Joe Biden surely had the blues on Wednesday, as the near-inevitable officially came to pass: The AP, followed by all the other outlets, called the House of Representatives for the Republican Party. And so, the latest era of divided government commences.
Only one race was called yesterday, but it was the one the Republicans needed: Rep. Mike Garcia (R) defeated Christy Smith in CA-27. There was little chance that Smith would topple the incumbent; he's been up by nearly 10 points ever since results began to be reported. Eventually, those slowpokes in California finally got to the point that 75% of the votes in the race were reported. At that point, there's no hope of overcoming a 9-10 point gap, and so Garcia was decreed the winner.
The Republican majority is still slated to be very small—probably four or five seats. We will point out one last time that the new Republican Speaker could decide that dealing with the 40 or so MAGA nutcases is just not worth it, and is not the path to future electoral success, and that it might be better to work with the Democratic Senate and the White House on things both parties can agree on. For example, everyone would like something to be done about opioids. Everyone would like to improve the country's infrastructure. Everyone would like rural broadband. There's room for a meeting of the minds here.
But that's not what is going to happen, of course. The new Speaker, whether it ends up being House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) or someone else, is going to become a bull in a china shop. They will use every tool at their disposal to bring the government to a grinding halt, and to give Joe Biden in particular the Hillary Clinton treatment. That is to say, by constantly investigating the President, and revealing the "dirt" they come up with (even if that dirt is trivial, or not really related to Biden, or invented out of whole cloth), they hope to create the impression that he is hopelessly corrupt and simply cannot be reelected in 2024.
Maybe it will work, although we doubt it. The campaign against Clinton was waged over more than two decades, beginning with Newt Gingrich when she was First Lady. The campaign against Biden won't have that kind of siege-like length. On top of that, Clinton is a woman, and part of the vitriol directed at her was barely veiled sexism. Biden will not be subject to that dynamic. And perhaps most importantly, the Republicans tried to hang a "corrupt" label on Biden in 2020, and he still won the election. Why would they have more success in 2024? And that's assuming he runs, by the way. Biden could decide to stand down after one term, which would mean the Republicans would have spent 2 years tearing down the wrong person.
One other note. Now that control of the House has been decided, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is ready to announce her future plans. She is planning to make an announcement today. So, by this time tomorrow, she could be headed to retirement, or she could be prepping to re-enter the fray. If it's the former, Joe Biden will be disappointed to lose one of his most important and skilled allies on The Hill. (Z)
After the not-so-great performance of Donald Trump's hand-picked candidates in last week's elections and Trump's not-so-good launch speech on Tuesday, GOP megadonor Stephen Schwarzman joined GOP megadonor Ken Griffin and said Donald Trump is history and it is time for new blood. All eyes are on Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) who believes that God has anointed him to be president. If God is on his side, is DeSantis now "inevitable" for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024?
Being inevitable is good work if you can get it, but it has its downsides. Just ask inevitable 2008 candidates Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani or inevitable 2016 candidate Jeb! There are many, many more if you go back in time. Getting a couple of big donors and The New York Post on board a year and half before the Republican National Convention doesn't mean the show is over and DeSantis can begin thinking about possible Supreme Court nominations. The Washington Post has a nice article about "inevitability." Executive summary: Stuff changes.
What the voters may be looking for in 2024 may be very different than what they are looking for now. Alex Conant, the one-time communications director for the one-time inevitable Marco Rubio said: "That candidate who looks perfect for the current moment might not be what they want later." Right now, crime and inflation are top issues, but what if Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's magic works and next year unemployment is the big issue and it is raging in Florida? What if the war in Ukraine is still on and spreading to Poland and elsewhere and foreign policy is on top of the agenda?
The best comparison is with Jeb! He was a popular governor of Florida, and son and brother of presidents, to boot. He was a proven job creator and had all the big donors on his team. He was inevitable until he was roadkill.
DeSantis has had a lot of success in getting votes in Florida, no doubt about that. But he has never taken his show on the road. How will "Don't say gay" play in Michigan? How will attacking one of the country's best known and loved corporations (Disney) play in Pennsylvania?
One thing DeSantis has not yet had to deal with is the full fury of Donald Trump aimed directly at him. Wanna talk about "inevitable"? That is inevitable. Trump claims to have dirt on DeSantis. Trump's claims don't usually mean much, but it is a safe bet that the sane people on Trump's team have hired the best oppo researchers who are willing to work for Trump and paid them in advance. Maybe there is one spot on DeSantis record, like one word he shouldn't have used—"macaca" for instance. Or one photo of him in college in blackface or something else that he thought was innocuous at the time and Trump makes it the centerpiece of his campaign.
Maybe DeSantis has lived a charmed life and never did anything wrong ever. But, even if that is so, now he is under the biggest microscope in the world, something he is not used to. In 1988, then-boy-wonder Sen. Gary Hart was "inevitable" until rumors of an extra-marital affair started swirling. Hart dared reporters to follow him to see how boring he really was. Dumb move. When someone took a photo of him with a young woman named Donna Rice on his lap on an 83-ft yacht named Monkey Business, it was all over for him. Would DeSantis do something that stupid? Probably not, but now that everything he says and does will be magnified 1000x, he could make some small mistake that Trump can exploit to the hilt. DeSantis is going to have to be very, very careful. (V)
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) campaigned for the chairmanship of the NRSC, thinking that the incumbent president's party generally loses 3-6 seats in the Senate, and as chairman of the NRSC, he could take credit for that, become Senate majority leader, and then use that as a stepping stone to the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. Brilliant plan. What could go wrong?
Well, sometimes the best laid plans of rodents and people somehow work out differently than expected. Now the best case for the Senate Republicans is that nothing changed, still a 50-50 Senate. The worst case is they lose a seat. Some Republicans are not too happy about this and are looking for a scapegoat. The obvious scapegoat—Donald Trump—is too dangerous to tackle, so they are looking for a weaker one. Scott has real potential here.
At a tense 3-hour lunch meeting of the Senate Republican caucus on Tuesday, Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) asked for an impartial review of how the NRSC spent its money. Before Scott took over, there were stories about how previous staffers had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper bonuses. Scott said he quickly dealt with that after he took charge. Maybe there was something like that this time, but that's small potatoes and doesn't explain why the Democrats held the Senate.
The NRSC chairman's job is to raise money for Republican Senate candidates. Scott did that extremely well. He raised and spent $235 million. If Blackburn and Tillis want to know how much went to each race, Scott (or an outside auditor) can tell them. So what? Maybe he spent $30 million on Mehmet Oz. Maybe he spent $50 million. Do Blackburn and Tillis think that if he had spent $70 million Oz would have won? Probably not, because as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) helpfully pointed out, the problem was "candidate quality," not money. In hindsight, Blackburn and Tillis could say: "You should have spent less on Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and more on Oz" but if Scott had done that, maybe Johnson would have lost.
A spokesman for the NRSC, Chris Hartline, pointed out that the NRSC had to file financial reports with the FEC every month, so if the senators had been genuinely interested, they could have consulted the reports and seen where the money went. In retrospect, maybe they could now figure out how it could have been spent better, but in real time, Scott didn't know which races were the most in play. So an audit will show where the money went and Blackburn and Tillis can blare: "You should have spent more on X and less on Y." But that won't explain why the Republicans lost. It wasn't because they didn't have enough money. They had money coming out the wazoo. They lost because they had terrible candidates foisted upon them by Donald Trump. They are just desperately looking for someone else to blame and Scott is in the wrong place at the wrong time. (V)
Senate Republicans met yesterday to elect a new leader. This was not the shouty lunch meeting; that was on Tuesday. There were two candidates, Mitch McConnell and Rick Scott, who has been in the official Senate doghouse since Tuesday. Given the NRSC's dismal performance under Scott's leadership, it is not surprising that McConnell won. But the vote was surprisingly close: 37-10. It could have been 46-1. Scott is not as unifying a candidate as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whom the other 99 senators all hate. But the Floridian is probably in the #2 slot now. He may not realize it yet, but any plans he has to challenge Ron DeSantis for the role of #1 alternative to Donald Trump are completely pointless. Scott's own caucus doesn't even like him.
Republicans hope that the quick leadership election will put the squabbling behind them so they can now focus on the Georgia runoff on Dec. 6. Unlike in the House, this is it. McConnell will be the Republican leader. The Senate does not have a speaker or any other officer chosen by the entire Senate, like the House does. Over in the House, Kevin McCarthy has to run for election as speaker on Jan. 3, and if enough members of his caucus defect, he could lose. McConnell does not have that problem. (V)
Kari Lake lost the Arizona gubernatorial election by 17,000 votes, or 0.6%. It was not a landslide defeat, but it was still a defeat. Lake and her MAGA allies are now split on what they should do next. Fundamentally, she has two choices:
The first is the American way. The second is the MAGA way. Time to make a choice.
Several important Arizona politicians are urging her to pick option 1. Former Arizona governor Jan Brewer, a conservative Republican, said: "Kari Lake has lost the race, in my opinion. There is no way for her to have a pathway. If I was in that position, I would probably concede." Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) called Hobbs to congratulate her.
If Lake were to go for option 2, it would make many of her supporters happy. They believe that if a Democrat wins, it must be by cheating, since "the people" all support Donald Trump and his chosen candidates. Lake could go to court, but it is hard to see what her case would be about. There were some minor problems in Maricopa County, but every eligible voter was able to cast a ballot in the end. It is very likely that since there is no evidence of any irregularities, almost any judge would throw out the case immediately.
One thing the Lake campaign is doing is collecting testimonials from voters. If a substantial number of people were to swear they weren't allowed to vote, Lake might at least be allowed to present her case. However, the voters would surely be required to swear under penalty of perjury that they were eligible voters and were forbidden from voting. If, upon investigation, they were not eligible voters or they did sign the book voters have to sign, they could go to prison. Once informed of that, some or all of them might just back down. Even if Lake could find 100 voters, that doesn't mean there were enough (17,000) to change the election result. Arguing "there were probably more" is unlikely to convince a judge. Basically, fighting in court is the 2020 Trump playbook. If Lake goes down that road, it will make her more popular with Trump's base but less popular with everyone else.
Trump appears to be goading Lake on to fight the results. He said that Democrats were trying to steal her win, just like they stole his in 2020. Steve Bannon has called on Arizona election officials not to certify the results. The person who has to certify them is the secretary of state, one Kathleen Marie Hobbs, who is probably not amenable to that idea. Is it legitimate for a secretary of state to certify an election in which the secretary is a candidate? Yes. Then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp certified his own election as governor in 2018. Republicans did not complain about this quirk of the system back then, and we have to assume that for consistency's sake, they surely would not complain now. Right?
Another problem for Lake if she contests the results is that the biggest voter getter on the ballot was state Treasurer Kimberly Yee (R), who was easily reelected. Apparently it wasn't so hard for people to vote for a Republican if they wanted to. (V)
The result of the race for governor of Arizona was clear, but the race for Arizona attorney general is a real squeaker. Democrat Kris Mayes, a lawyer, is leading Republican Abraham Hamadeh, a former Army intelligence officer, by 711 votes out of 2.5 million votes cast. That is 0.03%. About 97% of the votes have been counted, with about 77,000 votes still to be counted. This is probably the closest statewide race in the country. Hamadeh is a strong supporter of Donald Trump and is strongly supported by the former president. If he wins, he will control the state's law-enforcement apparatus. If he doesn't like the 2024 election results, he would be in a position to sue to have them overturned.
Mayes has a masters in public administration from Columbia University and a J.D. from Arizona State University. She has worked as a reporter and later was on Arizona's version of a public utilities commission. Until 2019, she was a Republican. Her issues are border security, consumer fraud, corporate accountability, elder abuse, the environment, reproductive rights, voting rights, the fentanyl crisis, and political corruption. She has a very long list of endorsements from Democratic politicians, union leaders, the president of the Navajo Nation, environmental groups, voting rights groups, and reproductive rights groups.
Hamadeh has a J.D. from the University of Arizona. After he served in the Army (in Saudia Arabia) he became a prosecutor in the Maricopa D.A.'s office. His issues are border security, the fentanyl crisis, inflation, the war on police, cancel culture, and the Second Amendment, among others. He is anti-choice. In addition to being endorsed by Trump, he has also been endorsed by Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Kash Patel, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Bernie Kerik, and a bunch of other second-tier right wingers.
No matter how the final turns out, with such a small margin, a recount is almost certain.
What is especially interesting about this race is that if Mayes hangs on, it will be a shutout. Donald Trump endorsed in four statewide races in Arizona: senator, governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. His candidates have already lost the first three. If Hamadeh loses, The Donald will have been completely shut out and lost all four races. What will that say about his popularity in Arizona, an emerging swing state? (V)
The Treasury Department's authority to borrow more money to pay the government's bills may run out in June, so Democrats want to raise the debt limit in the lame-duck session of Congress coming up. They would prefer a bipartisan bill raising the limit, but Republicans don't want that. The red team would prefer to blackmail the Democrats into repealing most of what they passed this year and also cutting Social Security and Medicare. If the Democrats don't give in to the blackmail, and the Republicans stand their ground, the U.S. would default on its debt and probably start a depression. Then the Republicans could try to campaign on "Biden started a depression" in 2024.
Plan B is raising the debt limit using the budget reconciliation process, which bypasses the filibuster. This would have to be done before the end of this Congress, because a future Republican-controlled House could block that action after Jan. 3 (as both chambers have to approve all bills). So there is a big hurry. Now, it appears that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) may oppose using reconciliation, arguing for more negotiation with the Republicans. The Republicans would be overjoyed to continue negotiating right up to Jan. 3 at noon, when they will take over the House and block raising the debt limit there, even if the Democrats agree to use reconciliation in the Senate. This is yet another example of why having 51 senators is so much better for the Democrats than having 50. Having Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) win the runoff doesn't change anything. He is already a voting member of the Senate and Senator-elect John Fetterman (D-PA) won't be seated until Jan. 3.
There is not much Joe Biden can do here to pressure Manchin. He has tried that 100 times already and Manchin doesn't respond well to pressure. Maybe this is all for show and at the last minute, Manchin will agree to raising the debt limit enough to get through 2023 in return for the Democrats killing off some social program he doesn't like. But if Manchin sticks to his guns, in June the Democrats will either have to give the Republicans what they want or gamble that there could be a worldwide depression, but that the Republicans get the blame for it in 2024.
There is one ray of hope, however. One issue that Manchin cares passionately about is permitting reform. So do a number of Republican senators, led by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). Manchin's complaint is that if some company is trying to build a pipeline or other energy project, and someone spots an owl in the area where construction would take place, environmental activists can hold the project up for 10 years while determining if the owl belongs to an endangered species. Manchin wants to speed up the process so it cannot be dragged out for years in the courts. He would like a final decision to be made on every energy infrastructure project within a year. It is at least possible that if Manchin can put together a bipartisan deal on permitting reform, he might be willing to raise the debt limit if it was packaged along with the permitting reform. But as usual, Manchin is playing his cards close to his vest, so nothing is certain yet.
Two other things worth noting. Although House Republicans are mavericks, Senate Republicans are generally less so. In particular, Mitch McConnell has historically been very unwilling to take this game of chicken beyond the point of no return. So, he could get involved in some arm-twisting of his fellow Republicans in the House, if it comes to that. Further, retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) is an old-school fiscal conservative who most certainly does not want to see the U.S. default on its debt. If push came to shove, he could resign his seat early with an understanding that Fetterman be appointed as his replacement. This is not unheard of; it actually used to be a somewhat common maneuver to allow a new senator to get a head start on his or her seniority. We don't think it's likely that Toomey would do this, but it's not impossible. (V)
The DonorsTrust, a 501(c)(3) "charity" that supports conservative groups, took in $1 billion in 2012, including two anonymous gifts of $425 million each. These are among the largest political donations ever.
DonorsTrust used those funds to support a variety of conservative causes. All in all, it spent $192 million last year and entered 2022 with $1.5 billion in assets. It is not known who any of the donors are or how much money the group spent in 2022. One thing the CEO of DonorsTrust did say is that in 2021 school closings and lockdowns were very harmful to the country, so DonorsTrust did what it could to minimize the harm. He didn't explain how. It could be running ads or lobbying against school closings and lockdowns, for example. Conservatives didn't like any of the measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 because they infringed on peoples' rights to spread deadly diseases.
The left also has dark money groups, but they are much smaller. The Sixteen Thirty Fund, for example, took in $191 million in 2021. The good news is that it was in cash and not Bitcoin.
The donations to DonorsTrust may have had an ulterior motive besides helping conservatives. One of the $425 million gifts was not in cash, but in stock. If the stock had appreciated, by donating it to a 501(c)(3), the donor will escape capital gains taxes. Some rich people hate paying taxes so much that they prefer to give away their money than pay taxes on it.
Organizations classified as 501(c)(3) may not run ads directly supporting or opposing candidates for office, but they can be involved in election-related activities like redistricting, "educating" the public on issues, and doing election integrity monitoring (which in practice tends toward voter intimidation). (V)
The Democrats will hold a lame-duck session of Congress later this month and in December. A big question is what they use it for. An article written for The Bulwark by Chris Truax, a lawyer who is active in trying to preserve democracy in America, argues that one of the Democrats' top priorities ought to be enforcing congressional subpoenas. It is clear now that if you get a subpoena from the Select Committee (and other committees), and you negotiate with them and give them a little bit of material, but refuse to give them most of what they want, you won't be prosecuted or go to prison. This was Mark Meadows' approach. Only if you yell "Go f**k yourself" at the committee very loudly might you get a couple of months in jail. This was Steve Bannon's approach. Truax argues this needs to stop or Congress will no longer have any power to investigate the other two branches, or even the legislative branch.
Truax says that if Congress hits a refusenik with civil contempt, the process can take years. The cases about the Fast & Furious subpoenas went on for 6 years. That is absurd. In many cases, by the time the case plays out in court, control of Congress has changed and the new majority withdraws the subpoenas and no investigation ever takes place. As a case in point, the case over Donald Trump's tax returns has been going on for years. If the Supreme Court does not rule before Jan. 3, the new Republican majority will surely drop the case (although the Senate could take it up again and start all over).
In theory, Congress has another tool at its disposal: criminal contempt. If a witness is hit with that and tries to drag things out in the courts, there is a real danger of going to prison, which tends to make witnesses more cooperative. But Congress doesn't have real power here. All it can do is politely ask the Dept. of Justice to pursue the case. If it involves the sitting administration, how likely is it that the AG does that?
Truax says the real solution is for Congress to pass a new law giving it direct authority to go to court to enforce its subpoenas and not depend on the DoJ. The law could say that if a court upholds the subpoena as valid and the witness fails to comply immediately, the judge could find the witness in contempt of court and order him or her imprisoned immediately. In the absence of a law like this, it is virtually impossible for Congress to carry out any oversight of the Executive Branch if the Executive Branch isn't interested in aforesaid oversight. (V)
Traditionally, school boards were nonpartisan and nonpolitical—until Republicans decided they were a great place to wage the culture wars. After all, getting parents agitated over nonexistent Critical Race Theory and discussions of gender might win over those much-desired college-educated suburban women. In addition, by emphasizing parents' rights to overrule teachers and school administrators, Republicans could stick it to the teachers unions. Sounds like a plan! After all, the conventional wisdom is that wearing a nice fleece and talking about how parents, not principals, should run the schools, got Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) elected. So school board elections became the newest front in the culture wars.
It didn't go so well. The 1776 Project PAC, which steered millions of dollars into school board races, won only about a third of the races where it had a candidate. Another right-wing group, Moms for Liberty, endorsed 250 candidates. About half of them won. Also, although indirectly, Republican gubernatorial candidates in Kansas, Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin who tried to duplicate Youngkin's campaign based on trashing the schools lost their elections. Maybe schools aren't the magic bullet Republicans thought they were.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is talking about a Parents' Bill of Rights, although he hasn't said what will be in it. Could it give a parent the right to remove an "objectionable" book from the school library? What if another parent says the book is not only not objectionable, but should be required reading? Then what? What if a parent says that they are horrified that a library should have a book that features incest, adultery, murder, slavery and torture, and that they therefore want all copies of the Bible removed immediately? What if some parents want schools closed during the next pandemic and others want them open? You can please some of the parents all of the time and all of the parents some of the time but you can't please all of the parents all of the time. Parents are never going to all agree on books, the curriculum, school closings, and the rest. That is why there are elections for school board. To be continued. (V)