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Political Wire logo Will Ivanka Trump Be Forced to Testify?
What’s Up With Speaker Mike Johnson’s Black Son?
Trump Dials Back His Campaign Rallies
GOP Lawmaker Says God Used Matt Gaetz in Speaker Fight
Johnson Says Now Is Not the Time for Gun Legislation
Israel Kills Five Senior Hamas Commanders

Now Comes the Hard Part

As you probably already know, Rep. James "Mike" Johnson (R-LA) (who's that?) is now Speaker of the House. He was elected yesterday afternoon on a straight party line vote, 220-209, with no defections on either side among members voting. First off, congratulations, Mike, for wrangling the cats. And for your sake, we hope there isn't a motion to vacate in your first 24 hours, at least. We also hope you don't regret your decision to run for at least a week.

Johnson's key quality that got him over the finish line is that nobody in the Republican caucus knows him. He is a complete nonentity. As a direct consequence of that, although he has no firm friends, he also has no enemies. Given the infighting in the House and the desire of the Republicans to finally have a speaker, having no enemies turned out to be the key.

That said, having no personal enemies doesn't mean Johnson is some kind of milquetoasty guy who is a hail-fellow-well-met type. That was Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), and he lasted only 6 hours. Johnson is Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) but without the being a jerk part and without the sex scandal part. He is one of the most conservative members of the House, one of the most religious members of the House, and was one of the biggest players in the effort to deny Joe Biden the election he won. After he was elected as speaker, Johnson said: "The Bible is very clear that God is the one that raises up those in authority." In other words, he doesn't feel he won an election by 11 votes. He feels God ordained him for the job.

Johnson also exists at an interesting place on the Freedom Caucus spectrum, so much so we had to go back and rewrite part of yesterday's post. The Freedom Caucus is something of a secretive organization, like the Illuminati, or Skull and Bones, or The Black Hand, or the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. They don't publish a list of members and they don't answer questions about who is and is not a member. They don't even meet at the Capitol, usually, so as to keep even their colleagues guessing. As a result, Johnson is listed as a Freedom Caucuser by some sources and not as a Freedom Caucuser by others. Our guess is that he likes to keep his status a little murky, though certainly he's on the same page as the FCers, politically. Anyhow, it seems he's "FC" enough to get the FCers' voters, but "not FC" enough that the moderates could swallow hard, vote for him, and say, "See! I held out for a non-FCer!"

Of course, the other thing that Johnson did well, besides toeing the FC/not FC line, is kiss up to Donald Trump. After Johnson's election, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) said the speaker's race had become all about who was best at appeasing Trump, which seems to be on the mark to us. When he said that, a bunch of Freedom Caucusers stood up and applauded.

Now comes the hard part: passing bills that can become law. Doing whatever the Freedom Caucus wants is not likely to get any bills passed. And any bills Johnson manages to pass somehow also have to pass the Democratic Senate. Getting anything done will require high-level negotiations that he has no experience with and may not be able to pull off. As one example, he strongly supports aid to Israel, but strongly opposes aid to Ukraine. However, the bill the Senate is going to send over contains both. Scrapping the Ukraine aid and sending it back is never going to fly over there and even if it did, Joe Biden would veto it. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) commented on Johnson, saying: "The real work begins now. To pass anything, you have to go get Democratic votes. You don't have to be Einstein's cousin to figure that out."

Nobody expects Johnson to go after Democratic votes. And given his track record of opposing all abortions, opposing same-sex marriage, opposing LGBT rights, opposing the common core educational standards, opposing marijuana, denying climate change, and opposing raising the minimum wage, he is not likely to get many of them of the Democrats' own volition. However, he is not all negative. He supports school prayer, blocking people from Muslim countries entering the U.S., cutting corporate taxes, and, again, is wild about Donald Trump. He is an evangelical Christian and is married to Kelly Lary, a licensed pastoral counselor.

As a backbencher from a second-tier state, Johnson has a small staff and few connections. He will now have to hire many new staffers quickly and lead a deeply fractured caucus against a unified opposition and hostile Senate. Maybe he will rise to meet the challenge. Volodymyr Zelenskyy did it. It can be done. But one House staffer said he got the job because "we have reached the 'any warm body' stage." That doesn't bode well for Johnson. When Paul Ryan suddenly became speaker, he discovered that he was totally unprepared for the job—and he had been in Congress for 15 years and had just run for vice president. A newbie he was not. It is highly possible that until Johnson figures out where the levers of power are and how to operate them, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, also from Louisiana, will actually run the show. Cajun style.

One thing Johnson is undoubtedly totally unprepared for is "member management." He knows little of the volume of member priorities, problems, rivalries, and interpersonal dynamics in his caucus. He will have to learn fast, while dealing with Ukraine, Israel, and funding the government. Success in a job where any one member can file an MTV often comes down to keeping all his fractious members happy. He will also have to learn about Turtle management, which won't be easy, especially when Turtle has been around for a while. And dealing with the media. While traveling around the country and raising gobs of money.

Speaking of money, Axios has a nice chart showing fundraising as of Sept. 30 for select members of the House. Here it is:

House fundraising for select members

As you can see, Johnson is not a powerhouse fundraiser and he doesn't have the contacts to become one quickly. Sure, he can ask Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for his list of donors, but approaching a donor, introducing yourself, having the donor size you up, and making a pitch takes time and skill that we don't know if he has. Big donors sometimes want something in return for their donations. Making promises you can't keep is not a great way to start on a new job. The donors tend to keep track of promises politicians make to them in return for money. Johnson is also deeply religious and on the whole, billionaires tend to be more focused on this world rather than the next one. It will take some practice to get the pitch right.

What will make things more complicated is that Johnson is a blank slate. The donors don't know who he is and neither do the voters. The Democrats are preparing to help him out with the PR. Johnson was once a right-wing radio talk host. If the Democrats can get recordings of some of his old shows, full of fiery rhetoric, they will try real hard to define him as a loony religious zealot. Republicans will try to define him as a nice family man who goes to church. But audio clips of Johnson saying way-out things may make a bigger impression than audio or video clips of him kissing babies and petting puppies (or vice versa). So Johnson has to fight a battle about his public image while he is trying to keep peace in his caucus, raise gobs of money, and pass bills. It's asking a lot from him. Maybe he is a quick learner. We'll soon find out. Remember that Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy didn't have what it takes, and they were all far more experienced than Johnson.

Some members of the GOP caucus have been pretty open about wanting a weak speaker, basically giving all the power to the committee chairs. They may have (unexpectedly) gotten their wish. But a decentralized caucus may end up being a dozen fiefdoms all fighting with the others. We shall see. (V)

Were the House Republican Women Too Smart to Run for Speaker?

While the Republicans have been tearing themselves to pieces trying to elect a speaker, one thing is incredibly obvious: None of the speaker candidates were women. It isn't that there aren't any Republican women in the House. There are actually 33 of them (vs. 92 Democratic women). One of them is 39-year-old Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the #4 party leader, after the speaker, majority leader, and majority whip. What is noteworthy is her complete silence during the speaker battle. There are multiple theories about her lack of interest in running for speaker, including:

  • She is just getting used to being conference chair.
  • As a Paul Ryan Republican who became a Johanna-come-lately Trumpist, she thought she couldn't win.
  • She doesn't want her reputation shattered by entering the meat grinder and losing, like all the others.
  • She thinks that the speaker's job is a thankless one with so much infighting and so slim a majority.
  • She is playing the long game and thinks she can build up respect now and run in 10 or 20 years.
  • She has a 2-year-old son at home and knows that the speaker has to spend many days away fundraising.

Whatever the reason, Stefanik is in a safe seat and can bide her time as conference chair until the moment is right for her to make her move. But what about the other 32 Republican women in the House? Reps. Lisa McClain (R-MI) and Stephanie Bice (R-OK) are also in leadership roles. Three other women are committee chairs. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) chairs the Education Committee, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) is chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Why not any of them? It is not like a woman couldn't be elected speaker. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) broke through that glass ceiling years ago and proved to be one of the most adept and powerful speakers in the country's history.

Some Republican women are leery of throwing their female colleagues to the wolves. Julie Conway, who runs VIEW PAC, a group that works on electing conservative women to Congress, said: "All of these women are too smart to want the job." Cathy Rodgers said: "We're wiser." Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) said: "Republican women are too smart to get involved in the shenanigans that have been taking place the last few weeks." Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR) said: "It's a missed opportunity, but why would we subject ourselves to this?" Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) said: "Men have egos, women have brains." It could be true. On the other hand, Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-IN) said: "We need to have, maybe, a woman to get us out of this mess. The men screw up too much."

Whatever the dynamic is, there are surely voters who will notice that one party nominated the first woman major-party candidate for president, and seated the first woman speaker and first woman VP, while the other party did none of these things, and hasn't come particularly close. When that second party is also the anti-choice party, well, that could have an effect on voting patterns in, say, the suburbs. (V)

Trump Took the Witness Stand Yesterday--and Was Fined $10,000

In the civil trial brought by NY AG Letitia James about Donald Trump's business practices, Trump surprisingly took the witness stand yesterday as people in the room gasped. Earlier in the day, Trump had said: "This judge is a very partisan judge with a person who's very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is." Judge Arthur Engoron ordered him to the stand to ask: "To whom were you referring?" Trump replied: "You and [Michael] Cohen."

Engoron didn't believe it and suspected Trump was referring to his law clerk, Allison Greenfield, who sits next to the judge during the trial. Trump had already been warned not to attack the judge or his staff, so Engoron fined him $10,000 for violating the court order. This is the second fine. The first one was $5,000. If the judge doubles it every time, it will take nine violations before it hits a million dollars. For Trump, a fine of even a million dollars is not actually a big deal, especially if he refuses to pay it. Of course, Engoron is likely to consider a more geometric approach if this keeps happening, and if Trump doesn't pay up, he could well become the first former president to spend a night (or several) behind bars. Of course, Trump is accustomed to free government housing, so it isn't such a big deal. (V)

Support for Israel Will Be a Key Issue in the Iowa Caucuses

Everyone knows that evangelicals make up about half the Republican electorate in Iowa, so they will play a huge role in determining who the Republican presidential nominee will be. Or, at very least, who the Republican presidential nominee will NOT be. For them, Israel resonates not only politically but also biblically. Pastor Steve Rowland of the Rising Sun Church of Christ in a Des Moines suburb said: "What we're seeing in that region is pure evil. Israel has mobilized their army and they are intent on stamping out evil, and we should be behind them. That's where we should be." He's not the only one. With abortion out of the way for the moment, support for Israel and the need for a Jewish state there so Jesus can come home and kick off the rapture is becoming a top issue for many evangelicals. Many of them have been critical of Joe Biden—because he hasn't been tough enough with Hamas and Iran.

Nikki Haley grew up as a Sikh but became a Methodist after marrying her Methodist husband. Nevertheless, she well understands what evangelicals want. After the attack on Israel, in an interview in Iowa she said: "We've got a true war between good and evil, and we have to have a leader that has the moral clarity to know the difference." So rather than putting the situation in Israel in a geopolitical or historical framework, she is putting it in a biblical framework. Evangelicals love it. Finally someone who gets them.

Trump also scores well with evangelicals, in part because he moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, even though that merely required swapping the "Embassy" sign on the State Dept. office in Tel Aviv with the "Consulate" sign on the State Dept. office in Jerusalem. However, his recent criticism of Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't play well with many evangelicals. Still, he is the leader in Iowa, although Haley is rising there and could well end up in second place soon.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) recently said of Israel's enemies: "the wrath of God, let them feel it." The staff theologian didn't want to get sucked into this, especially since she's still recovering from the celebrations of the Birthday of Baha'u'llah, but to us, Scott's statement sounds more Old Testamenty than New Testamenty. Scott apparently missed the bit about turning the other cheek. Oh well. He's toast anyway.

Several Iowa pastors have criticized Vivek Ramaswamy, who has opposed U.S. aid to Israel. The fact that he is a Hindu probably doesn't help much with them, either.

One issue that divides evangelicals is what to do about refugees from Gaza who manage to get out. Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) do not want the U.S. to accept any of them. Haley feels compassion for them, but has a different solution: Let the Arab countries take them in. Maybe she somehow missed the fact that while Trump failed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, Egypt successfully completed a barrier along its border with Gaza. Here it is:

Barrier Egypt built along the border with Gaza

From the looks of it, Egypt does not seem to be terribly welcoming to Gaza refugees—and neither are any of the other Arab countries. They talk a good game about their Arab brothers, but walls speak louder than words. (V)

Biden's Support for Israel Angers Muslim Americans

The battle in the Middle East is roiling not only the Republican caucuses and primaries, but also the general election. Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans in general are not happy campers about Joe Biden's full-throated support for Israel. If and when the House gets its act together and Congress approves $14 billion in military aid to Israel, they will be even less happy. Of course, that aid will likely pass the House with 200 or so Republican votes, but we all know where the buck stops.

The biggest problem for Biden is Michigan, where the Arab-American population is about 5%. Biden won Michigan in 2020 with 50.6%, compared to 47.8% for Donald Trump, a margin of 2.8%. Most of the Arab-Americans in Michigan and elsewhere are Democrats (because Republicans hate, hate, hate immigrants), so it is unlikely that all the Arab-Americans in Michigan will support Trump. Still, some of them may decide to just sit out 2024 and not vote, which would hurt Biden. The only other swing state with a substantial Muslim population is Arizona, with about 1.5%.

Biden is getting some blowback from Muslim politicians. Abdullah Hammoud, the first Arab-American mayor of Dearborn, MI, which has the largest per capita population of Muslims of any city in the U.S., decried Biden's failure to condemn Israel for cutting off water, electricity, and food in Gaza, but he hasn't had anything to say about the Hamas attack on Israel.

Biden undoubtedly truly believes that the attack by Hamas on Israel was an atrocity, so his desire for aid to Israel is probably not simply a political calculation. Nevertheless, he also knows that there are nine Jewish senators and 0 Muslim senators as well as 24 Jewish representatives and 3 Muslim representatives. Getting stuff through Congress is always an issue, and he certainly can't afford to antagonize Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel. (V)

Meadows Got Immunity and Spoke with Jack Smith at Least Three Times

Four of the 19 RICO defendants in Georgia have now flipped and it is likely that many more will, if for no other reason than they can't afford the legal fees to mount a full-blown defense. Of the 15 remaining defendants, two are Big Fish (Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani), three are medium fish (Mark Meadows, Jeff Clark, and John Eastman), and the rest are guppies. We expect all the guppies to swim over to the other side before too long, get fines of $5,000 or so, and be told to ask ChatGPT to write heartfelt letters of apology to the people of Georgia.

Of the medium fish, Meadows is by far the most important because he knows the most about Trump's mental state on Jan. 6 as well as his actions (or lack thereof) and his motivation concerning them. As we mentioned yesterday, albeit very briefly, it has now come out that Special Counsel Jack Smith requested immunity for Meadows in order to get him to testify under oath and Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in D.C. James Boasberg signed off on it. This means that what Meadows told/tells Smith under oath may not be used against him in court. He hasn't been federally indicted, though he is almost certainly an unindicted co-conspirator and could yet be indicted. But if he spills the beans on the Big Fish, Smith may well be willing to also let him off with a $5,000 fine and a letter signed by ChatGPT. He is not thought to be wealthy and the idea of paying lawyers $500,000 to defend himself in multiple cases (and still losing) may not be appealing.

Sources have told ABC News that Meadows has already had at least three lovely chats with Smith and he didn't invoke the Fifth Amendment in any of them. Meadows says he told Trump many times after the election that he lost and it was over. Meadows says he also told Trump that there was no evidence of any fraud and that the 2020 election was the most secure in U.S. history. He says he also told Trump that Giuliani hunted for fraud but came up empty. Meadows' testimony in court will make it much harder for Trump to claim that he genuinely thought he won, particularly when several former Trump lawyers back Meadows' version of events.

Meadows also set up the call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) and was in the office when Trump made the call. Smith undoubtedly asked him about every detail of the call and what Trump was trying to obtain from Raffensperger.

What is somewhat awkward is that a year after the election, Meadows published a book about being the chief's chief. He supposedly told Smith that it is full of lies, lies that were intended to protect Trump and buff his (Meadows') own image. Smith is an old pro and, armed with the Jan. 6 Committee's report, surely knew what questions to ask Meadows. If Meadows has truly gone over to the other side in the federal case, how long before he does it in the Georgia case (where he has been formally indicted) as well? (V)

Clarence Thomas Had a Loan Canceled--with Ethical and Tax Consequences

In 1999, a wealthy friend of Justice Clarence Thomas, Anthony Welters, loaned him $267,230 to buy a fancy motor home that Thomas fancied. He paid some interest on the loan for several years, but a Senate investigation now shows that the loan was eventually forgiven, so Thomas never paid it back.

This raises a number of ethical and legal issues. First, the Supreme Court's ethics rules require justices to report loan forgiveness on their ethics forms. Thomas never did that. Second, IRS treats debt forgiveness as taxable income to the borrower. It also treats missed loan and interest payments that the creditor does not demand be paid as taxable income. It is not known if Thomas declared the $267,230 as income and paid federal tax on it. If he did not, he violated federal tax laws, though depending on when the loan was forgiven, the statute of limitations may have run out already.

No matter what, it is clear that Thomas has nothing but contempt for the law, something one would not expect from a Supreme Court justice. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is leading the Senate investigation, has called upon Thomas to inform the Senate Finance Committee about the details of the loan, whether it was forgiven and when, and if it was forgiven, if he paid tax on the implied income. We will see if Thomas responds, but based on his past behavior, it is very likely that Thomas will ignore the request. If Wyden issues a subpoena, Thomas will probably ignore that as well. His view is always "What are you going to do about it?" Would Thomas recuse himself from a Supreme Court case on whether or not a Supreme Court justice, such as Clarence Thomas, has to obey a Congressional subpoena? Don't bet on it. (V)

Early Voting Is Underway in Virginia

The entire Virginia General Assembly is up this year and Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) is betting the farm on winning it. He has spent the past year out on the hustings campaigning with candidates for the state Senate and House of Delegates. His argument is simple: "If Republicans get the trifecta, then I can carry out my program." The Democrats' argument is equally simple: "The program he wants to get through is banning abortion." Polls have been scarce and haven't focused on individual seats, just "Which party do you prefer?" That doesn't tell us much. If Youngkin pulls it off and gets the trifecta, he will have half the Republican billionaires in the country on the phone the day after Election Day, begging him to challenge Donald Trump for president and offering to throw millions of dollars his way if he jumps in. He's the Great White Hope.

But the Virginia elections are more than your usual partisan elections. For many years, Republicans have opposed early voting in all its forms. Youngkin is changing that. Virginia has 45 days of early voting this year. Youngkin supports early voting in all its forms. He even wants Virginia Republicans to sign up for permanent absentee voting, so they will be mailed a ballot automatically for all future elections. His argument is that since Democrats support early voting, Election Day starts out with the Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes ahead. If there is bad weather on Election Day, Republicans don't vote and Democrats win. It's crazy to give them that advantage. He is entirely right about this.

However, Donald Trump and many Republicans have strongly opposed early voting for years, so Youngkin is asking for something that many Republicans instinctively oppose. It may be having an effect, but it is hard to compare this year to 2019 because the law changed in 2021. So far, only 4.7% of registered voters have cast a ballot. In 2019, overall turnout, early and on Election Day, was 42%, so we can't say much yet. Nevertheless, it is clear that early voting in Republican parts of the state is up compared to previous years, so Youngkin's campaign is having some effect, but it is small and uneven so far.

Also, voting fatigue is possible for Virginians because Virginia holds elections every year. In 2021, it was for governor. In 2022, it was for the U.S. House. In 2023, it is for the General Assembly. In 2024, it will be for the presidency, Sen. Tim Kaine's (D) seat, and the U.S. House. In 2025, it will be for governor again. In 2026, it will be for Mark Warner's (D) Senate seat and the U.S. House again. (V)

Dan Sullivan Wants to Make an End Run around Tuberville

The blockade by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is holding up numerous military promotions, which is really angering many senators. There are even vacancies among the Joint Chiefs at a time when the U.S. is playing a role in two wars, one in Ukraine and one in Israel. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) has had enough of Tuberville's antics and is circulating cloture petitions for the confirmation of Adm. Lisa Franchetti to lead the Navy and Gen. David Allvin to lead the Air Force. If Sullivan can get 16 signatures on each petition, he can force a vote on the two confirmations. There is no doubt at all that if votes were held, both appointments would be confirmed.

Sullivan's gambit is putting Democrats in a tough position. Chuck Schumer is opposed to picking off individual high-ranking service members and ramming them through because that would leave numerous lower-grade positions unfilled. Schumer wants to break the back of Tuberville's opposition, which would require the entire Senate to act. Unlike a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-type filibuster, Tuberville doesn't have to stand on the Senate floor all day talking until he drops. Sullivan's point is that the top positions are open with two wars going on and they must be filled right now, even if some lieutenant colonels and others are left in limbo.

What Schumer is hoping for is that nine Republican Senators will join with all the Democrats and change the Senate rules, making it impossible for one senator to gum up the works. But so far, no group of nine Republicans has been willing to do that. When your party is in the minority, it tends to like rules that allow a small number of members to bring the entire chamber to a standstill. (V)

Gavin Newsom Meets with Xi Jinping

Normally, governors don't have their own foreign policies and conduct their own diplomacy, but Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) isn't any old governor. He runs the fifth largest economy in the world. Furthermore, he is almost certainly going to run for president in 2028, so he would like to be able to talk about having some foreign policy experience under his belt. Consequently, he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday to chat about items of interest (to Newsom).

In particular, Newsom is interested in talking about climate change, what he's doing about it, and what he would like Xi to do about it. He also wants to talk about China's exports of fentanyl to California and the rest of the U.S. If nothing else, Xi's willingness to have talks with Newsom indicates that he wants to keep lines of communication with U.S. leaders open, despite his recent mini-love affair with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is a balancing act for Xi.

Newsom can be quite diplomatic when he needs to. He is especially focused on exchanging ideas, policy, and technology relating to climate change. Many of China's cities are suffocating due to pollution from burning coal, so Xi understands he has a problem, too, and is willing to work with Newsom to help deal with it.

Of course, there are other areas where Newsom and Xi do not agree, including Taiwan and the war in Ukraine, but they didn't focus on them. They tried to focus on the areas where they could work together.

It is not lost on Newsom that in 2028, one of his weak spots will be foreign policy. That's why he is working on it. He was just in Israel and is now in China. In 2028, he will be able to say that he has traveled all over the world and knows the world leaders. Of course, Kamala Harris will be able to say that she has been to many funerals of world leaders. (V)

RFK Jr. Moves to the Right

Now that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is running for president as an independent, has he changed his approach at all? Yup! He has lurched sharply to the right. Now he can openly court Trump voters, something he couldn't do while running for the Democratic nomination. Whether this is good or bad for Joe Biden is hard to say. In the absence of Kennedy on the ballot (if he gets on the ballot everywhere), disgruntled Republicans who don't like Trump might have held their noses and voted Biden. Now they can vote for Kennedy. On the other hand, Republicans who would never vote for a Democrat under any circumstances, and who in a two-way race would be stuck with voting for Trump, now don't have to vote for Trump. They can vote for Bobby Jr.

The first thing Kennedy did when becoming an independent is dump his campaign manager, Dennis Kucinich, a progressive many yards to the left of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Kucinich was replaced by the candidate's daughter-in-law, Amaryllis Fox Kennedy, a former CIA officer. Generally, letting your relatives run your campaign is not a good sign, but Kucinich had no experience running campaigns either.

One of Kennedy's main campaign positions is opposing vaccines. That is not going to go over well with Democrats but could be a big hit with Republicans. There are enough anti-vaxxer Republicans that Kennedy could pull a few percent of Trump's voters away from him on this one issue alone. In close contests, a few percent is the difference between winning and losing. Kennedy is also very anti-corporate, anti-pharma, and anti-media. That tends to resonate with the little guy. But the little guy is now typically a Republican, so more votes from Trump here.

The RNC sees this and is now regarding Kennedy as a serious threat. Polls are already showing him drawing more votes from Trump than Biden. To the extent it is all about getting more than 15 minutes of fame, Kennedy is likely to exploit that and continue appealing to Republicans, where he has a toehold, rather than Democrats, where he doesn't, other than very low-information Democrats who don't realize his father was murdered 55 years ago and is not running in 2024. The RNC is starting to think about ways of dealing with him and branding him a pinko commie socialist, like Biden.

One factor other than policy is that Democrats are constantly sneering at Trump. This alienates a lot of Republican voters. Kennedy doesn't do that. His pitch on vaccines and hating corporations makes it easy for him to say to Republican voters: "I support many of the things you do and Trump does, only I don't have the baggage and I can get things done." (V)

Suppose There Is a Contingent Election in the House on Jan. 6, 2025

With Bobby Kennedy Jr. and some No Labels candidate on the ballot next year, there is a small chance that one or both of them could pick off a state or two. It is not likely, but it could happen what with both Trump and Biden unpopular and Trump potentially heading for prison by Election Day next year. Alaska and Maine are both states where independents do well and both now use ranked choice voting, which people don't fully understand. It is conceivable that the No Labels candidate or Bobby Jr. wins one of them and that is enough to keep Biden and Trump just under 270. Then the election goes to the House, with every state getting one vote.

Currently, Republicans control 26 House delegations, Democrats control 22, and Minnesota and North Carolina are split. Suppose the presidential election goes to the House. Does that mean Trump would get 26 votes to Biden's 22 and thus win? Obviously that depends on the composition of the new House, which many observers expect the Democrats to control. But if the Democrats have a majority of members while Republicans have a (narrow) majority of state delegations, it is not so simple.

If Democrats have a majority of members in the House, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) will be elected speaker and the Democrats will get to make the rules for what the Twelfth Amendment quaintly calls a "contingent election." What could the majority do to throw sand in the gears of government? The Democrats could make a rule forcing all members to cast a secret ballot for president. Then the clerk of the House would open all the sealed ballots, sort them by state, and see who carried each state. It is widely known that many Republicans despise Donald Trump. They support him in public because they are afraid of the consequences, but in a secret ballot, some of them might vote for the No Labels candidate if he is a Republican. If No Labels can sign up, say Larry Hogan or Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) as their candidate, the No Labels candidate could get votes in the contingent election from Republicans who despise Trump. That could get the number of states voting for Trump below 26. All it would take is for one close state to flip. For example, Arizona is currently 3D, 6R. Suppose the Democrats knock off one Republican in 2024 and make it 4D, 5R, and one of the Arizona Republicans votes secretly for the No Labels candidate. Then the vote would be Biden 4, Trump 4, No Labels 1, so Arizona would be eliminated and the Republicans would have only 25 votes—not enough to win.

Also, the Democratic House could make a rule stating that a vote from a state counts only if a majority (not a plurality) of the representatives vote for one candidate. So if Kansas voted Trump 2, Biden 1, No Labels 1, it would lose its vote, even though Trump had a plurality (but not a majority). The Constitution gives each chamber the power to make its own rules, so it is unlikely that the Supreme Court would tell the House what its rules should be. And even if it did, the House might ignore the decision on the grounds that the Constitution is explicit in giving each chamber the power to make its own rules, so Supreme Court, kindly butt out.

Additionally, the Fourteenth Amendment says that folks who took part in an insurrection against the United States are disqualified, but it doesn't say who gets to make the call. Suppose the House decides: "We do!" Consequently, all votes for Trump are discarded. If you are excited/dismayed by the possibility of a contingent election, this report on the matter by a group called United to Protect Democracy might supply some interesting bedtime reading matter. Among other topics besides contingent elections that it covers is faithless electors. They seem to crop up from time to time and in a close election with unpopular candidates, there could be a few.

In the event of a contingent election, if no candidate gets 26 votes in the House, then nobody is elected president. In that case, the person elected by the Senate as vice president acts as president, potentially until Jan. 3, 2027, when a new House is seated. The House gets to choose among the top three electoral vote getters but the Senate gets to choose between only the top two. That means the Senate gets to choose between only the Democratic and the Republican veep candidates. The No Labels candidate for veep will not be on the Senate ballot. If the Democrats manage to hold the Senate, then Kamala Harris could get to sit in the big chair for at least 2 years. If the Republicans win the Senate, Trump's running mate could get to sit in the big chair. Acting President Kristi Noem or Kari Lake, anyone? If the Senate is split 50-50 and can't pick a veep, the Speaker of the House acts as president. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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