• Johnson Is Not Out of the Woods Yet
• Gipper Gap Gets Greater
• Haley Is on a Roll
• Next Republican President Could Unilaterally Ban Abortion
• Nevada AG Is Investigating the State's Fake Electors
• Spanberger's Move Will Make for a Free-for-all in VA-07
• Mystery Solved
• Tammy Murphy Will Challenge Kim for Menendez' Senate Seat
Yesterday Joe Biden met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the historic and elegant Filoli estate in Woodside, CA, about 8 miles northwest of the Stanford University campus. The median price of homes in Woodside is over $5 million and it is littered with the homes of Silicon Valley big shots. On the drive to the estate, Xi got a good look at how Americans live. Did Biden pick this location to impress Xi with how rich his country is? He's not saying.
Biden and Xi have met many times before, so this was not a get-to-know-you meeting. Nevertheless, Biden is a strong believer in face-to-face talks between leaders, not an exchange of memos written by staffers. The last time Biden and Xi met was at an international gathering in Indonesia in Nov. 2022. What Biden wants to get out of the current meeting is to prevent the increasingly bitter economic competition between the two countries from turning into a shooting war that would soon morph into WW III. Part of that will be to establish lines of communication between the two countries' militaries (e.g., so Gen. Charles Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, can pick up a phone and instantly get his Chinese counterpart on the line to resolve problems before any shooting happens). Also on Biden's agenda is an agreement to prevent any AI software from getting anywhere near the nuclear command and control system. He doesn't want WW III to start because some AI bot was predicting China was about to attack the U.S.
Xi didn't get to the top in China without being a savvy politician. When Biden said to him: "To host you in the United States is a great honor and a pleasure," Xi replied "I firmly believe in the promising future of the bilateral relationship."
Once the cameras went away and Biden and Xi started talking pre-Thanksgiving turkey, it could have been less cordial. Flashpoints include Taiwan, Gaza, China supplying weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, China building islands in the South China Sea, and of course, trade. One area where agreement may be possible eventually is on climate change. Pollution from burning coal is horrible in many Chinese cities, so both Xi and Biden have an interest in dealing with climate change and encouraging the use of renewable energy sources.
Quite a few folks on both sides were present. This was not like Donald Trump's one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, with only the translators present and no one else.
It is hard to see how anything substantial could be worked out in such a large meeting. On the other hand, no one really expects any major breakthroughs from it. Still, even if the only achievements are technical in nature (e.g., the hotline and no AI-initiated nuclear wars), the meeting could be the first step toward easing tensions and possibly some concrete measures at a future (and smaller) meeting. (V)
Tuesday, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) was hailed as a conquering hero for his amazing feat of kicking the can 2 months down the road, without any sign of how the two parties are going to agree on the content of the budget in January. Yesterday the honeymoon came to an abrupt end. A normally routine procedural motion to advance one of the least-controversial budget bills (for Commerce, Justice, and Science) failed when conservatives voted against it to demonstrate their displeasure with Johnson. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) said: "It's never easy to get work done around here. It's a lot harder when you have people who I think are prone to emotionally immature decisions." In response to the failure of this bill, the Speaker pulled other bills to avoid more defeats.
It's a rocky start for the new speaker. If he ignores the Freedom Caucus, they will tank all his bills. If he lets them run the show, the Biden 18 will rise up in anger. And if the House manages to pass any FC-approved bills, they are dead on arrival in the Senate. (V)
Three of the original Republican candidates for president were running in the "nice guy lane": Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Gov. Doug Burgum (R-SD). Conservative, true, but as friendly, sunny, upbeat guys, much in the style of the Gipper (Ronald Reagan). As Leo Durocher once (allegedly) said: "Nice guys finish last." Durocher wasn't quite right. Pence and Scott didn't finish last, but they didn't make it to Thanksgiving either. Burgum can self fund, so he is technically still in, but he, his wife, and his basketball buddies are the only ones who know it. Being positive like "Morning in America" Reagan just doesn't work in Republican primaries anymore. Nor does his Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. It's all culture warrior and slash and burn now. Think of this as the "Gipper Gap."
The worst offender is Donald Trump, who recently said Democrats are "vermin." Even by American political standards this is way out of line. Joe Biden has said that "vermin" reeks of Nazi Germany and Trump has used the word multiple times now. Biden also called out Trump for saying "the blood of America is being poisoned," another reference to Hitler and Nazi Germany. It is almost as if Trump has been using Mein Kampf as bedtime reading, except that Trump doesn't read books, especially not in German (although translations into English exist).
Doug Elmets, one of Reagan's speechwriters, said: "Trump hijacked the GOP and I'm almost certain that Reagan is rolling over in his grave at the very thought." Once Trump started mocking people and calling them names, the dam broke and now many Republicans are saying things no Republican would have said in Reagan's time.
In the last debate, Nikki Haley said to Vivek Ramaswamy "You're just scum" when he dragged her daughter onto the political battleground. Given what Ramaswamy was saying, she had a pretty good case. Still, that is not something the Gipper would ever have called anyone. He would have made a joke with his opponent on the receiving end of it. He didn't call people names.
Recently, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) called Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) "a little bitch" on the floor of the House. Indeed, Boebert is little (5' 0"). Members didn't use to call other members that, especially not people from their own party. Then there is "Let's Go Brandon." Even Trump's pretty lawyer, Alina Habba, has gotten into the act. She has taken to wearing a necklace with the letters "FJB" on it. In case you missed it, that is aimed at people for whom "Let's Go Brandon" is a bit too subtle. (Hint: "JB" stands for "Joe Biden")
For what it is worth, Habba, a religious Chaldean Catholic, used to wear a necklace with a cross on it. Looks like she traded in Jesus for her new savior. (V)
Most observers have said that Nikki Haley has done really well in the debates. Gov. Ron DeSantis seems bored on stage and Vivek Ramaswamy comes over as a real [insert vulgar word for penis here]. Chris Christie doesn't actually want (or expect) to be president. He just wants to stick it to Donald Trump. Haley knows her material very well and is an excellent debater. Given the people surrounding her, she has really shined. It is starting to pay off.
A new poll of New Hampshire by Emerson College now has her in second place at 18%, behind Donald Trump at 49%, and ahead of Christie (9%) and DeSantis (7%). Haley was at 4% in the August Emerson poll of New Hampshire, so she is up more than 4x in 3 months. If things continue on this trajectory, it will be a two-person contest before long, Trump vs. Haley. So far, she hasn't gone after him directly, but in a two-way contest, that will be inevitable. She is one tough cookie and will be able to put him off balance and get under his skin if we get there.
Haley's support comes from older voters and the most educated voters. Among Republican voters with a college degree, she actually leads Trump 35% to 27% in the Granite State. However, among noncollege voters, Trump leads 57% to 12%.
The poll also asked about the Democratic primary. So far, 27% will write in Joe Biden, 15% will vote for Dean Phillips, 10% will vote for Marianne Williamson for some strange reason, and the rest are undecided or will vote for someone else. If Biden can win New Hampshire without even being on the ballot, that will be the end of Phillips and Williamson. For Phillips, this stunt will cost him his House seat. For Williamson, she gets a bit of PR, but there is no downside for her.
Other interesting questions dealt with the general election. In a straight Biden-Trump matchup, Biden wins New Hampshire 47% to 42%. If Trump is a convicted criminal by Election Day, 80% of those supporting him now will still support him, 5% will not, and 15% are unsure. If Trump loses 10% of his voters, he's not going to be able to pull it off.
Finally, in a race with Biden, Trump, Robert Kennedy Jr, and Cornel West, it's 40% for Biden, 37% for Trump, 8% for Kennedy, and 1% for West. And Biden still wins even though his approval rating, according to the poll, is 37%. Granite Staters don't like Biden, but they like Trump even less. In other words, you don't have to run faster than the bear. You only have to run faster than the other guy.
The top five issues are the economy (36%), housing affordability (23%), threats to democracy (11%), abortion (6%), and education (6%). If the Democrats go all in on abortion and democracy, those numbers are sure to rise. (V)
Republicans want to ban abortion nationwide, but they are unlikely to be able to do it even with a trifecta, unless they decide to abolish the filibuster, which many Republicans don't want to do (because they know they will be in the minority in the Senate from time to time). But there might actually be an easier way, and it doesn't require Congress to go along at all.
Here's what a Republican president could do. In 1873, Congress passed a series of laws known as the Comstock laws. They criminalize the use of the U.S. Postal Service to mail obscene material, contraceptives, abortifacients, sex toys, and even personal letters with sexual content. Parts of these laws have been nullified by Supreme Court decisions, for example Griswold v. Connecticut, but the parts that have not been struck down are still on the books.
The Heritage Foundation claims that the Comstock laws ban the mailing of mifepristone and misoprostol. The Biden administration disagrees and issued a memo on Dec. 23, 2022, that includes the wording: "Because there are manifold ways in which recipients in every state may lawfully use such drugs, including to produce an abortion, the mere mailing of such drugs to a particular jurisdiction is an insufficient basis for concluding that the sender intends them to be used unlawfully."
However, a future Republican administration, whether under Donald Trump or someone else, could withdraw the memo and write a new one stating that m & m drugs do fall under the Comstock laws and therefore cannot be mailed legally. The government could then make it clear to pharmacies that they will be prosecuted for mailing them. One possible work-around would be to mail from pharmacies in other countries, for example Canada or Mexico. The legality of that might be iffy, but would be hard to enforce, especially if packages from Canada were in boxes labeled "Maple syrup."
Of course, if a Republican administration took this view, there would be lawsuits and it would be up to the Supreme Court to determine what the laws mean (as usual). When the Supreme Court knocked down Roe v. Wade, it left the decisions about banning abortion up to the states. If it were to uphold the Comstock laws, it would be taking the decisions away from the states and giving it back to the federal government again. That would be inconsistent with the Dobbs ruling, but who cares about consistency when you have an axe to grind. (V)
When Republican zealots signed up to be fake electors in 2020, they probably thought it was fun and maybe they could help their hero, Donald J. Trump, stay in the White House, even though he clearly lost the election. Who knows, maybe Trump would even invite them to the White House for hamberders. Now, being a fake elector is not so much fun. Fake electors in Georgia and Michigan have already been indicted. Arizona AG Kris Mayes (D) is investigating the fake electors in her state. Now the fake electors in Nevada fear it is their turn.
Nevada AG Aaron Ford (D) has been quietly investigating Nevada's six fake electors for a few weeks now. One of them is the chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, Michael McDonald. Ford is also looking into the fraudulent documents the fake electors signed. He hasn't announced the investigation yet, but he has interviewed people who were involved in the scheme and the story leaked out. When Politico reporters contacted the fake electors, none of them were interested in having a chat with the Politico team.
Ford has to look at this carefully. There is no specific state law in Nevada banning someone from pretending to be a presidential elector, so he has to pick his charges carefully. Of course, there are laws about signing false documents, so Ford does have some possibilities here. (V)
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) is not going to run for reelection in 2024 because she is planning to run for governor of Virginia in 2025. She didn't have to give up her House seat until she was sworn in, but she decided not to run for reelection in order to be able to campaign full time for governor. Her district, VA-07, is D+1, almost a perfect swing district. With every swing House seat now being fought over bitterly, this one will be a huge battleground southwest of D.C. Here is the district.
Joe Biden won the district in 2020 by 7 points, so it leans Democratic. Nevertheless, Republicans will fight hard for it, especially with Spanberger, a fundraising powerhouse, not in the mix. Several Democrats are eyeing the seat. State Sen. Jennifer Foy, who has a strong base in Prince William County, is a logical candidate. She is ambitious and ran for governor in 2021, coming in second in the Democratic primary. State Sen. Jeremy McPike, Del. Elizabeth Guzman, and former Del. Hala Ayala are all potential candidates. Former White House adviser Cameron Webb who grew up in Spotsylvania County in the district is also potentially interested. All of them have to start checking with donors and getting the lay of the land before jumping in. Also, if a couple of heavyweights enter the race quickly, that could deter some of the others.
The Republican bench here also has many wannabe representatives. Derrick Anderson, a former Green Beret who ran in 2022 and came in second in the Republican primary, is already in. State Sen. Bryce Reeves, who came in third in the 2022 Republican primary, is also interested. State Sen. Tara Durant just won a competitive race in Fredericksburg, but she is already thinking about a promotion. Biotech investor Bill Moher is not in elective office, but he has the money to compete. There may be others as well.
There is plenty of time for the invisible primary to play out. The filing deadline is April 4, 2024. The district is in the D.C. media market, which makes it very expensive. Candidates who are not able to raise vast amounts of money won't have a chance. Foy raised $5 million in her 2021 race, so she will probably make the cut.
There are many federal employees in the district. If there is a government shutdown in January or February, they are going to be affected. If they blame the Republicans for the shutdown, that could tilt the race strongly to whomever the Democrats ultimately nominate. (V)
It is well known why Donald Trump picked Alina Habba as one of his lawyers: She's pretty (see above). She even once said: "And just because I'm pretty doesn't mean I'm not a brilliant lawyer." Her failure to ask for a jury trial in the NY civil case brought by AG Letitia James suggests that maybe she is not so brilliant, though. Trump probably doesn't know that her parents were refugees from a sh*thole country (Iraq) who came to the U.S. in the early 1980s. She was born in New Jersey in 1984. Also significant is that Trump is lazy and her firm's office is only 3 miles from Trump's Bedminster, NJ, golf club. He could get there in a golf cart in 15 minutes.
But one of the great mysteries of the universe is why she would want to work for him (and possibly fend off his advances). Yahoo! has a story up that might explain it. If the story is true, Habba and her husband, Gregg Reuben, have more than $1 million in outstanding liens and warrants. They desperately need a lot of money. The combination of possibly getting paid by Trump (or getting some money in advance) and the massive publicity resulting from her defending Trump and frequently talking to the media probably was irresistible.
Habba has two small active liens against her firm from the Maine Dept. of Labor. However, Reuben and his LLCs have many outstanding liens and tax warrants. From Albany County, NY, alone he owes payments of $94,000 and $179,000 dating back to 2016, one of $484,000 from 2020, and one of $59,000 from 2022. All in all, he is personally liable for more than $770,000 in tax liens from his LLCs, as well as other debts. Reuben is in the parking management business and owns several parking companies. (V)
Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) was reelected in Nov. 2021 so his term ends in Jan. 2026. He could easily run for the Senate in 2024, challenging the ethically challenged Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). If he won, he would start in the Senate in Jan. 2025, missing the last year of his governorship. In that case, Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way, a Black woman, would take over and would be positioned to run herself in Nov. 2025. Governors run for the Senate all the time. Nothing strange there.
What is strange is that Murphy is not interested in taking down Menendez—but his wife, Tammy Murphy (58), is. She just announced a run. Here is her announcement video.
If you watch it, you will see that she is no inexperienced state first lady running for a job she has no business running for (think: Laura Bush running for the Senate in Texas). Tammy is a polished politician in her own right, and has been deeply involved in Democratic politics for years. She has also been a prodigious fundraiser for the Democratic Party and knows everyone who is anyone in New Jersey politics. She has also been deeply involved in her husband's administration.
The governor spent over 20 years working at Goldman Sachs and is thought to be worth something like $50-100 million. She knows this could be held against her, so she addressed it directly in the video, when talking about the births of her four children: "The money in our family's bank account, and frankly, the color of my skin meant I could get the best care available, but that's not the case for a lot of women." One of her issues as first lady has been maternal mortality, especially for minority women. That is going to strike a chord with many women, especially mothers of color.
The nomination is not hers for the taking, though. Menendez may run, but he's toast already, and is a nonfactor in his own reelection campaign. A more serious challenger is Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ). He has the support of the Bernie wing of the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, Murphy has control of the infrastructure, her powerful husband, unlimited personal money, a massive Rolodex of Democratic politicians and donors, and her own track record working on maternal care. Her presence in the race may also scare off potential challengers.
Other than her lack of experience in elected office, she has one other liability. Although she is pro-choice, pro-environment, and pro-gun control, she was a registered Republican until 2014. Will her party registration 10 years ago hurt her now? Our guess is no since her positions have always been with the Democrats. When Murphy was in her teens and 20s, Republicans in the Northeast, like then-senator Clifford Case of New Jersey, were quite liberal, so she probably registered as a Case-Republican and never bothered to change it. At this point she is clearly the front runner and poised to become New Jersey's first female senator. (V)
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