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Debt-Ceiling Bill Advances

Not everyone is happy with the debt-ceiling bill, to say the least. However, Joe Biden and his team managed to accomplish the two things necessary to consummating a deal: (1) allow Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the members of his conference to save face, while (2) actually giving up relatively little. And so, the bill passed the House yesterday, and by a more comfortable margin than expected.

The first step to passing the bill was a procedural vote to take up the bill. That passed, albeit with many defections from both sides, 241-187. The vote to begin debate is normally a formality, but opponents of the bill were doing absolutely everything possible to kill it, while Democrats were additionally working to highlight dysfunction in the Republican conference. In the end, only 29 Republicans voted "nay" on beginning debate while 52 Democrats voted "yea."

The next step was the debate on the bill itself, which was fairly anticlimactic. Everyone in the room knew, by that point, that the bill was surely going to pass. So, the "debate" was really just an opportunity for some posturing, and for some members to get sound bites (and video bites) to post to their websites for the folks back home. When it was time to vote, the Democrats initially held back, so that Republicans would be compelled to commit to supporting the bill. Once most Republicans had cast their votes, the Democrats sprang into action. When the dust had settled, 165 Democrats and 149 Republicans voted yea (against 46 and 71 nays, respectively). The nays are listed here, for any reader who is interested. It's largely who you would expect, namely the Freedom Caucusers and much of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Among the (slight) surprises are the nay from Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who is progressive but is also usually a good soldier, and the yea from Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who is a Freedom Caucuser, but has somehow become president of the Kevin McCarthy Fan Club.

Consistent with the "save face for McCarthy" side of things, the Speaker did some crowing about his success, declaring: "I have been thinking about this day since before my vote for speaker because I knew the debt ceiling was coming. I wanted to make history." And some in the media have embraced that perspective. The Hill's headline, for example, was "House passes debt ceiling bill in big win for McCarthy." Reuters went with "McCarthy's moment: Debt ceiling win secures Republican US House speaker's standing." Or Newsweek, which had "The Winner of the Debt Ceiling Deal Is Undoubtedly Kevin McCarthy." You get the picture.

We would agree that it's a victory for McCarthy in the sense that the Speaker got painted into a corner, primarily by the right-wing elements in his conference, and then somehow managed to escape. But if we talk about the actual effects of the bill, well, it is clear that Joe Biden, who first arrived in the Senate when McCarthy was 8 years old, ran circles around the Speaker. On Monday, we ran a list of the key aspects of the deal. Let's look at that list again, this time with comments added, now that details are more clear:

It seems pretty clear to us the Speaker got rolled here. That is presumably why more Democrats voted for the bill than did Republicans, despite the fact that it was the work of a Republican speaker. And we're not the only ones who think this way. For example, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who voted against the bill, told reporters:

There were more votes from Democrats than there were Republicans and I think, the far left know, the progressives know how good of a deal they got tonight. This was not a compromise. Republicans got very little. We're adding $4 trillion of debt over the next two years, there's no cap on the debt limit itself, on the debt ceiling, and you know, we're expanding and growing government welfare. That's what happened tonight.

Note that Mace is not a Freedom Caucuser, so this isn't just sour grapes.

Next, the bill heads to the Senate, where there is some grumbling from Senate Democrats, while some of the usual suspects on the Republican side (ahem, Rand Paul, R-KY) have made clear they will insist on time-wasting show votes, so as to make some valuable point that will soon be forgotten. The ostensible drop-dead day is Monday, and the senators don't love to give up their weekends, so we suspect there will be tolerance in that chamber for roughly 36 hours of nonsense before the bill is passed sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening.

As to the House, it will be very interesting to see what happens next. Rightist Republicans got almost nothing they wanted. The hostage is not going to be shot and they got table scraps in return for not shooting it. That certainly is not what they had in mind when the process started. They might just take revenge on McCarthy by introducing a motion to vacate the chair. The only real problem with that is that they don't have a plausible alternative who can get 218 votes in the House. Also, as we've noted, it's entirely possible there is a deal in place to protect McCarthy with Democratic votes. On the whole, the blue team would like to see McCarthy gone and would like there to be as much chaos as is possible on the other side of the aisle. But if Biden had to promise that the Speaker would keep his job as part of the deal that was cut, it's plausible that enough Democrats would sign up to provide that "grease."

It's also possible that McCarthy will take from this a lesson that bipartisan dealmaking is a heck of a lot easier than "keep the crazies happy" dealmaking, especially since the Senate and White House are controlled by the members of the other party, and not the crazy elements of McCarthy's party. If this does cause the Speaker to rethink his overall legislative strategy, then this experience might end up as a much bigger win for him than it is as the moment.

One other bit of news that is not directly related to the debt-ceiling bill, at least officially, and yet is almost certainly directly related to the debt-ceiling bill. Tucker Carlson managed to get nothing out of the 1/6 footage, and is now out of a job. Yesterday, McCarthy opened up the footage to three more pro-Trump pundits—the kooky Julie Kelly, the even kookier John Solomon, and a third person whose identity is not yet known, but who is likely kooky. Do you think it's a coincidence that this decision just happened to be announced by the president of the McCarthy Fan Club, on her Twitter account, at a time when all the attention is on the debt-ceiling bill? Us either. (V & Z)

What about That IRS Funding?

One of the Democrats' prized achievements in the Inflation Reduction Act was increasing the IRS' funding by $80 billion so it could bring its computer systems out of the 1960s, hire more people, improve taxpayer services, and go after rich tax cheats. Not surprisingly, given that their party still takes orders from the wealthy donors, at least sometimes, Republicans were adamant about killing this increase and tried mightily to reverse it during the hostage crisis. They nominally got a quarter of what they wanted, but not definitely.

First of all, the $80 billion is not a lump-sum payment to go to IRS in 2023. It is the total increase over 10 years. If the Democrats get the trifecta anytime in that period, they can simply increase IRS' budget by any amount they want to using the budget reconciliation process. Nothing in the current bill will bind a future Democratic Congress.

More to the point, there is nothing concrete in the debt-ceiling bill. There is an oral agreement between Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy that $10 billion will be "repurposed" this year and $10 billion will be "repurposed" next year. If McCarthy should cease to be speaker, Biden could easily say that the deal is off because he never promised the new speaker anything and the agreement has to be renegotiated, this time not under the gun.

But assuming the IRS really gets an additional $60 billion above its normal budget as opposed to $80 billion, there will be $29 billion available for extra auditing and enforcement instead of $45 billion. That will translate into hiring fewer revenue agents long-term. It will also translate into hiring fewer ICT people to update and maintain the IRS computer systems. One thing the IRS wants to do is develop "big data" tools to help it automatically pinpoint where detailed audits might be needed. For example, if IRS has a detailed model of how much various kinds of businesses take in and how much their expenses normally are, its computers can spit out business tax returns that deviate substantially from the model. Then a human auditor can take a look to see what is going on. Having a computer select returns that look fishy can make the IRS limited auditing capability go much further. The cuts in funding will delay developing this kind of advanced software, which in turn, will slow down a reduction in the "tax gap," the difference between what individuals and businesses owe according to the law and what IRS collects.

In short, while Democrats would have preferred no cuts to the additional IRS funding, all is not lost because nothing is actually in the debt ceiling bill. This gives future Congresses the possibility of restoring the cuts. It also means the IRS has to be more careful in how it spends the new money it will get. But the fact that IRS handled multiple rounds of stimulus payments during the pandemic shows that although it is a big bureaucracy, it was surprisingly nimble and resourceful when it had to be. (V)

DeSantis Hits the Trail

Now that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is officially a candidate, he is officially campaigning. His first stop since announcing his candidacy was (naturally) Iowa. He chose Clive, IA, to start his campaign. It is a small suburb (pop. 19,000) about 7 miles west of central Des Moines. His speech there probably gives a pretty good idea of what he will campaign on for the next year and a half. Sure, he will tweak it from time to time, and will respond to Donald Trump and news stories once in a while, but it is likely that the first speech will set the pattern. Also, unlike Trump, DeSantis rarely goes off script and meanders in an unexpected direction. He's very disciplined. He knows what he wants to say and says it and nothing else. After giving the speech a dozen times, he will probably be able to repeat the whole thing from memory more-or-less word-for-word based on nothing more than a slip of paper with a few keywords on it.

In his speech DeSantis emphasized one point that is sure to come up in every speech: If a conservative does not win the presidency, none of the conservatives' wishes will come true. Hence winning is really, really important. This is an implicit dig at Trump, who he is going to call a "loser" many times later this year. In other words, a key part of DeSantis' pitch is "I can win and Trump can't." Whether than is a good idea remains to be seen though. There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that many of Trump's supporters prefer a candidate they like who might not be able to win over one they don't like who has a better chance of winning.

Another theme is captured in this remark DeSantis made: "Leadership is not about entertainment. It's not about building a brand. It's not about virtue signaling. It is about results." Expect DeSantis to hammer Trump later on about all the things he promised in 2016 and didn't do. He didn't build the wall. He didn't get Mexico to pay for it. He didn't drain the swamp. He didn't rein in China. The list is long. The point here will be that Trump was a failure. He may have been entertaining for some people, but he didn't get anything done. DeSantis will then roll out the list of his accomplishments in Florida and contrast them with Trump's reign of failure.

The Yale- and Harvard Law School-educated governor of the third most populous state also railed against the elites who are "imposing their agenda on us." Huh? "Us?" Does DeSantis consider himself a non-elite? Let's get real here. Surely some people in Trump's base will figure that he is not one of them. Although how many is an open question, since they never figured it out when it came to Trump himself.

After more barnstorming in Iowa, DeSantis will go to New Hampshire and South Carolina before going back to Iowa on Saturday. There he will attend the annual "Roast and Ride" fundraiser run by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). But Saturday the show won't be his alone. All the other declared candidates—except possibly Trump—will show up, so DeSantis will have to fight for attention.

DeSantis' super PAC, Never Back Down, has field workers in the four early states. They have 200 people on the ground and have knocked on 50,000 doors. The group is planning to raise and spend $100 million on its field operation alone.

Once DeSantis starts to do retail campaigning, he is going to have reporters come up to him and ask questions. How he handles this could be critical. He may not want to answer pointed questions, but what should he do? If he is evasive, a decent reporter will ask follow-up questions until the Governor answers the first question. If he gets frustrated and tells the reporter to buzz off, the reporter is going to write a story saying that DeSantis is an obnoxious jerk—or worse. If this happens for a couple of months, his image nationally will become that of an obnoxious jerk. He will fail the "beer test" and it will be all downhill from there. His advisers have undoubtedly told him this many times, but changing your personality from an obnoxious jerk to a hail fellow, well met is tough. They don't teach that at Yale or Harvard. (V)

Jack Smith Has Tape of Trump Discussing Classified Documents

Donald Trump's legal problems just keep getting worse. Special counsel Jack Smith is a real pitbull. He just keeps at it and won't let go. He's also pretty good at keeping out of the news, but once in a while something leaks. Yesterday CNN got a scoop that could impact the Mar-a-Lago documents case. In July 2021, 6 months after Trump left office, Trump held a meeting at his Bedminster, NJ, golf club with multiple people in conjunction with Mark Meadows' memoir. One of them made an audio recording of it, which Smith now has. At the meeting, Trump talks about a classified document that relates to how the U.S. military might strike Iran if it came to that. In the recording, Trump says things that suggest that he knew the document was secret and he had not declassified it.

To be clear, this meeting and recording are not directly related to the time the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in 2022 and found classified documents. However, it does affect Trump's statement that he declassified everything he took from the White House. If it turns out that it can be proven (by a recording) that Trump did not declassify everything he took from the White House and knew that, there goes his defense that everything at Mar-a-Lago had been declassified. Additionally, there is an official protocol for declassifying documents and in some cases Trump used it, so he knew exactly how declassification worked. This will make it very difficult to later argue that the president can declassify a document by just saying "Declassified, declassified, declassified" and then clicking his heels together three times. This is important because the law says that it is a crime to intentionally possess a classified document at an unauthorized facility and the recording gives yet more evidence that Trump knew exactly what he was doing, that is, he had intent.

Over the course of time, Trump has given a whole range of explanations of how classified documents ended up at Mar-a-Lago. He has said that staffers put them in cartons of his souvenirs without his knowledge when he left the White House. He has said that he had a standing order to declassify anything he took with him. He has said presidents can telepathically declassify documents. It's all over the map. Occam's razor and now a recording suggest that these are all bogus and that he took documents he had no right to intentionally and was fully aware of it. He just thought he could get away with it.

In an interview with CNN last night, one of Trump's lawyers, James Trusty, made a statement that indicates that he is a good lawyer. He said: "When he [Trump] left for Mar-a-Lago with boxes of documents that other people packed for him that he brought, he was the commander in chief. There is no doubt that he has the constitutional authority as commander in chief to declassify." All this is certainly true but in no way addresses the issue of whether Trump actually did declassify the documents he took home with him, only that he could have. "Could have" is not the same as "did" and Trusty understands that perfectly and spoke accordingly to cover his own a**.

How important is this new revelation? We'll give it a four "units" because we believe the Mar-a-Lago documents case is going to be easier to prove in court than the insurrection case and the recording may establish the intent required to make possession a crime. (V)

Four poop icon

Chris Christie Is Probably In

Mike Allen of Axios, who is probably better plugged into politics than anyone this side of Maggie Haberman, is reporting that Chris Christie has made a decision to run for president and will announce it in a week or so. Christie's entry could be fundamentally different than that of all the other second-, third-, and fourth-tier players now in the race. All the others, from the hapless Mike Pence to the Indian guy whose name we can't remember without Googling "rich Indian guy running for president as a Republican" kind of have as their dream that somehow magically the stars will align and they get the GOP nomination. All of them are scared witless of actually criticizing Donald Trump for fear that he will attack back and hard. They don't know that you can't knock off the frontrunner by pretending there is no frontrunner. Please don't tell them. It would hurt their feelings.

Christie is not like that. He's been around the track a couple of times and knows his chances of actually being the nominee are small, but that really isn't his goal (although it would be nice). What he wants to do is knock out Donald Trump and move the Republican Party to a post-Trump future. If there were an SAT analogy question: "Honey badger is to animals as X is to politicians," the correct answer would be "Chris Christie." He can handle incoming fire well and he can also speak his mind. He knows Trump will go after him and that's fine with him. In fact, the more aggressive he is attacking Trump, the more aggressive Trump will be attacking him and the more news stories will be written about him. Will Christie shy away from hitting below the belt? We don't know, but we suspect that he won't. Maybe he can hire Stormy Daniels as an adviser. She's actually pretty good with words—for example, calling her encounter with Trump "the worst 90 seconds of my life." Christie knows that the way to take Trump down is not on policy or proving that New Jersey is where woke goes to die, but to make Trump look weak, get his goat, and have him blurt out something damaging.

Christie did a pretty good takedown of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in 2016 in one of the debates:

Could Christie take down Trump like that? Probably not quite as well, since Trump is a more experienced and better campaigner than Rubio. Still, it is certainly possible that Christie could wound Trump in ways none of the other POTUS-wannabes will even try to.

Christie has already said that if Trump is the GOP nominee he won't vote for him (or Joe Biden) and will write in someone else. That's already further than any of the other candidates have gone. Christie is clearly not going to pick up much of Trump's base, but he is betting that there are enough not-Trump Republicans out there who want to move on and were just waiting for someone to show up and stick it to Trump to make him viable. Christie is polling down in the weeds now. His test will come in the first debate, assuming he manages to make the stage. If he lands a few haymakers on Trump in the first debate, it could change the course of the campaign.

Further evidence that Christie is running is that he now has a super PAC. No serious candidate runs these days without one. The super PAC will be run by Brian Jones, a top adviser to both John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. If the super PAC gets enough money, it could run ads on TV and the Internet that ridicule Trump and get lots of free publicity. (V)

There Could Be Up to Four Black Women in the Next Senate

Currently there are no Black women in the Senate, but it is almost certain there will be at least one, and maybe even four, if all the stars align for the Democrats in 2024. The reason that there is a serious chance that there could be as many as four Black women in the next Senate is that there are open seats in three deep blue state, plus an open seat in one swing state, with Black women running in all four races. Let's look at them from most likely to least likely:

Black women do not have a good track record winning Senate elections. There have been only two Black female senators in all of U.S. history, Carol Moseley Braun and Kamala Harris. In 2022, Cheri Beasley ran in North Carolina and lost and Val Demings ran in Florida and lost. Still, it is almost certain that at least one of the Black women running for the Senate in 2024 will make it. (V)

David Cicilline Will Leave Congress Today

Yesterday, we noted that Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) will leave Congress to take care of his ailing wife. However, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) is leaving the House today, thus balancing out Stewart's departure. At the start of this week, it was 222 Republicans, 213 Democrats, which means 218 votes needed for a majority and a 4-vote margin of error for Kevin McCarthy. As of today, it will be 222-212, which means 217 votes needed for a majority and a 5-vote margin of error for McCarthy. As soon as Stewart's resignation becomes official, it will be 221-212, with 217 votes still be needed for a majority, but with McCarthy back to a 4-vote margin of error. So, if the Speaker has some other tricky piece of legislation on his to-do list, he might want to get to work pronto.

Cicilline, who will become CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, has been in the House since 2011. He got 64% of the vote in 2022 and could have stayed in the seat until he died if he wanted to. But he was up to new challenges and knew the seat was safe for the Democrats. Before being elected to Congress, Cicilline was a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly. He also served as mayor of Providence. Until his departure, Cicilline was one of 13 openly LGBTQ members of Congress and was co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus. He was also one of the impeachment managers for Donald Trump's second impeachment.

Both parties are expected to hold the seats in the resulting special elections, and both special elections are likely to take place on Nov. 7. So, unless other members depart due to death, resignation, or... expulsion, the math in the House will remain the same until this fall's general election. (V)

Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down Two Laws Banning Abortions

The conservative Oklahoma Supreme Court yesterday struck down two new laws that ban abortions. But fear not, abortion is still essentially illegal in the Sooner State.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Court decided to respect its own precedents. Weird. In March, it ruled that the Oklahoma Constitution gave women the right to terminate pregnancies to save their own lives. The new laws, SB 1603 and HB 4327, allow abortions only in medical emergencies. The Court felt that this was in conflict with its own earlier ruling. The Court also reasoned that if a pregnancy was clearly going to become life threatening sooner or later, doctors would be forbidden from interfering until it actually became life threatening, in which case it would sometimes be too late and the woman would then die.

Both laws made abortion providers liable for civil lawsuits, not criminal prosecution. One of them, HB 4327, created a bounty system patterned on a Texas law that allows anyone to sue anyone who aided an abortion for $10,000. Oklahoma AG Gentner Drummond (R) helpfully reminded Oklahomans that a 1910 law still in effect bans nearly all abortions, so the demise of the new ones don't really change much except that you can't collect $10,000 by suing an abortion provider.

In a bit of a surprise, on Tuesday, Gov. Joe Lombardo (R-NV) signed a bill that protects abortion providers in the state and creates rights for out-of-state patients seeking abortions in Nevada. Lombardo is the only swing-state Republican governor to sign a bill protecting abortion rights in many years. It is possible that Lombardo is good at reading tea leaves and would like to get reelected in 2026. Of course, to get reelected in 2026, he first has to get renominated. That might not be so easy now. The state Republican Party registered horror as the bill was working its way through the state legislature. (V)

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