Senate page     Sep. 27

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New polls: OH PA
Dem pickups: OH PA
GOP pickups: NV

Money Don't Get Everything, It's True...

The day has finally arrived. We have set up a Patreon account to allow readers to support the site on an ongoing basis. Click here for the Patreon page, through which you can donate via credit card, Apple Pay, or PayPal. We have pre-configured monthly tiers for $1/month, $2/month, $5/month, $10/month and—reluctantly—$20/month, but users can actually set whatever rate they want, as long as it's not LESS than the tier's base amount. So, if you pick the $1/tier, you can give $4.20/month or $5.38/month or $6.66 month, if that is what you want to do. We examined a lot of options for collecting payments, and were persuaded that Patreon will ultimately allow us to accommodate the largest number of readers (given that we have an international readership). It is set up, incidentally, such that supporters will be charged on the first of each month.

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Again, thank you for your readership and your support! (V& Z)

The Grand Finale?

The 1/6 Select Committee has announced the schedule for its next public hearing. It will be tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. ET. It is also likely to be the last public hearing.

The members of the Committee are playing their cards close to the vest, so not much is known about what they are planning to do tomorrow. They will definitely show clips from a new documentary about Roger Stone, including a bit where he declares "Fu** the voting, let's get right to the violence. Shoot to kill, see an antifa, shoot to kill. Fu** 'em." (Note that Stone did follow that by claiming he was joking. Ha, ha.)

Beyond that, it leaked out yesterday that former chief of staff Mark Meadows was in direct contact with the people who compromised the voting machines in Georgia, and it also came out that the Committee is trying to get in touch with Wisconsin's House speaker, to learn more about Donald Trump's efforts to strong-arm the results there. Often, when these sorts of things leak out, it is because they're about to show up in a 1/6 Committee hearing.

Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) allows that there might still be another hearing after this one—sort of a "greatest hits" wrap-up—but that is not certain. The problem is that the Committee is running out of time. They're not going to be able to force folks like Mike Pence and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to testify, and they need to compile their final report, while also campaigning for reelection (well, except for Reps. Liz Cheney, R-WY, and Adam Kinzinger, R-IL).

Further, one purpose of the committee was to warn Americans not to vote for pro-insurrectionist candidates in the midterms. Another was to arm-twist the Department of Justice into focusing on Donald Trump's role in the insurrection. The latter goal certainly appears to have been achieved, while the former, one way or the other, will be moot as of Nov. 8. So, it would not be terribly surprising if, after the curtain comes down tomorrow, it stays down. (Z)

Student Loan Forgiveness Price Tag: $400 Billion

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has crunched the numbers and made its best guess as to how much Joe Biden's student-loan-forgiveness plan will cost the federal government. As you can see from the headline, it's a cool $400 billion over a period of many years.

Note that the emphasis here should be on "best guess." The CBO always has to build its projections around assumptions of future behaviors and trends, but this particular situation is especially difficult to model. It's not known how many people will actually apply for the forgiveness, what the debt profile of those folks will be, how other debt-forgiveness programs will factor in, etc., etc. So, that $400 billion is just a ballpark figure. Very ballpark.

Of course, it would be political malpractice for Republicans not to wield this as a political cudgel. And that is what they are already doing, as you might expect. For example, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) decreed: "CBO's $400 billion cost estimate shows this administration has lost all sense of fiscal responsibility. Rather than working with Congress to bring down college costs, President Biden has opted to bury the American people under our unsustainable debt."

The Democrats do have a potentially useful response here. Two of them, actually. Option one is to point out that student debt is out of control, and that anything that badly constrains the purchasing power of the middle class ultimately brings down the whole economy. This is all true, but is a little too complicated for a sound bite, though. So, that brings us to option two: Point out that the Donald Trump tax cuts cost the government $230 billion. Per year. For 10 years. The staff accountant advises us that $2.3 trillion (i.e., $230 billion times 10) is rather more than $400 billion.

We'll see if the blue team fights fire with fire. Normally, Democratic politicians are too gun shy for that, but this cycle they've displayed a decidedly more cutthroat style. (Z)

McConnell, Sinema Form Mutual Admiration Society

Whatever Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D?-AZ) is up to, it apparently has little to do with attracting Democratic votes. Yesterday, she gave a speech at... the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. That would be the same McConnell who serves as Senate Minority Leader and who is loathed by an enormous portion of the Democratic base. In the speech, the Arizona Senator praised the Kentuckian. "Despite our apparent differences," she announced, "Sen. McConnell and I have forged a friendship, one that is rooted in our commonalities, including our pragmatic approach to legislating, our respect for the Senate as an institution."

That quote alone is going to drive many lefties nuts. Sinema then added further fuel to that fire, sharing her view that, far from abolishing the filibuster, she wants to bring back the 60-vote threshold for everything, particularly for approving judges. "It would," opined, "make it harder for us to confirm judges. And it would make it harder for us to confirm executive appointments in each administration... [creating] more of that middle ground in all parts of our governance."

McConnell, for his part, also had some flattering things to say: "I've only known Kyrsten for 4 years, but she is, in my view—and I've told her this—the most effective first-term senator I've seen in my time in the Senate.She is, today, what we have too few of in the Democratic Party: a genuine moderate, and a dealmaker."

We tried to find the video of the two addresses, but it wasn't yet posted to the McConnell Center website. They get things done at a turtle-like pace, for some reason. What we really wanted to know is if the two senators were able to keep a straight face when they said these things. As to the Kentuckian, we'd love to hear about this long list of deals that he's seen Sinema make. And as to the Arizonan, she cannot possibly believe that the 60-vote threshold would actually have the effect she proposes. Yes, if judges (and other officials) needed 60 votes, rather than 50, for approval, then it would be much harder to seat extremists like Aileen Cannon and Neomi Rao on the bench. However, that whole setup only works if all parties act in good faith, and have a willingness to approve the good judges. The Republicans have already shown they won't play by those rules anymore, as demonstrated by the stonewalling of Merrick Garland. And we don't believe the Democrats would play nice, either, if the shoe was on the other foot. Put succinctly, that ship has sailed.

Maybe this is the entree to Sinema announcing a party switch. This would be a very strange time to do it, but she's clearly a strange senator. Whatever the plan is, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) is now openly attacking her:

I mean you could be out there helping our candidates @SenatorSinema But my sense is that you would actually prefer the Dems lose control of the Senate and House.

— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) September 26, 2022

Given that Gallego is Latino (Mexican and Colombian), and given that Sinema is now toxic to the majority of Democrats, and given that Arizona is trending blue, and given that 2024 is a presidential year, which usually favors Democrats, it looks to be more likely than not that the Representative will be getting a promotion on Jan. 3, 2025. (Z)

Gaetz Skates

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is allegedly a sexual predator who exploited one or more underage victims for his own gratification. And it appears that the "allegedly" will remain a permanent part of his résumé, never to face scrutiny in a court of law. That is because the federal prosecutors who have been investigating him have recommended against filing charges.

The feds' reasoning here is pretty basic: The main witness against Gaetz would be former Seminole County, FL, Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, also known as Gaetz' former "wingman." Greenberg is a sleazeball who committed a veritable smörgåsbord of crimes and agreed to plead guilty to 6 of them in exchange for a dismissal of the other 27 counts against him. Someone with a profile like that does not make for a great star witness; he would be ripped to shreds by defense counsel if Gaetz were to go on trial.

The whole matter is a reminder of a dynamic that is on display daily these days: the feds take a long, long time to get their ducks in a row. And, if the ducks don't line up properly after all that effort, they just don't move forward. The conviction rate for federal criminal trials is north of 95%, which means that only slam-dunk cases actually end up on federal dockets. Undoubtedly, Donald Trump is hoping for a similar outcome, but it is worth noting that the classified documents case against him, in particular, does not rest on the word of one sleazy convicted felon. In fact, it rests on the word of the FBI, which is pretty much the polar opposite of "sleazy convicted felon."

As to Gaetz, clearly the residents of his deep-red district (FL-01, R+20) don't care about the allegations, since they renominated him convincingly this year. So, he's got a job as long as he wants it. However, he'll never rise higher than "member of the House." The Republican Party has marginalized him, and the right-wing media is giving him a small fraction of the TV time he used to get. Also, "our witness was too sleazy to be certain of a conviction" is hardly a vindication of Gaetz, while the fact remains that he tried (and failed) to secure a presidential pardon. The good part about not going on trial is, you know, avoiding the risk of a prison sentence. But the bad part is that you don't get a chance to defend yourself, and perhaps to undermine the claims that have been made against you.

Perhaps the best clue as to Gaetz' future comes from this story, which was brought to our attention by reader J.S. in The Hague, Netherlands, and which would be a candidate for This Week in Schadenfreude if we didn't already have three other candidates (and it's only Monday!). Trying to branch out, and connect with the "youth," Gaetz just launched a Twitch stream. And for his first broadcast, he had an audience of... six people.

It gets worse. In order to grow one's audience—say to seven, or maybe even eight people—it is common to leave one's stream open even when not broadcasting. That way, a person's community can interact, and the Twitch channel can thrive. To keep things from getting out of hand, there's usually a ban on certain words (curse words, racial slurs, etc.). However, the Gaetz "fans" knew full well how to get around such filters: vulgar ASCII pictures. And so, his feed was quickly filled with ASCII di** pics. This won't be the last time he's the butt of jokes, we think. Or maybe the di** of jokes. (Z)

Foreign Affairs Desk, Part I: Il Duchessa

Benito Mussolini was Il Duce. And now, Italy has elected as prime minister the 21st century, female equivalent to Mussolini in Giorgia Meloni. We're not sure if "Il Duchessa" will catch on, especially since it's not 100% grammatically correct as a counterpart to Il Duce. But if it does, we want credit.

Meloni began her political career as a member of the far-right Italian Social Movement, before moving on to membership in, and eventual leadership of, the Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy). Consistent with the party platform, Meloni is anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ marriage, anti-abortion, and anti-secular, and has occasionally expressed admiration for notable Nazis. This makes Meloni the most far-right leader in Europe, outside of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and it has earned her the label "neo-fascist." The fact that she would be right at home in the Trump wing of the modern Republican Party may be instructive as to where the GOP stands these days. Although, in fairness to Meloni, she's not pro-Putin, so that might put her at odds with some of her American compatriots.

We are hardly experts in Italian politics, of course. Italian food? Maybe, but not Italian politics. So, we reached out to regular correspondent M.M. in Milan for a report:

We broke a glass ceiling: For the first time we'll have a female premier. Never happened before. and this is, irrespective of political preferences, a historic result. And yes, we'll have a post-fascist premier; that's another first.

So, what's going on? Giorgia Meloni, the new premier, leads "Fratelli d'Italia." It is an identity-based party; the literal meaning is "Brothers of Italy. (Yes, we have some dystopian issues, right now.) She (and her party) capitalized on the fact that they have been always in the opposition. It's actually quite easy to oppose anything, especially when you are the only party that is not governing. We had a "national solidarity" government with Mario Draghi, gathering everybody except her party, and that didn't work out so well. In this election, she managed to get 25-26% of the vote, and that was enough foundation to build a governing coalition upon.

So, is it a vulnus of democracy? I mean, shall we deem it a problem? The leftist coalition was simply underwhelming, and the leader (Enrico Letta from Partito Democratico) just resigned. Although I am not pleased with the results, it is simply democracy. Giorgia Meloni won. Now, let her govern. Her party rode a huge wave of discontent. Those of us on the left didn't have any answer for many things, she gave simple solutions to complex problems, and that is it. Now it is time to deliver actual programs.

That said, I fear that we're heading in a dire direction. If she does deliver on her promises we'll be heading towards a less liberal state, starting with immigration (her party is against any form of it) to LGBTQ+ rights, not to mention less weighty issues such as cannabis legalization. I think that most of the people who voted for her said: "OK, let's try that one," without caring for the actual policies.

We'll have to wait for things to happen; European authorities have been quite timid, and shrugged: "OK, that's the result." Part of me is totally scared about the outcome; another part is just saying, "That's democracy, babe." Maybe I have yet to grapple with the definitive results, and I guess that, once Giorgia Meloni and her party are in power, they will be much more "normalized." They still are neo-fascist, they still give a Roman salute, and that's quite scary.

Thanks, M.M.!

There is also an American angle to this story, as the usual suspects—your Lauren Boeberts and your Marjorie Taylor Greenes—are celebrating this result as a great victory for Trumpism. For example:

This month, Sweden voted for a right-wing government.

Now, Italy voted for a strong right-wing government.

The entire world is beginning to understand that the Woke Left does nothing but destroy.

Nov 8 is coming soon & the USA will fix our House and Senate! Let freedom reign!

— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) September 25, 2022

Fair enough. If there's one group that's not destructive, it's fascists, right?

Oh wait, maybe not. In fact, as is usual for Boebert, et al., this assessment is asinine. The choices made by Italian voters have little to do with Donald Trump, and even to the extent they do, 25% (or so) of the vote is hardly a rousing endorsement. In fact, there's an argument to be made that Meloni's victory is something of a repudiation of Trump. Ryan Heath, writing for Politico observes that right-wing populism seems to work better when there's some discipline behind it. So, Liz Truss over Boris Johnson, Meloni over previous neo-fascist leader Gianfranco Fini, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) over Trump. We won't know until 2024, really, if the pattern holds in the U.S., but the argument potentially has merit.

And actually, we don't really know yet if the pattern holds in Italy. This is a country that changes governments more often than some people change their underwear. And, as M.M. points out, Meloni has little in the way of actual governing experience. So, Italy might be right back to square one 6 months from now. Or 6 weeks. (Z)

Foreign Affairs Desk, Part II: (Economic) Anarchy in the U.K.

It doesn't seem to matter which country we're talking about, for today's conservatives, tax cuts are the medicine that allegedly cures all ills. It's no secret that the British economy is in bad shape right now, thanks to the factors affecting most of the world's economies (post-pandemic recession, Ukraine war, etc.) along with the ongoing impact of Brexit. New PM Liz Truss wanted to hit the ground running, and to show that there's a new sheriff in town, so one of the first things she did upon taking office was announce a big tax cut. And it's a trickle-down-style cut, one that would primarily benefit wealthy people and corporations.

Oops. This may have been a tad bit ill-advised, as the announcement sent the British economy into a bit of a freefall. The pound briefly hit a record low; for a while yesterday, you could acquire £1 for less than $1.04 (it eventually edged up to about $1.07). The British bond market went haywire, and the Bank of England is now talking about an interest rate hike, one big enough that it would even make current Fed chair Jerome Powell blush. Inflation was already very bad in the U.K., and now it's all but certain to get even worse.

Reflecting on this news, we would suggest a whole bushel of takeaways:

We'll see how bad things get for the Brits, virtually none of whom had anything to do with electing Truss. Maybe Charles III will have to sell the family jewels to make ends meet. (Z)

Foreign Affairs Desk, Part III: Putin's Snow(den) Job

Many, perhaps even most, readers will know that Abraham Lincoln wrote the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation several months before it was actually issued. However, the President's Cabinet (wisely) advised him to temporarily keep it under his hat (literally, in his case, since that's where he liked to carry important papers). They said he should wait until a Union victory, so as to appear to come from a position of strength. The (nominal) win at Antietam, on Sept. 17, 1862, was victory enough, and Lincoln issued the document 5 days later.

We could not help but be reminded of this story yesterday. It is clear that the Russian war effort in Ukraine is not going well right now. Exactly how badly is a matter of some dispute; the assessments run the gamut from "the Russians are on their heels now, but will soon regain the initiative" to "Putin's in deep trouble, and might soon be overthrown by his 'friends.'" The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but in any case, the Russian clearly is not operating from a position of strength at the moment.

Consequently, it looks a little desperate and weak that Putin chose yesterday to announce that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship. Good luck with that Ed, since you're definitely never coming back to the U.S. now.

Perhaps the timing of this was just coincidental. However, it certainly looks like Putin was trying to score a cheap propaganda victory. And, if so, it suggests two things to us: (1) Maybe he really is getting desperate and fears he could be deposed, and (2) He's completely lost his sense of the American psyche if he thinks that this will have any affect on the U.S. The majority of Americans don't even remember who Snowden is, we would guess, while the remainder surely don't care about the specific details of his exile. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

Looks like Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) is ahead of Mehmet Oz. It's not a massive lead, but it appears to be consistent. And Ohio is still a toss-up. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Ohio Tim Ryan 46% J.D. Vance 43% Sep 18 Sep 22 Siena Coll.
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 45% Mehmet Oz 42% Sep 23 Sep 24 InsiderAdvantage
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 47% Mehmet Oz 45% Sep 16 Sep 19 Phillips Academy
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 51% Mehmet Oz 44% Sep 19 Sep 22 Marist Coll.

* Denotes incumbent

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