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Democrats Just Can't Win: Five Americans Freed in Iran

We have several items planned on this basic theme, but this one just became time-sensitive, and so it moves to the front of the line. There was (and maybe still is) a time when Democrats could not strike any sort of deal with communist nations without being lambasted for being foolish and weak and "soft on Communism." For that reason, only Nixon (or some other Republican) could go to China. The same dynamic holds today with the nations of the Middle East, particularly Iran. In case there was any doubt on this point, we got a reminder yesterday when the Biden administration announced that it had negotiated the release of five Americans being held without trial by the Iranian government.

The details of the deal are pretty basic. The five newly freed folks include Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz, who were held, for years, in one of Iran's most notorious prisons (Evin Prison). The names of the other two are not yet known, but whoever they are, they probably never played in the WNBA. In exchange, South Korea unfroze $6 billion in assets, held in deference to U.S. sanctions on Iran. These assets have already been transferred to Qatar, who will oversee how the money is spent, making certain that it's used solely for humanitarian purposes. In addition, five Iranians held in the U.S. will be returned to Iran.

One could read the previous paragraph and reach the conclusion that it's a pretty reasonable deal. However, you could look long and hard and still not find a prominent Republican who feels that way. Republican senators (particularly the Iran hawks, like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX), pretty much every Republican presidential candidate including Donald Trump, and dozens of members of the U.S. House crapped all over it. The basic list of complaints was: (1) this enables terrorism, (2) this encourages further kidnappings/detentions, (3) you can't trust Qatar to make sure the money is spent on humanitarian stuff, and (4) Biden is weak and got steamrolled by the Iranians.

In response to this, we're going to offer up some thoughts, in no particular order:

In short, we don't really buy most of the criticism, which comes off as knee-jerk and which we would not hear if Donald Trump made the exact same deal. From where we sit, the only concern that has merit is the argument that if you pay to redeem hostages, you encourage the taking of more hostages. Of course, it could also be argued that if having five people rotting in prison cells isn't getting a response, maybe having ten people will. In the end, we find ourselves in agreement with CNN's Peter Bergen, who writes that the best option, from among a bunch of bad ones, is to make Americans very aware of the risks they take in traveling to hostile countries, and then to hope they heed those warnings and avoid going.

Because American voters do not generally pay too much attention to foreign affairs, we doubt this story will do much to affect the presidential race. That said, there are about 60 Americans currently being held by hostile governments without justification (in the view of the State Department). If the Biden administration brings, say, half of those people home in the next year, then it could get interesting in terms of feathers in Biden's cap.

And incidentally, if you have suggestions for issues where the Democrats just can't win or those where the Republicans just can't win, we continue to welcome those. (Z)

A Shutdown Is Growing Much More Likely

Over the weekend, a handful of Freedom Caucusers, joined by a handful of Main Street Republicans (i.e., "moderates," whatever that means in the current U.S. House of Representatives), hammered out a spending bill that would keep the government open short term, and would avoid a shutdown. Progress, right?

Not so much, as it turns out. The basics of the plan are as follows. First, overall government spending would be cut by 1%. Not unreasonable, except this would be achieved by keeping the budgets for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans' Affairs completely intact, and slashing everything else by 8%. In addition, the proposal finds some money to increase border security. Also not unreasonable, except that the money would be mostly for restarting construction on the border wall, and also enhancing border monitoring with drones and the like. Anyone who reads this site knows all about the wall, while border monitoring is mostly just political theater, since the great majority of undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. legally and then overstay their visas.

Meanwhile, the proposal lacks any funding for certain other priorities. There's nothing for Ukraine, for example. Similarly, there's no additional funding for disaster mitigation, despite an unprecedented year of fires, hurricanes, droughts and other such phenomena.

So, let's now make a list of everyone who finds the proposal to be unacceptable:

Looking at this, does it seem like Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) can piece together 218 votes? Not terribly probable, in a world where he can only afford four Republican defectors, and with several members of his conference not even in Washington right now. And even if he pulls off a miracle, this bill will never get through the Senate and will never get Biden's signature. So, the Speaker is going to be back where he started, namely needing to come up with something that can get some amount of bipartisan support. Because there is no such thing as a bill that will please the FCers, and yet will also get past the upper chamber and the White House.

Meanwhile, the members of the Senate Republican Conference do not favor the current bill, but they do not want to be attacked as RINOs, either. So yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) & Co. made clear that they're going to hang back and let the House Republicans sort this out all by themselves.

The money runs out next Friday. That's 10 days away. (Z)

Trump Makes It Official, Part I

Donald Trump hates debate preparation, and he hates being reined in by moderators, political opponents, time limits, and the like. The free-form, "I'm the star" setup of rallies is much more to his liking. If the Republicans on stage at the first debate had treated him like a piñata, lining up to take shots at him while he was unable to defend himself, then he might have shown up for the second debate. But they didn't and now he won't; he made it official yesterday.

So, how will Trump counter-program the debate? It won't be an interview with that twit... er, that Twitter... er, that X personality Tucker Carlson. No, those two men have limits to how much they can pretend to tolerate each other. Instead, Trump is going to give a speech to 500 or so members of the United Auto Workers. Since the speech will be at the same time as the debate, most likely, the former president will steal a little thunder from the RNC. Meanwhile, he will rail against electric cars, and against the ongoing strike (if it's still happening), promising that it would end overnight if only he were in charge of negotiating. So, in other words, it will also be a poke in Joe Biden's eye. All in all, a pretty clever twofer from whoever is making strategic decisions for the Trump campaign.

That is not to say that Trump will be warmly welcomed by all involved. UAW president Shawn Fain issued a statement that read, in part:

Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers. We can't keep electing billionaires and millionaires that don't have any understanding what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to get by and expecting them to solve the problems of the working class.

Fain is undoubtedly correct that Trump is not, and never has been, a friend of the working man when it comes to kitchen table issues. That said, it won't be too hard to find 500 union members who think that Trump is their friend on other things, like owning the libs and building the wall. So, the former president should have no difficulty staging his photo op. Meanwhile, those of us watching the debate will be treated to the sight of Vivek Ramaswamy playing the role of Trump Jr. (except without the cocaine), and everyone else attacking anyone but Trump. (Z)

Trump Makes It Official, Part II

If you are a person who distinguishes between the "good" Black people and the "bad" ones, you're a racist. There's just no getting around it. Same thing with the "good" and "bad" Mexicans, or the "good" and "bad" Chinese people, to name two other prominent examples from U.S. history. And note, we mean this as a rhetorical device; we presume that anyone reading this site would not actually engage in this sort of behavior.

If you followed the headlines yesterday, you probably know where this is going. If a person distinguishes between the "good" Jews and the "bad" Jews, they are an antisemite. There's just no benign justification for that kind of sorting. And so it is that Donald Trump reminded us this week, once again, that he's fundamentally antisemitic. Oh, he may have some Jewish people working for him, and some Black people, and the like, but he absolutely sorts these groups into "good" and "bad" and we all know it. Think, for example, Ben Carson and Clarence Thomas versus people from "sh**hole countries."

Trump used the occasion of Rosh Hashanah for his latest display of his true colors (presumably not blue and white). He hopped onto his boutique social media platform and reposted a flier that begins thusly:

Just a quick reminder for liberal Jews who voted to destroy America & Israel because you believed false narratives! Let's hope you learned from your mistake & make better choices going forward. Happy New Year!

The rest of the flier contains a clumsily written list of reasons why Trump is not a Natzi (sic) or Anti Semite (sic). If you care to read it for yourself, you can do so here.

Trump's clearly outlandish and offensive statement was called out by Jewish members of Congress, Israeli media, American media, and sane conservative media. GOP politicians and Trump-friendly media, on the other hand? Not a peep, as far as we could find.

Polls show that if Trump is the Republican nominee, he's going to lose the Jewish vote to Joe Biden (or pretty much any Democrat) by about 50 points (roughly 70% to 20%). That makes Jewish voters just about the most Democratic-leaning group outside of Black women. The former president surely isn't fooling himself into thinking that attacking the 70% as people who "voted to destroy America" is going to have any meaningful impact on his fortunes with Jewish voters. In fact, between his Rosh Hashanah message and the Kanye West fiasco, he is almost certainly moving backward with this particular interest group.

However, while Trump does not need, and will not get, a big chunk of the Jewish vote, he does need 100% of the bigot vote. He not only needs those folks to be with him, but to be motivated to get to the polls. And these sorts of racist/sexist/antisemitic dog bullhorns are how he does it. In other words, in case you forgot, you should be bracing yourself for an ugly, ugly campaign, particularly if you are a member of one of the many groups who will be targeted by Trump's bile. We don't enjoy being the bearers of bad tidings, but there it is. (Z)

Two Questions for Merrick Garland

Reportedly, the relationship between Joe Biden and AG Merrick Garland has grown "frosty," according to insiders. Readers can probably piece together a pretty good general picture of why that might be. However, we can put a finer point on it by raising just two questions for the AG to answer (not that he's going to do so).

First up, Donald Trump, a former president, quite clearly took classified materials to which he was not entitled, refused to give them back, and then tried to hide them. Mike Pence, a former vice president, quite clearly took classified materials to which he was not entitled, discovered the mistake, and immediately turned them over. Biden, a former vice president, quite clearly took classified materials to which he was not entitled, discovered the mistake, and immediately turned them over.

One of these things is not like the others. And so, taking a careful look at Trump is entirely justifiable. Alternatively, given the high station these three men occupied, one could make the case that all three should have been put under the microscope, just to make sure there was no funny business. Instead, we got a situation where Trump and Biden got the special counsel treatment, while the Pence case was quickly closed.

That leads us to question one for Garland: Why?

Second up, Hunter Biden, is a troubled fellow who clearly broke some laws, although laws of the sort that rarely result in the defendant having the book thrown at them. U.S. Attorney and Trump administration holdover David Weiss spent 4 years investigating, came up with relatively little of substance for his efforts, and then turned around and botched a plea agreement so badly a judge rejected it. What was Weiss' reward for all of this? A promotion to special counsel.

That leads us to question two for Garland: Why?

Of course, we know the answer to these questions, even without benefit of a direct answer from Garland. He's bending over backwards (and leftways and rightways and sideways) to give the appearance of being fair and impartial, and of not playing favorites. But it's evident that he's overcorrected, and that he's holding the Bidens to a higher standard than, well, anyone else, even another vice president. If an AG's decision making is being affected by political considerations more than their beliefs in what is right and just, then they're not doing their job properly. That includes AGs like Bill Barr, who pander to the party in power, along with AGs like Garland, who... well, pander to the party not in power.

And it's not like Garland is actually achieving anything meaningful with his performative "fairness." Trumpers still think that both Bidens are getting the kid-gloves treatment, and that a real AG would have already thrown both of them in prison and then thrown away the key.

Indeed, the fact that we currently have three special counsels, more than at any other time in U.S. history, is also something of a black mark against the AG. Yes, a special counsel ostensibly makes an investigation more fair and impartial, but such a person also acts as a shield for the AG, giving them an extra layer of protection from public scrutiny and criticism. Barring the revelation of rather significant information not currently known, Garland could have made the decision about the Biden classified files himself. Similarly, he could very well have decided that after 4 years of investigation that produced only a couple of tax offenses and a violation of a law that may not be on the books anymore by this time next year, there was no "there" there, and it was time to let Hunter Biden go. But now, thanks to Weiss' promotion, Garland can't quash the charges unless he goes before Congress to explain himself. And what do you think the odds are he'll do that?

So yeah, no wonder Joe Biden does not have warm and fuzzy feelings about the AG right now. (Z)

Wexton Is Out

This is sad news, regardless of one's partisan preferences. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) has decided to bring her political career to an end once her current term is up. This is not what she wants to do, but an initial diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease (somewhat manageable) has been changed to a diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy (much less manageable). PSP generally results in severe disability within 3-5 years of the onset of symptoms, so you can understand why another 2 years on top of the roughly 1½ left in Wexton's current term does not sound like a smart plan.

Truth be told, Wexton would be entirely justified in stepping down right now, but that's not her style. She made clear in a statement yesterday that she planned to finish what she started, and then, once her term is complete, to "spend my valued time with [my husband] Andrew, our boys, and my friends and loved ones." When the Representative departs, the House will lose one of its most outspoken Democrats, particularly when it comes to criticism of Donald Trump and support for trans rights.

Needless to say, right now is not the time for upwardly mobile Democratic politicians to express interest in the seat; that would be borderline ghoulish. Undoubtedly, there will eventually be a spirited primary contest to represent her D+6 district (VA-10), but for now the state's Democrats are rallying around Wexton, paying tribute to her career in public service, and expressing hope that her health holds for as long as is possible. Obviously, we share those sentiments, and wish Wexton the best. (Z)

Cisneros Is In

Gil Cisneros has a somewhat unusual biography, as far as politicians go. To start with, his entire political career has been made possible by the $266 million he won in the lottery. That is enough money to self-fund quite a few political campaigns, especially when your target is a seat in the U.S. House. For most of his life before he won the money, he was a Republican who worked in a blue-collar job for Frito-Lay. Now that he's loaded, he's a Democrat, having been driven to re-register over the GOP becoming "too ideological." From working class and Republican to rich and Democratic is not the normal progression. Although these days, maybe it is.

In Cisneros' first foray into the political arena, in 2018, he effectively scared Ed Royce (R) into retiring, and then outpolled now-Rep. Young Kim (R-CA) to win the seat in what was then CA-39, 51.6% to 48.4%. In 2020, Cisneros and Kim had a rematch, and this time Kim came out on top, 50.6% to 49.4%. Cisneros' consolation prize was appointment as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness in the Department of Defense, in which capacity he has been serving since August of 2021. It would seem that life as a mid-level bureaucrat is not as fun and glamorous as it's cracked up to be, however, and so Cisneros wants to relocate back to D.C. from Arlington County. To that end, he declared a third run for the House yesterday.

It would seem that Cisneros does not like his chances in a third matchup against Kim, so he's running in CA-31, the deep-blue (D+15) district being vacated by the retiring Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA). Obviously, the next person to represent that district is going to be a Democrat. However, there are quite a few members of the blue team vying for the honor. In particular, in addition to Cisneros, there is state Sen. Bob Jerry Archuleta (D), who once served as a mayor (of Pico Rivera) in the district, and whose state Senate district overlaps some with CA-31, and who has Napolitano's endorsement. There is also state Sen. Susan Rubio (D), whose state Senate district overlaps a lot with CA-31, and who is going to make abortion access a centerpiece of her campaign.

Cisneros' former congressional district barely overlaps with CA-31 at all, so he's going to start the race as something of an unknown. Obviously, that sweet, sweet lottery lucre will help to rectify that problem. He's also got the backing of Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán, in a district that is 60% Latino. And he can tout his work at the Pentagon, where he's been at the center of the Pentagon's efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion, which means he's been a frequent Republican whipping boy. Sounds like it's going to be a barnburner to us. And don't forget, given California's jungle-primary-style system, it's entirely possible that two Democrats end up facing off in the general. (Z)

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