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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Smith Subpoenas Pence
      •  Democratic Governors Pledge to Protect Abortion
      •  DeSantis May Have an Achilles Heel: Social Security
      •  Republicans Get Specific about the Budget Cuts They Want

Smith Subpoenas Pence

The opening on Politico this morning is a leak that special counsel Jack Smith wants to have a chat with Mike Pence. The legal term here is "subpoena," but no doubt it will be a friendly chat about some pleasant memories. Like "how did you feel when a Trump-inspired mob tried to hang you on Jan. 6, 2021?" The Washington Post also led with the subpoena. The New York Times led wth more on balloongate. In fact its second and third stories were also about balloongate. Here's the paper above the digital fold. After a big ad for a Jerry Seinfeld show, finally Pence shows up—in fourth place. Is the Times covering up for Pence? Probably not. Somebody there just seems to like spy stories. ABC News got the scoop, then everyone else began digging.

New York Times Feb 10

Smith, as you recall, has been charged with investigating both the Jan. 6 coup attempt (coupgate?) and documentgate. He has been pretty quiet about his priorities and how far he is into his investigation. He is a very experienced prosecutor and no doubt is doing his best to keep everything under wraps, but in D.C. sooner or later everything leaks.

Pence is no doubt having some fun discussions with his legal team now about what to do. Also with his political team. Smith knows exactly what questions to ask, like "What did you know and when did you know it?" And while he's at it, "What did Trump know and when did he know it?" Pence, as you may have heard, is a pretty straight shooter. He also has a J.D. He's not going to lie under oath to Smith's grand jury. He also probably doesn't want to be the guy who puts Trump behind bars. His legal team doesn't care about that. They just want to protect Pence, not Trump. But his political team is probably worried about the political fallout if he gets the blame for Smith indicting Trump in a few months.

Basically, Pence has three options:

  1. Fight the subpoena in court based on a claim of executive privilege.
  2. Show up without resisting and answer all questions with "I hereby invoke my Fifth Amendment right to be silent."
  3. Show up and answer all the questions honestly, letting the beans spill where they may.

A modified limited hangout won't work. Smith is much too experienced for that to work. If Pence gives a vague answer, Smith will keep probing. Pence has described what happened Jan. 6 in a book, So Help Me God, that he published last year, but answering direct questions from a very focused and smart prosecutor under oath is a whole different kettle of fish.

A complicating factor for Pence is that two of his top aides, Marc Short and Greg Jacob, have already testified before Smith's grand jury. They also testified before the Select Committee and Smith has those transcripts (and maybe even recordings). Pence has to be hugely careful not to say anything that might contradict what they have said or Smith could potentially start looking at perjury charges against some or all of them. This is a standard technique prosecutors use: First interview the small fish, then based on that information, interview the medium fish. After that has led as far as it it can, then it is time to have a chat with the Big Fish. (Advice to the Big Fish if you are reading this: DO NOT CALL PENCE AND OFFER ADVICE NOW. PHONE COMPANIES KEEP CALL RECORDS AND THEY CAN BE SUBPOENAED.)

This is all that is known now. If Pence goes to court to try to wiggle out of appearing, that will be public. It will also look bad for him, like he is trying to cover up something. As we all know, the coverup is worse than the crime. And in Pence's case, he hasn't even committed any crime. He would be covering up someone else's crime. (Advice to Pence if you are reading this: You can try to hide from Smith but you can't hide from God.) (V)

Democratic Governors Pledge to Protect Abortion

Two Democratic governors, J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) and Roy Cooper (D-NC), are on the hot seat. Their states have become regional hubs for providing abortions to out-of-state women who can't get them at home. In an interview yesterday, Pritzker said: "People come to Illinois to exercise what are their fundamental rights, and they're being denied in other states, every state around us, and then another ring of states around them." Pritzker made it abundantly clear that not only will he protect the right to an abortion for women who live in Illinois, but also for women who live in other states who come to Illinois to get an abortion they can't get back home. And this is not just idle talk to a reporter. In January, he signed a bill providing legal protection to out-of-state residents who come to his state for an abortion. This means if another governor tries to get information about out-of-state women who came to Illinois for an abortion, Pritzker can say: "Illinois state law forbids me from telling you, so buzz off."

North Carolina has become a regional hub for providing abortions to women in the South, especially South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, but also other states. Cooper knows this and yesterday again said he "wouldn't back down" when it comes to reproductive freedom. Then he added: "Get politicians out of the exam room with women and their doctors." The North Carolina state legislature is working on a law to greatly curtail the practice, but Cooper has said he will veto it. The legislature is a tad shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override his certain veto.

There are two other states that have liberal abortion laws but are close to states that don't: Colorado and Kansas. Both have Democratic governors. Although they weren't in the news yesterday, they undoubtedly feel the same way as Pritzker and Cooper. Florida also has a pretty liberal abortion law, but that is tied up in the courts now and the president of the Florida state Senate doesn't want to consider any new laws on the subject until the Florida Supreme Court has ruled on the matter. (V)

DeSantis May Have an Achilles Heel: Social Security

As we wrote yesterday, it has often happened that front runners for president get put under a giant microscope and get smacked down long before the primaries. Just ask former presidents Howard Dean, Scott Walker, and Mario Cuomo, among others. OK, you can't ask Cuomo because he is dead, but son Andrew is still around—somewhere.

We don't know if Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will suffer this fate, but we do know that a whole bunch of reporters are on the case. Late yesterday afternoon, CNN put up a story about how DeSantis supported privatizing Social Security and Medicare when he was in Congress. This may be the first story on this, but we absolutely guarantee you it will not be the last (if need be, we can just run it again ourselves, but we don't think that will be necessary).

As you may recall, after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004, largely as a result of popular support for his forceful statements and actions after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on America, the first thing he tried to do was privatize Social Security. That'll show those damn terrorists! The various privatization plans floating around Congress differ a bit, but most come down to abolishing Social Security as a government program. Instead, people would be required to open a new special kind of account with a private bank. A certain percentage of their wages and salary would go into this account instead of into the Social Security Trust Fund. This would be a personal account and you could invest the money as you see fit, subject to some (as yet unspecified) rules. When you hit retirement age, you could withdraw the money at some (as yet unspecified) rate. There would be no cross subsidies, as in the current system. If you decided to put everything into bitcoins (assuming that was allowed) and at retirement you had 50 bitcoins and each was worth 75¢, well, time to Google "Food pantry near me." Bush's plan was almost instantly shot down and he quickly moved on.

As soon as DeSantis announces his run, probably in May or June, Donald Trump, who has defended Social Security, is going to club DeSantis over the head with the governor's former support for privatizing Social Security. Congressman DeSantis is on record supporting that so he won't be able to wriggle out of it, certainly not if Trump repeats it every day.

DeSantis was also a supporter of Paul Ryan's plan to replace Medicare with "Ryancare." Very briefly, this would segment the country into a low-risk pool (healthy people) and a high-risk pool (sick people). The healthy people (about 80% of the population) would be required to buy private insurance (i.e., Obamacare). Since they are healthy, premiums could be low and they would all vote Republican in gratitude. The high-risk pool would be funded by an annual appropriation by Congress, thus letting Congress control how much government money was spent on health care. This would get costs down. It would also have the small side effect that if the money ran out in, say, August, any person in the pool who went to a doctor in September would be told: "Sorry, the money for this year is all gone. Try to stay alive until January 1 or whenever Congress gets around to appropriating some more money." These people would not be happy campers, but Ryan figured that getting 80% of the vote would be fine. He was not greedy.

Anyway, this story is going to build over time and DeSantis is going to be put in a box. He could try to weasel out of his previous support for killing Social Security and Medicare but that won't work as Trump will hammer away at DeSantis on this. Or DeSantis could say: "I changed my mind." That would be a bigger flip-flop than all the flip-flops on Florida beaches combined. This is the kind of issue that could bring DeSantis down. If Trump is brought down by Mike Pence's testimony (see above), that could lead to some other person getting the GOP nomination. Pence is probably aware of this. (V)

Republicans Get Specific about the Budget Cuts They Want

House Republicans want to hold the country (and the world) hostage by refusing to raise the debt limit unless Joe Biden agrees to some budget cuts. Biden dared them to specify what they want cut. They took him up on that and have now made a draft proposal of what they want to remove from the budget. It is all about "wasteful, inefficient and unnecessary federal spending." Of course, what is wasteful is in the eye (and wallet) of the beholder.

One item is reducing Obamacare subsidies. After all, letting people get health care is a big waste. They expect to save $65 billion here. Another is going after the Child Tax Credit, which gives poor people with children a special (refundable) tax credit. Yet another is cutting the SNAP (food stamps) program. They expect to win back $70 billion on these.

Now here's a biggie: fighting woke-waste. The government spent $1.2 million on LGBTQIA+ Pride centers last year as well as $1 million for a "space for gender-expansive people of color" and $750,000 for "Transgender and Gender nonconforming and Intersex (TGI) immigrant women in Los Angeles." These three examples of gross waste add up to $2.95 million. That is 0.00005% of last year's $6 trillion budget. With savings like that, plus killing a $3.6 million trail in Georgia to be named after Michelle Obama, the budget will be back in the black in no time. Maybe the budgeteers ought to download a calculator app for their phones. Some simple four-function calculator apps are free, so they won't add to the deficit. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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