable Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty," as reader R.C. in Boise, ID, puts it.

  5. Dmitri: He is an Estonian who lives in the U.K. and speaks fluent Russian. Confused yet? He uses his Twitter feed to provide translations of Russian documents, phone calls, speeches, etc.

Tomorrow, we'll wrap it up with military experts. (Z)

Pennsylvania Is the Gift That Just Keeps Giving

Well, it's the gift that keeps giving if you're a politics-watcher, at least. If you're a Republican muckety-muck in the Keystone State, the only thing you're being given is heartburn. Tuesday, we had an item about how would-be senator David McCormick, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, and many other Republicans are breaking Reagan's 11th commandment of politics and taking potshots at would-be senator Mehmet Oz. Yesterday, we noted that the Pennsylvania GOP is in "all hands on deck" mode as they try to derail the gubernatorial candidacy of Doug Mastriano (R), whom they fear will be unelectable and will drag down the Republican ticket statewide. And today, we return our focus to the Senate race, as GOP pooh-bahs (GOPooh-Bahs?) are scared witless they may be stuck with a stinker of a candidate in Kathy Barnette (R).

Let's start with addressing why Barnette might win the nomination. She has been running a shoestring outsider campaign, and she spent much of the race as an afterthought. However, she describes herself as "ULTRA MAGA," and in a race where the two leading candidates are MAGA Lite, at best, that means Barnette has the inside track to a segment of the Republican base. Consistent with her ULTRA MAGAtude, she claims that Donald Trump did not lose the election, that she did not actually lose her 2020 run for the U.S. House, that immigrants are destroying the country, that the deep state is pulling the strings, etc. Barnette is also fanatically anti-abortion, and she has a certain credibility on the issue with the anti-abortion crowd, since she herself was a product of her mother being raped at age 11. In other words, Barnette is "proof of concept" that it's OK not to make exceptions in the event of rape (or underage pregnancy). Oh, and she is also Black. And, as we know, there are many Republicans who are absolutely convinced that if they nominate a Black candidate, then Black voters will flock to the GOP banner. After all, it worked so well for Ben Carson, Allen West, John James, etc.

With McCormick and Oz (which kind of sounds like a line of frozen dinners) squabbling with each other, and with abortion moving front and center, Barnette has been surging in the polls. In fact, in the last two polls of the race, she was actually ahead of McCormick, and within 2 points of Oz. And now the ultra-conservative Club for Growth is going to back up the Brinks truck and spend $2 million promoting Barnette's candidacy. That's not necessarily as enormous a sum as it seems, since the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh media markets are none too cheap. However, those places are not really where Barnette's voters are, and presumably commercial airtime is a little cheaper in Punxsutawney and Altoona. Also, $2 million is considerably more than Barnette has spent on her entire campaign thus far. If spending six figures was enough to get her within striking distance of Oz, then a seven-figure spend could put her over the top.

You can presumably imagine from what we've written thus far why she's a less-than-ideal candidate. Pennsylvania is not an ULTRA MAGA state, which means that she's an ill fit on that front. Further, the Republican Party does not want one of its most prominent candidates to be someone whose main talking point is that rape victims should be forced to carry fetuses to term. That might play OK in Birmingham or Jackson, but it will play very badly in Pittsburgh. On top of that, Barnette's Twitter account and past public statements are an oppo researcher's dream. She's said some rather impolitic things about Muslims and Jews, for example. Oh, and the Republicans who think a Black candidate is the Great White Hope can deny it, but there are still plenty of racists in the Republican Party. Some of those are going to be none too enthusiastic about voting for a Black candidate, particularly once they find out that Barnette has also had a few pointed remarks about how the U.S. has a racism problem, especially among its police forces.

In view of all this, the leaders of the Pennsylvania GOP are trying to do... something, though there isn't a lot they can do. Neither Oz nor McCormick is going to drop out, or throw their support to the other. It's possible that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could order an ad blitz, but the money might be a waste at this late date, and he also doesn't want to end up backing a losing candidate and having the winner be angry with him. So, Barnette may keep surging, and at just the right time for a candidate to do so. For a whole bunch of reasons, Tuesday is going to be very interesting, indeed. (Z)

DeSantis' District Map Is Partly Struck Down

Gov. Ron DeSantis is obsessed with FL-05. It's currently drawn in a manner that all but guarantees the election of a Democrat, and in particular a Black Democrat (currently Rep. Al Lawson). The Governor insists that is an illegal racial gerrymander, which means he's interpreting Florida's Fair Districts Amendment in a manner different from... literally everyone else in the country. He got into a pissing contest with the state legislature over the matter, and they eventually capitulated and gave him what he wanted. Now, just a couple of weeks later, a judge has (predictably) told DeSantis that his map is unacceptable.

The judge in question is Layne Smith, and he sits on Florida's 2nd Judicial Circuit. Since it's getting close to election time, Smith did not reject the entire map, but he did say the area around Jacksonville (i.e., Lawson's district) needs to be re-done. So, he's going to hand that task to a non-partisan map-drawing expert.

The Governor will appeal, of course. He hopes and expects to get the case before the Florida Supreme Court, where all seven judges are Republicans. And if DeSantis is somehow not able to get the result he wants, well, he can still brag to his base about how he fought the good fight. In the end, red meat for the base is all he really cares about, no matter how many voters—or cartoon mice—he has to hurt. (Z)

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