Senate page     Sep. 21

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Dem pickups: PA
GOP pickups: NV

Special Master Unimpressed by Trump's Arguments

Donald Trump, represented by Chris Kise and his legal team, got before Judge Raymond Dearie yesterday. Dearie, of course, is the fellow who will serve as special master for the review of the seized Mar-a-Lago documents. By all accounts, it did not go well for Trump.

As we noted yesterday, Team Trump favored Dearie because they surmised he is an FBI skeptic. That is an inference of dubious merit. A secondary selling point was the belief that Dearie is very slow and very methodical. Since the basic point of this exercise is foot dragging, Trump wanted the foot-draggingest judge he could find. The former president appears to have come up short on this count, as Dearie expects to complete his work by October 7. That's just 16 days away.

Meanwhile, Dearie may or may not be an FBI skeptic but, thanks to his service on the FISA court, he knows the rules of document classification inside and out. Indeed, given that Team Trump is really, really trying to muddy the waters on that point, one can scarcely believe they favored a special master with that particular expertise. In any case, Dearie had some rather probing questions for the former president's legal team, trying to establish exactly what Trump is claiming here (he's asserted on social media that he declassified the documents, but has pointedly not repeated that claim in legal filings). The Judge pointed out that "The plaintiff has the burden of establishing his right to relief," while also remarking that "My view is you can't have your cake and eat it too."

In Aileen Cannon, the Trump legal team got a gem, at least in their view. But while they won that battle, they are clearly losing the war. The DoJ is still appealing Cannon's decision, which means that the special master might be rendered partly or completely moot. And even if the special master process does proceed, it's barely going to slow down the legal case at all. On top of all of this, the Cannon-Dearie situation is just a side show. The fundamental case, and the alleged crimes therein, remains entirely intact. One wonders exactly how quickly Kise will burn through that entire $3 million retainer. (Z)

DeSantis Sued Over Martha's Vineyard Stunt

Another day, and another bunch of fallout from Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) lib-owning flight of asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha's Vineyard. He already had folks in Florida pointing out that he might have broken state law, calls from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) and others for the Dept. of Justice to look into the matter, and a Texas sheriff launching an investigation. Now, he's being sued by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), a public-interest group based in Boston.

The reason that DeSantis chose to exploit asylum seekers is that he knew they are very vulnerable and that they have limited means to fight back. This thinking informs most of his choices when it comes to targets. However, he may have overlooked that when you victimize 50 people all at once, and in a manner that leaves them all in exactly the same physical location, you're making it rather easy to put together a class action lawsuit. And that is exactly the type of complaint LCR filed yesterday.

As is common this early in the process, the suit makes a group of "everything but the kitchen sink" claims. The plaintiffs accuse DeSantis, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation Jared Perdue, and the government of the state of Florida of a dozen offenses, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, false arrest, lack of substantive due process and violations of the Equal Protection Clause. The exact nature of the relief sought is vague, as is normal at that point, but the plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial with an eye toward civil damages and an injunction that prohibits DeSantis from transporting any other immigrants.

The Governor has already lashed out in response to the suit. His office issued a statement that reads, in part:

It is opportunistic that activists would use illegal immigrants for political theater. If these activists spent even a fraction of this time and effort at the border, perhaps some accountability would be brought to the Biden Administration's reckless border policies that entice illegal immigrants to make dangerous and often lethal journeys through Central America and put their lives in the hands of cartels and Coyotes.

Certainly, the Governor knows a thing or two about political theater, and using immigrants for same. The careful reader will note a couple of things, however. First is that the statement refers to the transported individuals as illegal immigrants when, in fact, they are asylum seekers. Not the same thing, and also not at all out of character for Team Ron to use the more loaded team. Second is that the statement does nothing to push back against the actual charges being leveled against the Governor.

The Politico story linked above refers to the LCR suit as the "first" one to be filed against DeSantis over this. Maybe the staff knows something, or maybe they are making an educated guess, but it seems a fair conclusion that more suits are coming. Reader E.F. in Baltimore writes in and proposes that DeSantis was ready and raring for all of this:

I don't think DeSantis is losing any sleep worrying about some sheriff nailing him for this migrant stunt. Quite to the contrary, he's looking forward to even more headlines and chyrons in the right wing mediasphere, extolling him for his masterful job of owning the libs.

Unlike Donald Trump, DeSantis actually thinks ahead and considers the consequences of his actions before taking them. He's calculated that there's little legal risk here, unless it can be shown that the migrants were forcibly kidnapped (they weren't). Lying to them isn't a crime. Nothing left to do but bask in all the admiration on Fox News.

Note that the comment came before the lawsuit was filed, but we assume that news wouldn't have changed E.F.'s views very much.

For our part, we disagree with E.F. Yes, DeSantis is more cautious and more inclined to think things through than Trump is. However, nobody can anticipate everything, and it looks to us like the Governor made two serious errors. The first is that he presumably looked at what Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) has been doing, and assumed he'd get a similar response (grumbling from the left, but not much beyond that). Clearly, the response here has been much more... aggressive. Is that because DeSantis left himself exposed in ways that Abbott did not? Or because DeSantis is more deeply loathed by folks on the left? Or because DeSantis is a serious would-be presidential candidate? Or because he might plausibly lose his election bid this year if his opponents can take a chunk out of his hide? Could be all of those things.

The second error that the Governor has made, it would seem, is political. Yes, he gave himself something new to crow about on Fox. However, the people who love that stuff are already well aware that DeSantis has a black belt in lib-owning. And in exchange for yet another feather in his cap, DeSantis has opened himself up to some potentially serious damage among voters who matter to him. As we noted on Monday, Latino voters in Florida are up in arms. Sometimes, in politics, Cubans are Cubans and Venezuelans are Venezuelans. But sometimes they're all Latinos, and this appears to be one of those times. Further, DeSantis' gubernatorial opponent, Charlie Crist, is milking this for all it's worth, and will continue to do so, since he's got many, many angles of attack. For example, the cost of the flights was $615,000, which works out to more than $12,000 per person. We foresee a future campaign ad that points out the things that can be acquired with that kind of outlay. For example, you can buy a first-class ticket from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard on United Airlines for less than $1,200.

There are many rumors that DeSantis' next target is Delaware, for obvious reasons. However, he's known as something of a paper tiger who will back down when he fears consequences. So, whether or not he goes through with the Delaware stunt (or with relocations to other places) will be instructive as to whether or not he thinks he's screwed up here. (Z)

Republican Senators Are Butting Heads on the Budget

It's the time of year when the federal budget for the next fiscal year needs to be figured out. And so, that means a lot of peacocking and a lot of spin and, without fail, some stopgap funding resolutions before something more substantive is worked out (if it is; there have been several years in the last 25 that never had a proper budget).

In view of this, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rick Scott (R-FL) published an op-ed on Fox this week. They write:

It's time for Republicans to stand united and demand that Congress pass a clean continuing resolution (CR) that simply maintains current federal spending levels—and not a penny more—until a new Congress begins.

Now, before the liberal media starts losing its mind, let's make a few things clear. First, forcing Congress to pass a clean CR will not result in ANY cuts to funding or services. What this will do is ensure that the federal government continues to operate as it must for the American people until a new Congress begins in 2023. Second, this is not some convoluted scheme to cause a government shutdown. If Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called a vote tomorrow on a clean CR that extends government funding to January 31, 2023, it would easily pass. This is about accountability and doing what's right for American taxpayers. That's it.

As with anything that this trio comes up with, the op-ed is exceedingly dishonest. Imagine if we wrote the exact same thing, but in this way:

The Democrats may have the trifecta right now, but that does not entitle them to make decisions for the federal government. What they really should do is kick the can down the road until next January. Then, depending on election results, the Republicans might be able take control of part or all of the process. Why should that be a problem? Why won't Chuck Schumer bring it up for a vote right now?

Put that way, the Republican senators' proposal does not seem to be as "eminently reasonable" as they present it, does it?

As chance would have it, it's not just Democrats who don't like this idea. The op-ed also serves as something of a shot across the bow of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who wants to actually fund the government for next year, as opposed to pushing the problem to next January. The Kentuckian has been around for a few rodeos, and he realizes that budget fights are tough, and that if the Republicans regain control of one chamber or both, a high-pressure, high-visibility squabble over spending is not a great thing to start with. He also realizes that, even if the Republicans get control of both chambers, it's not possible to pass a budget without Democratic votes. So, fantasies of killing various Democratic initiatives—like the 87,000 new IRS agents—are exactly that, fantasies.

Ultimately, Lee, Cruz and Scott are not going to get what they want. As one Republican staffer observed after the Fox op-ed was published, "Scott, Cruz and Lee are show horses, they're not work horses. They don't pass bills." However, this story does suggest that this year's budget process might not be as ugly as usual, since McConnell is in a mood to deal. At the same time, it is becoming clearer and clearer that the Minority Leader is having trouble maintaining discipline in the ranks. If the Republicans regain the majority in the Senate, this will be a big, big story in 2023-24, especially since two-thirds of the Lee/Cruz/Scott trio is eyeing the presidency, and will seize any opportunity to take sides with the Trump wing of the Republican Party over the McConnell wing. (Z)

Pelosi Must Go?

It's not just the Republican leadership that is dealing with increasingly vocal foot soliders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has exercised a remarkable amount of discipline over her caucus in the past 2 years, in part because she's very skilled, and in part because there was no upside to rebelling against her. But now, some members are thinking it's time to move on, whether or not the Party retains control of the House.

No House Democrat disputes that Pelosi has done a masterful job as Speaker. Well, they don't dispute it openly, at least, and we doubt many of them feel that way privately. However, there are at least two things driving Democrats into the "Pelosi should step down" faction. The first is that some of them, like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), are ambitious and cannot move up the ranks until there some vacancies. The second is that Pelosi (82), along with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD, 83) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC, 82) are all north of 80. Put another way, the three highest-ranking Democrats in the House are collectively older than the United States itself (247 years vs. 246 years).

We wonder if Pelosi hasn't made things look a little too easy, and if some House Democrats might not be fooling themselves about how smoothly someone else would be able to take over the leadership of the caucus. That said, nothing lasts forever, and it's not like Pelosi can stay in charge into her nineties. Our guess, which is the obvious guess, is that, despite a semi-promise to the contrary 4 years ago, Pelosi will remain the leader of the House Democrats if the Party somehow keeps control of the House, but that she will stand down if they do not. (Z)

DHS Rejects Election Security Plan

Given the Trumpublican attacks on the electoral process, and claims that shenanigans are commonplace at polling places, there is excellent reason to believe that poll workers—lightly paid volunteers who are, almost universally, motivated by their public-minded spirit and sense of duty—are potential targets for harassment. In view of that, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a nonprofit that receives most of its funding from the federal government, put forth a proposal to fight back against online poll-worker harassment (such as doxing) and misinformation (such as false social media posts about polling locations and times). The Department of Homeland Security examined the proposal and said: "Thanks, but no thanks."

Reportedly, DHS expressed concern about several aspects of the plan, such as whether or not there was time left to properly implement it. But primarily, the Department was spooked by the PR angle. The saga of the Disinformation Governance Board—which produced much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments by Republicans and right-wing media, and was ultimately shuttered last month—is not something DHS wants to repeat. And apparently, officials were cringing at what Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity might say about the CISA initiative.

So, what are the lessons here? First, there may be something in place by 2024 to protect poll workers, but it sure looks like they will be on their own, both online and in-person, in 2022. Second, the right-wing propaganda machine is very, very effective. (Z)

Predicting the 2024 Democratic Field

Yesterday, we had an item about Joe Biden's alleged (slight) hesitation when it comes to running for a second term. Our view is that even he doesn't have any real insight into whether or not he'll actually run, since that decision requires information that is not currently available.

Today, we follow up on that with an item about the 2024 Democratic field. We have five lists of the (supposedly) 10 most likely candidates. Two of them are from media pundits, namely Chris Cillizza of CNN and Aaron Blake of The Washington Post. Two of them are polls-based; the most recent poll to ask people about this subject (Harvard/Harris from last week) and the average of all polls that have asked this question in 2022. And the fifth is the PredictIt odds:

Rank CNN WaPo Harvard Poll Polling Avg. PredictIt
1 Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden
2 Kamala Harris Pete Buttigieg Kamala Harris Kamala Harris Gavin Newsom
3 Pete Buttigieg Kamala Harris Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders Kamala Harris
4 Gavin Newsom Amy Klobuchar Hillary Clinton Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg
5 Elizabeth Warren Elizabeth Warren Pete Buttigieg Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton
6 Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders Stacey Abrams Stacey Abrams Bernie Sanders
7 Amy Klobuchar Gavin Newsom Amy Klobuchar Cory Booker Elizabeth Warren
8 Gretchen Whitmer Gretchen Whitmer A. Ocasio-Cortez A. Ocasio-Cortez A. Ocasio-Cortez
9 Cory Booker Roy Cooper Michael Bloomberg Amy Klobuchar Stacey Abrams
10 Roy Cooper A. Ocasio-Cortez Elizabeth Warren Elizabeth Warren Amy Klobuchar

So, what do we learn from this exercise? Very little. Those who follow sports know that whenever the preseason college football rankings come out, they're always a repeat of the rankings at the end of the previous season, except with one or two token up-and-comers thrown in. That's the same basic thing here. These lists are a retread of the 2020 presidential race, except with a handful of governors, and a representative who will just barely reach the necessary age, tossed in to keep things fresh.

In reality, there is zero chance that the Democrats cast Joe Biden aside because he's too old at 81 years of age, and then turn to the 83-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or the 75-year-old Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). On the other end of the spectrum, even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) knows that she's not currently electable given the state of the electorate. Her eye is on either a leadership position in the House or on a U.S. Senate seat when one comes available in New York.

The point of this item, and the one from yesterday, is that speculating about the 2024 race is fine, if it's just for funsies. It might even be useful in helping to understand the actions of specific politicians, like Gavin Newsom, who is clearly positioning himself for a run. But, on the whole, 2 years out is too far to predict with any meaningful level of confidence. (Z)

AARP Takes a Crack at Polling Alaska

Speaking of a meaningful level of confidence, reader P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, let us know that AARP has attempted to go boldly where others fear to tread, and to try to poll the various political races going on in Alaska. AARP, of course, is not itself a pollster, and so hired a Republican house (Fabrizio Ward) and a Democratic house (Impact Research) to conduct the survey.

As is necessary, given Alaska's ranked-choice system, the pollsters asked respondents to rank their picks in the various races. And, running through the numbers, the poll reports that in the U.S. Senate race, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is in a dead heat with Trumpy challenger Kelly Tshibaka (R), with the final tally ending up 50% to 50% once the other contenders are eliminated. In the U.S. House race, Rep. Mary Peltola (D) is leading Sarah Palin, with the final tally at 53% to 47% once the other contenders are eliminated.

We can believe that Peltola might pull this thing out, since she already won once, and since Palin is very unpopular. We are having a much harder time believing that Tshibaka is actually that much of a threat to Murkowski. Alaska is always difficult to poll, given the small and often hard-to-reach population. Add in the challenges of a ranked-choice race, which no pollster has a lot of experience with, and polling—which is already as much an art as it is a science—moves into the realm of mystery and fantasy, like voodoo or Quidditch or styling Donald Trump's hair. So, we pass the poll along, but we don't have much confidence in it. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

Maybe it's close in Georgia, and maybe it isn't. Depends which pollster you ask. As to North Carolina and Wisconsin, Emerson has been very positive for Republican candidates this cycle. Maybe they will be the pollster that everyone points to as the one that got it right. Or maybe they will end up with egg on their face. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Georgia Raphael Warnock* 44% Herschel Walker 46% Sep 05 Sep 16 U. of Georgia.
Georgia Raphael Warnock* 47% Herschel Walker 45% Sep 12 Sep 15 Marist Coll.
North Carolina Cheri Beasley 43% Ted Budd 46% Sep 15 Sep 16 Emerson Coll.
Wisconsin Mandela Barnes 44% Ron Johnson* 48% Sep 16 Sep 18 Emerson Coll.

* Denotes incumbent

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