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McCarthy to House GOP: You Never Give Me Your Money

Given that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) eventually managed to land the speakership, and that he managed to navigate a couple of crises since then (like the debt ceiling mess), we were prepared to give him credit for being more skillful than it seemed, and to propose that maybe he has more of Rep. Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) cat-herding abilities than we thought. However, his handling of the budget situation, which is arguably the single biggest item on his annual to-do list, has us thinking that he's not so skillful, after all.

Every maneuver that McCarthy has tried, as part of this slow-moving train wreck, has failed spectacularly. He endeavored, for example, to buy some goodwill by promising to investigate a possible Biden impeachment. Did that gain the speaker anything? Certainly, it did not mollify the Freedom Caucusers, who said: "That's nice, now let's talk about cutting the DoJ's budget in half." The proposal also got Senate Republicans clucking about how it's a bad idea, while alienating Democrats and making them less amenable to compromise.

The Speaker has also been unable to make even the most basic of progress on the actual spending bills. Generally speaking, the easiest thing for a Republican House to agree upon is spending money on defense. And even easier than agreeing to spend that money is agreeing to bring the bill to the floor for debate. Typically, such procedural resolutions are approved along party lines. Yesterday, however, McCarthy failed for the second time this week to get the defense bill to the floor, with five Freedom Caucusers joining with the Democrats to defeat the maneuver, 216-212.

(In the interest of accuracy, it should be noted that one of the "nay" votes was Tom Cole, R-OK, who voted that way to preserve his right to bring the bill up again. So, it's really 215-213. That said, a Speaker who can't even get a bill up such a small hill probably can't get the bill up the much bigger hill of getting it actually passed.)

Particularly galling for McCarthy was that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has generally been an ally of his, flipped to "nay" because she doesn't want to give money to Ukraine. The Georgian observed that this kind of money never does any good, since what benefit did the U.S. get from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan? That's four wars where the U.S. engaged in combat directly, as opposed to Ukraine, where the U.S. is merely paying the bills. So, something of an apples to peaches comparison. One suspects that Greene's "revelation" might have less to do with her painstaking study of modern U.S. history, and more to do with the opportunity to score some extra headlines on a day when Volodymyr Zelenskyy was visiting Washington.

In any event, McCarthy was infuriated by the rejection. Speaking to reporters after, he fumed that "[These] individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. It doesn't work." Welcome to reality, Mr. Speaker, and congratulations on your keen insight. McCarthy also told his conference to go home and not return until Monday. Maybe he wants time for some behind-the-scenes maneuvering, maybe he was pitching a fit, maybe he thinks a cooling-down period is needed—who knows? Nonetheless, it's not a good look to give up three potential days of sausage-making when there are only eight days left until the government shuts down.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are rather enjoying the spectacle, and many of them have engaged in a bit of trolling. While the motion to bring the defense bill to the floor was failing, there was some audible razzing from the Democrats in the gallery. Joe Biden, who has a talent for getting in a subtle dig or two, tweeted: "Last time there was a government shutdown, 800,000 Americans were furloughed or worked without pay. But enjoy your weekend." Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), who has that same talent, announced that he will promise to wear a suit on the floor of the Senate if Republicans agree not to shut down the government.

That said, while Democrats are indulging in a little schadenfreude right now, they know they'll eventually have to behave like the grown-ups in the room, and help reach a resolution of some sort. And so, House Democrats have already signaled that they are open to working with McCarthy (and Senate Republicans agree with us, and with anyone else who is living in the real world, that this is McCarthy's only viable option). Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is performing his best Tommy Tuberville impression, and is blocking the Senate from beginning work on a clean spending bill. However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who knows something about parliamentary tricks, has set in motion a workaround (attaching a spending resolution as an amendment to the bill that will reauthorize the FAA).

In any event, the soap opera is presumably off the air until Monday. And one week from today, we'll know if we have a budget or not. Or, possibly, a new Speaker. (Z)

Rupert Murdoch: Let It Be

It's been hinted at for several years, and now the day has arrived: Rupert Murdoch stepped down as chair of Fox and News Corp. and handed the keys to the kingdom (the foxhole?) over to his son Lachlan. Pops will henceforth carry the title of chairman emeritus.

Before we address the significance of this news, allow us to first take note of one of the finest examples of self-delusion we've ever seen. Everyone knows how Murdoch made his money, and that he's run the same basic playbook in his home country of Australia, and in the U.K. and in the U.S. Nonetheless, in the internal memo Murdoch circulated announcing his retirement, he decreed:

My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause. Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.

Yes, that's right. Thank goodness for Fox, which isn't in cahoots with political elites, and certainly would never dream of peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth. Age brings wisdom, or so they say, but it apparently doesn't bring self-awareness.

As to the significance of this news, well, we're writing an item because the Murdoch story was all over the place yesterday. However, we actually don't think it's very significant at all, for one small reason, one big reason, and one maybe reason.

The small reason is that Murdoch does not seem the type to retire, per se. It is true, by all accounts, that he's less engaged in the family business than he once was. However, he'll still have an official title, he still owns the stock, and it's his son who is running things. If he has thoughts about the direction of the business, or about any big financial decisions, they will be heard. Politico's Jack Shafer, who keeps a close eye on media maneuvering, agrees that this is just a retirement on paper, and not a major change in the structure of the organization.

The big reason, meanwhile, is that Murdoch has lost control of the narrative. Mediaite had a piece from Colby Hall last week headlined "Fox News Is More Powerful Than Trump. It Should Start Acting Like It." Maybe, in theory, Hall is right. In practice, Fox either doesn't have that power, or isn't willing to risk using it. Remember those halcyon days roughly 3 months ago when the channel tried to install Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) as the 2024 Republican presidential candidate? That was a train wreck, of course. Meanwhile, Donald Trump takes potshots at Fox all the time, while Fox is scared to say so much as "your tie is crooked, Mr. Trump." Murdoch and his media empire once had a seat at the table when it came to the direction of the Republican Party. Not anymore.

Finally, the maybe reason is that Fox has some serious financial problems. The company's core businesses (TV, cable, newspapers) are all in shrinking sectors of the economy. There's also a potential nine- or ten-figure settlement with Smartmatic. It is entirely possible that, sooner rather than later, the Murdoch family takes whatever poker chips it has left and leaves the game. Kara Swisher, who follows these things very closely (even more closely than Jack Shafer) went so far yesterday as to suggest a possible buyer for the Fox properties: Elon Musk. It's not crazy, and even if it was, when has that stopped Musk?

So that's the story, as we see it. Or, really, the non-story. (Z)

Polling in 2023: Keep the Customer Satisfied

Maybe it is the influence of the "news"-as-profit-center Fox "News." Maybe it is because people don't care much about boring old horse-race polls this far from an actual election. In any event, there are very few organizations who want to pay for a poll that causes everyone to say "Eh." We assume that keeping the customer happy is why we're seeing a lot of polls right now that seem specifically designed to produce an eye-popping, headline-generating result.

As a case in point, we give you the latest from YouGov/The Economist. We assume this is self-evident, but just in case, YouGov actually designs and runs the polls, while The Economist pays the bills. And mostly, this poll affirms things everyone already knows, like Joe Biden is unpopular, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are even more unpopular, the popular vote for next year's presidential race is a toss-up, and people think the economy isn't good enough.

Since very little of this is news, the finding that got all the attention is this one: 91% of Americans think that Joe Biden got personal financial gain from being president. On its surface, this seems pretty bad, right? It suggests that the Republicans' "Biden Crime Family" narrative is taking hold, and that the vast majority of Americans think the President is corrupt. If that was true, it would be pretty hard for him to get reelected.

But if you think about it for more than a fraction of a second, that result doesn't really pass the smell test. It is unusual for 91% of the American people to agree on anything, particularly something that seems so damning for a leading political figure. The first thought we often have in these situations is: "How would we have answered the question, if we had been in the polling sample?" And the answer here is that we would have been in the 91%. This is not because we think Biden is hopelessly corrupt, but because we know that the President of the United States draws an annual salary of $400,000, along with another $169,000 for various expenses. That sure seems like a financial benefit to us.

Looking more closely at the results, it becomes even clearer that the number is basically meaningless. YouGov actually asked about each of the last four presidents, and allowed respondents to choose degrees (e.g., "benefited a great deal," "benefited a fair amount," etc.). The 91% is an aggregate of every respondent who answered anything other than "benefited not at all."

In Biden's case, the breakdown is 43% for "a great deal," 21% for "a fair amount," 12% for "not sure," 15% for "not much" and 9% for "not at all." Readers will likely take notice of one, and perhaps two, rather significant problems here. The first is that "not sure" is not the same as "yes, he benefited," and so that 12% should not be included in the 91%. The second is that who can possibly know what these categories actually mean? More than half a million dollars in salary and benefits is a lot of money, and so maybe that equates to "a great deal" of benefit. On the other hand, it's just his salary, and every president gets the same. So maybe it's "not much."

Now let's take a look at the other three presidents. Since all the headlines include the 91% number (which was emphasized in the YouGov/Economist press release), we'll give the total numbers for everyone. George W. Bush's total number was 95%, Barack Obama's total number was 94% and Donald Trump's total number was 78%. If we are interested in being more precise, and cutting out all those "not sure" responses, then we have Biden at 79%, Trump at 67%, Obama at 82% and Bush at 79%. In short, however people were understanding the questions and the categorizations, Biden is not an outlier; he's basically batting par for the course. Certainly, there's no evidence that he's been fatally wounded by the Biden Crime Family bit.

And finally, let's look at the real eye-popper, which is the Trump number. The "not at all" for Biden is 9%, for Obama is 6% and for Bush is 5%. For Trump it is an incredible 22%. This is nothing short of lunacy. Trump collected the same fat salary all the other presidents did (and he did NOT donate it, contrary to his promises to do so). Trump has sold books and other stuff, just as Bush and Obama have. Trump has done paid speaking gigs, just as Bush and Obama have. But only Trump has charged the federal government tens of millions of dollars for the use of his hotel properties.

We all know what's going on here, namely that the Trumpist respondents have either convinced themselves that the millions charged to the government is fake news, or is just smart business, or has nothing to do with the presidency. Whatever the case may be, the real story of the poll is not that Republicans have succeeded in selling the "Biden is a crook" shtick, but instead have done a pretty good job of convincing the base that Trump isn't a crook. We'll see how respondents feel when and if Trump becomes a felon. But for now, the point is, if you see a shocking polling result, particularly right now, you should take a closer look, because it probably is just smoke and mirrors. (Z)

This Week's Senate News: Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win

Presumably, at least in most cases, if someone decides to run for the U.S. Senate, they think they have a real shot at winning. It's a lot of effort and a lot of long days, and a modern U.S. Senate campaign lasts for at least a year, in most cases. This week, three high-profile candidates announced, or teased, a Senate run. Presumably, they like their chances, or they wouldn't run (or plan to run). For our part, we think they are all somewhere between "long shot" and "completely delusional."

First up is Pennsylvania. If this was the only race we were going to talk about in this item (and if it wasn't Friday), the headline would be "Connecticut Man Declares Run for Pennsylvania Senate Seat." That's right, as we noted yesterday, the imminent announcement from David McCormick (R) has arrived, and he has formally declared his candidacy for the seat that Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) will try to defend.

There are two major things that McCormick hopes will make this year different from 2022, when he didn't even make it past the Republican primary. First, the entire GOP establishment is lined up behind him, so he thinks he will be able to avoid a messy primary that he might lose. Second, he is planning on running against Joe Biden, thinking that the President is so unpopular, smearing Casey as a "rubber stamp" for Biden will be a path to the promised land.

We're not sure if either of these things is quite as useful to McCormick as he presumably thinks. First of all, the nutty right wing candidates don't care what the establishment thinks. Indeed, their whole shtick is "I'm an outsider, so the establishment hates me." Maybe state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) won't run, since God or Jesus or his wife said not to (though we wonder what happens if God and the wife vote one way and Jesus votes the other), but there's still every chance that some whackadoodle Trumper jumps in, and some meaningful chance that person gets the nomination. After all, there might not be enough Pennsylvania Trumpers to carry a general election, but there are enough to carry a primary, which is how Mastriano got nominated for governor in 2022.

We are also not sure that Biden is the anchor that McCormick thinks he is. There are reasons to disapprove of the president, like "he's not liberal enough," that do not translate into votes for a Republican. Further, in presidential polls of the Keystone State, Biden is consistently ahead of Donald Trump, anywhere from 2 to 6 points. It's also the case that Casey is an experienced politician, and he knows how to say "I back the president on [POSITION THAT PENNSYLVANIA DEMOCRATS/INDEPENDENTS LIKE], but he and I don't see eye-to-eye on [POSITION THAT PENNSYLVANIA DEMOCRATS/INDEPENDENTS DON'T LIKE]."

And that brings us to the problems that McCormick's theory of his Senate run don't cover. Casey is a veteran politico and an incumbent who comes from a Pennsylvania dynasty. If the Connecticuter couldn't even defeat a snake-oil-peddling TV doctor with no political experience and no meaningful connection to the state, then how is he going to beat someone who has virtually every advantage you can think of? Oh, and there's also the Connecticut thing. McCormick tried, back in 2022, to convince Pennsylvanians that his heart was in the Keystone State. However, as soon as he was defeated, he hightailed it back to Connecticut. That sales job is going to be even harder this time. Especially if he does his grocery shopping at Wegner's.

The second person to make a senatorial move this week is former Detroit Police Chief James Craig (R). He's been teasing a run for months, and yesterday said it's definitely happening and the paperwork will be filed in about a week. We have no doubt that he will get a fair bit of attention because he's conservative, strong on law enforcement, and Black. Many Republican functionaries and media members continue to believe that someone with this profile has an excellent chance to build a coalition of right-wingers and Black voters, which will power the candidate to a smashing victory. Never mind that this completely misunderstands Black voters, and that there are approximately zero examples of things actually working out this way. President Carson, anyone? President Cain? Senator John James? And before you say, "What about Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)?" he got less than 10% of the Black vote in each of his senatorial elections.

In other words, as with McCormick, we are not buying Craig's theory of his U.S. Senate run, even if Michigan is an open primary state, and Black voters theoretically could support him for the nomination (even if they don't support him in the general). In addition, Craig has a number of problems, résumé-wise, including a run for Michigan governor that failed due to his submitting phony signatures, not to mention a number of scandals from his time as top cop in Detroit. It's also a crowded Republican field (seven candidates and counting). And while the Senate seat will be open due to the retirement of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the Democrats basically have an ideal candidate running to be Stabenow's replacement. If it was possible for DSCC's chair Gary Peters (MI) to fire up SenatorCAD, and to design the ideal candidate for his home state, he would come up with someone very much like Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI).

And finally, there is a fellow who just yesterday teased a run... in 2026. That would be the newly acquitted state AG of Texas Ken Paxton (R), who is apparently feeling his oats, and who told Tucker Carlson yesterday that he's seriously considering a challenge of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) when Cornyn's seat next comes up.

We hardly have a handle on the underlying dynamics of Lone Star GOP politics. We do know four things, however. First, Paxton is unpopular enough with many Republicans that he got himself impeached by a huge margin in the Texas state House. Second, Paxton could well be in prison by 2026. Third, Cornyn has won four U.S. Senate elections in Texas, and none was closer than 10 points. Fourth... keep reading.

So, we don't like Paxton's chances, though we suppose it's at least possible there are enough far-right fanatics in Texas for him to win a Republican primary. But that brings us to the fourth thing we know: If Paxton is the Republican nominee, Democratic operatives are going to be dancing in the streets. The blue team has no chance of winning that seat if Cornyn is the nominee. MJ Hegar was/is their dream candidate, and she lost by 10 points in 2020. On the other hand, if it's the hopelessly corrupt Paxton? Then the Democrats would have a puncher's chance, particularly if they ended up with a moderate Latino candidate like Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). True, many Democrats will not be pleased to vote for a candidate who is anti-abortion, but when the alternative is Ken Paxton, well, it's "hold your nose" time for a member of Team Blue. (Z)

My Gift Is My Song: All Apologies

Last week's commonality was, as it turns out, harder to discern than we thought. Sorry about that! As we figure this thing out, and assuming we keep it going, we'll adopt the habit of doing what we did to address the situation: giving an additional hint or two in the intro to the Saturday Q&A.

In any event, here are the songs from last week along with—importantly in this case—the people who wrote them:

All of these songwriters were... born in Chicago. In most cases, the artists also performed the songs, so "the performers were born in Chicago" was also an acceptable answer. That said, the Chandler song was a duet, and the other person (Barbara Acklin) was not born in Chicago. Similarly, the Cetera and Goldenberg song was performed by their band Chicago, and not all members were born in the city. So, while "the performers were born in Chicago" is acceptable, we took special care to make sure that all songs were unambiguously written by Chicago-born musicians, so there was an answer that was indisputably correct. That's right, Phil Everly was born in Chicago. Who knew? And in case you are wondering, Don Everly was born in Brownie, KY. Apparently the brothers did not understand how American politics works, however, because the blue-state-born Phil was a staunch Republican, while the red-state-born Don was a proud liberal.

Here are the first 10 readers to get it right this week:

  1. J.L. in Hampton, VA
  2. J.B. in Waukee, IA
  3. J.N. in Zionsville, IN
  4. J.C. in Oxford, England, UK
  5. D.F. in Vancouver, BC, Canada
  6. A.J. in Baltimore, MD
  7. M.J.S. in Cheshire, CT
  8. M.B. in Albany, NY
  9. W.B. in Salamanca, Spain
  10. E.M. in Milwaukee, WI

We gave a couple of clues last week. One was that there were two readers in the top 10 who probably had an advantage; the list included L.A.J. in Bourbonnais, IL and B.P. in Arlington Heights, IL. The two Illinoisans were the two we were referring to. We also wrote that one of the songs on the list was a dead giveaway; obviously it was the one by the band Chicago.

We'd say this week's theme has a difficulty of about 7. That said, we are going to give you a very big hint right now: Either the first song today qualifies for the theme, or the second one does, but they don't both qualify. It depends on, well, how you define things. None of the other songs, beyond those two, is subject to this particular, unusual ambiguity. And with that said, tally ho! Submit your guesses here. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: You Know I'm No Good

There was a story yesterday about how the Democracy Alliance, which is a group of movers and shakers who support the Democratic Party, is working behind the scenes to get the word out that the group No Labels is basically an avatar for Trump 2024. There might be some people involved in No Labels who really believe in a third way, but the fat-cat donors who are paying the bills, like Clarence Thomas' billionaire "friend," Harlan Crow, are trying to transform useful votes for Joe Biden into wasted votes for [INSERT NAME OF PENDING NO LABELS CANDIDATE].

In response to this, one of the officers of No Labels, Ryan Clancy, spoke to Politico to do some whining: "It's hard to find a more striking example of Washington hypocrisy than a group calling itself 'Democracy Alliance' mobilizing to stop No Labels from getting on voting ballots in 2024," he complained. "Most Americans have this quaint idea that democracy means the people decide who they can vote for. Democracy Alliance apparently has a different definition, where a few people meeting in D.C. get to manage Americans' electoral choices for them."

We have never heard of Mr. Clancy, but we suspect he's clever enough to know that what he's peddling is a steaming pile of garbage. It is entirely appropriate, in a healthy democracy, for partisans of various stripes to move and counter-move in the months (and, these days, years) before an election, in hopes of boosting their own candidates' hopes and weakening those of their opponents. Indeed, No Labels itself has spent plenty of time talking about how the two major parties are hopelessly corrupt, plutocratic, etc. That's no different from one of the major parties talking about how No Labels is a de facto organ of Trump 2024. In short, we propose that Ryan Clancy and former Senator Bob Corker get together for an intimate little pity party and leave the rest of us out of it.

And that brings us to the actual point of this item. Politicking, both in front of and behind the scenes? Great! Manufacturing lies in order to smear one's opponents? Not so great! That, in our view, is where a line is crossed from "healthy for a democracy" to "sleazy." If the Democratic Alliance had been manufacturing "evidence" that No Labels is a secret Chinese front, or that three of its officers are convicted sex offenders, or that Ryan Clancy is actually a Nigerian citizen and cannot legally work for an American political organization, then Clancy's complaints might have merit.

The organization that crossed this line so many times as to obliterate it is Project Veritas. If the fellow who founded that organization, James O'Keefe, was honest, he would have called it Project Mendacias.* But O'Keefe is not honest, and so the purpose of Project "Veritas" was always to slur Democrats in sleazy ways. They tried to sabotage the phones of then-Senator Mary Landrieu (LA). They tried to trick Democrats in Colorado into endorsing voter fraud on camera. They clumsily infiltrated The Washington Post and tried to secretly record staffers saying incriminating things on tape. They hired women to go on dates with FBI agents in hopes of getting recordings of the agents badmouthing Donald Trump. They recorded and edited videos that made it appear as if members of activist group ACORN endorsed tax evasion and child prostitution.

Several months back, O'Keefe suffered his personal downfall, and was ejected from the organization for misappropriation of funds and for creating a hostile workplace environment. And, as of yesterday, Project Veritas itself entered its death spiral. All activities have been suspended, and nearly all employees were told their services are no longer required. From a staff of several hundred, there are now just 11 people still collecting paychecks.

Those 11 shouldn't buy a new car or take on a mortgage, because they will likely be in the unemployment line themselves very soon. The problem for the organization is a total lack of funds, and they are not likely to improve their cash flow if they are not doing anything. After all, activists of all stripes expect a return on investment when they donate money. And for right-wing donors these days, they are better off with an organization where the wings haven't fallen off. Like, say, No Labels. (Z)

* - For the purposes of this sentence, written for English-speaking readers, this form of mendacium works best. We have confirmed with a colleague who speaks Latin fluently that, even if it's not optimal, it is not an offense against Latin grammar punishable by death.

This Week in Freudenfreude: Oh My Heart

There are plenty of people who don't care for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as a politician; this is true on both sides of the aisle. Although if you really want to know what it looks like when a senator who is outside the mainstream decides to make themselves into a pain in the rear, you might want to look at Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) or Rand Paul (R-KY). The Bern might be an outspoken lefty, but that rarely translates into "look at me!" obnoxiousness.

Meanwhile, even if a person doesn't like Sanders the politician, it's hard not to like Sanders the person. He marches to the beat of his own drummer, and doesn't give a damn if you think the mittens he wears to stay warm at the inauguration look silly. He's been married to Jane Sanders for 35 years and, by all indications, it's a happy and supportive marriage in both directions. And although Sanders is a busy U.S. Senator, he still finds time for his kids and grandkids.

This week, Jane posted a video to the platform formerly known as Twitter, one that serves as a reminder of many of these things. We don't like to link to that platform, but we managed to find the video on YouTube, so we are able to work around that. The message was: "Happy Birthday Bernie!! Best husband, father and grandfather over all these years!" And here is the video, which shows the Senator playing baseball with his grandson:

(Z) has played A LOT of softball and baseball, and can assure you that is a damn fine play for someone in their thirties. For a man in his eighties, and one who's had heart and other health problems? Very impressive, indeed. That video comes courtesy of the The New York Post. That outlet is no fan of Sanders, but even the staff there was impressed.

So, happy birthday, Senator, and here's to many more. And have a good weekend, all! (Z)

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