Wow, did we get a lot of hypothetical $1 trillion coin suggestions. So many that we're going to run more answers than normal, and then push the next round of doppelgängers to next week.
C.B. in Ashburn, VA, asks: Now that the debt ceiling shenanigans have been worked, I was wondering what your gut opinion is on the chances of a government shutdown occurring in October (beginning of new fiscal year)? There is part of me that wonders if there is a little backroom discussion where Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has told the crazies that the debt ceiling is too hot a potato but he will go along with shutting the government down for 1-2 months.
(V) & (Z) answer: You never know what the crazies in the Republican conference will do, or will demand, particularly after they've gotten a summer's worth of earfuls from constituents and right-wing media. That said, it is clear that many Republicans are wary of receiving the blame for these manufactured budget "crises," which is why most of them jumped on board as soon as a deal was cut. And if they play games again in 4-5 months, well, it's going to be pretty easy for Democrats to say: "How often are the Republicans going to play chicken with the economy? Twice a year? Ten times a year? Fifty?"
In other words, our guess is that the GOP has used up its chance for now, and won't want to start up another game of budgetary chicken while memories are fresh. And they are not likely to want to play games right before an election (i.e., in fall of 2024). So, just as the debt ceiling issue has been pushed back until 2025, we suspect the next (potential) shutdown has been, too.
A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, asks: Of the debt ceiling vote in the House, you wrote: "It seems pretty clear to us the Speaker got rolled here."
Attaboy Kevin, you reduced the IRS's bonanza from $80B to $60B. But what I really need to know is your take on prospects for the master negotiator. How likely is a motion to vacate the chair? How likely is the motion to pass?
(V) & (Z) answer: As we note above, you can never really predict what the crazies are going to do. However, if the Freedom Caucusers (FC) pull the trigger and fail to remove McCarthy, they'll be humiliated. And if they pull the trigger and manage to boot him to the curb, there is no way they will get a replacement who is as willing to kowtow to them, and who is willing to operate under the sword of Damocles that currently hangs over McCarthy's head. Put another way, the threat of a motion to vacate the chair almost certainly does the FC more good than actually vacating the chair. It looks like they realize it, since several FC members have shaken their fists and expended hot air in McCarthy's direction this week, but none of them has actually filed a motion to vacate, or even committed to doing so. If they are willing to actually do it, why wait?
And as we have written several times, we strongly suspect that Joe Biden and/or House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-CA) promised McCarthy that if he agreed to the deal that was negotiated, and that was sure to enrage the FCs, they would make sure he kept his job. The Democrats are very unlikely to admit this openly, at least not anytime soon, but we still think it's a pretty good guess. So, if a motion to vacate is brought, we would bet that McCarthy survives.
R.T. in Arlington, TX, asks: Kevin McCarthy's vulnerability to overthrow from his own caucus if he gets too cooperative with the Democrats has been discussed at length. Looks like he's going to escape the debt ceiling theater by delivering a "boring burger" which is a nothing burger with pickles and ketchup. But how vulnerable is he to the voters of his home district if he gets too cozy with Democrats?
(V) & (Z) answer: Incumbents have a big advantage, and that's doubly true if they're a big shot, since residents of their district take some pride in the fact that their representative is Speaker, or Minority Leader, etc.
That said, it's not unheard of for a high-ranking party leader in Congress to be defeated. Tom Foley (D) lost his reelection campaign in 1994, though that was because his longtime purplish-blue district shifted to being a purplish-red district. McCarthy's district is R+16, so that won't be happening with him anytime soon. The precedent that is more germane is what happened to then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R), who was primaried from the right by Dave Brat in 2014. It's certainly possible that McCarthy could suffer the same fate, especially since California has a jungle-style primary, and some Democrats in his district might vote for a Republican loony bird in hopes of knocking the Speaker off. Not likely, mind you, but possible.
T.F. in Portland, OR, asks: Why did the Biden Administration negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling, breaking the precedent set by the Obama Administration? Biden was Obama's No. 2 during that time. Why do you think he changed course and engaged in horse trading?
(V) & (Z) answer: We wrote many, many times, and we still believe, that if default was imminent, Joe Biden would have deployed extraordinary measures to avoid it. Whether it would have been invoking the Fourteenth Amendment or the Budget Impoundment and Control Act of 1974, or minting a $1 trillion coin, or issuing some consol bonds, we don't know. However, it is also clear that the President didn't particularly wish to do this, in part because it's not his style, and in part because there was no way to know how the markets and the world economy would respond to such sleight-of-hand.
Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy had backed himself into a corner, wherein he had to extract something. So, Biden effectively treated this as an exercise in negotiating the next budget, while also seeing what else he could accomplish in exchange for helping the Speaker save face. In particular, with "we must reduce the number of people on federal aid" being a must-have for the Republicans, then for Team Biden to negotiate such that the number of people on federal aid will be expanded (albeit slightly) is political black magick of the highest order.
We don't think it's clear a new precedent has been set. McCarthy and his conference took a huge political risk, saw their fellow Republicans in the other chamber twiddle their thumbs and look the other way, and got... a pittance for their trouble. That does not sound like something a speaker, whether it's McCarthy or whoever succeeds him, would be eager to repeat.
R.H.M. in North Haven, CT, asks: For all of the hand-wringing about what is or is not in the new debt ceiling bill, I have seen no commentary about the bill's end date: January 1, 2025. While this pushes the extension past the next election, it means that the current Congress will need to do this again in a lame duck session. Isn't this a huge problem? If the Republicans hold the House, they will be emboldened and will force a more extreme measure next time. If they lose the House, they may simply refuse to take up any bill at all, figuring that a default will be the Democrats' problem to deal with. If Biden loses re-election, he will have no incentive to strike a deal with Republicans in the House. Have we avoided a train wreck now only to set us up for an even bigger train wreck in December 2024?
(V) & (Z) answer: No.
The debt ceiling is now set to "however much money the government needs in order to cover the outlays authorized by Congress." So, now that the bill is signed, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen will borrow enough money to make up for all the sleight-of-hand that she and her team have been doing for the last 4 months or so.
What that means is that, assuming the debt ceiling issue is not addressed in the FY 2023-24 budget, the government will still be able to keep paying all the bills for 3-6 months once Jan. 1, 2025 arrives. And it would not surprise us if, should that eventuality comes to pass, Yellen spends the last quarter of 2024 borrowing an extra large amount of money, to create an even bigger cushion. Normally the government borrows enough to cover its immediate expenses (the next month or two), but she could legally borrow enough to cover expenses beyond that.
M.N. in Lake Ann, MI, asks: Regarding the debt limit deal, I have seen various reporting that use terms like "lifted" or "suspended." To me, "lifted" implies the number was set higher, while "suspended" implies a (temporary) ability to ignore the limit that was previously set, and I am not sure if which is the case. This also led me to wonder: What happens, assuming no debt limit legislation occurs in the meantime, once the time limit for this deal is reached? Is the limit automatically back on at the level it was yesterday? I am assuming that the U.S. debt will have long since passed that number by then.
(V) & (Z) answer: Assuming the outlets using the word "lifted" were not misinformed, then we suspect they were using "lifted" in the sense of "in abeyance" as opposed to "increased." In other words, in the same way it's used in the phrases "the sanctions were lifted" or "the blackout was lifted."
And, as we note in the answer above, if there's no deal in place on Jan. 1, 2025, then the debt limit will be set to whatever the debt is on that day, not what it was when this week's deal was struck.
D.M. in Chicago, IL, asks: In the ongoing discussion of the debt ceiling, you have written many times that Joe Biden has the option of minting a trillion-dollar coin and depositing it into the Federal Reserve.
My limited understanding of the German hyperinflation of the 1920's is that it was caused in part by the practice of simply printing more money to pay Germany's war debts.
Wouldn't the sudden injection of a trillion dollars into the U.S. economy lead to similar inflation? How could it be prevented or mitigated?
(V) & (Z) answer: As we note above, since no president has ever tried the trillion-dollar coin scheme, there's really no way to know what the economic effects would be. However, they would certainly not be comparable to Weimar Germany, because the two situations are apples and oranges.
Inflation is caused by too much money chasing too few goods and services. The trillion-dollar-coin plan would not spend the trillion dollars. It would not buy a whole fleet of new ships for the Navy or planes for the Air Force. It would simply be deposited in the Fed's account and then stored in a nice vault at Fort Knox. Since there would be no new spending, there wouldn't be any new inflation.
There are two major differences that are relevant here. The first is that if a trillion-dollar coin was minted, everyone would understand that it was a temporary workaround, and would eventually be withdrawn from circulation. By contrast, the Weimar government actually spent the money it was printing, and intended it to remain a permanent part of the currency supply.
The second difference is one of scale. The U.S. GDP right now is roughly $24 trillion. So, a $1 trillion coin would represent 4% of GDP, which is not nothing, but is not massive. By contrast, Germany's GDP in 1914 (the eve of World War I) is estimated to have been 100 billion marks. At the height of the Weimar hyperinflation in the early 1920s, the government was issuing bills as large as this one:
That may seem to say "50 billion marks," but it's actually translates as 50 trillion marks. In other words, 50,000% of the pre-World War I GDP. And that's just a single bill; there were millions of bills at or near this value printed in the 1920s.
M.B. in Menlo Park, CA, asks: I'm very confused about how some of the House Rules Committee members voted in committee about the debt-ceiling bill, versus how they voted on the House floor on the actual bill. In committee, all four Democrats voted against sending the bill to the floor, but on the actual House vote, all four voted in favor of the bill. Conversely, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) voted to advance the bill in committee, but voted against the bill once it reached the House floor. What gives?
(V) & (Z) answer: The House Rules Committee doesn't just decide whether a bill reaches the floor, but also under what circumstances (e.g., how many amendments will be allowed, if any, how much debate time will be allowed, etc.). And so, the four Democrats might not have been voting against the bill, per se, but against the rules under which the bill would be considered.
It is also the case that most House Rules Committee votes fall along strict party lines. If the bill is going to reach the floor anyhow, then voting "nay" on the rules committee allows the minority members to show solidarity with their caucus, and also to register their objection to the bill in question. It is entirely possible that a Democrat could oppose the entire debt-ceiling-hostage-taking process, and want to register that, but could also support the bill itself as the only way to protect the economy from a major setback.
D.B. in New York City, NY, asks: Why is the House Rules Committee comprised of 9 Republicans and only 4 Democrats? That seems pretty unbalanced in such an even chamber.
(V) & (Z) answer: Because the House Rules Committee has such power over what the House does, it is always dominated the majority party. In the last three Congresses, it's been 9D, 4R (117th); 10D, 4R (116th); and 9R, 5D (115th).
J.H. in Edison, NJ, asks: One defense made by former President Trump and by his supporters is that he declassified documents simply by thinking it. Can't journalists get a court to test that defense by seeking the documents by a FOIA request? Since it is clearly nonsense, the courts should be able to weigh in quickly and puncture the talking points being used by right-wing types.
(V) & (Z) answer: Since the documents are classified, the FOIA request would be denied, of course. And Trump and his acolytes would just claim that, after Trump declassified them, Joe Biden reclassified them.
S.C. in Farmington Hills, MI, asks: In the upcoming Republican debates, assuming Trump participates, will the moderators and other candidates have to refer to him as Mr. President?
(V) & (Z) answer: It is customary to refer to someone by their current office or, if they are not currently in office, then the most recent (or sometimes the highest-ranking) office they held. That said, "Mr. President" is almost universally reserved for the current occupant of that office. And so, it is probable Trump will be referred to as "President Trump," but not "Mr. President."
G.R. in Iqaluit, NU, Canada, asks: I've seen a claim, making the rounds on Twitter and Reddit, that Texas AG Ken Paxton (R) claims that "if he wouldn't have stopped 2.5 Million mail-in ballots during the Presidential Election, that Biden would have won Texas & Trump would have lost Texas." Is there any truth behind it?
(V) & (Z) answer: Paxton has definitely gone on various right-wing outlets and said this. As you may have heard, however, politicians are sometimes dishonest. And even by politician standards, Paxton is a sleazeball. So, it's much more false than it is true.
What Paxton really did was stop vote-by-mail applications from being automatically sent to Texas voters in certain counties that wanted to do that (most obviously Harris County). Of course, even if the applications had gone out, they wouldn't have all resulted in votes, and they certainly wouldn't have all resulted in Democratic votes. On top of that, many of the people who did not get applications automatically went through the process of requesting one or else voted in person.
Adding it all up, we would be surprised if Paxton's anti-democratic behavior cost the Democrats more than a few thousand votes, at the most. It certainly did not cost the Democrats 631,221 votes, which was Trump's margin of victory in Texas.
D.K. in Norwood, PA, asks: Who would Team Biden rather he face in 2024, Donald Trump or Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL)?
(V) & (Z) answer: While DeSantis is pretty clearly a very flawed candidate, Team Biden would surely rather face Trump. First, Biden has already beaten Trump once, and by a large margin. Better the devil you know rather than the devil you don't know. Second, Biden's greatest liability is his age. That becomes a virtual non-issue if his opponent is just 4 years younger than he is, whereas it would be a huge issue if his opponent is almost 40 years younger.
D.K. in Iowa City, IA, asks: Jack Smith, by all accounts, is an honest person and does not want to appear political in his work. What would he want to do in terms of the timing of indicting and prosecuting Trump relative to the 2024 nominations and election if he could do what he thought was the best thing for the country? I realize that may be a difficult question, but my opinion is that he should act as soon as possible to prevent any chance of Trump being elected.
(V) & (Z) answer: To start, Jack Smith likely isn't thinking about these issues at all. His job is to be a prosecuting attorney, and to turn his results and his recommendations about indictments over to AG Merrick Garland. To the extent that anyone is thinking about politics and PR, it's Garland.
For the AG, it would be very unethical for him to think in terms of "how can I best use this case to keep Trump from being elected president?" By all indications, Garland is a man of integrity, and would not go down that road. That said, he's not entirely disinterested in the PR angle. One thing he is thinking about is: "How can I best show the country that justice has been applied fairly and without prejudice?" We suspect that announcing the decision not to charge Mike Pence before there's an announcement about Biden (who also won't be charged) and about Trump (who will be) was partly about sending a "justice is blind" message.
Another thing Garland is thinking about is "How can I make sure not to unduly impose on the electoral process?" The official DoJ guidelines say that the firewall for decisions about indictments, etc., is 90 days before an election, but Garland is probably extending that to 150 days or so for Trump. So, the AG might get Smith on the phone and say "Hey, we gotta move by [Date X], or we're going to have to wait until December 2024." But that's very different from "What date would work best to ruin Trump politically?"
N.W. in Atlanta, GA, asks: Why is Ron DeSantis making such a big deal about how to pronounce his last name? Why doesn't he just come straight out and say how to properly pronounce it?
(V) & (Z) answer: He hasn't explained himself, nor is he likely to do so, so we have to guess. But we have a high degree of confidence that our guess is on the mark: If he clarifies the correct pronunciation of his name, then he knows that Donald Trump and his supporters will deliberately use the wrong pronunciation. The Governor knows this (petty) trick well since he, like many other Republicans, has done the same thing with Kamala Harris' first name.
O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: You wrote in response to B.D. In San Mateo, that "the Democrats are vastly more likely to hold the trifecta." Can you explain why you say that is so? Given the equal representation of the states in the Senate and that there are more solid-red states than blue states, it seems that statistically the GOP is more likely, at any given point, to control the Senate. Gerrymandering seems to give them a slight edge in the House, as well. And the Electoral College makes the Presidency pretty even. So while I am happy to hear that you think Team Blue is vastly more likely to hold all three, I would be interested in understanding why you think that.
(V) & (Z) answer: That was written specifically in reference to the thinking of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He is 81 years old, and he may be around for 5 more years (the rest of his current term), or possibly 11 more (this term plus one more). He doesn't really care about what happens once he's gone, and so his thinking is invariably on a 5-10 year horizon. Given that his party is about to be stuck with the likely unelectable Donald Trump as its 2024 standard-bearer, it is probable that for most of the rest of McConnell's career, and possibly all of it, the Democrats will hold the White House.
It is also well within the realm of possibility that having Trump as the candidate will drag down the whole GOP ticket in 2024, allowing the Democrats to retake the House and to hold the Senate. So, we can see a very plausible sequence of events that gives the blue team the trifecta in the near term. We don't see a plausible sequence of events that does the same for the red team.
R.R. in Nashville, TN, asks: Seems to me the writers' strike will affect politics for the foreseeable future. Without late-night jabs, these mordant messages that seem to have some influence on voters will be missing. If this is a long strike—as predicted—that lack of lampooning could have a influence on how the public is informed, feeling, and voting come several election days.
At least that's how I see it. What say you?
P.S.: PAY THE WRITERS!
(V) & (Z) answer: It's true that late-night satire can, and has, shaped American politics. That said, the last writers' strike lasted 100 days. That's a lot; strikes usually run out of steam long before that mark. And if this strike follows a similar timeline, or even if it runs to 150 or 200 days, the writers will be back on the job before anyone casts any 2024 ballots. For reference purposes, the 200th day of the current strike would arrive on Nov. 17 of this year, and the first nominating contests are usually held in mid-January.
R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: Last week, you responded to a question from B.D. in San Mateo about what would need to happen in order to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the Judiciary Committee if she were to resign her seat. Not to sound morbid or crass, but would the same thing apply if she passed away too?
(V) & (Z) answer: Yes. A new organizing resolution would have to be passed by the Senate.
M.U. in Seattle, WA, asks: All the talk about floor debates and debating time that accompanied the recent must-pass legislation got me thinking, what is the modern purpose of "debate" in legislatures? I'm sure that at one time, probably long ago, the people's representatives did actual debates regarding legislation. Now, it would seem, everyone already knows how the votes will go well before debate is started. Is it just because of its storied history of it all? Still a way for the general public to get an idea of how Congress works and what and how it's thinking? Don't get me wrong, during high-stakes dramas that unfold from time to time in Washington, I do find the back and forth sometimes riveting! Is that the point of it?
(V) & (Z) answer: Most things that come before the House or the Senate are not ultra-high-stakes issues where the eyes of the world are watching. And in those lower-profile matters, it's plausible that debate might actually sway a few votes.
Further, debate allows members to signal to both their constituents and their colleagues where they stand on some particular piece of legislation, or portion of a piece of legislation. For example, when the debt-ceiling bill was voted upon in the Senate, Tim Kaine (D-VA) proposed an amendment that would have rolled back the easier permitting for fossil fuel projects, specifically for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The Senator knew his amendment had about as much chance as a narc at a biker rally, but making a show of it allows him to communicate to his constituents that he opposed the Pipeline (which will run through Virginia) while also communicating to the other senators that his vote is not available for future projects like this.
B.S.M. in Copenhagen, Denmark, asks: Why do we have to maintain the same order for primary states each election cycle? Why not change the order of state primaries every cycle? Maybe it could even be random.
(V) & (Z) answer: The parties' goal in the primary process is not to be "fair." It is to best position themselves to win the presidential election. And that goal is served by: (1) keeping key constituencies as happy as possible (like, say, people in New Hampshire) and (2) identifying the candidate with the broadest appeal. On top of that, the parties are constrained by the fact that most primaries are run by state governments, and state governments don't take their marching orders from the DNC or the RNC.
The latter issue is why it would be difficult to radically change the schedule. And the two former issues are why the parties aren't terribly interested in trying.
E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: I'm no lawyer, so perhaps you and/or your lawyer readers could shed some light on this question. What is the legal definition of a "drag show?"
(V) & (Z) answer: There is no legal definition. Nor is one likely to be developed.
The anti-drag-show laws being promulgated by red states are already facing lawsuits on First Amendment grounds. The government can encumber speech, but there has to be a compelling public interest in doing so. The red staters have claimed that the drag shows somehow harm children, but making that claim doesn't make it so, and the evidence does not support that position. So, it is likely these laws will be struck down once the lawsuits work their way through the court system.
If the courts (say, the judges of the Fifth Circuit) stand on their heads and sustain the anti-drag laws, there's still the small problem of defining what is and what is not an illegal drag show. The Supreme Court has struggled mightily to define "obscenity" (which is illegal), and has never really been successful. "Drag show" is certainly no easier to define, and it might be harder. Is a staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream a drag show? What about a Scottish heritage festival, where the men are wearing kilts? A private school where all students, including the girls, wear blazers and neckties? The shower at the gym, where men have towels wrapped around their waists, just like a skirt? A female soldier, dressed in combat fatigues? A Catholic priest in his cassock (which is way closer to a dress than it is to pants)? Clearly, none of these things are drag shows; good luck trying to come up with a test that clearly separates these things from Divine at the Barracuda Lounge, though.
J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: You wrote that Gov. Kristy Noem (R-SD) wants to both "prohibit drag shows on college campuses" and also "remove all impediments to free speech". Isn't the former an example of the latter? A ban on drag shows is quite explicitly an impediment to free speech. How does this make any sense?
(V) & (Z) answer: It doesn't make sense. Most Trumpublicans either don't understand what the First Amendment does and does not do, or else just don't care. What they mean by "free speech" is "freedom for conservatives to say what they want without recrimination."
B.K. in Dallas, TX, asks: If Kamala Harris may not be a citizen, then maybe Ted Cruz isn't either? Apparently he was born in Canada.
(V) & (Z) answer: The circumstances are actually polar opposites. Cruz was born outside the U.S. to a parent who is a citizen. Harris was born in the U.S., but to parents who probably weren't citizens yet (exactly when her parents were naturalized is not clear, but it appears to have been after she was born).
A.J. in Baltimore, MD, asks: Your item about Texas's legislature inspired me to ask: How many states have part-time legislatures? What kinds of non-legislative jobs do part-time legislators have? I would think it would be very difficult to maintain any semblance of a normal professional career while working as a part-time legislator. It would seem like the only people who could pull it off would be independently wealthy. Also, wouldn't conflicts of interest be an issue? What kinds of ethics rules do part-time legislatures have?
(V) & (Z) answer: There's a pretty wide spectrum. A very small number of states treat their legislators like full-time professionals, who are paid consistent with that status (high five figures). How small a number? Just four of them: California, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan. There are another four states that expect full-time, year-round service from legislators, but pay a more modest salary (mid-five figures). Those are Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Massachusetts. Every other state uses some variant of a part-time model.
When this approach was first implemented, multiple centuries ago, the vast majority of Americans were farmers. So, the schedule worked for them, since they could farm during the spring and summer months and then govern during the late fall and winter months. These days, there are some jobs with schedules complementary to legislative schedules. For example, when Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator, he also worked as a lecturer at the University of Chicago. However, the majority of present-day state legislators work for themselves, either as small business owners or contractors of various sorts, and so are able to set their own schedules.
Conflicts of interest are an issue whether or not a legislator is part-time. If you were to examine the ethics rules for a part-time legislature (say, Maine) and a full-time legislature (say, California), they wouldn't be very different.
P.C. in Santa Monica, CA, asks: Are districts at the state level (for state legislative offices) and for the U.S. Congress the same? Can two people in the same congressional district may have two different state reps, or vice versa?
(V) & (Z) answer: In every state but Nebraska (which has a unicameral legislature), the number of state representatives, state senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives are all different. That generally means that there are three different district maps, one for each of the offices (in Nebraska there are just two maps because there are just two offices, namely state legislator and U.S. representative, and in some states, like Maryland, they use the same map for both chambers of the legislature, and each district elects one senator and 2 or more representatives). It is entirely possible, and is in fact common, for two people to be represented by the same person in Congress, but to have different representative in the state House and/or the state Senate. It can also happen the other way (i.e., two people have the same representative in the state Senate but different representatives in Congress), but it's much less common.
D.R.M. in Delray Beach, FL, asks: In your response concerning Florida's state ranking in education and crime, you wrote: "Florida is one of the richest states." How was that measured? Net worth per capita, income per capita, tax dollars spent per capita, or something else? Since Florida has no income tax, it is easy to imagine that not a lot of money is spent on law enforcement, no matter how rich the residents are.
(V) & (Z) answer: We meant in terms of GDP, where Florida's $1.3 trillion per year trails only three states (California, Texas and New York). If the state does not harness that sort of economic power thanks to low taxes, or does not spend its money on law enforcement, that is a choice and not a built-in disadvantage.
S.C. in Mountain View, CA, asks: At the California State Democratic Convention in Los Angeles this past weekend (May 25-28; I was a delegate), during her speech California Democratic Congressional Delegation Chair Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-18) said, "Nancy Pelosi was the most effective speaker in U.S. history." Since the convention was partially a celebration of Speaker Emerita Pelosi (D-CA), a little hyperbole is understandable, but I immediately thought "I need to check this with (Z)." As I'm not sure how one would measure effectiveness (Most bills passed? Most bills signed into law? Something else?), I'll ask what criteria would one use to judge the effectiveness of the Speaker of the House, based on those criteria who were the most effective House Speakers in U.S. history, and where would Speaker Pelosi rank?
(I thought you might have addressed this before, but the best I could find with a search was where you called Henry Clay "[a]n unusually powerful and effective speaker" in a context that implied the description also applied to Nancy Pelosi.)
(V) & (Z) answer: Clay is sui generis. Because he singlehandedly created the office of speaker, as it is currently understood, he's not comparable to any other speaker. It's like George Washington and the presidency, only one person can do anything like what they did, and then it's done.
As to the other speakers, we would suggest that a good, general way to evaluate them is to consider two things: (1) legislation they steered through the House, and (2) the obstacles they faced while shepherding that legislation.
There are a number of speakers whose legislative records are very impressive, indeed. Galusha Grow (R, 1861-63) handled the legislation that funded the Civil War (most importantly the Income Tax Act), and also oversaw adoption of the Pacific Railroad Act and the Homestead Act. Champ Clark (D, 1911-19) persuaded the House to approve three Constitutional amendments (direct election of senators, prohibition and women's suffrage) and also helped build the Federal Reserve System. Henry Thomas Rainey (D, 1934-35) was in the big chair for a relatively short time, but that period included Franklin Roosevelt's first 100 days, which included passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration Act, Glass-Steagall Banking Act, Tennessee Valley Authority Act, National Industrial Recovery Administration Act, the Public Works Administration Act and the Civilian Conservation Corps Act. John McCormack (D, 1962-71) worked with Lyndon B. Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965, Medicaid and Medicare.
While the list of legislation that Pelosi steered through the House is impressive, it's probably not impressive as these other lists. However, she faced obstacles unlike any faced by these other speakers. They had comfortable majorities, sometimes even massive majorities. She was usually working with virtually no margin for error. They had an opposition party that was open to negotiation. She was dealing with a party whose stated, #1 goal was to obstruct everything. Oh, and as she performed her feats of magic, she also had to overcome ample sexism and misogyny.
So, if you judge a speaker by the legislation on their résumé, it's hard to put Pelosi at the top of the list. However, if you judge them by the challenges they overcame, she's got a case.
B.C. in Walpole, ME, asks: Regarding your list of the five most progressive Presidents: I have to know what happens after #5. Or, more specifically, where does Woodrow Wilson, president at the high tide of Progressivism at the national level, appear on your list?
The man has been problematic, perplexing, and maddening since 1913, and his ratings have ranged widely. Where does he stand in historical assessment today?
(V) & (Z) answer: He's a tough one. On economic issues, he was very progressive. On social issues, he wasn't. He opposed women's suffrage for a very long time, was a racist who segregated the federal government, was an imperialist who mucked around in the affairs of Mexico, and was partly responsible for the anti-democratic Palmer Raids (which had significant xenophobic and antisemitic overtones). It was not uncommon for a Progressive (i.e., a member of the original political movement) to combine these various impulses (forward-looking in some ways, backward-looking in others), but it doesn't comport with the modern usage of that term.
We were persuaded that the demerits against Wilson were enough that he wasn't in the top five. And, in fact, the competition for the last slot was between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. That said, there aren't too many presidents who can reasonably be described as "progressive," so Wilson would have been somewhere between 7 and 10, and probably closer to 7. The remainder of the top 10 would have been Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and probably... Richard Nixon (who greatly admired Wilson, and similarly mixed forward-looking and backward-looking impulses).
For a very long time, Wilson's accomplishments greatly outweighed his failures in the eyes of historians. For the last 20-30 years, however, he's been dinged pretty hard for his demerits, which is why he's dropped from the bottom half of the top 6 to the bottom half of the top 12.
M.G. in Boulder, CO , asks: Several of us (myself included) have recently referred to "Eisenhower Republicans," as if the 50's were somehow a political safe zone where both parties had similar goals and tried to reach them with straightforward methods. I recall that John Foster Dulles seemed to return weekly from expeditions during which he saved the world for democracy.
But recently I read The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer (who was recommended by Z). Definitely not the 50's I remembered (though grade-school children are generally not experts in foreign affairs). A friend who sees things from a third-world viewpoint says that most of the CIA's actions have resulted in "unintended consequences," and recommends Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II, by William Blum. What is the current historical thought on the Eisenhower years, and what are the best books on those years?
(V) & (Z) answer: It's true that the CIA usually made things worse when they mucked around in other countries. The presidents who served at the height of the CIA's bad behavior (basically, Eisenhower through Reagan) surely deserve some of the blame for that, though they rarely actually get it.
As to Ike, the dominant theme in work about him these days is that we were all fooled for too long by his genial, "aw, shucks" public image, and that he was a shrewd chess player behind the scenes, nearly the equal of an FDR or an LBJ. The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s is the book that probably best fits your ask, but you can also take a look at Eisenhower in War and Peace.
R. C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: Were there actually no readers who wrote in expressing regrets about having an abortion?
(V) & (Z) answer: That is correct. We don't find that surprising; studies (like, say, this one) say that the vast majority of women who have abortions (≅95%) think it was the right decision, even when asked years after the fact.
B.B. in Buda, TX, asks: I always enjoy reading the "Freudenfreude" pieces, but in response to this week's, I had to ask: Did someone actually not like or complain about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? That's Thurber! James Thurber is about as decent and American as you can get! I'm truly flabbergasted.
(V) & (Z) answer: It's been a while, but (Z) recalls two complaints. The first was because (Z), who played Mitty, was white, while the young lady who played Mrs. Mitty was Black. That complaint was, wisely, ignored completely. The second was that there was smoking on stage, because that particular vignette ends with Mitty taking a drag on a cigarette and winking at the audience. They weren't real cigarettes, but nonetheless an "agreement" was reached that (Z) would just hold the cigarette up, rather than putting it in his mouth. Somehow, under the bright lights, (Z) "forgot" that new direction. Three nights in a row.
Reader Question of the Week
Here is the question we put before readers last week:
J.C.A. in Shepherdsville, KY, asks: If the $1 trillion coin comes to pass, who or what should be on it and why?
And here some of the answers we got in response (which are moot for now, but you never know when the government will need some good ideas):
M.H. in Warren, MI: Donald J. Trump, because maybe then he'll sit down and shut up... maybe.
D.E. in Ann Arbor, MI: Donald Trump, because he is more responsible for the deficit than anyone else, due to his tax cut for the wealthy. Mitch McConnell on the reverse, same reason.
G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada: I'm torn between Donald John Trump and Alfred E Neuman.
Mind you, if you put one on the obverse and one on the reverse, you could call "Dumb" or "Dumber" when you flipped the coin.
The only issue is: "Which is which?"
K.H. in Ypsilanti, MI: For such a massive pile of wealth, it's clear that the only possible choice is Scrooge McDuck. Plus it would be a poke in the eye to Ron DeSantis.
S.P. in Pittsburgh, PA: They should put St. Ronnie of the Raygun's face on the front because he fits the requirements for coin mintage and the GQP would have to support it. Maybe put both Nancy Reagan and Jane Wyman's faces on the reverse side with inscription "Hypocrisy Uber Alles" which is a bizarre nonsense phrase of multiple languages yet one that I feel sums up this entire debt default situation.
T.V. in Moorpark, CA: As much as I like your idea of putting Donald Trump on any trillion dollar coin, the only logical choice would be Ronald Reagan, the Founding Father of modern deficit spending.
And instead of "E pluribus unum" the motto should paraphrase Reagan with "The deficit is big enough to take care of itself."
L.S. in Greensboro, NC: The obvious problem is that by law the U.S. Mint is prohibited from putting the images of living people on our coins. This eliminates many of the best choices. So here's what I'd propose:Obverse: Lady Liberty, seated, with head in hands openly weeping. This symbolizes our once great country bringing on a totally avoidable, manufactured crisis which the coin was needed to solve.
Reverse: A dead Bald Eagle, about to be crushed flat by an elephant's foot. This symbolizes the true blame for this catastrophe.
Now while the U.S. Mint cannot put living people on coins, they do issue commemorative medallions which can have living people depicted. These medallions are intended to raise funds for the Mint. I suggest a new series of medallions depicting Republican leaders such as DeSantis dressed in drag as Lady Liberty. I suspect this could be one of the most successful fundraisers they've ever had!
D.E. in Lancaster, PA: Oh, this is so easy. Hillary Clinton on the front drinking a Bud Light and on the back Cinderella's Castle in Disney World during the celebration of Pride Month on June 19th. OK, snowflakes, who just owned who, bitches? You can almost hear the veins in their foreheads exploding like a string of firecrackers on Chinese New Year. Ooh, that's a sextuple burn! Zing, I said "sex" so that's a septuple burn and since most Republicans are too stupid to know that word, I'm on to octuple owning!
J.W. in Madison, WI: I am personally getting tired of overly-politicizing every single thing we do in this country. I would simply put an American flag on one side and the denomination on the other.
C.B. in California, MD: Gordon Gekko, because "Greed is Good."
M.A. in Park Ridge, IL: Martin Luther King Jr. It's about time he was on something.
M.M. in San Diego, CA: Mr. Moneybags because the concept of a trillion dollar coin seems like something out of Monopoly.
B.T. in Bogalusa, LA: I nominate Joe Biden, but he must dress and pose like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, and it must say in a speech bubble coming out his mouth, "One... Trillion... Dollars."
P.D. in London, England, UK: What should be on the coin? "Property of PD in London." Why? I would have thought that was obvious.
K.M. in San Diego, CA: I realize that tradition prohibits putting the portraits of living Americans on currency, but I would like to nominate Jimmy Carter. Why? Because then the coin would be nicknamed "the J.C. penny."
M.B. in San Antonio, TX: The person who should be on the trillion dollar coin is Peter Minuit, the man who bought the island of Manhattan in 1626 for $24. Had Minuit instead invested the $24 with a yearly return of 7%, it would be worth almost $10 trillion today, considerably more than the $825 billion the land in Manhattan is currently worth. (The fact that we don't have an image for Mr. Minuit shouldn't be a problem, as that has never stopped the minting of coins before.)
M.W. in Marlborough, CT: Kevin McCarthy. He's the face of the problem he created.
W.S. in Austin, TX: Kevin McCarthy on his hands and knees with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) holding a leash attached to his neck.
E.R. in Padova, Italy: I suggest "George Santos" on one side, and a leprechaun on the other; because it's a fake solution to a fake problem.
Here is the question for next week:
P.V. in Kailua, HI, asks: I believe that the most probable outcome of the 2024 Presidential election is that Trump will be the Republican nominee, lose to Biden, claim that the election was rigged, then—just as in 2020—do all that is in his power, which is thankfully less than it was in 2020, to create chaos surrounding certification of the results, including attempting to incite violence from his followers with his usual coded language. What should the Federal and State governments be doing now to prepare for this completely predictable situation?
Submit your answers here!
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun02 DeSantis Blows His Lid
Jun02 The Pride Goeth During the Fall
Jun02 California Republicans May Try Something Different
Jun02 Talking about Abortion, Part VIII: They Lived It
Jun02 This Week in Schadenfreude: Teach Your Children Well
Jun02 This Week in Freudenfreude: The Show Must Go On
Jun01 Debt-Ceiling Bill Advances
Jun01 What about That IRS Funding?
Jun01 DeSantis Hits the Trail
Jun01 Jack Smith Has Tape of Trump Discussing Classified Documents
Jun01 Chris Christie Is Probably In
Jun01 There Could Be Up to Four Black Women in the Next Senate
Jun01 David Cicilline Will Leave Congress Today
Jun01 Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down Two Laws Banning Abortions
May31 Onward and Upward for Debt Ceiling Deal
May31 Trump Says He Will End Birthright Citizenship
May31 Rep. Chris Stewart to Resign
May31 Who Is Winning the Culture Wars?
May31 Talking about Abortion, Part VII: Still More Questions and Answers
May30 Freedom Caucusers Work to Sink Budget Deal
May30 Debt-Ceiling Court Case Postponed
May30 We Have Entered the Blather-for-Blather's-Sake Part of the Presidential Cycle
May30 Paxton Clock Is Ticking
May30 More of the Same for Turkey
May30 Approval Ratings Are a Mystery, Worldwide (Part II)
May29 Biden and McCarthy Have a Deal--in Principle
May29 Texas House Impeaches State AG Ken Paxton
May29 Texas Legislature Changes Election Procedures in Harris County
May29 Musk's Challenge to Murdoch Is Back to Square One
May29 Gov. Doug Who? (R-ND) Is Planning to Run for President
May29 RNC Is Working on Requirements for the Debates
May29 Club for Growth Is Running an Ad Attacking Donald Trump's Social Security "Plan"
May29 Five House Democrats Have Now Called on Feinstein to Resign
May29 The California Senate Race is Heating Up
May29 Noem Is Doing Her Best to Land the Veep Slot
May28 Sunday Mailbag
May27 Saturday Q&A
May26 More Legal Trouble for Trump
May26 DeSantis Spent Thursday as a Punchline
May26 CNN Is Going to Double Down
May26 Mastriano Is Out...
May26 ...And Maybe Texas AG Ken Paxton Is, Too
May26 This Week in Schadenfreude: I WILL HAVE ORDER!
May26 This Week in Freudenfreude: Diplomate-cy
May25 DeSantis Is In
May25 Is DeSantis Typecast Already?
May25 How Conservative Is DeSantis' Florida, Really?
May25 What Is Life Like Now for Actual Floridians?
May25 There's Never Been a President from Florida