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Dem pickups vs. 2020 Senate: PA
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Schiff's Into Gear

The race for the not-as-yet-vacant California U.S. Senate seat just keeps getting more crowded. The latest person to officially throw their hat into the ring is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who announced his bid yesterday. Now that he's off the House Judiciary Committee, he might as well put all that newly freed-up time to use.

It remains the case that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has yet to give any hint as to what her plans are. The Representative was asked about that during an "I'm running!" media hit yesterday and said that he is great friends with the Senator and that:

[S]he said that she had not made a decision about her own plans, that she would make the announcement when she was ready to do so. I think she's earned the right to do that according to her own timing. But she was more than comfortable with my announcing. I wouldn't be doing that without that kind of blessing. And I want to make sure that everything I do is respectful to her. She has been a giant in this state. She continues to show that as she reintroduced the assault weapons ban. I carry the legislation in the House to strip the gun industry of their immunity from liability. That's another issue that we see very much eye to eye.

It's hard to believe that both of these things can be true: (1) Feinstein hasn't made a decision, and (2) she's totally OK with yet another heavyweight contender jumping into the race.

In any event, it's clear that even if Feinstein does stand for reelection, that's not going to clear the field. The perception, rooted in plenty of firsthand evidence, that she's in cognitive decline means that she's very vulnerable. It's undoubtedly not easy to stand down when you've built your whole life around your political career, and when you're probably not up to some of the fun and/or lucrative opportunities that generally await former politicians (commentator, visiting professor at a university, lobbying, think tank, etc.). But if Feinstein doesn't bow out, she's in for a very rough campaign. If she's not viable, then she risks the ignominy of losing to not one, but two Democrats in the primary. And if she is viable, then she'll face increasingly less subtle commentary on her mental faculties (both as they stand now, and where they would be in 6 years).

Our guess is that she will ride off into the sunset, and that she'll announce that sometime in the next few weeks. As to the three Democrats already in the race—Schiff and Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee—we don't know who the favorite might be, though we will point out a few things. First, Schiff will be 64 on Election Day next year, while Lee will be 78 and Porter will be 50. If California voters want a senator who will be around long enough to gain real power, then Porter's probably the best bet. Rep. Ro Khanna (48), who is also expected to run, would check this box as well.

Second, although Northern California is less populous than Southern California, Northern California politicians have generally gotten the upper hand in statewide elections in the last decade or two. Feinstein, former senator Barbara Boxer, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (D) and Kamala Harris all built their political careers in NorCal. Schiff and Porter are SoCal folks, while Lee and potential candidate Khanna are NorCal.

Third, Schiff is distinct among the declared and/or expected candidates in terms of exactly how much hatred TrumpWorld has for him. Yes, many Trumpers are not exactly delighted by women and/or people of color. But Schiff was an impeachment manager and has been one of the highest-profile Trump critics of the last 6 years. The former president hates, hates, hates Schiff, as do Trump's devoted followers. In fact, the nasty attacks on the Representative have already started. Former Schiff colleague and current Trump lackey Devin Nunes appeared on Fox yesterday to warn viewers that Schiff is a very bad man, and to make the claim that the Congressman once tried to lay hands on nude photos of Trump. This is a reference to a prank call made to Schiff by a couple of radio hosts in which nude Trump photos taken in Russia were proffered, and Schiff said he was amenable to receiving them. Presumably, he thought that they would be hard evidence (or, perhaps, flaccid evidence) of the various pee-pee stories that have circulated about The Donald.

Trump, as you may have heard, is not too popular with California voters (he lost the state by 30 points in 2016 and by 29 in 2020). So, being the anti-Trump could be what separates Schiff from the crowd. On the other hand, if California's jungle-style primary produces two Democratic candidates for the general election, the Trumpers in the interior and rural areas of the state could coalesce into a sizable anyone-but-Schiff vote.

In short, we can foresee some of the dynamics that could be in play here, but we really have no idea how they will play out. It's going to be quite a barnburner, though, even if everyone already knows that the end result will be a Democratic senator. (Z)

The Race for RNC Chair Just Got a Lot More Interesting

As we noted yesterday, most high-profile Republicans are staying out of this weekend's election for RNC Chair, preferring not to take sides between the two viable contenders: current chair Ronna Romney McDaniel and challenger Harmeet Dhillon. However, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is not in Washington, and so maybe didn't get the memo, because yesterday he endorsed Dhillon for the job.

DeSantis is trying to butter up far-right podcaster and conspiracy theorist Charlie Kirk, and so sat for an interview with Kirk yesterday. The Governor explained his support for Dhillon thusly:

I think we need a change, I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC, I like what Harmeet Dhillon said about getting the RNC out of D.C. I do think we need some fresh thinking. And practically you need grassroots Republicans to power this organization with volunteering and donations, and I think it's going to be very difficult to energize people to want to give money and volunteer their time with the RNC if they don't change direction.

In other words, DeSantis is already fine-tuning his 2024 message that, despite being a former member of Congress and current governor of the country's third-largest state by population, he is somehow an outsider who will stick it to the swamp rats.

Donald Trump, for his part, has declined to take sides among McDaniel, Dhillon and nobody-takes-his-bid-seriously Mike "MyPillow" Lindell. However, a sitting president is the unquestioned leader of his party. And when Trump was in the White House, he backed McDaniel, which means that she is basically "his" candidate, whether he likes it or not. So, while DeSantis has yet to attack Trump directly, he's now made McDaniel vs. Dhillon into a proxy war for Trump vs. DeSantis. It will be quite interesting to see how the voting turns out this weekend, and—by implication—how many of the 168 RNC members are no longer taking their cues from the former president. Or, by contrast, how few are taking their cues from the would-be challenger to the Trump throne. (Z)

Say "Hello" to the Congressional Dads Caucus

If you are trying to find the worst jokes in Washington, have we got a lead for you. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) announced yesterday that he is forming the Congressional Dads Caucus. "The creation of the Dads Caucus," he explained, "sends a powerful message: We want to show not just interest but advocacy on the issues that impact working parents, and change the hearts and minds when it comes to the role of fathers at home and in Congress." Despite its name, mothers will be allowed into the caucus, too. We guess "Congressional Parents Caucus" didn't have quite the same ring. Anyhow, the founding members, in addition to Gomez, are Daniel Goldman (D-NY), Andy Kim (D-NJ), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). Tlaib already helped found the Congressional Mamas Caucus, so if anyone decides to produce a cover of "California Dreamin'" sung by members of Congress, she's definitely the person to talk to. After all, she's got ins with both the Mamas and the Papas.

Yesterday, we had a different item like this one, about Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) forming the Congressional Heartland Caucus. It's that time of year, of course; if you're going to organize a group like this, it makes far and away the most sense to do it at or near the start of the term. It's also worth pointing out that while these groups certainly do work on the issues they profess to work on, they also present messaging opportunities for members who join them. The Dads Caucus, thus far, is made up entirely of Democrats. While Gomez is hoping to get some Republicans to join, it's not clear if he'll be successful, or if so, exactly how many Republicans he will get. Whatever happens, there are certainly some members who would never consider becoming a part of anything organized by a Democrat. Which means, in turn, that in 2024 Lauren Boebert's (R-CO) opponent or Andy Biggs' (R-AZ) opponent can say "Huh. I guess that Rep. Boebert/Rep. Biggs doesn't like fathers, and doesn't want to help working parents. Wonder why?" (Z)

Voters Do Not Like McCarthy or His Conference

CNN has a new poll out gauging how Americans feel about Congress and its members. On the whole, the numbers should be making Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) cringe.

To start, only 19% of respondents held a favorable view of McCarthy himself, while 38% don't like him. That means that, apparently, roughly 40% of Americans have no idea who he is. He's also doing less-than-great with voters in his own party; 35% of Republicans like him and 18% don't. For comparison's sake, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is at 21% favorable, 22% unfavorable, and 57% Who? overall, while among Democrats he has 42% approval versus just 6% disapproval.

Meanwhile, when asked if House Republican leadership "has the right priorities overall," just 27% of respondents said "yes" whereas 73% said "no." That's pretty grim. Of course, some of those "no" respondents could be far-right zealots who are disappointed that it's taking so long to impeach Joe Biden/DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas/Hillary Clinton/the corpse of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but surely a big chunk of them are sane Republicans who don't much care for silly political theater.

We would make two observations about this polling result. The first is that Congress in general, and Congressional leaders in particular, pretty much always get abysmal polling numbers these days. However, that does not always translate to problems at the ballot box. Many voters feel the problem with the House is the other 434 elected representatives, and not the member who represents that voter's district. Said voters thus end up voting for the status quo, even while lamenting the status quo when talking to pollsters. On top of that, it's not enough for someone on the ballot to be unpopular. They have to be less popular than their opponent. And for many partisan voters, the worst member of their party is still better than the best member of the other party.

With that said, our second observation is that these numbers are really, really poor, especially since the House Republican Conference is theoretically in the honeymoon period. It will take very few votes and very few seats to flip control back to the Democrats in 2024, and the CNN poll suggests that McCarthy & Co.'s red-meat-for-the-base strategy is encouraging that possibility. The red team doesn't have to alienate all that many voters to capsize the ship, and the polling does not figure to improve once, say, the "investigation" into weaponizing the federal government really gets going. (Z)

Speaking of Weaponizing the Federal Government...

It is at least possible that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and his brand-spanking-new subcommittee will actually come up with something of substance as they put various Democrats, and family members of Democrats, under the microscope. We think that is unlikely, but you never know for sure.

Whatever the case may be, however, the indisputable fact is that Jordan & Co. are choosing their targets based on guesswork. They see a little smoke here and there (often a very little smoke), and they hope and pray that when they look into it, they will find some fire. And if that's the standard, then far and away the most smoke, when it comes to weaponizing the powers of the federal government/Department of Justice for political purposes, is emanating from... the John Durham-led probe of Russiagate that was instigated by former AG Bill Barr.

Yesterday, The New York Times published a lengthy exposé about the sleaziness of Durham and Barr, and how the investigation was consistently recalibrated in service of the two men's political goals rather than in service of the truth. Among the revelations:

  • Based on copies of memos they received, Durham and his team spent much time investigating the possibility that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Leonard Benardo, an aide to billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, had conspired to obstruct justice. Durham went to a judge to gain access to Bernardo's e-mail account, and when the judge refused, the special counsel tried to do an end run around him by going to a federal grand jury. Eventually, Bernardo just surrendered the requested e-mails, and it turned out there was no evidence of obstruction. Oh, and the memos that put Team Durham on this particular scent? They were provided by... Russian intelligence. Readers will recall that the entire genesis of the Durham probe is the claim that Democrats made inappropriate use of dubious intelligence from Russian sources. Do as I say, not as I do?

  • During the course of the investigation, Durham's team was warned by members of the Italian government about a U.S. citizen who had committed finance-related crimes in Italy. Despite the fact that this has nothing to do with Russia, Barr and Durham decided that they had to look into the matter. However, in order to maintain the tightest secrecy possible, Durham himself went to Italy to investigate, rather than farming the task out to one of his lieutenants. Whatever he found, he decided to keep it between Barr and himself, and he did not pursue any legal charges or refer the matter to any other federal agency. The exact nature of the information provided by the Italians, much less the nature of any evidence discovered by Durham, remains a mystery.

    One other thing we should probably mention. The U.S. citizen implicated in financial misdeeds by the Italians has changed residences since then, from a mansion in Washington, DC, to a resort in Florida.

  • Barr knew many months in advance of the 2020 presidential election that Durham's probe had found nothing of substance, and thus had exonerated the federal law enforcement establishment. Nonetheless, the then-AG made a point of keeping that fact under his hat until after the election.

Needless to say, there is zero chance that Jim Jordan and crew will actually take a look at this. But the Senate Judiciary Committee? Or AG Merrick Garland? Maybe. And now, every politics reporter in the country is going to be working on finding out exactly what the Italians know about Donald Trump. So, maybe one day soon, the former president will have yet another major legal headache to deal with. (Z)

Americans Do Not Have Freedom of Cake, at Least in Colorado

Baker Jack Phillips is a fellow who seems to be constantly spoiling for a fight. He is already well known because he refused to bake a cake for a gay couple, and was sort of sustained in that by the U.S. Supreme Court. SCOTUS did not exactly say that Phillips was within his rights to refuse; it said that Colorado authorities had mishandled the situation and had failed to properly observe Phillips' procedural rights. So, the baker won on that basis.

That means that the question of cake expression remains an open one. And in an apparent effort to resolve the matter, Phillips recently refused another client. In this case, the cake was ordered by Autumn Scardina, and was supposed to be pink with blue frosting. Phillips was happy to accept the job, until he learned that Scardina planned to use the cake to celebrate her transition from male to female. At that point he refused the gig.

Yesterday, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued its ruling in the case filed by Scardina. Its finding, in a nutshell, was that "creating a pink cake with blue frosting is not inherently expressive and any message or symbolism it provides to an observer would not be attributed to the baker," and so the order could not lawfully be refused. So, Phillips loses and Scardina wins. Undoubtedly, mastering the nuances and subtleties of dessert interpretation is why people sign up for law school in the first place. We understand that Harvard Law has a particularly renowned program in the jurisprudence of pastry.

Phillips is going to appeal to the Supremes, of course. We'll see if they take the case, or if they try to resolve the matter once and for all with their decision in the already-scheduled case involving a web designer who refused to create a site for a same-sex wedding. Meanwhile, we cannot help but observe that if you are a man who is deeply invested in traditional conceptions of masculinity, "baker who regularly makes pink cakes" seems an odd career path to choose.

And as long as we are at it, let us also point out that this week, Pope Francis called for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide. This man is the supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the same institution that brought you the Crusades and the Inquisition. True, the Pontiff is not hanging a rainbow flag from St. Peter's basilica, or saying that the Church will begin performing LGBTQ marriages. But still, when even the Vicar of Christ is saying, "C'mon. Leave the gay folks alone," then the anti-LGBTQ folks should really see they are fighting a losing battle. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: No News(max) is Good News

A few months back, DirecTV dumped OANN because the cost of carrying the network did not justify the financial rewards. And yesterday, after months of haggling over pricing, DirecTV announced that it would drop Newsmax from its lineup as well. The change was effective immediately, and so in the span of 24 hours, the 8-year-old outlet went from reaching about 50 million homes to reaching about 35 million.

Now, this item could end right here. Newsmax is a propaganda outlet that spends most of its time telling viewers what to be angry about and who they should hate. Regardless of the politics involved, that is a vile business model, and anything that weakens such an outlet should be greeted with a hearty round of applause. Or laughter. Or both.

But it actually gets better. The moment that the decision was announced, there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments by those on the right, as they claimed this was yet another example of the oppression of political conservatives. "This is a blatant act of political discrimination and censorship against Newsmax," whined Newsmax founder and CEO Christopher Ruddy. Donald Trump declared that DirecTV's behavior is "disgusting," and that "The Radical Left seems to have taken over the mind and soul of AT&T (which owns DirecTV)."

Several Congressional Republicans, including Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), have called for hearings into the matter, and said that perhaps Congress should force DirecTV to carry Newsmax and OANN. Stefanik and 39 of her colleagues also sent a saber-rattling letter to the leadership of AT&T and DirecTV about their having cut the two channels. It reads, in part: "Taken together, these two actions lead us to believe that DirecTV, one of the nation's largest multichannel video programming distributors, is actively working to limit conservative viewpoints on its system. This is extremely concerning for Members of Congress because it suppresses political discourse and hamstrings our ability to connect with our constituents."

At this point, let us pause to share a message we received from reader J.L. in Los Angeles that is relevant to both the item above about the Durham probe and to this item:

Am I the only one noticing the explosion of irony/hypocrisy in the Republicans weaponizing the federal government by creating a special panel to investigate how Democrats have weaponized the federal government? Isn't this the most obvious argument to the absurdity of the GOP, and if so, why hasn't Joe Biden or some other prominent Democratic politician pointed this out yet? Why haven't you guys? Am I missing something?

The hypocrisy of these Republican politicians and functionaries is as clear as it could be. We note it in the item above, and we are happy to reiterate that point here. Many Republican politicians, predominantly those of the MAGA persuasion, are more than happy to clamp down on, say, African-American studies courses or children's books where a kid has two dads, but then they pitch a fit when, say, a cable provider does not renew its contract with a right-wing news channel or the Mars/M&M company decides to redesign its fictional spokescandies. These same politicians are huge fans of the free market when it comes to, say, healthcare or a baker who wants to discriminate against trans people, but they do a 180 when it is, say, a cable provider deciding what channels are most profitable, or a major Mouse-based entertainment conglomerate reiterating its support for marriage quality.

All politicians are sometimes a little hypocritical; that's the nature of the business. But this is clearly base hypocrisy of the highest order. And, to answer the question from J.L., the only reason that we don't point it out more often, and that Democratic politicians don't point it out more often, is that it's so obvious. We don't really have much to add, and if we were to point it out every day (which we surely could), it would get tiresome and perhaps patronizing.

Anyhow, the schadenfreude continues when we add one more little fact to the conversation. Not long after dropping Newsmax, DirecTV announced what channel will be taking over that slot. It's going to be The First. Now, you probably don't know what that is, unless you are really on top of your fringe media outlets. But it's a right-wing news network anchored by former Fox entertainer and perpetual lech Bill O'Reilly.

Needless to say, we don't love to see a man like O'Reilly get more exposure. After all, he was exposed quite enough while he was at Fox. Still, it is not often that these nonsensical "Conservatives are so oppressed! Woe be unto us!" moans and groans turn counterfeit in just a manner of hours. After all, if DirecTV really was trying to suppress conservative voices, they would hardly have swapped in yet another conservative news outlet. Seems like the cable provider made a decision based on... business. That's a lot of egg on the face of Ruddy, Trump, Scott, Stefanik and all the other shedders of crocodile tears. And there's plenty of schadenfreude in that. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: Great Scott

Let's be honest, Republican politicians kind of take a beating in the last item, and in a couple of the other items above. We don't plan it out that way, we just go where the news takes us. That said, let's finish with a reminder that there are still sane, decent Republican politicians out there who really are trying to do their best by their fellow citizens, as they understand it.

The Republican in question here is Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT), who just commenced his fourth term in office. Vermont has a tradition of "neighborly" governance, by which we mean that the members of smaller communities usually have a town meeting with their neighbors on the first Tuesday in March to elect municipal leadership for the year. Given that the pandemic is now an endemic, and so still has some people leery about congregating with many others at the same time, both chambers of the Vermont legislature passed S.172, which allows localities to keep utilizing the measures they used during the pandemic, including absentee voting.

Scott promptly signed the bill, explaining that he is a servant of the people, and this is what the people clearly want. Then, he promptly turned around and directed some withering criticism at the state legislature. The Governor's gripe was not, however, that the legislators had made it easier to vote. Instead, it was that the legislators had not gone far enough. In a letter to the members, he declared:

Unfortunately, the Legislature has missed another opportunity to expand voter access further by expanding automatic mailing of ballots beyond general elections (Act 60) to include school budget votes, local elections and primary elections. Last year after signing Act 60 into law, I asked the Legislature to take this up when they returned in January, and if passed could be a model for the country. General elections already have the highest voter turnout. What we need is increased voter participation for elections like those on Town Meeting Day or school budget votes, which experience a fraction of the turnout of general elections.

That does not sound like most of today's GOP politicians. It sounds more like... Bernie Sanders. Maybe it's something in the water in Vermont.

Both of us are quite familiar with Scott, and one of us (V) has even met him and spoke to him one-on-one for 15 minutes. He's consistently shown himself to be a very decent fellow, in our view, and obviously that letter does nothing to change our opinion. Politicians of all stripes should be bending over to encourage voter participation, and to make the American democracy more... democratic. It's nice to see a Republican who has the courage to stand up and say that, regardless of what many of his more Trumpy fellows might say. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan26 McCarthy Picks the Witch Hunters
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