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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Supreme Court Is Full of Surprises
      •  Do You Want to Know a (Classified) Secret?
      •  Fox Shuffles the Deck
      •  The Latest News from Planet Cuckoo
      •  House May Get Its First Openly Trans Member
      •  Another Ban Bites the Dust
      •  No Mo' Bo Jo?

Supreme Court Is Full of Surprises

In the past few days, the Supreme Court has not exactly been ruling like a body with a solid 6-3 conservative majority, uncorking a couple of big decisions that will definitely not please right-wingers across the nation.

To start, the Court announced on Friday that it was overturning U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, and allowing the Biden administration to enforce border policy as it sees fit. This was a rather big deal, and did not get as much attention as it probably should have, presumably because the news was announced right before the weekend.

At the heart of the case is what's called "enforcement discretion." Those not familiar with the term can presumably figure out the meaning without our help, but just to be safe, there are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and Congress—for all the carping about undocumented immigrants by some members—has allocated enough money to track down and eject about 400,000 of those 11 million. The Biden administration took what is, as far as we can see, the only reasonable approach, and chose to focus on the most problematic undocumented immigrants (gang members, convicted felons, drug traffickers, Canadians, etc.). The state attorneys general of Texas (Ken Paxton) and Louisiana (Jeff Landry), ultimately joined by 21 other red-state AGs, filed suit, saying they wanted "a wide swath" of undocumented immigrants to be arrested. Better to take the time and energy to eject some 85-year-old abuelita than to track down a serial rapist, it would seem. Judge Tipton is a staunch xenophobe and is also the only judge who sits in Victoria, TX. So, the now-impeached Paxton brought the suit in Victoria, and guess what? Tipton got the case and ruled in the plaintiffs' favor, imposing a national injunction on the Department of Homeland Security.

Now, however, Tipton's ruling is vacated, and by a vote of 8-1, no less (Samuel Alito being the one, incidentally). Why the Supreme Court allowed the injunction to stay in place for a full year, when the issues in play were apparently pretty clear, is anyone's guess. In any event, the ruling not only dealt right-wing AGs a defeat in this particular case, it also pointed toward two additional problems that may soon be on those AGs' doorstep. First, the basis for the Supremes' ruling was that the AGs had no standing to bring the case, and it should never have been heard in the first place. There are numerous other cases in the pipeline that involve red states trying to override the federal government's enforcement discretion; those will presumably soon be kicked, too.

Second, in a concurrence, three of the conservatives (Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas) expressed skepticism about this whole "national injunction" business, and hinted that they are open to taking that power away from lower-level judges. If a couple of the liberals feel similarly, then a power that has been used rather casually by Tipton and other judges of his ilk might be taken away. That said, the liberals might or might not agree with their conservative colleagues; after all, sometimes lefty judges impose national injunctions, too.

The Texas case was not the only one to produce a result other than the one that conservatives wanted, either. On Monday, SCOTUS announced that it was lifting a hold it had placed on a lower-court decision in Louisiana, and that the lower court's decision would be allowed to stand. What that decision says is that the current Louisiana maps are an unfair racial gerrymander, and that the state has to redraw to create an additional majority-Black district. This is consistent with the Court's recent decision regarding Alabama's maps, in which it said the same thing. This means that the Democrats are likely to flip two seats in the House, just on this basis. Three more flips, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) becomes speaker.

So that is two pretty big wins for the left, we'd say. Of course, it's possible that the Supremes are just buttering the American people up, so that some staunch right-wing decisions will go down a little easier. There's still plenty of opportunity for the Court to put a right-wing stamp on this term. Among the questions that will get answers in the next week or so:

  • Is Affirmative Action legal?
  • Was it OK for the Biden administration to cancel a bunch of student debt?
  • Can a Christian website designer be forced to design a wedding website for a gay couple?
  • Does the USPS have to give Christian employees the day off on Sundays?
  • Do state legislatures have unlimited power over elections, up to and including the right to simply ignore the courts?

Our guess is that the answer to each of these questions will be "no." If so, that would be three decisions that would go in a conservative direction (the first three) and two that would not (the latter two). We'll see very soon. (Z)

Do You Want to Know a (Classified) Secret?

Monday is a day ending in 'y,' and on days ending in 'y,' Donald Trump's legal troubles are sure to be in the news. The biggest news yesterday was that CNN acquired a copy of the now-infamous recording in which Donald Trump talks with several people about a classified plan for an attack on Iran. You can listen to the recording at the link; it's just a bit over 2 minutes long.

After the CNN story broke, Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said: "The audio tape provides context proving, once again, that President Trump did nothing wrong at all." This is what is known as gaslighting. In the tape, it is just as the indictment alleges—Trump says: "This was done by the military and given to me. See, as president I could have declassified it. Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret." It really couldn't be clearer that the former president knew the information was classified, knew he had no ability to change that fact, and knew he was being naughty by sharing the information.

Meanwhile, you had to figure that Trump would find a way to avoid paying his legal bills. And, per reporting from Maggie Haberman and Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times, he has. His campaign has set it up such that when a person donates, 10% of the money goes to the Save America PAC, which is effectively the "Pay Trump's Legal Bills PAC." Since Save America PAC is not a campaign committee, per se, it is apparently legal for it to cover Trump's legal bills. Or, at least, it's a gray enough area to make it worth the gamble. After all, campaign finance violations are tough to punish, and if Trump ever gets popped for this, he'll have been popped for other, more serious things long before that.

All of this said, Trump's political organization is not the money magnet it once was. And his legal bills in the past year have been roughly $100 million—and that's before he was facing multiple criminal indictments. So, while he might get the MAGA faithful to cover some of his costs, it sure looks like he's going to have to go out-of-pocket to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Because he hates that, and because he's so badly exposed, one wonders if it will motivate him to reach a plea deal. Guess it comes down to which thing he hates more: spending money or admitting guilt.

And finally, on the subject of legal problems and money, Trump took steps yesterday to put $5.5 million in a court-controlled escrow account, so as to cover the judgment awarded to E. Jean Carroll. This doesn't mean the former president is conceding; it's merely the case that he has to pony up before he's allowed to appeal the judgment against him. Still, we are one step closer to Carroll being paid. Meanwhile, there's still another $10 million case pitting her against him, and set to go to trial early next year. Being as shady as Trump just isn't cheap. (Z)

Fox Shuffles the Deck

Fox's cable station, where it sometimes mentions the events of the day, has completed its purge of all things Tucker Carlson. The network terminated the eight remaining staffers from his show, and also announced what its primetime lineup will be, going forward:

  • 7:00 p.m.: Laura Ingraham (was Jesse Watters)
  • 8:00 p.m.: Jesse Watters (was Carlson)
  • 9:00 p.m.: Sean Hannity (was Hannity)
  • 10:00 p.m.: Greg Gutfeld (was Ingraham)
  • 11:00 p.m.: Trace Gallagher (was Gutfeld)

This is a little less bomb-thrower-y than the previous incarnation. Ingraham is, and has always been, Carlson lite, but is being shunted to the kiddie hour. The other four are a little more cautious, and Watters and Gutfeld rely a lot on humor, as opposed to wall-to-wall lunatic conspiracy theories. This is not to say that the whole roster won't indulge in whackadoodlery from time to time, but it won't be as frequent (and as lawsuit-worthy) as when Carlson ruled the roost.

Since Carlson was shown the door, Fox's ratings have been noticeably lower, while Newsmax's have been higher. Will the new Fox lineup, once it settles in, right the ship? We kinda doubt it. That said, the network was on a trajectory of lunacy that was unsustainable, and that already led to one nine-figure settlement (with another likely coming down the pike). Maybe "the ratings are lower, but at least we won't get sued" is ultimately more profitable than the Carlson-era alternative. (Z)

The Latest News from Planet Cuckoo

In Washington, these days, the circus is always in town. The Freedom Caucus, which is about 50% Keystone Kops and about 50%, well, a different organization with multiple K's in its name, is always good for a show. And like a daring high wire act, or a lion tamer, or the bearded lady, it's hard to watch, yet you dare not look away.

To start, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) knows her political future is in danger, what with her having won the narrowest victory in the House in 2022, and set to face the same opponent again, this time with him well-funded and possibly benefiting from presidential coattails. The Representative has decided that the solution to her problems is to become the Grand Wizard of Krazy, and in particular to be "the one" who instigates the impeachment of Joe Biden. To that end, she brought articles of impeachment against the President on Friday, and did so with a privileged resolution, which theoretically would have compelled the House to bring the resolution to a vote within a matter of days.

This maneuver was very upsetting to most of the House Republican Conference. There's no compelling theory, at the moment, for why Biden should be impeached, especially since there would be a trial in the Senate where, you know, evidence would be needed. On top of that, House Republicans have given off a general impression of grandstanding and of being "show" horses rather than "work" horses, from the mess that was the speakership election to the showdown over the debt ceiling. To impeach Biden now, and possibly to impeach him at all, would just be giving ammunition to the Democrats.

Consequently, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) managed to find a "solution," at least for now. The Biden impeachment resolution was redirected to the Rules Committee, which will decide whether or not to bring it to the floor. (Hint: They won't bring it to the floor.) Boebert is not especially happy with this, and is threatening to bring a new resolution if she's not happy with the Committee's deliberations. In hopes of mollifying the Representative and her like-minded colleagues, McCarthy is bandying about the idea of impeaching... AG Merrick Garland. The general idea is that Garland has been mean to Donald Trump and not mean enough to Hunter Biden, and so clearly he's corrupt. We will soon see if the Speaker is serious about this, or if he's just trying to create a distraction.

This is not the only looniness, either. As we noted last week, Boebert is at odds with her one-time ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Greene thinks that Boebert stole her "impeach Biden" idea, and on top of that, Greene is now something of a House insider, while Boebert is still an outsider. As a consequence of all of this, Boebert and her Freedom Caucus colleagues are considering whether to kick Greene out of the group. They say that the Georgian is a FCINO—that's right, a Freedom Caucuser in name only. You can't make this stuff up (though we have no idea how to pronounce FCINO). As we noted in the previous piece, extremists invariably turn on each other for not being extreme enough, or for being extreme in the wrong way. Anyhow, we'll find out later this week if Greene is officially out of the club. (Z)

House May Get Its First Openly Trans Member

As long as we are on the subject of the lower chamber of Congress, there was a notable declaration of candidacy yesterday. The at-large seat in Delaware is about to be vacated by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D) so she can run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Carper (D). Several Delawarean politicians have hinted at a run for the House, but yesterday state Sen. Sarah McBride (D) became the first to actually throw her hat into the ring.

That is not the notable portion, of course. After all, there are 435 House seats, and with potential primaries on both sides of the aisle, and potential multi-way primary contests, there will be well over 1,000 candidate announcements. What makes McBride notable, as you can see from the headline, is that she is trans. She is, in fact, the highest-ranking trans elected official in U.S. history, and would obviously become the first openly trans member of Congress if she wins election in 2024.

McBride certainly has an excellent chance of winning. Again, she's the only declared candidate so far. On top of that, the Democratic establishment appears to be lining up behind her. Two candidates who were pondering runs of their own have already declined and endorsed her (state Sen. Elizabeth Lockman and state Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend). If Rochester joins the chorus, that might seal the deal for the Democratic primary. And, in a state as blue as Delaware is, the Democratic primary is the de facto election.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are planning to build a big chunk of their 2024 pitch around anti-trans rhetoric and legislation. The GOP is also pretty good at taking individual candidates for Congress and making them into the face of the Democratic Party (see Ocasio-Cortez, Alexandria). So, we expect this House race to get a heck of a lot of attention outside the borders of Delaware. (Z)

Another Ban Bites the Dust

At least, it has bitten the dust for now. As we have written numerous times, the government can step in and encumber people's free speech if doing so serves a compelling public interest. The various red-state bans on drag performances do not serve a compelling public interest—if they did, then certainly the governors signing them into law would be able to articulate a better argument than "think of the children!" On top of that, even if the policy is valid, there has to be a reasonably clear way to separate illegal behavior from non-illegal behavior. The anti-drag laws do nothing to help distinguish "illegal drag show" from "Scottish guys in kilts" or "performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream" or "John Travolta stars in Hairspray."

Tennessee was the first state to see its drag ban fall victim to a judge's pen, and yesterday, Florida joined the list. Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida Gregory Presnell issued an injunction, and said that—guess what?—the Florida bill banning drag shows for children violates the First Amendment and is also too vague to be enforceable. He further added that it conflicts with Florida's own Parents' Bill of Rights, which empowers parents to make their own decisions about these sorts of things, as opposed to the government making the decisions for them.

The administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) says it is going to appeal, and that it expects the law to be reinstated. Yeah, good luck with that—the legal problems with the bill are very real, and are not going to be washed away with fairy dust and wishful thinking. Meanwhile, DeSantis' argument for the presidency is that he "gets things done." Except that, once again, he got things done for maybe a couple of months, and then lost in court because his actions were unconstitutional. One imagines that the voters who might give DeSantis a look are going to notice that the things he does—which, by the way, likely can't be replicated on a national level because Congress is nowhere near as pliant as the Florida legislature—don't stick. And if the Governor doesn't actually get things done, then what does he offer for right-wing voters, really? (Z)

No Mo' Bo Jo?

Getting elected to office as a populist with demagogic tendencies? Doable. Keeping that going, long-term? Much harder. Former British PM Boris Johnson, one of the fellows who was often compared to Donald Trump (along with Jair Bolsonaro and Narendra Modi) suffered what appears to be his final fall from grace last week. Since we are not intimately familiar with the British political system, we reached out to our U.K. correspondents for a report. A.B. in Litchfield was kind enough to send this in:

Boris Johnson is a Classicist, or at least claims to be, so will no doubt be aware that Nemesis inevitably exacts her revenge on hubris; on June 19, 2023, Nemesis caught up with the former Prime Minister.

The bare facts are as follows. In April 2022, the House of Commons Privileges Committee, the cross-party body responsible for deciding whether MPs have breached the rules of the Commons during Parliamentary debate, was asked to review the "conduct of Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson MP" in regard to "four specific assertions made by Mr. Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions" regarding "the legality of activities in 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office under COVID regulations". In plain English, the Privileges Committee was asked to determine whether or not Boris Johnson lied during Prime Minister's Questions when he asserted that no COVID rules had been broken at his official residence—when subsequent media reports alleged that multiple rule-breaking parties had taken place at Number 10.

It's important to stress that the committee was not reviewing whether or not the parties had broken the rules (which was the subject of a separate inquiry), but rather whether Johnson had knowingly lied about the parties on the floor of the House. Quaint though this may appear to our American cousins, knowingly misleading the House during debate—what the rest of us call "lying"—is considered a serious breach of Parliament's rules, and one that can bring significant sanctions. Critically in the present case, if an MP is suspended for at least 10 days as a result of the rules breach, then their constituents can try to arrange a recall by-election. The committee is chaired by the much-respected senior Labour MP Harriet Harman, who holds the purely honorary and informal title of "Mother of the House" as the longest-serving female MP in the Commons. However, the committee as a whole has a Conservative Party majority, with 4 Conservatives, 2 Labour, and 1 Scottish Nationalist.

On June 15, the committee released its report, and across 108 pages and more than 30,000 words laid waste to what remained of Johnson's reputation. The full report is available online, but the findings can be easily summarized: Boris Johnson didn't just lie to the House, he lied repeatedly, intentionally, and recklessly, and "we conclude that in deliberately misleading the House Mr. Johnson committed a serious contempt."

Johnson didn't take any of this lying down. After being shown a pre-release copy of the report, he went on the offensive, attempting to preempt the committee before the findings could be made public. In language that has been characterized on this side of the Atlantic as "Trumpian," he accused the committee of being a "kangaroo court" and engaging in a "witch hunt." Knowing that the report recommended a 10-day suspension (enabling a recall election that he might well have lost), Johnson resigned from Parliament with immediate effect. This forces the government to fight a by-election for his former seat that the Conservatives will almost certainly lose. However, this maneuver backfired when the committee decided that Johnson's intemperate language consisted of further contempt of the parliamentary process, and extended the final recommended sanction to a 90-day suspension. While not quite the record (Labour MP Keith Vaz was suspended for 6 months for paying for male prostitutes, procuring cocaine for said prostitutes, and then lying about it), it marked the first time that a British MP faced suspension for actions taken while serving as prime minister.

Johnson is no longer an MP, so the 90-day suspension is now largely symbolic, but Parliament moved forward with debating the committee report on June 19. A large number of Conservative Party MPs, likely concerned about possible grassroots backlash, suddenly discovered that their calendar had a pressing event that regrettably kept them away from Westminster on the day; this included Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Johnson also asked his remaining supporters not to actively vote against the report, apparently out of concern that this would only show how few supporters he had left. The final vote was nonetheless damning. Parliament accepted the report by a vote of 354 to 7, and 118 Conservative MPs actively voted to accept, including former Prime Minister Theresa May and current Leader of the Commons Penny Mordaunt. While 225 MPs failed to vote, this offers a sharp contrast to Donald Trump's hold on the Republican Party.

The former PM still has his supporters, many of whom were awarded life membership of the House of Lords or knighthoods in his "resignation honours list," something which all outgoing prime ministers are entitled to, but which Johnson seems to have disproportionately used to reward his immediate cronies. But this dwindling cult-like minority seems insufficiently powerful to enable any sort of return for the discredited Johnson, even if he still clearly harbors ambitions of a political resurrection. Though he still has a lucrative future as a newspaper columnist and after-dinner speaker, the general consensus now is that Johnson's career in Parliament is over, and no doubt many government ministers are thinking of the famous quote from post-war Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee towards a tiresome party chairman: "I can assure you there is widespread resentment in the Party at your activities and a period of silence on your part would be welcome."

As Guardian columnist Marina Hyde put it, "Johnson didn't just lie—he lied about the lies he had told, and he lied about the lies that he had not yet told, but had every intention of telling." Ultimately, the institutions of our unwritten constitution, which depend on participants both accepting and obeying the rules, just about held; but it will take years for them to recover from the damage inflicted on them by the Johnsonian stain on the British body politic.

G.S. in Basingstoke, after reading the above, had this to add:

A couple of observations on yesterday's events and my own interpretation. The debate on Johnson's punishment took place on Monday in a near-deserted House of Commons; Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was unfortunately engaged in a charity fundraiser and manifestly too busy to enforce the honesty, integrity and accountability he promised upon assuming office. "Cometh the hour, dissapeareth the man," as one Guardian commentator pithily observed. Perhaps my favorite moment was when Jacob Rees-Mogg—known as "Minister for the 18th century" for his anachronistic style and views (oh, and newly knighted in Boris' resignation honours)—chose to take Harriet Harman, the longest serving female MP, to task for not resigning chairmanship of the committee, over her publicly stated views prior to the committee being constituted, therefore giving the "perception of bias." Harman got straight to her feet, bluntly informed Rees-Mogg that she was keenly aware of the problems of perception, had offered to step down and been told by Rees-Mogg's own conservative government that it was perfectly acceptable for her to stay in place. Whether it was this public chastisement or otherwise, Rees-Mogg was one of the 225(!) MPs that chose to abstain, resulting in the bill's easy passage. A mere 7 MPs chose to support Johnson.

The size of the vote and the political straightjacket it put Tory MPs in were obvious: Vote for the motion and outrage Boris supporters; vote against and outrage the public in general. The dilemma was not dissimilar, in my view, to the one found by many aspirant U.S. Republican politicians deciding on political positions helpful for primaries or the general election. Sunak's unwillingness to take a position (cowardice?) will doubtless be used as a cudgel by the opposition between now and the next election. Overall, I take a somewhat rosier view than A.B. on the implications of this saga: As may happen when the walls close around Trump, Boris ultimately found that he simply could not escape his own actions and hubris, even with a Conservative majority on the committee and in Parliament. As Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) observed in relation to Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY) and his looseness with the truth, "the wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine."

And S.T. in Worcestershire added this:

I will mention two minor points. The first is that the resignation honours list astonishingly includes a further honor for civil servant Martin Reynolds, aka "Party Marty," the author of the infamous e-mail in May 2020 inviting Downing Street staff to "bring your own booze" to an event in Downing Street at the height of lockdown! Perhaps this gives an insight into how little remorse Boris Johnson actually feels. The second is there are now 4 by-elections pending in Conservative held seats, Johnson's, those of two members of the Boris fan club, and a fourth, where a Conservative MP who has been under investigation for improper conduct for months, has thrown in the towel. So Rishi Sunak may be facing an uncomfortable summer.

Thanks to all three of you! We are always interested in major developments in the political system of the United States' most important ally, not to mention parallels to Donald Trump (or to Joe Biden, not that he's relevant here). (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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