• Senate Kicks Hundreds of Nominees Back to Trump
• It's Constitutional Amendment Time!
• Public Policy 101, Part I: Why a Wall Is a Bad Idea
• Public Policy 101, Part II: Why Term Limits Are a Bad Idea
• Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Julián Castro
With Vice President Mike Pence running the show, Republican and Democratic leaders met on Saturday to discuss the federal government shutdown. After the meeting, some participants said there had been no progress, while others said "baby steps" had been made. Either way, they are not much closer to ending the shutdown.
The only thing that definitely is happening is that both sides are digging their heels in, and leaving themselves little wiggle room for dealmaking. Donald Trump, for his part, threatened once again to declare a national emergency and to simply ignore Congress. Beyond the fact that doing so would be a very risky move, as we discussed yesterday, it also wouldn't do much to alleviate the current situation, as it would trigger an immediate legal challenge that the federal government would be unable to answer right now...because the Dept. of Justice is currently closed.
Trump also took to Twitter throughout the day, of course, to take potshots at the Democrats and to insist that the wall is definitely going to be built. His final missive of the day was this:
One wonders if he knows that is the "Game of Thrones" font, and if so, if he realizes what kinds of strange and maladjusted characters he is encouraging people to compare him to. Say, for example, Tyrion Lannister, a very wealthy fellow with very small hands who desperately wants to be accepted by the other wealthy and powerful folks in New York...er, Westeros, but has little success in that endeavor. Or Davos Seaworth, who neglects his sons, cheats on his wife, can barely read, and made his fortune laundering foreign money...er, smuggling. In any case, whether Trump gets the reference or not, he's certainly inviting the Internet's meme-makers to take their best shots, which they have done:
We the #UnitedStates approve this message. This is how we #MAGA#IndictTheMF @realDonaldTrump#ForThePeople #Respect #Resist #NeverAgain #NeverForget #Democracy #Fascism #OnwardTogether #YesWeCan #MuellerInvestigation #MeToo pic.twitter.com/KBeLUwR2pc— Robert Camacho (@robcamacho) January 6, 2019
The President also, for some reason, wants to stop using the word "shutdown" and start using the word "strike" to describe what's going on. It is entirely unclear why he thinks this makes sense, or why he believes it's better for him. For it to be a strike, federal employees would have to be actively refusing to report to work. Nobody on either side of this debate thinks that is what is going on, and to use verbiage that implies otherwise would seem only to increase these folks' anger towards Trump. He thinks that most of the employees who are going without paychecks right now are Democrats, and he may even be right about that, but at least some of them are Trump voters. Or, at least, they were Trump voters.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), for her part, has dug her heels in, too. In the past two days, she's publicly declared all of the following:
"A wall is an immorality. It's not who we are as a nation."
"We're not doing a wall. Does anybody have any doubt about that? We are not doing a wall."
"The wall, in my view, is an immorality, it is, again, a waste of money, an opportunity cost to protect the American people. But it is a diversionary tactic on the part of the president."
She's definitely got her talking points down, though there are quite a few arguments she could be making, but is not (see below). In any event, between Trump's tweet and Pelosi's declarations, at least one of them is going to end up being very incorrect.
In view of the thus-far-unsuccessful negotiations, Pelosi & Co. have already prepared their next move. When the House reconvenes on Monday, they plan to start passing piecemeal legislation that would reopen the government bit-by-bit, starting with the Justice Dept. and the IRS. This will put Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) into an even tougher bind, because the Democrats will say, "Why do we need to keep Justice closed while we work this out?" It's a good question, and if Trump and the GOP refuse to reopen even the most critical parts of the government, it will look petulant and reckless, and will be very bad optics for them. Of course, if they give in and agree to re-open Justice and the IRS, then they have not only shown weakness, but they have also set the Democrats up to use the same tactic again. "Why do aspiring homeowners have to put their dreams on hold while we work this out?" "Why do people need to go without food stamps while we work this out?" "Why do the national parks need to deteriorate into trash dumps while we work this out?"
In the end, the Democrats remain in the stronger position here, and they know it. In part, because they are unified, unlike the Republicans. Already, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) has publicly broken with the President, as have a handful of GOP members of the House. A few of Gardner's colleagues in the Senate haven't quite gone so far as he has, but have grumbled openly about the situation. That includes Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who will be on the morning news shows today to share her views. Meanwhile, nary a Democrat has come out in favor of the wall, not even blue dogs like Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) or Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
In addition, polling continues to break in the Democrats' favor. In the latest Gallup poll, in fact, Pelosi has a favorable rating of 38% and an unfavorable rating of 48%. That's a net of -10, which seems pretty bad, but it's actually a considerable improvement for her over the last month. It also means that for the first time in his presidency, she is more popular than Donald Trump, who is currently 18 points underwater (40-58).
Today, there are more meetings scheduled between the leaders of the two parties. Maybe they will surprise us all, but it's very hard to see how anything much is going to get accomplished right now. Meanwhile, with shutdown day number 15 underway, we are less than a week away from surpassing the longest government shutdown in U.S. history (21 days, from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 5, 1996). (Z)
Although the Senate is not currently playing much of a role in the shutdown debate, they did find time to conduct a little housekeeping this week. Namely, they returned 270 of Donald Trump's nominees to him. Roughly 70 are judicial nominations, the rest are appointees to various spots in the federal bureaucracy.
Naturally, this is a bit of a setback for the President. As someone who has had enormous difficulty staffing the federal government, Trump really cannot afford to lose nominees en masse like this. While he can renominate some or all of these individuals, it will take a fair bit of effort on the part of his staff to redo all the paperwork. Further, if they didn't get confirmed already, there's probably a reason. On top of that, this development would seem to send a pretty clear message that if Trump is expecting the Senate to be a rubber stamp from here on out, he might want to think again. (Z)
One of the standard occurrences at the start of a Congressional session is that the various senators and representatives introduce pet legislation that they would like to see adopted, or—sometimes more accurately—that they would like their constituents to think they tried their best to get adopted. In that vein, this week saw the introduction of three different proposed constitutional amendments.
Two of the three proposals came from the same member, namely Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). He would like to see the Electoral College abolished, and to make it illegal for presidents to pardon themselves, their families, members of their administration or their campaign staffs. One wonders what might have put those two ideas into the Congressman's head. In any case, given that abolishing the Electoral College would require a sizable number of small states to vote against their own self-interest, that one is going to happen roughly 10 minutes after pigs start flying.
As to clarifying the pardon power, there's no evidence that momentum exists for such a change, nor that the necessary number of red-state legislatures would vote for it. However, it's at least possible that enough people get behind it that it becomes law, especially since it seems such a commonsense provision. It's worth noting, however, that such a rule would not have stopped Gerald Ford from pardoning Richard Nixon, since Nixon was not a member of Ford's family, nor his administration or campaign staff. So, it would also not stop President Pence from pardoning ex-president Trump, were it to come to that.
The other proposal, and the one that is getting the most attention, comes from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and David Perdue (R-GA) as co-sponsors. It's a term-limit amendment, and would restrict senators to two six-year terms and representatives to three two-year terms.
Term limits are an ill-considered idea (see below). However, they are also an idea that has support from prominent members of both parties. Although, one wonders if such support is just lip service. After all, if Cruz really thinks two terms in the Senate are enough, he could commit to retiring at the end of his current term, and yet he has refused to do so. In any case, this is the proposal among the three that is most likely to become law. That said, Cruz put the same bill forward in 2017, and it didn't go anywhere. And that was hardly the first time that a term-limit amendment has been proposed. In the end, the barriers in amending the Constitution are so great that even proposals that seem very popular and/or very sensible have only a slight chance of becoming law. That's why only one of them has been adopted in the last 40 years. (Z)
When it comes to Donald Trump's wall, most Democrats are pretty sure it's a bad idea, perhaps for symbolic reasons, or because it's a waste of money. Meanwhile, many Republicans are pretty sure it's a good idea, either for symbolic reasons, or because it will make Americans safer or else will keep American jobs in American hands. The discussion rarely goes much beyond that. Here's our attempt to be a bit more comprehensive:
- Walls Don't Stop People, Part I: It's true that there are a handful of
walls in the world, particularly in Korea, Israel, and Spain, that are effective at sealing some
portions of those nations' borders. However, they are (relatively) short, are built on flat land,
and are heavily patrolled. However, failed walls and barriers are much more common, from Hadrian's
Wall to the Maginot Line to the Berlin Wall. And there is no historical or contemporary example of
an effective wall of this scale (even the Great Wall of China was breached many times). People go
around, under, and over the current wall/fencing that exists along the Mexican border, and they will
continue to do so even if the wall/fencing gets bigger and scarier.
- Walls Don't Stop People, Part II: Beyond the fact that most people who
wish to get past a wall will find a way to do so, there's this: Nearly 60% of undocumented immigrants in
the U.S. came legally on a tourist visa, and then overstayed. A wall will do nothing to stop
- Walls Don't Stop Criminals, Part I: There is zero evidence to support
the President's oft-repeated assertion that an inordinate number of criminals are coming across the
Mexican border. In fact, undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crimes than
citizens, for the obvious reason that they don't want to be arrested and deported.
- Walls Don't Stop Criminals, Part II: There is ample evidence, by
contrast, to support the President's sometimes-repeated assertion that lots of drugs come across the
Mexican border. The problem is that drug runners are quite determined and quite good at what they
do. Oh, and much like the undocumented folks who overstay their visas, most of the drugs snuck
across the border are hidden among legal shipments (for example, among crates of oranges). A wall
won't help with that, either.
- A Wall Won't Protect Jobs: As any U.S. historian can tell you, the
jobs taken by recent immigrants are overwhelmingly jobs that citizens won't take, either due to low
wages, hard work, lack of benefits, or some combination of the above. This has been true for roughly
two centuries. And citizens have been kvetching about it for roughly two centuries, despite the fact
that most of them would never dream of actually taking those jobs.
- A Wall May Be Counterproductive, Part I: Speaking of jobs, there are a
sizable number of Mexican folks who prefer to work in America, but to remain residents of Mexico.
And so, they cross back and forth on a regular basis (in many cases, daily). This is a particularly
common arrangement along the Texas border, and is also seen a fair bit in California. If the
possibility of free movement is taken away, these folks would have to choose between their jobs in
the U.S. and their residences in Mexico. And if they decide the jobs cannot be sacrificed, then all
of a sudden a Mexican resident is transformed by the wall into another undocumented immigrant.
- A Wall May Be Counterproductive, Part II: Border security experts
agree that without dramatically increased staffing and use of technology, a wall is all-but-useless.
And with dramatically increased staffing and use of technology, a wall is not only unnecessary, it's
a hindrance, because it is very hard to control what happens on the other side of the border if you
cannot see what is happening on the other side of the border.
- A Wall Will Be Very Difficult and Expensive to Build: We've covered
this a bit, but building the wall that Donald Trump envisions would entail, first of all, extensive
and aggressive use of the government's powers of eminent domain, since much of the required land is
in private hands. That alone will take many years and many billions of dollars. On top of that, much
of the U.S.-Mexican border presents serious geographic obstacles to wall-building, including rivers
and mountains. That includes the Rio Grande, a river so large that the Spanish explorers literally
named it "Big River." Add it up, and a reasonable estimate for the wall's ultimate cost is somewhere
in the range of $25 to $50 billion. And that's before we talk about maintenance, or the
above-mentioned staffing, which will add billions more annually.
- Environmental Impact: We've touched on this once or twice, but the wall would have some significant negative environmental impacts, most obviously interfering with the natural migratory patterns of various animal species.
This is only a brief overview. If you want to read more, the libertarian Cato Institute, the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, and Foreign Policy magazine all have very good and very thorough analyses, accompanied by charts and pictures and all sorts of bells and whistles. (Z)
As with the Mexican wall, term limits are an idea that gets talked about a great deal (see above), but thought about fairly little. Ostensibly, they are a corrective for corruption, and a way to keep Congress churning, introducing new perspectives and ideas on a regular basis. However, experts are nearly unanimous in their agreement that term limits are a bad idea, one that has some significant (and unexpected) potential consequences. Here are some of the main issues:
- Expertise: Although it is a popular idea in many quarters that
expertise is a bad thing, and that 535 people randomly chosen from the phone book would do a better
job than the folks elected to Congress, it just isn't true. It takes time for members of Congress
to learn how to do their jobs. It takes even more time to develop the specialized expertise needed to
be a committee chair. The amount of time that Ted Cruz & Co. would allot is not enough.
- They Are Undemocratic, Part I: As we are fond of pointing out, nature abhors a
vacuum. If the members of Congress don't have the experience and knowledge necessary to do their
jobs properly, then they will have to take their cues from somewhere else. Perhaps career bureaucrats, or
maybe lobbyists, or possibly pooh-bahs from the DNC/RNC. Any of those folks may have their own
agendas, and all of them, you will note, are un-elected.
- They Are Undemocratic, Part II: Meanwhile, there is also a philosophical
issue here. A democracy (or democratic republic) is supposed to be about voter choice. Term limits,
by definition, remove choices from the voters' hands. If the good people of Michigan want to send
John Dingell to the House 30 times, why should the rest of the country be able to deny them that right?
- Some People Are Good at the Job: It's true that some members of
Congress are corrupt, or incompetent, or concerned only with the needs of a small segment of the
electorate. It's also true, however, that some of them are quite brilliant. While term limits might
have spared the U.S. a few years of Jim Traficant (bribes) or Steve King (racist) or Dennis Hastert
(pedophile) or William Jefferson (also bribes), they also would have deprived the country of decades
of excellent service from Henry Clay, Joe Cannon, Sam Rayburn, Daniel Webster, Robert LaFollette,
J. William Fulbright, and Ted Kennedy, among others.
- They Exacerbate the Main Problem They Are Meant to Solve: As noted
above, one of the primary arguments for term limits is that they curtail corruption. The theory is
that if members of Congress are quickly cycled in and out, then there isn't time enough for the
lobbyists and the corporate interests and other ill-doers to sink their hooks in. In fact, studies
show that if a member knows their legislative career is going to be short, they spend even more time
and energy lining up their next gig, often as a lobbyist in the private sector. And then, in turn,
the lobbying firms have even more people to hire and deploy. In other words, term limits actually
increase the power of lobbyists.
- They Make Congress Less Responsive: While it may be fun to dump on politicians, the fact is that a great many of them are dedicated public servants. But when term limits are imposed, according to experience in the states that have done so, then often the job attracts people looking to burnish their résumés, either with an eye toward higher office, or (as noted) a lobbying gig, or some other plum job in the private sector. On top of that, Cruz's amendment would mean that senators who serve a maximum term spend 50% of their time in Congress as lame ducks, while for representatives it would be 33%. That's six years, and two years, respectively where members would have no particular responsibility to their constituents.
Again, this is just an overview. If you'd like to read more, here are some commentaries from left-leaning outlets: The Washington Post, Slate, and Vox. Here are some from centrist outlets: Brookings Institute, Bloomberg, and U.S. News and World Report. And a couple from right-leaning outlets: WorldNetDaily and the Washington Examiner. (Z)
This will be our last regularly-scheduled Sunday post for a while, so we will be moving the candidate profiles to Fridays. Also, in response to a very good suggestion, we're going to add pictures of the candidates.
- Full Name: Julián Castro
- Age on January 20, 2021: 46
- Background: Castro's father, Jessie Guzman, was a math teacher
and activist. His mother, Rosie Castro, was and is one of the leading Chicana activists
in the country, and is the founder of the
Raza Unida Party.
Never married, the two separated when Julián was young, and he was raised thereafter by his
mother. A gifted student and athlete, he skipped his sophomore year of high school, and lettered in
football, basketball, and tennis. He took his bachelor's degree in political science at Stanford,
and followed that with a J.D. from Harvard Law. He has been in office most of the time since
graduating; on those occasions when he was not, he has been a private practice lawyer.
- Political Experience: Castro's first run, and first win, was a 2001
race for the San Antonio city council. He served two terms there, then ran for mayor in 2005 and
lost. He took another shot in 2009, won, and was twice reelected. A clear rising star in the
Democratic Party, he gave the keynote at the Party's 2012 convention, and in 2014 was chosen by
Barack Obama to succeed Shaun Donovan as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. That made
Castro the youngest cabinet officer in the Obama administration; he led HUD for the remaining three
years of Obama's term. Castro was a serious candidate for the #2 slot on the Democratic ticket in
2016, but was passed over in favor of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). Some said it was because he was too
young. Others believe it was because he was found guilty of violating the Hatch Act during his
mayoralty, and in a world with Fox News, Clinton needed a baggage-free running mate.
- Signature Issue(s): Centrism. On one hand, Castro is an outspoken
liberal on some issues, like LGBT equality and affirmative action. On the other hand, he's a
moderate on many others, including his support for free trade, his tolerance for fossil fuels, and
his belief in a balanced budget. Castro has been called the "Latino Barack Obama," but it's probably
more instructive to think of him as the "Latino Bill Clinton": Young, charismatic, liberal on social
issues, centrist on economic issues.
- Instructive Quote: "I see myself as a bridge-builder who can
understand both sides."
- Completely Trivial Fact: Castro is an identical twin; his brother
Joaquín has represented TX-20 in the House of Representatives since 2013. He would, of
course, be the first twin to become president. There is some discussion that this could impose
special demands on the Secret Service, and that they might have to extend protection to both
brothers (not the usual custom), as hostile folks might mistake one brother for the other.
- Recent News: Castro
this week that he will be making a "big announcement" at Plaza Guadalupe, in the heart of San
Antonio, next Saturday. Wonder what he might be announcing...
- Three Biggest Pros: (1) Castro would have a real chance to flip Texas,
and if he could do that, the GOP would essentially have no path to victory; (2) He would also be
very competitive in Florida, and if he takes Texas and Florida, the GOP would definitely have
no path to victory; and (3) Young, minority, charismatic, appealing to centrists—he checks a
lot of boxes.
- Three Biggest Cons: (1) His résumé is a little short,
and is made up of the kinds of jobs that have not generally impressed voters—only three mayors
and only two non-Secretary of State cabinet members have ever been elected president, and the most
recent of those five was almost 100 years ago (Herbert Hoover); (2) He may be a little short on
liberal bona fides for the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party; and (3) There aren't too many
candidates more likely to get Donald Trump's base to the polls than a former Obama administration
official who is close with Hillary Clinton and is the grandson of Mexican immigrants.
- Is He Actually Running?: He's visited New Hampshire and Iowa, he published his
in October, he's already formed a presidential exploratory committee, and politicians do not stage big events in the
center of their hometown to announce "Nah, I'm not planning to run."
- Betting Odds: They are all over the place, from 100-to-1 to 22-to-1,
which implies a 1%-4.75% of claiming the nomination.
- The Bottom Line: Castro's first major obstacle is Beto O'Rourke; if O'Rourke runs, he's likely to suck up all the oxygen in Texas. If he doesn't run, then Castro's second major obstacle is Kamala Harris, who has a similar kind of pitch (young, minority, from a big state, pretty centrist). If Castro can outdistance her, then he's got a real shot. That is an awful lot of "maybes" and "possiblys," however. In other words, his presidential chances in 2020 aren't great. However, he may be the single likeliest VP candidate in the country.
You can access the list of candidate profiles by clicking on the 2020 Dem candidates link in the menu to the left of the map. (Z)
If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer, click here for submission instructions and previous Q & A's. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan05 Trump Threatens to Declare State of Emergency
Jan05 How Will the Shutdown End?
Jan05 Shutdown's Effects Are Becoming More Pronounced
Jan05 Democrats Unveil Top Priority Bill
Jan05 Mueller Grand Jury Extended
Jan05 Powell Says He Won't Resign; Market Rallies
Jan05 Pat Roberts Will Not Run for Reelection
Jan04 Nancy Pelosi Is Elected Speaker of the House
Jan04 The Chess Game Has Begun
Jan04 Some States Are Switching from Caucuses to Primaries
Jan04 Bernie Sanders Is in a Bit of Hot Water
Jan04 Ryan Zinke Is in a Lot of Hot Water
Jan04 Jerrold Nadler Introduces a Bill to Protect Mueller
Jan04 Brad Sherman Introduces a Bill to Impeach Trump
Jan03 No Progress Ending the Shutdown
Jan03 Trump Goes Easy on Pelosi So Far
Jan03 Trump Attacks Romney: "I Won Big and He Didn't"
Jan03 Five House Chairs Will Drive Trump Nuts
Jan03 Pittenger Won't Run in NC-09 Primary If There Is One
Jan03 Beto vs. Bernie: It's On
Jan03 Thursday Q&A
Jan02 Russians Arrest Alleged U.S. Spy
Jan02 Kim Jong-Un Issues Threats
Jan02 Trump Shoots Down Democrats' Funding Proposal
Jan02 Trump Slams McChrystal
Jan02 Romney Slams Trump
Jan02 The Year Ahead, Part I: Races to Watch
Jan02 The Year Ahead, Part II: Predictions
Jan01 Warren Is In
Jan01 Mattis Is Out
Jan01 House Democrats Have Their Plan in Place
Jan01 Federal Employees Sue
Jan01 Trump's 2018 in Review: The Highs and Lows
Jan01 Trump's 2018 in Review: By the Numbers
Jan01 Trump's 2018 in Review: Twitter
Dec31 Trump Can't Find a Consistent Way to Blame the Democrats for the Shutdown
Dec31 McChrystal Says Trump Is Immoral
Dec31 Kelly Gives an Interview with the Los Angeles Times
Dec31 Pay No Attention to Lindsey Graham
Dec31 The Environmental Impact of the Wall
Dec31 Democrats United against Trump but Split on Everything Else
Dec31 Where Will Trump Be Tonight?
Dec31 Monday Q&A
Dec30 Russians Pressured Manafort while He Led Trump Campaign
Dec30 Trump Keeps Tweeting; That's How the White House Staff Likes It
Dec30 This Is What Fake News Looks Like
Dec30 And This Is What Corruption Looks Like
Dec30 How Will History Remember 2018?
Dec30 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Jerry Brown