Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Dem pickups vs. 2020 Senate: PA
GOP pickups vs. 2020 Senate : (None)
Political Wire logo Republicans May Try to Buy Time on Debt Limit
Santos Lists New Treasurer Who Denies Working for Him
Chip Roy Will Use Debt Ceiling to Push Border Security
‘Liberal’ May Finally Be Shedding Its Political Stigma
Kyrsten Sinema Is In Trouble
Trump Reinstated on Facebook

A Fly in the Ointment

When it was discovered the private citizen Joe Biden had kept documents that he should not have kept, Republicans were overjoyed. Not only did that allow them a fresh line of attack against a sitting Democratic president, it also gave them a defense for Donald Trump's document handling. Those 30 or so pages of stuff spread across several Biden offices were like manna from heaven.

As of yesterday, however, the manna is no longer as sweet. As it turns out, Biden was not the only VP to take his classified work home with him... and keep it. CNN broke the news that about a dozen classified documents were discovered by Mike Pence's attorneys at the former VP's new residence. Team Pence did exactly what it was supposed to do and contacted the FBI, which picked up the files later the same day. Nothing more is known, at this point, about the contents of the documents or the level of classification. The next day, Pence staffers turned a bunch of additional boxes of material over to the National Archives, so the staff there could review everything to make sure there is no additional classified stuff.

The Pence situation and the Biden situation are, quite clearly, very similar—far above and beyond the fact that they are both former VPs. Both screwed up, by all indications without corrupt intent. Once the error was discovered, both followed the exact procedure they were supposed to follow. Oh, and Pence, like Biden before him, categorically denied that he might have classified materials at home, before learning he had classified materials at home.

It is going to be difficult for Republicans to somehow argue, then, that Pence is pure as the driven snow, while Biden is guilty of unspeakable evil. That is not to say some of them won't try; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is surely smart enough to know that he's peddling rubbish, appeared on Fox yesterday and declared:

Oh look, the Mike Pence story, it's still early. You know, Mike Pence, as you noted he is a good friend, he's a good man. He's explained where these came from, what his office has put out is that in packing up the vice presidential offices that there were a couple of papers that were classified that were inadvertently put with non-classified materials. That was a mistake, but there's no reason to think this was anything but inadvertent.

That is very different from what Joe Biden has done. Joe Biden has given zero explanation how these classified documents got there. And in particular, he has given no explanation as to how he has documents from his time in the Senate.

OK there, Teddy. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is about as chameleonlike as they come, did some backtracking yesterday and said that it's clear the problem is systemic.

That's a good point; there clearly is a systemic problem. We do not have security clearances; our past work for SPECTRE precludes that. And so, we are not experts, and are happy to be enlightened by those readers who do have expertise. That said, it is apparent to us that the classification system is broken. We've spoken about error management many times before—that it is better to make many small errors than one big error. And a predictable outcome of that dynamic is that way too many documents are classified. After all, if you classify something unnecessarily, it is unlikely that any harm will be done. On the other hand, if you fail to classify something important, then it could create real problems. So, much less risky to err significantly on the side of caution.

The problem is that if way too many documents are classified (and that's before we talk about the hodgepodge of different classification systems used by different agencies), it becomes very difficult to track them all, and some important ones might slip through the cracks. It also undermines the extent to which participants in the system take the "classified" designation as seriously as they should. If someone handles dozens or hundreds of classified documents each day, they just aren't going to have the mental energy to treat each of them as if their lives depended on keeping that paperwork secure.

We wonder if, at this point, there is an opportunity here for Joe Biden. He could perhaps appoint some sort of documents czar to work on the problem and to find a way that the government can do better in terms of keeping secret and secure the things that actually need to be kept secret and secure.

Whatever Biden chooses to do, Donald Trump's life just got tougher (and also see below). If AG Merrick Garland goes after Trump but does not pursue Biden or Pence, then it makes it pretty clear that the problem is not having the documents per se, it's obstructing the government after the documents have been uncovered. Yes, if Trump is indicted and Biden is not, Fox and its ilk will claim "partisan witch hunt!" But everyone outside of the MAGA faithful will rightly wonder why, if Garland is on a which hunt, he's not also going after Pence. (Z)

Willis' Judgment Cometh and That Right Soon

At the moment, Georgia Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney is considering whether or not to make public the report produced by the special grand jury in its investigation of efforts by Donald Trump and others to overturn the 2020 election results. We would certainly like to see that report, and so we've been watching the proceedings in anticipation of his decision.

Things just got considerably more interesting, however. Fulton County DA Fani Willis, like most prosecutors, would prefer not to lay her cards on the table until she absolutely has to. And so, she's been in court trying to persuade McBurney to cool his jets. And as part of that argument, she said something yesterday that is going to make a lot of people's ears perk up: The grand jury recommended several indictments, and there's no need to jump the gun, because her decision about those indictments is "imminent."

We do not know anything more than that. However, here are our impressions based on that information:

  • "Imminent," to us, does not mean "sometime this year." No, it means "sometime in the next month or two, if not sooner." That's particularly true when the promise of an imminent decision is being made in order to try to influence a judge; judges have little patience for word games.

  • There is also the fact that the 2024 election gets a little closer every day, which means that a prosecution of a potential presidential candidate gets a little more fraught each day. If the trigger is going to be pulled, and the gun is pointed in Donald Trump's direction, then it needs to be sooner rather than later.

  • Speaking of Donald Trump, based on what is publicly known, he appears to be more exposed here than anyone besides, perhaps, Rudy Giuliani. It is hard to imagine that charges are brought against the people who aided Trump, but not Trump himself.

  • Prosecutors are not known for declining the opportunity to indict when a grand jury recommends it, particularly when they have spent multiple years on an investigation, and particularly when a conviction could vault them several steps up the political ladder.

  • Similarly, it doesn't take much time to decide "no indictments." On the other hand, if a DA has decided to indict, it does take some time for them to get their legal case together.

Adding it up, and we would guess that Trump ends up indicted in Georgia sometime before April 1. Undoubtedly, many Americans and many readers of this site will be watching eagerly to see if that is the case, or if the catlike Trump expends yet another of his apparently limitless supply of lives and manages to dodge yet another legal bullet. (Z)

McCarthy Officially Dumps Schiff, Swalwell from Intelligence Committee

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said he was going to do it, and we believed him. Now, it's official—the Speaker will exercise his prerogative to veto members from select committees, and so will be removing Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell (both D-CA) from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where they have served since 2008 and 2015, respectively.

The official reason for booting Swalwell is his association with a Chinese spy, although he's been exonerated by law enforcement, who say the Representative had no knowledge of the spy's true identity. The official reason for booting Schiff is that he took seriously the Steele dossier, and said as much on TV and in committee hearings. Of course, much of the Steele dossier was correct and, in any event, Schiff had a good faith belief that looking at the dossier was a legitimate line of inquiry. At least as legitimate as looking at the abandoned laptop of a president's son, certainly.

The real reason for tossing the duo, of course, is to "own the libs," and to avenge Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who were tossed from their committees during the 117th Congress for promoting violence against their colleagues. The two situations aren't especially similar, and even some Republican members of the House are saying as much. Both Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Victoria Spartz (R-IN) spoke out yesterday against McCarthy's maneuvering.

The Speaker's next target is Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN); he wants to remove her from the Foreign Affairs Committee. Hoever, Foreign Affairs is a regular standing committee, so McCarthy cannot execute the maneuver entirely of his own volition. Nope, it will take a majority vote of the whole House, which means nearly the entire House Republican Conference would have to back the Speaker's play. That vote should give us some very interesting information about exactly how many GOP members support this little game of tit-for-tat. Of course, if a vote is somehow never held, that also tells us something significant. (Z)

As the Senate Turns

Although the House is the source of the majority of Capitol Hill drama these days, it doesn't have a monopoly. The Senate also contributes when it can; there have been a couple of stories on that front this week.

To start, it remains unclear exactly what is going on with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ). Has she really moved sharply rightward from her days as an outspoken Green Party activist? Is she sick and tired of the Senate and positioning herself for a lucrative post-politics career as a Fox commentator? Has she concluded that she's more reelectable as an independent than as a member of one of the major parties? If the answer to the latter question is "yes," then she is almost certainly wrong about that. As a Democrat, she would likely lose the primary, whereas as an independent, she would likely lose in the general. Incidentally, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who announced earlier this week that he is running for the seat, brought in 27,000 donations totaling $1 million in his first day as a U.S. Senate candidate. That's a record for the first day of a campaign in Arizona, both in number of donations and total haul.

Anyhow, the point is that if Sinema wants to keep her job, the most promising lane available to her is to run as a Republican. Her odds still wouldn't be great, since Republicans generally prefer to vote for actual Republicans, but they would be better than with any of the alternatives. We're not the only ones who have noticed that; Sen. John Thune (R-SD) also thinks Sinema would be best positioned for reelection as a Republican, and so is trying to persuade the Senator to formally join the Senate Republican Conference. That said, while Thune is among Sinema's closest friends in the Senate, he did not say the Republican Party would help her win the Arizona Republican primary in 2024, or even that he would support her in said primary. She would be a fool not to get very firm commitments on those points before switching.

Meanwhile, one of Thune's and Sinema's newest colleagues has hit the ground running when it comes to competing with Ted Cruz for the title of "most unpopular person in the Senate." That would be Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO), who has been in office for less than 30 days. As we have noted many, many times, it takes a good 15-20 years to get real power in the Senate, in the form of plum committee assignments. Schmitt is clearly not an reader, because he is pushing to be put on the Senate Judiciary Committee RIGHT NOW. That is one of the most desirable assignments in the Senate, not only because it's interesting, but also because it's high profile due to its work approving judges.

There are a few problems with Schmitt's plan, however. First, as noted, he has no right to such a desirable posting. Second, no state is supposed to be represented twice on a committee, and Josh Hawley (R-MO) is already on Judiciary (meaning a special waiver would be needed). Third, the number of seats on the Committee is limited, and some other Republican would have to surrender a seat that they have earned in order to accommodate Schmitt. None of them wants to do so, and so Schmitt—who is clearly a charming fellow—has been calling two of the Republican members of the Committee (Thom Tillis, NC, and Marsha Blackburn, TN) to ask them to step down and to explain that he's really better suited to the job than they are since he has a law degree and they don't.

For these reasons, we think it is highly improbable that Schmitt gets what he wants. Punched in the nose, on the other hand? Maybe. (Z)

FiveThirtyEight Could Be in Trouble

Way back in the Obama years, ABC News realized that it had missed the boat when it came to modern polling analysis. And they solved that problem by backing up the Brinks Truck for Nate Silver, acquiring both his services and his FiveThirtyEight brand. It seemed like a win-win for both sides; ABC became an instant leader in the polling analysis biz and Silver gained access to money and other resources that would allow him to build a much more ambitious and robust site.

Ultimately, it hasn't worked out all that well for ABC. FiveThirtyEight has been an awkward fit, and has been shuffled around a bit, sometimes placed under the ESPN umbrella, sometimes under the ABC News umbrella. Further, the site has never turned a profit, and there are now enough others in the polling analysis game that conversion to a subscription-based model is probably not viable, given the amount of overhead the site has. ABC is also cutting costs right now, as most media outlets are. Oh, and the ABC brass is apparently unhappy with Silver's performance in the most recent election cycle, thinking that he did not do enough to eliminate/downplay obvious partisan pollsters from his data set.

Add it all up, and it is very possible that ABC will try to offload the site. Failing that, the company might just shake Silver's hand and wish him good luck when his contract expires later this summer. Given that FiveThirtyEight has been leaving key posts vacant recently, rather than fill them when the occupant departs, it looks to be considerably more likely than not that the ABC-FiveThirtyEight relationship is nearing its end.

From where we sit, the current iteration of FiveThirtyEight, on the whole, just isn't that great. Certainly, it hasn't lived up to the promise that the merger with ABC seemed to suggest. The most significant problems, in our view:

  • It's trying to do too much. It's interesting, perhaps, to try to bring data analysis to sports and science and the arts and politics and so forth, but the site ended up as a hodgepodge of stuff that just isn't very coherent as a whole. It does not help that, for whatever reason, turnover there has been staggering, such that there's little in the way of a consistent editorial voice.

  • Silver's data-driven approach works well for politics. It also works pretty well for baseball, which is where he got his start. But it works considerably less well for a lot of the other things that FiveThirtyEight has tried to tackle. For example, its models for other sports, like basketball and football, have often produced results that were downright embarrassing (like predicting the Golden State Warriors would miss the playoffs in a season where they won the NBA championship). And trying to bring the numbers-driven approach to the arts often produced twaddle like "The Five Types of Nicolas Cage Movies."

  • Some people do actual research, which often takes weeks or months or years. Others, including us, comment on such research. Often, FiveThirtyEight is in between those two poles—asking interesting questions, but then trying to produce substantive, data-driven answers on a daily production schedule. It just doesn't work like that.

What we are saying here is that Silver and FiveThirtyEight might be much better off if the current model is abandoned, and Silver goes back to running a much leaner and meaner site that focuses entirely on politics and polling analysis.

Of course, it's also possible that Silver decides he's weary of the publishing game, and that he instead will become a hotshot consultant or the in-house polling guru for, say, the DNC. Still another possibility is that ABC actually wants to keep Silver, but that they are currently playing hardball in order to get him to drop his price and or to accede to some of their complaints about his models. We should know what's going to happen in the next few months. (Z)

The Word Cup, Part XI: Group D (Presidential Campaigns, from the Civil War to World War II), Round Two

Finally! Another entry in the Word Cup. We're always certain that there just isn't going to be enough news, and then our cup overfloweth. Anyhow, time for the fourth set of results. Recall that since ties are relatively common in soccer, we've decided that any matchup decided by less than 5% of the vote will count as a tie (winners in bold):

Slogan 1 Pct. Slogan 2 Pct.
Let Us Have Peace 57.6% Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa? 42.4%
Let Us Have Peace 71.4% Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge 28.6%
Let Us Have Peace 4.5% A New Deal for America 95.5%
Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa? 67.2% Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge 32.8%
Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa? 6% A New Deal for America 94%
Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge 2.8% A New Deal for America 97.2%

That produces these results for Group D:

Slogan W L T
A New Deal for America 3 0 0
Let Us Have Peace 2 1 0
Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa? 1 2 0
Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge 0 3 0

"A New Deal for America" looks like a behemoth, while we did not imagine that "Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge" would attract so little interest. We reached out to Cal for comment, but he didn't have anything to say.

Here are reader comments on this round:

J.M. in Stamford, CT: This was easy. I've loved "Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!" ever since I learned it in middle school social studies. Actually, it was probably from reading American Heritage's excellent illustrated U.S. history subscription series, which was sold in the supermarkets in the early 60s.

In any case it's a classic, as is the story behind it. Second? "Let Us Have Peace" for the fact that: (1) Ulysses S. Grant actually followed through on it and (2) it perfectly captures Grant's unemotional but sincere affect as a man and a general.

Third and fourth? Who cares. OK: the Coolidge one, although I insist the one in the history books—at least the ones I learned from—was "Keep Cool With Coolidge", not the wordier version you led with. At least it's a little poetic and a clever use of the name. "A New Deal For America" I wasn't even aware was FDR slogan during the election. I thought he made it up for his inaugural address, or something. And it's a little cheesy in that it tries to, once again, draw on Theodore Roosevelt's reputation to give the "lightweight" Franklin D. Roosevelt some White House cred—Theodore Roosevelt's "Square Deal" being the original article.

L.T.G. in Bexley, OH: It's hard to quarrel with your choices, but perhaps you should have put "He Kept Us Out of War" (Woodrow Wilson, 1916) ahead of "Keep Cool with Coolidge." As you wrote, Coolidge would have won decisively with a far less catchy slogan. The election of 1916, in contrast, was a nail-biter, with Charles Evans Hughes going to bed on election night thinking he'd won. Given the strength of anti-war sentiment in some parts of the U.S., it's not ridiculous to think that Wilson's slogan might have made a difference. And if so, that would be one of the great ironies of American political history, given that the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, the year of Wilson's second inauguration. (For my part, I think a more likely cause of Wilson's victory was Hughes's failure to meet with Hiram Johnson during a California campaign swing, but that's better reserved for a "What if" contest.)

C.L. in Boulder, CO: I'm sure that I'm not the only one who read "Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge" and thought of the U.K.'s slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On" which has lately been experiencing a rejuvenation.

D.C. in Portland, OR: The New Deal is ensconced in all our understandings of 20th century progress in America, even for those of us born thousands of miles away and decades after the slogan's creation.

For that reason it is the clear and rightful winner of the entire contest.

T.T. in Minden, LA: A New Deal for America. This is the only slogan that's not only still almost universally recognized for who said it, when, and what was meant by it, and it is also still highly relevant in American political discourse. The GOP has been trying to defeat it since 1932 and haven't succeeded yet, though they've made inroads. They're still trying mightily to undo Social Security 90 years on. Progressive Democrats are still trying to harness some of its prestige (the Green New Deal). So I'd say its impact is by far greater than any other.

S.D.R. in Raleigh, NC: Most World Cups have a "group of death," a group where at least three of the four teams truly deserve to advance but no more than two can due to the rules of the tournament. Although there's no term for it, some also have the opposite of a group of death: a group where there aren't two worthy teams, so it's guaranteed that a team that doesn't deserve to move forward will.

This set of slogans is the Word Cup equivalent of that latter type of group.

Here is the new ballot; it includes a battle of the titans that pits Abraham Lincoln against Franklin D. Roosevelt. As always, we appreciate comments. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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