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Manchin and Sinema Meant What They Said, and They Said What They Meant

That headline seems apropos today, since that line is spoken by an elephant, and Sens. Joe Manchin (D?-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D?-AZ) acted just like members of the elephant party yesterday. As expected, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) brought the Democrats' voting rights bill up for a vote. And then, as expected, Senate Republicans filibustered it. And then, as expected, Schumer called for a vote for cloture, which failed. And then, as expected, Schumer called for a change to the filibuster rules. And finally, as expected, Manchin and Sinema joined with the Republicans to defeat the proposed rule change, 52-48.

Needless to say, politicians can disagree with their party's position on some issues and still be loyal members of that party. The problem with Manchin and Sinema is that while they have been consistent in asserting that they wouldn't change the filibuster because they believe that would lead to greater polarization, they have also been consistently disingenuous in explaining their thinking. Manchin is probably the worse of the two in that way, if only because he talks more. That continued on Wednesday, as he gave a pro-filibuster speech on the floor of the Senate, armed with visual aids:

Manchin stands next to a sign
that says 'The United States Senate has never been able to end debate with a simple majority.'

That's a very nice sign, and makes for a good photo-op, we guess. However, it's also profoundly dishonest. First of all, the Senate most certainly has been able to end debate with a simple majority. That is how, for example, reconciliation bills and judges (these days) get approved. It is true that, for a long time, most debates were completely open-ended. It is also true that, for the last century or so, most debates could only be ended with a supermajority. But "never" simply isn't correct.

On top of that, the Senate was not trying to change the rules in the way that Manchin implies. Schumer would have been happy with a carve-out (i.e., yet another case where debate can be ended with a simple majority) or an agreement to restore the talking filibuster. But, as we've pointed out, Manchin keeps using the word "nuclear," and his poster suggests that the nuclear option—ending the filibuster altogether—is what the Senator was protecting against. That's not the case, though. Ending the filibuster entirely—and thus allowing debate to be ended with a simple majority—was not on the table yesterday.

The fact is that most senators, including the Democrats, do not want the Senate minority silenced completely. The Democrats just feel—rightly, in our view—that the power balance has shifted too far in favor of the minority. If a party does not control the chamber, they should still have some leverage when it comes to passing legislation. At the moment, however, 41 members can kill whatever the other 59 might want to do, and they usually do so. That is a recipe for dysfunction, as we've seen in the last 10-15 years. In the context of the Build Back Better bill, Manchin was fond of saying that if the progressives want their bills to pass, they should win more elections. One might apply the same observation to this situation: If a party doesn't want to be in the minority, they should win more elections.

Manchin knows all of these things perfectly well. Similarly, both he and Sinema know full well that their oft-stated wish of finding a "bipartisan solution" to voting rights is patent nonsense. The Republican Party is in the minority nationwide right now, and its numbers are headed in the wrong direction. Limiting Democratic votes, by hook or by crook, is their best hope for holding on to power. "That's it. That's the key," as Michael Corleone observed in the first Godfather movie. Even Lyndon B. Johnson wouldn't be able to scrounge up 10 Republican votes for voting rights legislation, just as he wasn't able to scrounge up 10 Deep Southern votes for voting rights legislation back when he was president. In case there is any doubt on this point, Manchin wrote his own, very moderate, voting rights bill and couldn't get a single Republican to back it, much less the 10 Republicans needed for cloture. A "bipartisan solution" to voting rights is no more realistic than unicorns, leprechauns, or the Detroit Lions winning a Super Bowl. Maybe Manchin can put his voting rights bill under his pillow some night, and when he wakes up the filibuster fairy will have brought him a 60-vote supermajority.

The point is that because the verbiage from Manchin and Sinema is so often misleading or outright untruthful, we have trouble accepting their explanations of themselves uncritically. That said, we also struggle to grasp what their real motivations are. It's all good and well to say "it's about the grift," but we don't see how blocking voting rights helps line the two senators' pockets. Blocking BBB? We can see how that could be profitable for them. But voting rights? We don't see how that translates into filthy lucre. Indeed, if Sinema in particular is thinking about cushy, high-paying positions on corporate boards, that is much less likely now than it was yesterday. She's quite toxic, and will presumably remain so. If some business concern appoints her to the BoD, many employees (and possibly some stockholders) will revolt. Consider what happened with this year's MLB All-Star Game, or what happened with the North Carolina bathroom bills.

We also have trouble making sense of this in terms of politics. The two senators aren't going to be too welcome with some of their colleagues anymore, particularly someone like, say, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). As to their reelection bids, West Virginia is 93% white, so we don't see why voters there—especially Democratic voters—would demand that their Senator hold the line here. And as to Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), who is up this year, clearly concluded that embracing the Democratic Party line was better than rebelling against it. Sinema may have run the numbers and come up with a different conclusion, but now she's going to face the mother of all primary challenges, she's going to have a hard time making up for the loss of progressive Democratic votes in the general (if she gets there), and her donors are hopping mad and are threatening to jump ship if she doesn't change course. She's very smart, and she's a professional politician, so maybe she knows things we don't. But while she may get a few more independent votes, and while sitting on her hands instead of protecting minority voters could be helpful to her in a primary against a Latino challenger like Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D-AZ), we simply cannot see how her rebellion against Democratic priorities has made her more re-electable.

In any event, the big question is: What next? Here are the possibilities we see:

  • Try Again Later: If you review the first paragraph above, you'll see the order in which events took place yesterday. The key vote, if Schumer is to revive this discussion, is the one for cloture. Once the vote to change the rules had failed 52-48, the Majority leader switched his vote on cloture to "nay," such that the cloture vote officially failed 51-49. Only someone on the "winning" side can bring a vote before the Senate again, and so by moving to the "winning" side, Schumer reserves the right to resume the cloture discussion at his discretion. Last night, he pointed out that more than half the Democratic caucus was originally leery of any change to the filibuster, and now it's down to just two members, so there's "momentum." Also, during debate over a change to the filibuster, Manchin said that he's not opposed to resuming the talking filibuster, but that if that change is made, he wants the rights of the minority to be protected more fully. That sorta sounds like another case of him talking out of both sides of his mouth, since it's not clear what that would even mean. Still, perhaps there's still a foothold there for Schumer to try to climb Mt. Manchin.

  • Hold the Floor: Twice we have pointed out that because Chuck Schumer was able to start debate (thanks to a loophole), he could plausibly just keep debate going until Republicans exhausted their "two opportunities to speak per person," at which point none of the GOP members would be able to claim the floor, and thus none of them would be able to filibuster anymore—silent or otherwise. This approach is favored by none other than...Joe Manchin, who said: "We could have kept voting rights legislation as the pending business for the Senate today, next week, a month from now. This is important." Again, he's constantly moving the goalposts, so who knows if he means it, but it certainly looks like he wouldn't stand in the way of such a tactic. Indeed, if Schumer doesn't try it, he owes an explanation to his caucus and to Democratic voters as to why.

  • Try for Something Bipartisan: After last night's drama, there was some kumbaya talk from moderate Republicans, and some hopeful talk from dejected Democrats, about trying to find some common ground and to hammer out a more limited bill. However, see the point above about voting rights: Republicans are not interested in working on this issue. And so, the place where there is actual room for cooperation is the Electoral Count Act, since there are 60+ members of both parties who are nervous about a constitutional crisis. However, while trying to fix that bill is important, it has nothing to do with voting rights. Further, some Democrats are leery that the Republicans are not going to negotiate in good faith, and that they are using the Electoral Count Act as a distraction from the GOP position on voting rights. Also note—and this is important—what the Republicans are really afraid of is President of the Senate Kamala Harris blocking certification of Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2025, if it should come to that. For this reason alone, they are probably willing to amend the Electoral Vote Act to make it crystal clear that she can't do this. If that makes it impossible for possible President of the Senate Kristi Noem to engage in monkey business on Jan. 6, 2029, well, they don't think that far ahead.

  • Run on Voting Rights: The Democrats could declare this to be a dead issue for now, and then use it as their central campaign theme this year. They could spend the next 10 months doing everything possible to remind their voters to get registered, to get ID, to vote early (if available), to vote absentee (if available), and so forth. This would be coupled with the argument that the only way things will get done is if the Democrats retain the House and also pick up two U.S. Senate seats, while if the Republicans gain power, voting rights (and democracy) could be permanently damaged.

As you might guess, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did some crowing last night, declaring that "It's pretty safe to say this is the biggest day in the history of the Senate." It is remarkable that someone as clever as he is would say something so unbelievably stupid. Bigger than the vote to approve the Thirteenth or Nineteenth Amendments? Bigger than the vote to declare war on Japan and thus commence World War II? Bigger than the approval of the GI Bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (which basically made the Internet possible)? Bigger than the day the Senate was burned by British troops 200 years ago? Or the day it was raided by American citizens just one year ago? Maybe the Senator passed the time on Wednesday with help from Kentucky's most popular export. We can't come up with another plausible explanation for how he could make such an absurd statement.

In any event, for now, at least, the Republicans have won the battle. The next 10 months will be spent figuring out if they also won the war. (Z)

Three Strikes and Trump Is Out

Although the news coming out of the Senate did not gladden the hearts of Democrats, there was good news for them (and for country-before-party Republicans and independents) courtesy of the Supreme Court yesterday. In his effort to keep his presidential documents from the 1/6 Committee, Trump failed to make his case at the district court level, and then failed to make it at the appellate level. Yesterday, he completed the set, as the Supreme Court ruled that Trump has no legal leg to stand on. That's the end of the line for the former president, as there's no court left above SCOTUS. Well, maybe St. Peter, depending on what you believe. However, we doubt that Trump or anyone else in his circle has that address.

The decision was unsigned, as it so often is these days. Of the nine justices, the only one to publicly announce their position was Clarence Thomas, who said he would have granted Trump's request. That presumably tells us that the other eight justices were in agreement that Trump was in the wrong. It definitely tells us that Thomas starts with the result he wants and works backward, since nobody has put together a compelling legal theory for why the judgment of a sitting president should be secondary to the judgment of a past president.

The documents that the 1/6 Committee wants total about 750 pages, including notes, drafts of speeches, visitor logs, and other information from the week (or so) that the insurrection took place. Among the folks whose paperwork will get a look-see are former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former senior adviser Stephen Miller, former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and former White House associate counsel Patrick Philbin. It's unclear if any of the documents were written by Trump himself. He didn't do much writing while president, though there were the occasional exceptions:

A meme of Trump where he is holding
a signed bill, except that someone has erased the bill and photoshopped in 'you're fired' in childish writing

It must have been tough for former chief of staff John Kelly to get the news like that.

The national archives transmitted the documents shortly after the ruling came down. So, 1/6 Committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) & Co. will presumably be like kids in a candy store by noon today. And they appear to be on pace to deliver a report this spring, as they have been projecting. (Z)

Biden Has Discovered the Bully Pulpit

When Donald Trump left office, he must have hidden the bully pulpit down in the White House basement somewhere, maybe under a historic flag. It took Joe Biden exactly 1 year to find it, but he found it yesterday, dusted it off, and took it for a spin during his first news conference in 10 months. And it was a humdinger, lasting 2 hours.

Biden's bully pulpitting was very different from that of the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The President started out by admitting he had made a mistake. His predecessor never, ever admitted to mistakes, even when they were there for all to see, written with a Sharpie. Biden said that he thought by being reasonable, accommodating, and talking to the Republicans, they could work together for the good of the country. He admitted that he was wrong thinking that, saying: "One thing I haven't been able to do so far is get my Republican friends to get in the game of making things better in this country." He also said the entire party is thoroughly cowed by Trump, adding: "Did you ever think that one man out of office could intimidate an entire party where they're unwilling to take any vote?" He repeatedly said that the Republicans have no leader except Trump (take that, Yertle), no goal except opposing the Democrats, and no agenda. Literally he said: "What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they are for."

This is the toughest Biden has been with the Republicans in his entire presidency... actually, his entire life. He has simply had it with their strategy blocking everything, obstructing everything. No more Mr. Nice Guy. This new combative attitude is sure to cheer Democrats who have long lost any hope that they could work with the Republicans. It will also anger the 5% of Republicans who still approve of him. But politically, energizing the Democrats and losing the last 5% of the Republicans (which is about 1½% of the electorate) is surely a smart move.

Biden also made it clear that he was going to spend less time in D.C. arguing with senators and more time traveling the country to talk to voters... no strike that, talking to Americans. Specifically, he said: "The public doesn't want me to be the president-senator. They want me to be the president and let senators be senators." Unsaid here is that he plans to actively campaign all over the country until November, especially in states with important races for senator (and maybe even governor).

The President also addressed his failure to get Build Back Better passed and conceded it will not happen in its current form. On this topic, he said: "I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, come back and fight for the rest later." (English translation: What Joe wants, Joe gets. Only the "Joe" in this case is Mr. Manchin.) As we have mentioned before, and as we note below, Manchin is not against a social infrastructure bill. He will happily vote for a bill that creates universal pre-kindergarten, allows Medicare to negotiate on drug prices, and encourages the use of electric cars that run on coal-generated electricity. What Manchin does not want is giving people free money (the child tax credit) and free college (West Virginia is the least college-educated state, trailing even Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi, and losing to Mississippi isn't easy). Biden expressed hope that once Manchin's bugaboos are dropped, a good bill will pass, even if it is not what many Democrats had hoped for.

Biden also addressed the looming crisis on the Ukrainian border. He said that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine and he warned Putin that he would be sorry if he did. Biden didn't get into the specifics, naturally, but there are things Biden could do (and is probably already doing) to make an invasion painful for Putin. One thing Biden could do is have the Pentagon deliver large numbers of antitank rockets, antihelicopter rockets, and antiaircraft heat-seeking missiles to Ukraine. It used to be that when a lone soldier faced an oncoming tank, the final score was always: Tank 1, Soldier 0. But when the soldier has an antitank rocket, the score is often: Soldier 1, Tank 0. If Biden gives Ukraine weapons intentionally chosen to kill as many Russian soldiers as possible (also in a possible guerilla war after the invasion is completed), Putin's approval rating in Russia might just take a hit. Biden could also exclude Russia from the SWIFT banking network, making it impossible for Russia to do commerce with the rest of the world. This could make a real mess of the Russian economy. More sanctions are also possible.

Biden didn't mention it, but he is well aware that he is vulnerable on Afghanistan. But if he can help Ukraine give Putin a black eye both within Russia and worldwide, it will be much harder for the Republicans to say he is no good at foreign policy. From Biden's point of view, the best possible outcome is a Russian invasion of Ukraine that results in thousands of Russian soldiers being killed and hundreds of Russian planes and tanks being destroyed. Even if Russia manages to occupy part of Ukraine while losing a few dozen more soldiers every day, Biden can say there was no way the Ukrainian Army could beat the Russian Army, but he made Putin pay a very high price for his mischief. Putin is testing Biden and if Biden passes the test (by making the invasion extremely painful for Putin), Biden's standing is sure to go up. Of course, if the Ukrainian Army folds instantly when crunch time comes, it will be Afghanistan, Part II.

In short, Biden came out with his guns a-blazin', admitted where he got things wrong, and started Biden presidency v2.0. (V)

Build Back Smaller

It has begun to sink in that Joe Manchin is not going to vote for the Build Back Better bill that progressives dearly want. He's really not going to do it, as in NO WAY. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) understands that and is beginning to look for a Plan B. This would be a much stripped down bill containing only items that Manchin has said he can support. These include universal pre-kindergarten, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and even some programs to combat climate change. The latter is not quite the contradiction you might think it is. Electric cars can run on electricity produced by coal-fired plants, after all.

Centrist Democrats, such as Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), have conceded that the original bill is truly dead, but they believe a smaller and more focused bill still has a good chance. A bill that included pre-K and lower drug prices would be hugely popular with parents and seniors, a significant portion of the electorate.

One issue that is a sticking point is the now-expired refundable tax credit. What it amounts to is the government giving free money to the parents of poor children. This is the modern-day version of welfare and many politicans, including Manchin, oppose giving people free money. If progressives insist on putting it in a smaller bill, there is a good chance Manchin will oppose the entire bill. But if they stick to things he has said he supports, they can probably get a bill passed.

Negotiations are already underway but there isn't much time until the primaries start, after which legislating is nearly impossible. As with so many things in politics, the perfect is the enemy of the good. If progressives can reconcile themselves to getting a bill with pre-K, lower drug prices, and billions for fighting climate change, it would actually be a huge victory and politically very popular, even if it is smaller than what they had hoped for. (V)

There Is a Mixed Response to the Supreme Court's OSHA Decision

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that OSHA, which was created by Congress to make sure workplaces are safe for the workers, doesn't have the authority to order companies with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinations for employees. After all, what connection is there between workers spreading potentially fatal diseases and workplace safety? But the Court didn't tell the companies themselves what they should do, and so we are getting a mixed bag of responses.

Starbucks, for example, has dropped its plan to require vaccinations of all its U.S. workers. The company's COO, John Culver, apparently didn't talk with the company's lawyers when he said: "We will respect the court's ruling and will comply." The court said absolutely nothing about whether companies could implement their own vaccine mandates because they felt it was good for business. It merely said that OSHA couldn't force them to do it. Similarly, General Electric will also drop its vaccination mandate.

On the other hand, a number of companies have decided they feel that a mandate is needed to protect their workers and, in some cases, their customers. Carhartt, a manufacturer of work clothes popular with, well, workers, is going to enforce a vaccination mandate. CEO Mark Valade said: "We put workplace safety at the very top of our priority list and the Supreme Court's recent ruling doesn't impact that core value." Carhartt employees who won't get vaxxed will get fired instead. Citigroup is another company that will keep its mandate.

As to the political fallout here, while the Democrats would have preferred the OSHA rule to hold, the real goal is to stamp out the coronavirus. If enough big companies decide to require vaccinations of all employees, that is almost as good as a government mandate, and tougher for Republicans to criticize. As soon as a Republican says he doesn't think Carhartt or Citigroup or some other company should mandate vaccines, the instant response is going to be: "Oh, so you don't believe private companies should be able to run their businesses as they see fit? When did you begin opposing capitalism?"

There are also companies taking a somewhat different approach to getting unvaccinated employees to roll up their sleeves: jab them in their wallets, instead. Delta Airlines, for example, has raised the health-plan contribution of unvaccinated employees by $200/month. Taking a $2,400 annual pay cut is surely going to motivate some workers to think about how much their "freedom from vaccination" is really worth. It is one thing to have a big mouth about your freedom, but it is something quite different when you have to put $2,400 of your own money where your mouth is. (V)

Biden Will Make 400 Million N95 Masks Available for Free

Despite the setback on the OSHA rule, Joe Biden is working on other ways to contain the pandemic. One of them is to make 400 million N95 masks available for free through tens of thousands of drug stores around the country. These masks are more effective at stopping the omicron virus than the (cheaper) surgical masks that many people have been using. There is a robust mask manufacturing sector in the U.S. and 142 U.S. companies are bidding to get federal contracts to supply the masks.

Early in the pandemic, the C.D.C. discouraged ordinary Americans from using N95 masks, since it wanted to reserve the small supply for medical professionals. Now there are plenty of masks available from domestic suppliers, so the next step in masking is to distribute the N95 masks and get people to use them.

One issue that has been a problem in the campaign to get people masked up is that Amazon and Facebook haven't been taking ads for masks due to the huge number of low-grade and counterfeit masks flooding the market. To prevent inferior masks from being sold, they blocked all mask ads. There is a government agency that vets masks, NIOSH, but it has been inundated and doesn't have the staff to test all the applicants. Normally, it gets 8-10 applications per year. In 2021 it got 119 of them. Of course, if the masks are made available in drugstores, community centers, and other locations for free, the issue of not being able to buy them on Amazon is moot for many people.

A number of Democratic politicians commended Biden on this move. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said: "I applaud the Biden Administration for making 400 million N95 masks available for free around the country." But he also added: "It is a good first step, and more must be done." Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) said: "As these top-of-the-line masks are made available, please do your patriotic duty and #MaskUp." Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) said: "If we're asking folks to wear a mask, it's on us to provide one." So far, no high-profile Republicans have condemned the free-mask program as another government boondoggle, but there is still hope one could do so very soon. (V)

Abortion Pill Is Tough to Swallow

Joe Biden has nominated Dr. Robert Califf to head the FDA, a job Califf also had during the Obama administration. Republicans are lining up to oppose the nomination because the FDA recently announced that it would allow the abortion pill to be prescribed via telemedicine and made available by mail order. The GOP senators are afraid that Califf will continue that policy. If anyone can order abortion pills over the Internet, then in practice, it will be impossible for red states to enforce their laws banning abortions. If local postmasters start opening every brown paper envelope with an obscure return address, they will be interfering with the U.S. mail. The feds tend to frown on that.

Dozens of anti-abortion groups are flooding senators with e-mails and letters opposing Califf. They are also publishing op-eds on right-wing news sites, saying that Califf has a "track record of rubber stamping abortion industry demands," as though there were an abortion industry, like the auto industry or the tobacco industry.

Normally, it wouldn't matter if every Republican voted against Califf as long as all the Democrats supported him. However, five Democratic senators also oppose him, albeit not on account of abortion. They oppose him on account of how he handled opioids in his previous stint as administrator. Currently, four Republicans support Califf, so it could be close. Hence the big pressure campaigns.

For anti-abortion groups, abortion pills are the front line. If they get their way and the Supreme Court repeals Roe v. Wade, that won't ban abortion. It will merely allow the states to pass laws banning the procedure. But if anyone, even a teenager in Alabama, can go to PlannedParenthood.org, get pills prescribed and mailed from any one of dozens of pharmacies in blue states, all their efforts to ban abortions will effectively go up in smoke. Currently half of all abortions are medical rather than surgical, but if Roe is repealed, that number will shoot up and there will be very little abortion opponents will be able to do about it, bounties or no.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate HELP Committee, said that she expects the FDA to make decisions based on science, and mifepristone has an extremely good safety record, so she wants to keep the FDA decision intact and is thus supporting Califf. Noses are being counted and if there are 50 of them supporting Califf, Chuck Schumer will schedule a vote. (V)

Biden Fills Three Fed Seats

The president has limited direct control over the economy, even though voters think he is some kind of economic lion tamer who can make it heel by cracking a whip. Nevertheless, the president does have a little bit of indirect economic power due to his ability to name people to the Fed's governing board. Joe Biden has now exercised that power and filled three vacant seats on the seven-member board. Each member serves for a 14-year term.

One nominee is Philip Jefferson, an economist and dean of the faculty at Davidson College in North Carolina. He has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Virginia. If confirmed, he will be the fourth Black man to sit on the Board. In the past he worked for the Fed as a researcher, but now he gets to make policy. In 2018, he wrote a book on poverty.

Another nominee is Lisa Cook, an economist at Michigan State University. Before moving to Michigan, she was on the Harvard faculty. She has a Ph.D. in economics from Berkeley. She is a member of the American Economic Association's Executive Committee. She specializes in international economics and is an expert on the Russian economy. If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman on the Board.

The third nominee is Sarah Bloom Raskin, the wife of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) (though he doesn't get to vote on her confirmation). Raskin is Jewish, which means there are no white Christian men in this batch of nominees. She doesn't have a Ph.D. in economics but she does have a J.D. from the Harvard Law School. Raskin was nominated to the Fed Board by Barack Obama in 2010 and confirmed by the Senate, but in 2014 he moved her over to the Treasury Dept. as deputy secretary. In her 4 years on the Fed Board, she focused on inequality and consumer protection. Raskin will be vice chair for supervision, a recently created post that keeps a particular eye on banking regulation. Her predecessor is Randy Quarles, the inaugural holder of the title.

If all three are confirmed, the Board's membership would include four women and two Black people. There would be only two white men on the Board, Chairman Jay Powell and governor Chris Waller, a Republican. Democrats would have a 4-3 majority. If her pending confirmation succeeds, the vice chair would be one of the women, Lael Brainard.

Republicans have already started complaining about all this diversity and the progressive lean of all three nominees. Sen. Pat Toomey said: "I have serious concerns." Wait a minute. Isn't "concerns" trademarked by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)? What's he doing stealing her thunder? Does he have to pay her royalties?

The Board has some big decisions to make shortly, most importantly about how far and fast to raise interest rates. Moving too slowly could let inflation run wild while moving too quickly could make unemployment spike and tank the stock market. Getting it right isn't easy. Getting it wrong could tank the Democrats in November. (V)

Why Is Donald Trump's Big Lie So Hard to Discredit?

Thomas Edsall has written an essay that starts with that question and then goes on for another 3,000 words trying to answer it. But we'll give you Edsall's answer in one sentence: "It's all about race." Nevertheless, the essay is still worth reading for all the details and all the comments from people Edsall talked to.

A recent UMass poll showed that 67% of Republicans agreed that immigrants are causing America to lose its identity and the same percentage is convinced that the Democrats are trying to change the electorate by bringing in people from poor countries (i.e., brown and Black people) to replace them. Four UMass political scientists followed up the poll by writing an analysis for the Washington Post that tied the Big Lie to race very clearly. Among those people who believed that being white conveys advantages to people in America, 87% believe that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. Among those who don't believe being white conveys any advantages, only 21% believe Biden won. The connection between retrograde racial views and believing Trump won is unavoidable.

Mike McCurry, Bill Clinton's press secretary, put it more starkly: "I believe much of the polarization and discord in national politics comes from changing demographics. Robert Jones of P.R.R.I. writes about this in The End of White Christian America, and I think this is a source of many politico-cultural divisions and plays out in electoral politics." Or, more simply: Straight white Christian men used to run the country. Those days are gone, they know it, and they don't like it one bit. This is the basis for many of the divisions in politics and the culture wars.

As to why Republican politicians, most of whom know very well that Trump lost, don't come out and say that in public, it is very simple. They don't actually fear Trump himself at all but they fear his supporters very much. They never actually liked him and many were aghast at his nativist and America First views. But he cut taxes and regulations and stacked the courts with young conservatives, so they held their noses and stuck with him, even though they knew he wasn't good for the country. If Congressional Republicans actually believed Trump won, they would be giving speeches on the House and Senate floor constantly saying that. They aren't. Because they don't believe it.

Bruce Cain of Stanford said that the politicians are just looking out for their own interests. They don't want Trump to endorse a primary opponent and the only way to prevent that is to pretend that he won. So they do that, even though they are knowingly backing a lie. Democratic strategist Paul Begala notes that the 16 Republican senators who voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006 won't even vote to allow a new one to be debated. It isn't that all Republicans want crooked elections. They just don't want to be primaried. After that bill passed in 2006, Mitch McConnell said: "America's history is a story of ever-increasing freedom, hope and opportunity for all. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 represents one of this country's greatest steps forward in that story." Now he says voting is not a federal issue.

Whether actual voters believe that Trump won is hard to say. Yes, two-thirds of Republicans tell pollsters that, but their actions suggest otherwise. If 50 million Americans really believed that the election was stolen, a lot more than 2,500 people would have shown up at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. We believe that if Trump actually steals the 2024 election, at least 50 million people will genuinely believe he stole it, and a whole lot more than 2,500 will show up at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2025. Millions more.

Charles Stewart, a political scientist at M.I.T., put it this way: "There's generally a lack of nuance in considering why Republican senators fail to abandon Trump. Whereas Reagan spoke of the 11th Commandment, Trump destroyed it, along with many of the first 10. He is mean and vindictive and speaks to a set of supporters who are willing to take their energy and animus to the polling place in the primaries—or at least, that's the worry. They are also motivated by racial animus and by Christian millennialism." Stewart doesn't think these Trump supporters are a majority, but Republican politicians feel they have to placate them to stay in office.

Edsall concludes by saying that capitulating and appeasing Trump concerning 2020 is setting up future possibilities that are much worse. (V)

Biden Nominates Ambassador to the U.K.

One of the United States' top diplomatic posts, ambassador to the U.K., has been vacant for a year. CNN is reporting that Biden offered it to Michael Bloomberg and the former NYC mayor turned it down, as did another unnamed person. It used to be easier to find people who would take the job so they could hob-nob with the Queen. Of course, now they also have to deal with Boris Johnson, who is reportedly less pleasant than Her Majesty.

Biden finally found someone who was willing to do the job. It is a major Democratic fundraiser, Jane Hartley. However, she is more than just another rich fundraiser. She has served as ambassador to France, so she does know something about the ambassador business. She also has plenty of political experience, going back to a stint in Jimmy Carter's administration as well as playing a role in the Obama administration. She's also fluent in the language that is spoken in the country she is being sent to, something not true of many other ambassadors.

Although the ambassador to the U.K. is the biggest plum in the current batch of nominations, Biden also picked ambassadors to Brazil (Elizabeth Bagley), Denmark (Alan Leventhal), and Chad (Alexander Laskaris). We are not sure what the ambassador to Chad does or whether being sent there is a plum or a punishment. Laskaris was a high school English teacher before joining the foreign service, so maybe going to Chad is actually an improvement for him. (V)

The Civil War Is Underway in Idaho--Pitting Republicans against Republicans

Donald Trump unleashed forces that neither he nor anyone else can control now. And they are setting Republicans against Republicans. That's even true in Idaho, one of the reddest of the red states. Some Republicans there are worried about Idaho becoming a blue state. Really? Well, the older ones remember back when California, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona, were all red states. The first three are now blue and the latter is purple.

The problem is that Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, and some of the immigrants are from California and Oregon, and forget to check their political views at the state border. On the other hand, some of the immigrants are moving to get away from "the libs," and are even more right-wing than traditional Idahoans. This makes for an explosive mix. In particular, the Trumpist forces are at war with the traditional libertarian-oriented Republicans, leading to a burgeoning civil war within the Republican Party. The most visible part of it is the 2022 race for governor. Gov. Brad Little (R-ID), a third-generation sheep and cattle rancher, is running for reelection. Normally, it would be a given that he would get a second term and that would be the end of it. However, he is being challenged by Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R-ID), who leads the Trumpist wing in the state. She is calling him a RINO, in part because he has refused to bar schools from taking measures to combat COVID-19 if they think that is necessary to protect their students. Donald Trump has endorsed her.

Also in the race is Ammon Bundy, who has gained fame occupying government facilities. In 2014 he helped fend off federal officials who were trying to seize cattle owned by his father, Cliven Bundy, who grazed them on federal land and refused to pay the required grazing fees, which had accumulated to $1.2 million. In 2016, he led an armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. His bumper-sticker slogan is "Keep Idaho Idaho." Bundy lives in Emmett, ID, as does the governor, and the little town of 6,600 isn't big enough for both of them.

The consequence of all the changes going on in the state is that there are now separate power centers in the state capital of Boise, and in the panhandle. The Boise Republicans are very conservative, but also traditional. Kootenai County, in the panhandle, is the hotbed of the new Republican power center. The Republican County Committee there unanimously passed a resolution praising the John Birch Society and urged the state party to do so as well. It refused. Bill Brooks, who quit the Kootenai group—even though he is a staunch conservative—said: "We came here 20 years ago because it was the closest thing we could find to Norman Rockwell. Now people come looking for George Lincoln Rockwell." For those who don't recognize the name, George Lincoln Rockwell was the founder of the American Nazi Party.

So the battles between the old-school traditional Republicans, the impatient even further-to-the-right newcomers, and the immigrants from Oregon and California, are changing Idaho politics in strange ways and this is playing out in the gubernatorial election. The primary is in May. (V)

Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part V: The Supreme Court

Wednesday was a very big news day, but the predictions still march on. Here are the entries we've already run:

As always, it's up to 5 points for accuracy and up to 5 bonus points for the boldness of the accurate part of the prediction, for a possible total of up to 10 points. And here's what readers had in the crystal ball when it came to the Supreme Court in 2021:

  • A.B. in Wendell, NC: Three current Supreme Court Justices are 70 years of age or older. They are Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Stephen Breyer, in order from youngest to oldest. Breyer and at least one of the other two will be replaced at some point during Biden's presidency. Likely Breyer first, which will not affect the balance of the Court. I'm calling Thomas on the other one, and he likely will be replaced by someone other than Merrick Garland, who is now 68 years old.

    Comments: Fairly bold, but it hasn't happened so far. Accuracy: 0/5, Boldness: 0/5, Total: 0/10

  • D.C. in Delray Beach, FL: Clarence Thomas will retire. Doug Jones will take his place.

    Comments: Didn't happen, and not likely to happen. Joe Biden is committed to appointing a Black woman to the Court, so Stephen Breyer would have to retire first for this to be possible. Even then, Doug Jones is 67, which is way beyond the normal age for a Supreme Court appointee. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

  • R.H.D. in Webster, NY: Justice Stephen Breyer will retire this year and President Biden will appoint a Black woman to the Court, thereby fulfilling a campaign promise he made. I also predict this person will receive at least 60 votes, including a few from the GOP.

    Comments: Didn't happen in 2021. It remains a pretty good prediction for 2022, though. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

  • E.H. in Stevens Point, WI: One Supreme Court justice will unexpectedly retire or die (so, someone other than Breyer), and the GOP will complain loudly that they should have input in the process because the Senate is 50-50.

    Comments: The bold part of this is the unexpected vacancy; the Republican complaining wouldn't even get you half a boldness point. In any event, it didn't happen. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

  • J.W. in Murray, KY: John Roberts will side with the liberal justices on almost every case, not because he's had a change of heart; rather he knows the other conservative justices will carry the day and he can make the court look more balanced.

    Comments: "Almost every case" is strong, but he's clearly doing some triangulating, so we'll give you partial credit for accuracy, and a little credit for boldness. A: 3/5, B: 1.5/5, T: 4.5/10

  • S.B. in New Castle, DE: Roe v. Wade will suffer a serious blow from SCOTUS.

    Comments: We would say that allowing the Texas abortion law to stand makes this prediction correct. It's not terribly bold, though, since taking down Roe was the whole point of keeping the Obama-Garland seat open. A: 5/5, B: 2/5, T: 7/10

That adds up to 11.5/60, which adds up to a .191 batting average for the day. Not great, but still good enough to start for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Heck, that's probably good enough to lead off for them. The readers' running tally is 152/560, for a respectable .271 average. Tomorrow, readers' predictions for what SCOTUS will do in 2022. (Z)


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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan19 The Trump Onion Is Getting Peeled
Jan19 The Heat Is on Joe Manchin
Jan19 Generalissimo DeSantis Wants to Create Election Police Force
Jan19 Two More House Democrats Call It a Career
Jan19 Mehmet Oz Is Down...
Jan19 ...And Bill de Blasio Is Out
Jan19 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part IV: The Biden Administration
Jan18 Time for the Voting Rights Rubber to Hit the Filibuster Road
Jan18 Democrats Take the Plunge on Blue Slips
Jan18 More Trouble in GOParadise
Jan18 Americans Now Lean Republican, According to Gallup
Jan18 Biden-Cheney 2024? Yeah, Right
Jan18 Travels in Cheneyland
Jan18 Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part IV: The Biden Administration
Jan17 Sunday News Shows Were All about Voting Rights
Jan17 Talk of Primarying Sinema Heats Up
Jan17 Harris Worked on Voting Rights. Now What?
Jan17 Ohio Supreme Court Tears Up the New Congressional Map
Jan17 Trump Kicks Off the Midterms in Arizona--by Talking 2020
Jan17 DirecTV Drops OAN
Jan17 Trump Voters Are Dying of COVID-19
Jan17 Glenn Youngkin Is Sworn in and Gets to Work Immediately
Jan17 How to Fix the Supreme Court
Jan17 Katko Calls It Quits
Jan16 Sunday Mailbag
Jan15 Saturday Q&A
Jan14 You Win Some, You Lose Some, Part I: The Filibuster
Jan14 You Win Some, You Lose Some, Part II: Vaccine Mandates
Jan14 You Win Some, You Lose Some, Part III: Trouble in GOParadise
Jan14 You Win Some, You Lose Some, Part IV: Justice Drops the Hammer
Jan14 You Win Some, You Lose Some, Part V (?): Ducey for Senate
Jan14 You Win Some, You Lose Some, Part VI (?): RNC Threatens to Skip Presidential Debates
Jan14 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jan13 Inflation Is Roaring
Jan13 Schumer Has Found a Trick to Allow Voting Rights Bill to Be Debated
Jan13 Select Committee Wants to Hear from McCarthy
Jan13 Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down State House Maps
Jan13 It's the Logistics, Stupid
Jan13 Secretary of State Races Are Suddenly Hot
Jan13 Preview of Trump II
Jan13 Poll: Substantial Number of Americans Want an Autocrat
Jan13 New Mexico Democrats Go for Broke
Jan13 The Battle of the Johns
Jan13 Another Republican in a Safe District is Retiring
Jan12 Biden 2.0 Speaks Again
Jan12 A Big Night for the Democrats?
Jan12 Tar Heel Theater Updates
Jan12 More Republicans Back Rounds
Jan12 Another House Democrat to Retire
Jan12 Bounty Law