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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Democrats Go 3-for-3
      •  Second Time's the Charm for Mayorkas Impeachment
      •  Wisconsin Legislature Surrenders... Sort Of
      •  Trump Legal News: Here, There and Everywhere
      •  News from the Other Side of the Pond

Happy Valentine's Day!

Democrats Go 3-for-3

On Monday, we noted that there were three elections to watch yesterday. And, with the ballots largely counted, the Democrats appear to have gotten the result they wanted in all three.

The biggie, of course, was the election to fill "George Santos'" vacated seat in NY-03. Former representative Tom Suozzi (D) became representative-elect Tom Suozzi in a walk, taking 53.9% of the vote to 46.1% for Mazi Pilip (R? D?) with 97% of the ballots in. That means the House will now have 219 Republicans and 213 Democrats with three vacancies (Kevin McCarthy, Bill Johnson and Brian Higgins).

We have very little hard data to work with when it comes to projecting what's going to happen this November. So, it's not too surprising that many outlets are squeezing Tuesday's result for all it's worth, with lengthy lists of "takeaways" (see here, here, here, and here for examples). For our part, we are generally leery of reading too much into special elections, which are inherently wonky. This one was particularly wonky for a whole bunch of reasons, among them the involvement of a Democratic candidate who held the seat until January of last year, the Republicans running a very unorthodox candidate (a Black orthodox Jew who is a registered Democrat), some level of backlash to "Santos," and a last-minute snowstorm that reduced in-person turnout (thus benefiting the Democrats, who are more likely to take advantage of early voting).

That said, we do think there are two meaningful observations to be made here. The first is that "Santos" won by 7 points in 2022, and now Suozzi has won by almost 8 in the special election. A mathematician doesn't even need to be sober to see that's a swing of about 15 points toward the Democrats. That suggests a pretty good 2024 for the blue team, at least in New York. And with presidential coattails, and new district maps, the Empire State might just flip the House to the Democrats all by itself.

The other observation is that NY-03 is tailor-made for the Republicans' messaging on immigration and the border. It's been the target of many busloads of immigrants, and is home to a sizable immigrant detention center. Pilip went all-in on "the Senate border bill wasn't enough; we need to do more," and she got trounced. The folks who run the GOP cannot feel good about that heading into campaign season (and see below for more).

Meanwhile, over in Pennsylvania, the Democrats now have a firmer grip on the state House than they've had in a while. That's not to say they have a firm grip, mind you, just a firmer grip. Last week, state Rep. Joe Adams (R) resigned due to unspecified health problems. And yesterday, as expected, Jim Prokopiak (D) crushed Candace Cabanas (R), 67.7% to 32.3%. That means the state House is now 102 D, 100 R. It also means the Democrats have won six special elections for Pennsylvania state House seats in a row.

And finally, the residents of Renton, WA, appear to have decided that a very high minimum wage is a good idea—$20.29/hour for large employers, $18.29/hour for smaller employers. By the end of the evening, Initiative Measure 23-02 was winning 57.5% to 42.5%. Less than half the ballots have been counted, and the remainder won't be fully processed until next week. However, a 15-point differential is extremely unlikely to dissipate, given how aggressive the skew of the remaining ballots would have to be in order for that to happen.

And so, the day gave the Democrats a big win, a medium win and a small win. If you believe in momentum, the blue team currently has it. (Z)

Second Time's the Charm for Mayorkas Impeachment

With House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) back in town, and knowing that another Democrat (see above) was likely to be elected Tuesday, Mike Johnson was hustling to get in a second vote on the impeachment of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. This one was successful by the barest of margins, with 214 Republicans voting for, and 210 Democrats and 3 Republicans (the same trio as last time) voting against.

Is this a win for the Republican Party? Technically, we suppose, since they did finally get Mayorkas impeached. But on a night when Republican messaging on immigration got a pretty stiff rebuke in New York, it's clear that the Party is going to have to sell this aggressively. And we see at least three problems on that front:

  1. Razor's Edge: The first vote failed in high-profile fashion. The second vote succeeded by the narrowest margin possible, with several Republicans crossing the aisle to vote with the Democrats. This does not scream "consensus" or anything close to it.

  2. 176 Years: Just about every article written about the impeachment yesterday noted that Mayorkas is the first cabinet secretary to be impeached since Reconstruction. This surely raises a very obvious question: What did he do that was so bad, particularly when there have been so many shady Cabinet members over the years (Albert Fall, Earl Butz, Alberto Gonzales, Ryan Zinke, etc.) who did not clear the bar? The Republicans need to have a clear answer to that question, and we have seen no evidence they have one.

  3. The Senate: The Senate, as you may have heard, is currently controlled by the Democrats. And so, the Democrats get to decide exactly how to handle this matter. Needless to say, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) & Co. are going to find a way to undermine this as much as is possible.

    Schumer hasn't laid his cards on the table yet, obviously, but he has a number of options at his disposal. To start, he could move to dismiss the charges without a trial. The arguments here would be that: (1) no high crimes or misdemeanors were committed, and impeachments are not to be used for partisan disputes, and (2) the articles of impeachment are badly written, with each containing a litany of grievances, instead of each containing a single, distinct charge, as is required by law. This would be the quickest way to dispense of the matter, though it might make it look like the Democrats don't take the border seriously, or that they think Mayorkas has something to hide.

    Alternatively, the Democrats could refer the impeachment to a committee, almost certainly the Senate Judiciary Committee, to examine the articles of impeachment and to report back. This would show that the Democrats "take these issues seriously," and would still quash the impeachment, since the Democrats on the Committee (and maybe some of the Republicans) would surely vote to recommend no further action be taken. This approach would also save valuable floor time, though it would waste a bunch of the Committee members' time.

    Finally, the Democrats could hold a trial, and try to use it to make the Republicans look foolish. This would certainly make a lot of headlines, and could really hurt the GOP if things go poorly. On the other hand, if the Republican impeachment managers do well, and the defense does poorly, it could give more juice to the red team.

Whatever happens, the Republicans are going to get a few news cycles' worth of coverage of the Mayorkas impeachment, and in February or March no less, and that will be that. Even if the coverage is favorable (unlikely), it's rather hard to see how that will carry over to November. Sure, the GOP could rail against Mayorkas, and could rail against the Senate bill negotiated by one of their own, but what is the sound bite version of what Republicans are doing about the border? "We launched a failed impeachment and tanked a border bill" is not exactly bumper-sticker material.

Also, don't forget that the last time there was a stunt impeachment, namely with Bill Clinton, it rebounded on the Republicans. That could happen again, even though this impeachment is much further removed from the election than that one was (the impeachment was imminent at the time of the 1998 midterms, and became official shortly thereafter). Whereas we cannot imagine the current GOP soundbite, we can imagine the Democratic one: "The Republicans are not serious about the border, other than silly stunts." And we can also see the Democrats bringing that up one time, or two times, or a hundred times during the campaign. (Z)

Wisconsin Legislature Surrenders... Sort Of

There is no longer any question, with a Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court, that Wisconsin's extremely gerrymandered district maps have to go. First up are the maps for the state's legislative districts. In an effort to be bipartisan, and to try to minimize nastiness, Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) sent the Republican-dominated legislature maps drawn by his office. The maps are much more friendly to the Democrats than the ones currently in effect, but are not as friendly to the Democrats as they could be. Evers said that if the legislature passed the maps without alteration, he would sign them.

The Republicans in the legislature are not excited by the possibility of the courts imposing maps that are even more friendly to the Democrats. On the other hand, they also do not want to give up without a fight. So, they followed the letter of the Governor's instructions, in that they did not change the maps themselves before voting to adopt them. However, they DID change the language of the enabling legislation, such that the new maps would not kick in until November of this year, leaving the old maps in place for special or recall elections taking place before then.

Evers has not yet signaled whether he will accept this change. We are not close followers of Wisconsin politics, but we would be rather surprised if he did. He's holding all the cards here, and it's not like he will even have to wait very long for the new maps to be implemented.

In any case, the ball is currently in the Governor's court. (Z)

Trump Legal News: Here, There and Everywhere

Because it is good PR for him that gooses fundraising, and because he likes to interrupt and make a scene, Donald Trump has decided that he is going to be in court for all of the various hearings in his various ongoing cases. The problem with that plan, at least from his vantage point, is he's got so many ongoing legal matters that sometimes there will be hearings underway in more than one place. Such is the case tomorrow.

Some of the action today will be in New York, where Judge Juan Merchan will hold a final pre-trial hearing in Trump's hush-money case. At the hearing, a schedule will be set for the actual trial, which was (and may still be) set to commence on March 25. Trump has decided that this is the hearing he will attend today, probably because it's in New York and he can make some money charging the Secret Service for accommodations at Trump Tower.

That means that Trump will not be able to attend the hearing in Atlanta, where Judge Scott McAfee will consider whether or not DA Fani Willis' relationship with freelance prosecutor Nathan Wade is problematic enough to the point that she must be removed from the case. The former president would dearly love to be there, since he hates Willis with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. However, he will have to console himself with the fact that McAfee is going to thoroughly grill Willis, having already suggested that her removal might just be warranted.

And finally, Trump won't be in Court when the Supremes consider his immunity claim, whenever that might be. However, Chief Justice John Roberts has already decided that Special Counsel Jack Smith must file a response to the former president's motion made on Monday. As a reminder, what Trump is asking for is a stay, so he can return to the D.C. Court of Appeals and ask for a full en banc hearing. Smith will surely oppose that, and is expected to take far less than the week he has been allotted to do so.

Once Smith does respond, there are several ways this might go. The justices could grant the stay, which would take five votes. They could reject the stay, in which case the matter would be back with Judge Tanya Chutkan, at least until Trump asked SCOTUS to rule on the actual merits, as opposed to just the request for a stay. It is also possible, according to people far more expert about the intricacies of federal jurisprudence than we are, that the Court could treat the request for a stay as, instead, a request for certiorari, and could immediately move to consideration of the merits of the underlying claim. That would take four votes rather than five. Since SCOTUS is going to have to deal with this hot potato eventually, and since the matter is time sensitive, "advance to cert, do not pass Go, do not collect $200" seems the likeliest outcome. (Z)

News from the Other Side of the Pond

We try to keep an eye on important elections around the globe, and in particular in the United Kingdom, given that nation's close relationship with the U.S., and its influence on American politics. Our lives are made easier in this regard by our British correspondents, who are kind enough to write up a report for us when something interesting is taking place. Such is the case this week, so take it away, gents:

S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK: Your U.K. correspondents envy (V) and (Z). They know exactly when the big US 2024 election will be. In the U.K., we don't know when our pending general election will take place. It might not even happen this year!

A brief explanation. The power to end parliaments and hold general elections was originally that of the monarch. Like so many "prerogative powers," it ended up being taken over by the U.K. Prime Minister, subject to a maximum period between elections (set since 1911 at 5 years). This, of course, gave the incumbent and their party a significant advantage over their opponents, in picking the most favorable time to hold an election.

In 2011, as part of the coalition agreement between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, this was altered by Act of Parliament. In the future, parliaments were to run for exactly 5 years unless two-thirds of the House of Commons voted for an earlier election. Given the U.K. executive's antipathy towards any restraint on its actions, it sadly came as little surprise that as soon as a Prime Minister with a significant Commons majority got the opportunity, the 2011 Act was repealed and the U.K. reverted to the old arrangement. Boris Johnson did so in 2022.

So current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak can hold an election any time between now and January 2025. The choice is entirely his. Vast amounts of punditry have been, and are being, generated as to when he will choose. He might yet go for the latest date possible. The polls continue to show the main opposition Labour party about 15% ahead of the government. In U.K. terms, this is landslide territory.

Which makes the current approach of the Labour party baffling. Having twice in living memory (1992, 2015) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, they are nervous as hell about squandering their current lead. As a result they are showing a startling timidity, and seem to be running on the promise to keep many of the current government's policies but just govern more efficiently. Some would argue that would not be difficult... but it's hardly inspiring.

Meanwhile, Rishi has to find a way to get out of a huge hole by Election Day. He and his finance minister (Chancellor) Jeremy Hunt seem to think a cut in personal tax is the magic elixir. A reduction in National Insurance, a form of Income Tax, has just been actioned. Unfortunately, government projections clearly show the overall tax burden increasing in the near future. Nor is it clear that this approach should be the priority, given the ramshackle state of public services. For example, if you are one of the nearly 8 million currently on the National Health Service waiting list (roughly 1 in 8 members of the population), is your priority a modest tax cut or quicker treatment? Even the IMF have questioned the approach.

Inevitably, given the polls, sections of the Conservative Party are restless. It is an open secret that several cabinet ministers are positioning themselves for the expected leadership contest after the election. And barely a week goes by without another group or individual on the right of the party lambasting the government for not providing bigger tax cuts/scrapping regulation/cutting government spending/curtailing immigration/engaging in culture wars. Even Liz Truss is trying to make a comeback!

Sadly for Sunak, not all elections can be deferred. In May there will be a raft of local government elections. Most of the seats in question were last contested in 2021, when the Conservatives were ahead in the polls. So, a bloodbath is anticipated. And there are always by-elections such as...

G.S. (currently) in Southport, England UK: ...Kingswood. Located in the southwest of England just outside Bristol, this by-election came about after the departure of the previous Conservative MP, Chris Skidmore, who resigned in opposition to the expansion of new oil and gas licenses. Yes, you read "conservative" and "resigned in opposition to new oil and gas licenses" correctly, there. For those keeping track of the recent British by-elections, you also read correctly that Skidmore resigned on a point of principle—as opposed to being hounded/booted out of office under the pall of some sexual misconduct/criminal-level COVID rule-breaking/I didn't get the honor I wanted-related scandal, all of which have been very much in vogue among our elected representatives recently. There's not a tremendous number of distinguishing features for the seat here: Kingswood is very middle of the road, with a mixture of rural and medium sized urban areas, and many of the usual demographics (median income, employment, EU Vote Leave %, home ownership) at or just to the right of the national and regional medians. Given that this seat will be abolished at the next general election this would make this a boring, zero-consequence vote, right?

Not quite. A little bit of research reveals this seat to be a true bellwether: Only once in the history of the seat (it has existed since 1974) has Kingswood NOT voted for the winner of the general election (in 1992). Put another way, Kingswood has gone the way of the winner in all 7 of the most recent general elections and in 13 of the 14 for which it has existed. As such, if the aspirant Labour government were not to pick up this seat (and in a by-election, where voters traditionally give the incumbents a kicking), that would be a somewhat seismic result and create many questions about opposition leader Kier Starmer's "carrying a priceless Ming vase over an icy floor" attitude to policy in recent months and years. The pundits and the bookies would seem to agree: You can presently obtain the princely return of £1 for every £33 wagered in the event of a Labour win this week, and local Conservative members are publicly bemoaning the lack of support from Westminster, with words like "death spiral" and "given up" on activists' lips. So, a Conservative hold of this seat would be a surprise. That said, the readership of this site may recall that this particular British correspondent has been wrong about British bellwethers on this very site before, so absent his copy of Grey's Sports Almanac, he will not be making such confident predictions on this occasion.

A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK: Where the Kingswood election results from the startling phenomenon of a Conservative Party MP resigning over a point of environmental policy principle, Wellingborough returns us to the more traditional path of a colorful populist right-wing pro-Brexit MP being forced out over a sex scandal. Peter Bone was subject to a successful recall petition by his constituents after Parliament's independent standards body found that the MP had "committed many varied acts of bullying and one act of sexual misconduct" against a male member of his staff, including the finding that during a 2013 work trip, Bone "dropped his towel and exposed his genitals close to his employee's face" in their shared hotel room. That same year, Bone described the effort to legalize same-sex marriage as "completely nuts," and voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. I offer no comment on whether Wellingborough's former MP has ever been inspired by Larry Craig, and will equally refrain from commenting on the potential nominative determinism of his surname.

The constituency itself lies near the center of Northamptonshire's traditional shoe industry. While no major manufacturers remain in Wellingborough itself, Dr. Martens boots are still made in the company's original home village of Wollaston, just to the south of Wellingborough, while Sanders & Sanders still produce boots for the British army (alongside ordinary footwear) in the constituency's second town of Rushden. Just outside the constituency is the small village of Earls Barton, home of the factory that inspired the film and musical Kinky Boots. I promise I'm not making this up.

Bone first won the constituency from Labour in 2005, and up until this past year had gradually increased his majority over time, winning just over 62% of the vote in the 2019 general election. Under normal circumstances the Conservative Party would be expected to win the by-election in a canter, but two factors make Labour the strong favorites on Thursday. Firstly, Rishi Sunak's government is now so staggeringly unpopular—Sunak now has lower net favorability ratings than Liz Truss did—that almost no seat can be considered safe. Secondly, the local Conservative Party has done itself no favors by choosing Peter Bone's girlfriend Helen Harrison as its candidate (Bone meanwhile remains officially married to his wife, who's herself an elected local councillor in Wellingborough; it's messy). It's widely believed that Harrison was chosen to stop Bone splitting the right-wing vote by running in the election as an independent or as the candidate of the far-right populist Reform Party (previously Nigel Farage's Brexit Party). But the selection of Harrison seems to have backfired badly, with national Conservative Party politicians refusing to campaign on her behalf in fear that they might be tarred by the tawdry details of Peter Bone's private life. It's almost as if the Conservative Party has had a deliberate death wish in the seat, and events have done nothing to ease perceptions that the party is mired in scandal.

Given the by-election is taking place the week after the Super Bowl, it's perhaps also worth noting briefly that Bone has attracted past controversy for the extent of his willingness to promote the NFL. In 2011 he was told off by the Speaker for using an American football as a prop on the floor of the House of Commons; he chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on American Football (there really is such a thing); and he regularly declared free tickets to NFL games in London in the register of members' interests. His 2023 tickets were donated by the Jacksonville Jaguars; presumably both the team and the league will be slightly more cautious about which British MPs they choose to promote their interests in the U.K. moving forward.

Thanks for the reports! Clearly, American politics isn't the only soap opera out there.

We will have a follow-up later this week, once the votes are counted. (Z)

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