Senate page     Feb. 08

Senate map
Previous | Next

New polls:  
Dem pickups: PA
GOP pickups: (None)

The State of the Union Is Strong

That phrase is the clichéd way that presidents usually begin their annual State of the Union address. Joe Biden, for his part, stuck it at the end of his SOTU last night, so he mixed it up a little. Still, the headline isn't meant as a reference to that; it's our judgment of the speech as a whole. A few (expected) verbal gaffes notwithstanding, Biden delivered a speech that was overall very effective.

If you did not watch the address, and you wish to do so, here is the official White House feed:

As is customary these days, the feed includes a sign-language interpreter. Hopefully you don't actually need the interpreter, though, because she was filmed in a manner that often caused her hands to be outside the frame. Very odd. After all, exactly how many things did that cameraman need to get right? Aim the camera correctly and push the "on" button, and he blew 50% of that.

SOTUs are, by their nature, a little dry. And so, SOTU write-ups tend to be a little dry. We're going to change the format of our assessment a bit, to try to compensate for that:

And there you have it; another State of the Union in the books. CNN's Flash Poll says that the great majority of viewers (71%) liked what they heard, so maybe the speech will move the needle on Biden's approval (though we still doubt it). On a similar note, we are planning to run some reader comments on the speech tomorrow or Friday, so if you have them, please speak up! (Z)

State of the Union Takeaways

The State of the Union is important enough, and is early enough in the evening, that all the major outlets already have takeaways. Note that we deliberately do not look at these pieces until we've written our own assessment. So, if we're a near-duplicate of one or more of them, or if we seem to have watched an entirely different speech, now you know why. Anyhow, here they are:


The New York Times:

BBC News:

The Hill:

ABC News:

NBC News:

The Washington Post:


The central themes would seem to be: Biden looked pretty good for an old fella, the give-and-take with Republicans, and setting the stage for the 2024 campaign. It would appear that we did indeed watch the same speech.

We'd like to give you some takeaways from right-wing outlets, but other than the paywalled Wall Street Journal, we couldn't come up with any. The Foxes of the world just don't do those very often, and certainly not for speeches by prominent Democrats. (Z)

Biden to Lose His First Cabinet Member

In contrast to the Cabinet of his predecessor, where turnover was a frequent occurrence, Joe Biden managed to keep his entire Cabinet intact through his first 2 years in office. All good things must come to an end, however, and the news broke yesterday that the President would be bidding adieu to Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, who is expected to leave in order to take over the NHL Players Association. Neither the White House, nor Walsh, was willing to comment about the situation yesterday, but the news is well sourced. It also can't be a coincidence that Walsh served as the designated survivor last night, since this will be his last chance to do so.

Running the Department of Labor is a pretty tough job, and that's certainly been true for Walsh, who was stretched to the breaking point in trying to resolve the recent railway strike. Labor secretaries often leave their posts early for the greener pastures of academia, white-shoe law, lobbying, or a high-profile private sector job. Taking over the NHLPA will not only allow Walsh to get back to his roots as a labor organizer, it will also come with a rather hefty pay raise. If Walsh gets the same paycheck as the man he's replacing (Donald Fehr), then he's in line for a pay increase of 1,546% ($226,300 to $3.5 million). Not too shabby.

It is probable that there will be other Cabinet/Cabinet-level departures in the near future. This is about the time on the calendar when members of the administration are expected to either commit to staying on through the election, or to exit, stage right. Chief of Staff Ron Klain already said that he will resign, and it would be very unusual for there to be only two ship jumpers. In case you are wondering, Barack Obama lost four high-level people at around this point in his presidency (Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Peter Orszag and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee). Obama also saw his first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, depart before the 2010 midterms in order to run for the mayoralty of Chicago. (Z)

Judiciary Might Clamp Down on Abortions...

Earlier this week, we had an item about how state legislatures in reddish states are gearing up for the abortion wars. Let us not forget, however, that the U.S. system of governance gives an awful lot of policy-setting power to federal judges. And guess what? Some of them are gearing up, too.

Specifically, we refer to Matthew Kacsmaryk, district judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Prior to appointment to the bench, he had a lengthy career as a far-right and anti-abortion activist, enough so that Donald Trump ended up having to send his nomination to the Senate twice, and even then he was barely confirmed. He also sits on a court (the Amarillo division of the Northern District of Texas) where he is the only judge. In short, if you are anti-abortion and you are doing some venue shopping, Kacsmaryk is your man.

At the moment, a group of anti-abortion activist groups is trying desperately to get the abortifacient pill mifepristone banned. There's no way that is going to be accomplished through the legislative process, so they've turned to the judiciary. The lawsuit they have filed is, in a word, laughable. What they are arguing is that the FDA should never have approved mifepristone, because it could prove to be harmful, and so they want the judge to overrule the FDA.

Even with such a brief summary, and even if you are not a lawyer, perhaps you see some of the problems here. "Future harm" is speculative, and is not enough to give the plaintiffs standing. "The FDA shouldn't have done this" is an opinion, and one that runs contrary to the fact that the Agency followed its usual, rigorous procedures before granting approval. And finally, for a judge to override the policies of a federal agency would open up a whole can of worms, and a brave new era in jurisprudence.

In other words, this is a Hail Mary pass that stands on the shakiest of legal ground. What the plaintiffs need is a judge willing to stand on his head in order to deliver the desired result, and they are really hoping that Kacsmaryk is that judge. His ruling is expected within the week. Normally, if a judge were to engage in some naked judicial activism like decreeing an end to all medically induced abortions, he'd be "corrected" by the courts above him. But Kacsmaryk sits on the very right-wing Fifth Circuit, so there's no guarantee they would reverse an anti-mifepristone ruling. Then it would go to the Supremes, and we know where they stand on abortion rights. So, pro-choice Americans have reason to be nervous here. (Z)

...Or, They Might Restore the 1973-2022 Status Quo

And now, as a counterpoint to the previous item, we give you a judge who sees abortion very differently than does Matthew Kacsmaryk. That would be Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who is currently presiding over a criminal case involving several defendants who blocked access to an anti-abortion clinic.

Without getting too much into the weeds, one of the charges against the defendants is that they conspired to violate federal law. However, the defendants' attorneys argue that since the Dobbs decision, access to abortion is no longer the law of the land, and so the conspiracy charge should be dropped. In her ruling on that question, Kollar-Kotelly observed that while Dobbs did bring an end to Fourteenth-Amendment-based abortion rights, it did not necessarily declare that there are no federal protections for abortion. In particular, Kollar-Kotelly writes, there may be a Thirteenth Amendment argument for abortion rights.

This insight is not unique to Kollar-Kotelly, the notion that prohibitions against "involuntary servitude" prohibit the government from forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term is an old one. But now, the argument has been made in a ruling by a federal judge (albeit as a secondary finding in service of a ruling on another matter). We would be very surprised if someone doesn't soon instigate a case in which they claim their wish for an abortion is covered by the Thirteenth Amendment. Heck, there may well be a case (or two, or three) like that in the works already.

What it all really boils down to is this: The Supreme Court has made its bed, and now has to lie in it. They encouraged partisans on both sides to fight this out through the legal process, often with wildly problematic lawsuits like the one in Texas (see above). And one day, SCOTUS is going to have to rule in another high-profile abortion case. On one hand, as we have already observed, it is clear that the majority of the justices oppose abortion rights. On the other hand, the Court's reputation is in very bad shape right now, and if they push their luck too much farther, they will encourage two things: (1) defiance of the Supreme Court and (2) a potential overhaul of the Supreme Court, perhaps by adding more justices or establishing term limits. They all know this, and they should be preparing for the day when they have to decide what's more important to them. That day may arrive very soon. (Z)

A Mexican Standoff in Florida?

Note that the phrase "Mexican Standoff" almost certainly refers to "a standoff that took place in Mexico," and not "a standoff that embodies some characteristic of the Mexican people." It dates back to the Mexican-American War, and a now-obscured-by-the-mists-of-time incident during that conflict. And we couldn't help but think of this particular concept—and, more specifically, the climactic scene of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly—when reading about the latest sniping by 2024 Republican presidential candidates.

To start, there is no gutter that is too low for Donald Trump to climb into. And one of the standard tricks in the MAGA Republican playbook is to suggest that one's opponents are pedophiles. So, it is not the slighest bit surprising that the former president took to his boutique social media platform yesterday to suggest that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was (or is) in the habit of grooming high-school girls. Sharing some pictures of the Governor from roughly 20 years ago, Trump wrote: "Ron DeSantis was having a 'drink' party with his students when he was a high school teacher. Having drinks with underage girls and cuddling with them certainly look pretty gross and ephebophiliaesque." Where that last word came from, we do not know. Does Trump himself have that word memorized, perhaps due to his own past transgressions? Did someone feed it to him? Does Team Trump really think that the base knows what that means? Very unusual.

DeSantis, for his part, also spewed some vinegar yesterday, launching some vague, but entirely unspecific, attacks on "the media." The Governor is apparently angry that his education "reforms" have gotten negative coverage, and decreed:

When the media attacks me, I have a platform to fight back. When they attack everyday citizens, these individuals don't have the adequate recourses to fight back. It would contribute to an increase in ethics in the media and everything if they knew that if you smeared somebody, it's false and you didn't do your homework then you have to be held accountable for that.

DeSantis did not specify what he wants done, he merely said that the media are bad and should be held "accountable."

Meanwhile, the media generally are critical of Trump on a daily basis, and so there you have your Mexican standoff: Trump → DeSantis → Media → Trump, and so on and so forth. We do not point this out to be pithy, however. We point it out because we wonder if that is DeSantis' strategy for dealing with his soon-to-be-rival. That is to say, every time Trump attacks the Governor, perhaps the Governor will respond by attacking someone/something else. That gets him some competing headlines, and shows he's "strong" and "has the right enemies" without making a direct attack on Trump himself.

What suggested this possibility to us was the fact that DeSantis had relatively little to say about the media when he launched his attack. Normally, specific policy goals are incorporated into his kvetching, but not here. It seemed very much like he had to come up with someone or something to attack pronto, and so he winged it. It's entirely possible we are wrong, but it's worth watching to see if we're right. Of course, both Trump and DeSantis complain so often about so many things, it might be hard to prove for certain. (Z)

Previous | Next

Back to the main page