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New polls: (None)
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

Some readers guessed, due to the total absence of (Z) bylines this week, that (Z) must be ill, and sent in well wishes. One reader, who clearly has an excellent memory, even guessed (correctly) that it was yet another kidney infection. Yeah, these things are brutal.

In any event, (Z) is partly back in the saddle. But only partly. Not unlike Kirk Gibson, who sucked it up long enough to take one key at-bat in the 1988 World Series, (Z) arose from the dead long enough to contribute this week's schadenfreude and freudenfreude items, but that's all he's got in him. So, no headline theme this week. Sorry. And we'll see what happens over the weekend.

Johnson Screwed Up

We don't normally go to highly partisan news sources like Fox News or Daily Kos for news, although we sometimes go there to see the reaction of the right or left to some news story we found elsewhere. Once in a blue moon, though, we find something there that is actually news that everybody else missed. It's rare, but it happens. This appears to be one of those times.

You undoubtedly now know about the two-stage rocket Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) devised for not shutting the government down now. One can got kicked to Jan. 19 and the other can got kicked to Feb. 2. Everyone is proclaiming Johnson the greatest political genius since James Monroe or John Locke. Or maybe Niccolò Machiavelli. We never saw any explanation of why two separate dates was better than one. After all, there is no agreement between the Democrats and the Republicans on anything, and also no agreement between Republicans and Republicans on anything. What difference does it make if the mother of all shutdowns occurs in January or February? Who cares if there is one deadline or two?

Well, according to an item on Daily Kos, there was method to Johnson's scheme. A lot of method. It was near genius. But he blew it.

The thing you need to understand is that Republicans care about some departments but not about others. They very much care about military spending, the border patrol, farm subsidies, and a couple of other items. They actively oppose most of the social spending, like HUD and education. Johnson's plan was as clever as it was sneaky. The things Republicans really care about would be extended to Jan. 19. These things had to pass because not funding them would mean no money for the military and DHS, so soldiers and the border patrol agents would have to work without pay. These things had to be funded or the Republicans would catch hell. So the plan was to make some deal on Jan. 18 to fund them, possibly at the same level as last year or maybe with a small increase.

Once that was all finished and approved by the Senate and White House, the Republican priorities would be safe. Come Feb. 1, the Republicans would demand 30% cuts in the social spending and when Democrats balked, those programs would be halted. Republicans would be happy if they were never funded and would hold out for 30% cuts until the cows came home. In the end, they might not get 30%, but eventually Democrats would cave and they'd "compromise" on a 15% cut. That was the plan. It makes sense and explains the idea of the two-stage rocket.

But something happened. During the legislative process, multiple drafts written by different staffers often circulate as the sausage is being made. Members propose and pitch their versions and argue about them. Horses are traded. That's how it works. Somehow, and we are not sure how, when Johnson began calling the roll on the plan, he called for a vote on a plan different from the one he had in mind. It had the Agriculture, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and HUD budgets on the group 1 (Jan. 19) along with the FDA, energy, water, and military construction. Everything else was in group 2 on Feb. 2. Johnson missed the fact that he was holding a vote on the wrong bill. It passed, was sent to the Senate, passed there too, and Joe Biden signed it. By the time Johnson realized what had happened, it was too late.

Group 1 (Jan. 19) has some things Republicans want, like Agriculture (farm subsidies) and Veterans Affairs, so they will have to make a deal to pass it when it comes up again. But Group 2 (Feb. 2) has Defense and Homeland Security, things Republicans really care about. If they refuse to make a deal on Feb. 1, soldiers and border patrol agents won't be paid and their base will go bonkers. The Republicans won't be able to hold out for 30% cuts for long. They will have to agree to some deal the Democrats are willing to accept. There will be heavy-duty negotiations but no hostage situation since Republicans care dearly about some of the items in Group 2. Johnson got snookered.

How did this switcheroo happen? Nobody seems to know. Did some low-level staffer fire up Microsoft Word and make a couple of edits to the bill 5 minutes before voting started? MAGAworld wants to know who the mole was, but the mole ain't talking. Maybe Johnson himself screwed up by picking the wrong bill number to vote on. Again, we don't know, but Johnson is new to the job and maybe not so good at the details. This wouldn't happen to Turtle, that's for sure. In any event, if the item linked to is true, and we believe it is, the Republicans just lost most of their leverage because there are things their base wants in both groups now, while the things the base wants most are in the second group. So, holding either of them hostage would result in serious blowback. (V)

Ethics Report: "Santos" Is a Criminal

The House Ethics Committee has been investigating Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY) for a while and has now issued a report. It concludes that there is substantial evidence that "Santos" violated federal criminal laws.

Among other things, the report reads: "At nearly every opportunity, he placed his desire for private gain above his duty to uphold the Constitution, federal law, and ethical principles. Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit." Nevertheless, the Committee, which has an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, didn't recommend specific sanctions. They are up to the full House. The report will probably trigger another attempt to expel him from the House. And it will probably happen as soon as the House has eaten all the turkey it wants and gets back to work after Thanksgiving.

"Santos" has been indicted on 23 counts of identity theft, charging donors' credit cards without authorization, and submitting fake campaign financial reports. He has also lied about so many things that no one in the chamber now believes anything he says.

An expulsion is tricky. It takes a two-thirds majority to expel a member. More important, however, is that his Long Island district is D+2 and an expulsion will immediately trigger a special election. Disgust with "Santos" will possibly be enough to propel the Democrat to victory, reducing the Republicans' razor-thin margin to 221-214 (after Tuesday's special election in Utah). Mike Johnson needs every vote he can get, so he will probably vote against expulsion. Whether he will also whip votes against expulsion is harder to know.

No matter what happens on the expulsion vote, "Santos" has now announced that he will not run for reelection. Not that he had the slightest chance of getting the nomination, let alone winning, mind you. So even if he is not expelled, NY-03 will be a major battleground in 2024—even if the Democrats in New York State don't regerrymander the map, which they are champing at the bit to do as soon as the NY Court of Appeals gives them permission to do so. (V)

Univision Becomes MAGAvision

Several surveys have shown that Latinos are moving toward the Republicans. Why? The Republicans' positions on most items hasn't changed for years and are not what Latinos want. How has this happened? One possible explanation is that Univision, the most influential Spanish-language television network in the country, has historically been for the Democrats as much as Fox News has been for the Republicans. It is a major news source for many Latinos. Its biggest star, Jorge Ramos, used to work at Grupo Televisa, a major Spanish-language media company based in Mexico, but left when management objected to his holding powerful people's feet to the fire. He came to the U.S., joined Univision, and continued to hold powerful people's feet to the fire. He's very good at it and is as big a star at his network as Walter Cronkite once was at CBS. One time in the 2016 presidential campaign, he confronted Donald Trump about Latino concerns over his immigration rhetoric. Trump's reaction was to order security to remove Ramos from the room.

At the time, the Univision chairman was Haim Saban, a wealthy Egyptian-born Israeli-American Jew who was a good friend of—and major donor to—Bill Clinton. He also gave millions of dollars to the DNC. Under his leadership, Univision was pro-Democratic Party and Ramos was free to grill anybody he wanted to, but it was mostly Republicans he wanted to grill.

In April 2021, Univision merged with Televisa and Saban left the company. The new management is much more Trump-friendly than Saban was. Jared Kushner is being treated like a long-lost friend who has been suddenly found. All of a sudden, ads the Biden campaign had placed for Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania were canceled on some pretext. On Oct. 19, when Biden gave a prime-time address on Israel and Ukraine, Univision cut away part-way through his (short) address. Maria Cardona, a member of the DNC, said of the new Univision: "It is going to mask the pernicious and dangerous politics that Donald Trump is going to implement if he becomes president again." Democrats are now afraid that the biggest pro-Democratic Spanish-language voice has not only been lost, but turned against them. (V)

Ronna Romney McDaniel Is the New Scapegoat for the Republicans' Woes

Republicans did badly in 2018, 2020, 2022 and now 2023. Where does the buck stop? Quite a few Republicans think it stops at 310 First St. SE, D.C., the headquarters of the RNC, and they want chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel's head on a pike. However, party insiders think that a big battle over the RNC leadership in the middle of a presidential campaign would be so disruptive and damaging that she is safe at least until next November, as much as some people blame her for all the losses. Republican National committeeman Oscar Brock of Tennessee said: "I think it would make some people happy—maybe a lot of people happy—but I think in the end it would probably be detrimental to the party to try to have her removed by vote." It would take two-thirds of the 168 members to remove her and it is not clear if there are 112 members who want to dump her right now. Also, there is no obvious successor, and picking one willy-nilly in the midst of an ongoing election cycle might not be the best thing for the party.

Part of the problem—a big part, actually—is that it isn't McDaniel's fault that Republicans have done so badly. And to the extent it is her fault, it is because she doesn't listen to Uncle Mitt and does whatever Donald Trump wants, including supporting loony candidates Trump likes. Worrying about "candidate quality" isn't her thing. That's what Turtles are for.

McDaniel is the longest serving RNC chair in a century. Her main job is raising money, which she does reasonably well. She doesn't really get to pick candidates and certainly doesn't get to tell them what to say or how to campaign. When Trump foists poor candidates on the party and they campaign on unpopular issues (like banning abortion), there is really nothing she can do about it, even if she sees the trainwreck coming. It is hard to see how a different RNC chair would have produced better results in any of the elections, but after four bad elections, a scapegoat is needed, and for some unhappy Republicans, a high-profile woman seems like a good place to start.

The leader of the opposition to McDaniel is Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, an ultraconservative group. He tried to unseat her in January, but she was elected to a fourth term. After the losses in Ohio, Virginia, and Kentucky, his frustration with her is palpable. But how could she have made abortion go away as an issue in Ohio and Virginia, and how could she have made the unpopular Daniel Cameron beat the very popular Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY)? Those things are simply outside the box for the RNC, no matter who is running it. More money wouldn't have made a whit of difference. Every statewide official in Ohio was loudly opposing Issue 1 in Ohio and the wunderkind Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) was out there every day campaigning for members of the General Assembly and he lost.

McDaniel does have her supporters though. The chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, Jeff Kaufman, said: "Without her support, Iowa and the Iowa Caucus would not be first in the nation. She has my full confidence as we head into the thick of caucus season." She's probably going to be able to finish this term, but it will probably be her last one. (V)

Kari Lake Is Begging for the People She Told to Buzz Off to Come Back

At a rally during her 2022 gubernatorial campaign, then-candidate Kari Lake said: "We don't have any McCain Republicans in here, do we? If we do, get the hell out." Watch:

Now she has discovered belatedly that McCain Republicans also get to vote and some of them voted for Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-AZ). So she is trying to get them back for her current Senate race, which may not be so easy.

Her biggest attempt at detente is with Karrin Taylor Robson, her 2022 primary opponent, whom she called a gold digger for using her husband's money to try to buy Arizona's governorship. All that did was undermine Republican unity. Now Lake is stuck with a Democratic governor, not to mention a Democratic AG, and a Democrat SoS. She met with Robson in October and tried to make up. Robson called the meeting "cordial." That just means they didn't fight like cats and dogs. So far, Robson hasn't endorsed her.

Lake understands that she needs the moderate Republicans she once kicked out of the room, lest they vote en masse for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) (who hasn't decided if she will even be a candidate). It is far from clear if moderate Republicans will forgive Lake for all the fire and brimstone she threw at them in 2022. Will they trust her? Or will they think what she said in 2022 was what she really believes and her new moderation is just a campaign gambit? If she pleads with them that, no, she has turned over a new leaf and now loves McCain Republicans, her MAGA base could revolt. She is also trying to make nice with former senator Martha McSally.

That said, Lake has not had any contact with former governor Doug Ducey or Cindy McCain. When asked about it, Lake said: "I'm focused on other things right now." They are still big players in Arizona Republican politics behind the scenes and may not appreciate the snub. When she later comes begging for their endorsements, each one may well say: "I'm focused on other things right now." Lake may be sorry later, since Ducey and McCain may well have an alternative to her in Sinema, if she runs. (V)

Katie Porter's Seat Will Be a Huge Battleground

Orange County was Nixon and Reagan country for decades. Only in the last half-dozen cycles or so has it turned blue. That change is in no small part due to Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), a fundraising powerhouse. But in 2022, even with $30 million, she barely won. Now that she is running for the Senate, she is leaving an open seat behind in CA-47. That is a D+3 district which runs from just outside Seal Beach down the coast to Laguna Niguel and inland to Irvine and on to the Santa Ana Freeway. Here it is:

District CA-47

The big issue is whether any Democrat can raise that kind of cash and if not, whether they can win without it. As you know, every House seat counts this time.

Two Democrats are running in the primary, Dave Min and Joanna Weiss. Min, a Korean American, ran for the seat in 2018 against Porter and she won. But Min got enough publicity that he was able to run for and win a seat in the state Senate in 2020. Now he is trying again for the U.S. House seat he didn't get in 2018.

Weiss is a lawyer, community organizer, and abortion-rights activist. She has done pro bono work for survivors of domestic violence and the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, and other groups have presented her with awards for her work.

An event that has nothing to do with their political positions is dominating the campaign. Min ran a red light and was arrested for drunken driving. In a state car. That is definitely not going to help. Some Democrats say the incident calls his judgment into doubt and he should drop out. But the Asian-American community wants an Asian-American to represent them. On the other hand, Weiss lives about 10 miles outside the district. Representatives do not have to live in their district, but voters often prefer it.

The Republican candidate is Scott Baugh, who ran against Porter in 2022 and lost. He is trying again, only this time without Porter. However, he opposed abortion then and still does. That is not a winning issue these days. It will be a real barn burner and could determine control of the House. (V)

Paul Pelosi's Attacker Found Guilty

On Oct 28, 2022, a man named David DePape, who was full of right-wing conspiracy theories, broke into the San Francisco home of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) with a hammer. He apparently intended to injure and kidnap Pelosi. She wasn't home, so he had to quickly activate Plan B, which was to try to kill her husband, the 82-year-old Paul Pelosi, by bludgeoning him on the head with the hammer. Pelosi suffered a concussion and injuries to his hand and arm and was in the hospital for 6 days. He said that despite excellent care, he has not fully recovered. Police caught DePape and he was put on trial this week.

Yesterday the jury unanimously found him guilty of two federal crimes: assaulting a family member of a federal official and attempted kidnapping of a federal official. He hasn't been sentenced yet, but the 42-year-old DePape could get 50 years as a guest of Uncle Sam for that.

That is, unless the State of California gets him first for burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, false imprisonment, and attempted murder. San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins said: "We are confident in our case and are prepared to move forward to trial." State charges are important because a President Donald Trump could pardon DePape and award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. No president can pardon anyone of state crimes.

During his testimony, DePape cried on the stand, saying he felt bad because he didn't mean to hurt Mr. Pelosi. He was trying to hurt Mrs. Pelosi, who he believed was plotting against Donald Trump. He said he wanted to break the former speaker's kneecaps. He admitted that he listened to far-right media all day while playing video games. (V)

Angie Craig's Attacker Gets 27 Months

While we are on the subject of people attempting to attack members of Congress, on Feb. 9, 2023, a man named Kendrid Khalil Hamlin (27) followed Rep. Angie Craig (DFL-MN) into an elevator in her apartment building. He said he wanted to use her restroom. She declined, so he punched her in the face and tried to stop her from reaching the elevator keypad. She had a cup of hot coffee in her hand and threw it in his face. Then she was able to run from the elevator.

Craig said: "While this case has received much attention because I am a Member of Congress, that morning I was simply a woman followed into an elevator by a man and assaulted there." She also said the assault has greatly affected her and she is receiving professional help and self-defense training.

Hamlin pleaded guilty and was yesterday sentenced to 27 months in prison, a significantly less severe sentence than DePape could get, possibly because it was probably not politically motivated. There is no evidence that Hamlin knew Craig was a member of the House. Hamlin's parents addressed the court after the sentencing and said they found the attack "horrifying" and had been trying to get their son effective treatment for a decade. The judge recommended that Hamlin serve his sentence in a Bureau of Prisons medical facility. (V)

This Week in Schadenfreude: DeSantis Gets Dragged

These days, good news is sparse for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). His presidential campaign is flailing, and he's either already fallen behind Nikki Haley, or will do so soon. Nothing he does seems to fix it; it turns out that putting lifts in your boots doesn't cancel out, say, the fact that people find you unlikable.

Meanwhile, many of his legislative "accomplishments" have vanished into thin air, or are on life support. In the latter category is the law, passed by the Florida legislature at DeSantis' request, banning drag shows. The law makes it a crime to admit a child to a performance depicting lewd conduct or "lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts." Hamburger Mary's, an Orlando restaurant that hosts drag shows, sued. A federal judge tossed out the law as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

Florida felt that not having the law in force was an emergency and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the law while the appeals process plays out. Yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to reinstate the law by a vote of 6-3, so drag shows will be allowed in Florida until the entire appeals process runs its course. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has its say, the case will almost certainly return to Supremes for the final call.

You presumably don't need us to tell you which three justices were in the minority. And if there is any evidence that Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas are just pulling jurisprudence out of their posterior, in service of their personal political agenda, this is surely it. The courts have made clear, again and again, that clothing is included in protected speech. See, among others, Guiles v. Marineau, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, and Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District. That means that constraints on clothing can only be imposed if there is a compelling government interest. But there is none here. There's nothing to support this fear, much less compelling evidence.

In any case, another scapegoating, culture-wars DeSantis policy is crumbling into dust. Good enough for him. (V & Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: Book Bans, The Final Frontier

This item is a pretty good complement to the one above, because it also involves something that Ron DeSantis likes to ban, namely books. As an added bonus, it involved a cast member of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We know we have many TNG fans among the readership, including at least one who runs their own Trek-themed site.

The cast member in question is LeVar Burton, who has had two very different careers. The first, of course, is as an actor. He is surely best known as Lt. Cmdr. Geordi LaForge, on TNG and its various movies and spinoffs. However, readers who have been watching TV for quite a while will probably also remember him as Kunta Kinte on the wildly successful TV miniseries Roots.

Burton has also been a prominent advocate for reading and books. For a couple of decades plus, that meant writing his own children's books, and also hosting Reading Rainbow, wherein he and the supporting cast chose a book to focus on for each episode, and then talked about the issues the book raises, in a manner appropriate to, roughly, ages 6-10.

Burton's new project, as we note, is trying to push back against book bans. To that end, last month he served as honorary chair of Banned Books Week. This month, he is hosting the National Book Awards for the second time, and will use that platform to talk about the cause. In addition, MoveOn is selling a Burton-themed t-shirt, with the proceeds going to bookmobiles (which, since they are privately funded, don't have to adhere to state dictums). Here's the shirt, if you are interested:

It says: 'LeVar Burton
says: 'Read Banned Books'.

If you wish to get one of your very own, they are here.

If you want to know a bit more, Esquire had a pretty good interview with Burton earlier this week. Meanwhile, since we already made one silly Trek joke in the headline, we won't subject you to another one here. We'll just give a tip of the dust jacket to Burton. (Z)
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