Nobody in the Senate seems all that enthusiastic about reaching across the aisle, given how poisonous the atmosphere there has become, not to mention the fear of being primaried from the right (for Republicans) or the left (for Democrats). On the other hand, nobody wants to get the blame for a lack of cooperation. So, both sides are doing the dance right now to try to put the ball (and the blame) in the other side's court.
Starting on the Republican side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has instructed his conference to hug Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) very close. Republican members have been told to publicly and effusively praise the two Blue Dog Democrats. McConnell personally lauded them for trying to "save this institution" and for being among the few Democrats who "don't want to destroy the very essence of the Senate." Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who clearly got McConnell's memo, opined that Sinema and Manchin are "guardians of democracy." Given the implication that the non-Sinema/Manchin Democrats are unreasonable radicals who want to ruin the Senate, this sort of rhetoric is not terribly likely to encourage much cooperative spirit. But saying these things does encourage the two Democrats to keep up their "hold your horses" ways, while also framing the 50 GOP senators (and the occasional, but rare, Democrat) as the "reasonable ones."
And then there are the 10 Republicans who joined the "Gang of 20" moderate senators (10 R, !0 D), and who extended a theoretical olive branch in the direction of Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). For those who do not recall, the "G-10" are Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Jerry Moran (KS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Mitt Romney (UT), Mike Rounds (SD), Thom Tillis (NC) and Todd Young (IN). They've been to a couple of meetings with the President, but that's about it, and now they are getting irritated. Members of the group (and their staffers) have been happy to vent to any reporter who cares to listen; they say that the White House and Senate Democrats are not engaging in good faith, and that they feel they are just being used as "props" or "window dressing." There's probably something to that. That said, the counter-proposals these folks have put forward ($800 billion instead of $2 trillion for infrastructure, for example) are not serious offers, particularly coming from the side that holds many fewer playing cards. Further, if a person (or group) is genuinely interested in cooperation, going to the press and slamming one's would-be partners is not usually a productive strategy. And so, the G-10 business looks a lot like the praise Sinema/Manchin bit: largely geared at making the Republicans look like the reasonable ones, and not at actually reaching across the aisle.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are mounting their own theatrical production at the instigation of their leader. Schumer has told his caucus to look for Republican "dance partners" they think they might be able to work with. The overwhelming consensus among Democrats is that the Majority Leader does not expect to find many takers, and that this is an exercise in: (1) giving further cover for changes to the filibuster, and (2) allowing Democratic members who are up for reelection next year to say "Hey, we tried!"
Perhaps we are being too pessimistic, and some of this maneuvering will pay cooperative dividends. The Senate did just manage to come together to move the Asian American hate crimes bill to debate by a margin of 92-6. However, that success appears to be due to: (1) The GOP not wanting to be on the wrong side of the issue, and (2) McConnell's particular sensitivity to anti-Asian racism (keep in mind whom he is married to). So while this could be a portent of a new era for the Senate, we doubt it. (Z)
There was a time when there was lots of talk of killing the filibuster, and lots of talk of taking a sledgehammer to the Supreme Court. There's still plenty of filibuster talk (see above), but the SCOTUS stuff is rapidly moving to the back burner.
On Thursday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) formally introduced legislation that would expand the Supreme Court to 13 seats. Our staff mathematician has run the numbers, and says that if four seats were to be added, and Joe Biden were to fill all four, that would leave the Court with 7 Democratic appointees and 6 Republican appointees. Undoubtedly that outcome is purely serendipitous, and did not even cross Nadler's and Markey's minds when they set the number at 13.
In any case, it is easy to introduce a bill. It is much harder to pass one. And the net result of Markey's and Nadler's maneuvering was to make clear how little stomach their colleagues have for this matter right now. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she has no intention of bringing it to the floor (knowing full well she can't whip the votes), which pretty much kills it right there. If that were not enough, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he doesn't want to move on this right now, either. In this case, two strikes and you're definitely out. Both Pelosi and Durbin said they preferred to wait for the report from the blue-ribbon commission Joe Biden appointed last week to examine the matter.
Now, if Biden were to get behind something specific, and to invest some political capital, that might break the logjam. But he clearly has no intention of going there, at least not anytime soon. First of all, finding a blue-ribbon commission that achieved anything substantial is like finding the Loch Ness Monster, or the Abominable Snowman, or a USC student who doesn't drive a BMW. Second, the questions that the very distinguished panel will look at are questions that everyone already knows the answer to, like "Does Congress have the authority to expand the Court?" and "Can the Court's authority be trimmed back?" The President doesn't need a blue-ribbon panel to answer such questions; he can just read our weekly Q&A, since we've addressed both of these issues several times.
The point is that Biden and his colleagues in Congress could not be any more obvious about kicking the can down the road unless the President were to get out some Campbell's and punt it at the White House press corps. Maybe in 6-8 months, when the blue-ribbon panel completes its "research," the blue team will come back to this. However, that would entail dealing with one of the hottest of political hot potatoes right in the midst of election season, so don't hold your breath. (Z)
The prosecution and the defense have rested in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer accused of murdering George Floyd last year. There will be closing arguments on Monday, and then the jury will get to do its work. Chauvin did not testify in his own defense, which sometimes means that the defense thinks it's made its case, and other times means the defendant is so problematic that cross examination risks turning into a disaster.
If Chauvin is found guilty of the most serious charge against him—second-degree unintentional murder—then there will be much commentary and discussion, but maybe not too much beyond that. On the other hand, if a white cop whose guilt seems to be overwhelmingly indicated by photographic evidence is found not guilty of crimes against a Black man, then that is basically the script for the Rodney King riots of 1991. A finding of guilt on a lesser charge, like manslaughter, could also be problematic. Point is, we could be on the cusp of a major, major news and politics story. Or maybe not; we'll know in about a week. (Z)
As it turns out—and we did not know this—former VP Mike Pence actually does have a heart. And his heart has been giving him trouble for the last two weeks, so he had a pacemaker implanted yesterday. There is no truth to the rumor that, having provided Pence with the heart he desired, the doctor moved on to giving Mitt Romney some courage and bestowing upon Donald Trump the brain he's always wanted. This ain't somewhere over the rainbow, Toto.
We were pessimistic about Pence's presidential hopes on Wednesday, and this is yet another debit against him. It's not fair—pacemakers are very effective, and there are about 3 million people who have one—but nobody ever said politics was fair. And the fact is that voters are leery of giving their presidential votes to candidates with a history of heart trouble. In recent memory, for example, there is the case of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), whose 2020 presidential campaign was nearly ended by his heart issues. And historically, presidents and presidential candidates have kept their cardiological issues as mum as humanly possible. William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, FDR, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower all took steps to hide a history of heart trouble during campaigns for the White House. Pacemakers became commonplace in the late 1950s and early 1960s. And since that time, at least three presidents have left office above the age of 60, and with heart issues (Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush) and yet no chief executive has come within a country mile of having a pacemaker implanted (Ford finally got one long after he left office). Among those candidates who never won the big prize, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert H. Humphrey, Bob Dole, and John McCain kept their heart issues to themselves.
A pacemaker is not going to derail Pence's presidential hopes all by itself. But it's not helpful for a guy who already had a gaggle of other hurdles to deal with. (Z)
As long as we are discussing presidential aspirants, Nikki Haley has really taken a hatchet to her own White House hopes. She has been trying to occupy a space where she's got one foot squarely in the Trump lane, and one foot squarely in the not Trump lane. So, for example, she served in his administration, but in a job (ambassador to the U.N.) that was mostly removed from Washington and from day-to-day interaction with the Donald. She also jumped ship before the most controversial stuff took place, from Ukraineyola to the insurrection.
And speaking of the insurrection, she's tried very hard to walk both sides of the street (or talk out of both sides of her mouth) on that subject. Not long after Jan. 6, she expressed sympathy for her former boss, "I understand the president. I understand that genuinely, to his core, he believes he was wronged. This is not him making it up." But then the ever-calculating Haley decided she had veered too far in the insurrectionist direction, and so she course corrected with this: "We need to acknowledge he let us down. He went down a path he shouldn't have, and we shouldn't have followed him, and we shouldn't have listened to him. And we can't let that ever happen again." She should be careful; you can do serious damage to your spine changing directions that quickly. Well, if you have one, that is.
This week, Haley was back to genuflecting before the throne, and expressing her willingness to get behind a Trump run in 2024. Speaking to the AP, she said: "I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it." The former ambassador is conveniently forgetting to mention that when she asked for a Mar-a-Lago meeting after the "we shouldn't have followed him" remark, she was told to get lost.
Haley's notion that she might be able to inherit some sizable portion of Trump's base was always somewhat...fanciful. Let us not forget that racism and misogyny make up a fair bit of the glue that holds his coalition together, and she is both a person of color and a woman. There is also a meaningful segment of the base that has not forgotten that she backed the Confederate flag while it was politically expedient, and then jumped ship once that position was more politically expedient. That incident, in particular, served to give her a reputation as a shameless opportunist, even among the Trumpers, folks who love the Donald because they think he's authentic and real and not one of them politician types. Now that Haley has jumped on, off, and back on the S.S. Trump, all in a span of about six weeks, her reputation as a flip-flopper is now locked in.
The numbers here tell the tale. Morning Consult surveys Republican voters about once a month about their preferred presidential candidate. In the last three entries (in other words, January, February, and March), she's checked in at 5%, 6%, and 4%. That's less than half the (not-so-great) 12%, 16%, and 12% that Mike Pence has tallied, and it also puts Haley behind not only the former president and VP, but also behind Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Not good. Even worse, as recently as mid-2018, CNN could run an item headlined "Is Nikki Haley the most popular politician in America?" As that article notes, her approval rating among all Americans at that time was 63%. Today, it's down to 28%.
So Haley's goose is cooked, at least for now. She clearly thinks she's still a viable 2024 contender, given that she only said she would not run if Trump is in the field, implying that she will run if he's not. However, the support just isn't there, and it's hard to see how it could possibly be there, given the composition of the Republican Party at the moment, not to mention Haley's recent clumsy politicking. Her best hope is to pull a Richard Nixon, disappear for a while, reinvent herself, and mount a run in the 2030s. She'll only be 60 on Election Day, 2032, so she's got time (for comparison purposes, Nixon was 55 when he ran in 1968). (Z)
There's a new шериф in town (What, you don't speak Russian?), one that appears to be rather less susceptible to manipulation by foreign leaders than his predecessor. And in case one Vladimir V. Putin had not already taken note of that, he knows it now; on Thursday, the U.S. hit the Russkies with sanctions in response to the SolarWinds hack and ongoing election interference.
The sanctions are, by all accounts, moderate-level stuff; more than a slap on the wrist, but not "the bombing begins in 5 minutes," either. To start, 10 Russian diplomats will be expelled based on the finding that they are "representatives of Russian intelligence services." In addition, U.S. financial institutions will be forbidden from buying Russian bonds, which will affect the interest rates that Team Putin can get, and thus will make it harder for the Russians to pay the bills. A gaggle of Russian tech companies and other Russia-connected business interests will also be sanctioned.
The primary goal here appears to be messaging. The Biden administration wants to communicate to both the American public and to the Putin administration that the rolling over is, well, over. Reportedly, there are additional elements built into the sanctions that can be "activated" if necessary. The Russians have been maneuvering on the Ukraine front, in an obvious test of the Biden administration's tolerance for such aggression. Putin now has his answer, namely that he better start minding his Р's and Ф's. We'll see what the Russian president does with that information. (Z)
Fidel Castro relinquished his final leadership position in Cuba a decade ago, and died in 2016. He was succeeded, in most posts, by his brother Raúl, who is about five years younger than Fidel. Raúl is following pretty much the same timeline as his sibling; he gave up most of his posts a couple of years ago, and on Thursday announced that he will soon relinquish his final post, First Secretary of the Communist Party. It could happen as early as today, when the Congress for the Cuban Communist Party commences a new session.
Republicans in general, Florida Republicans more specifically, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) more specifically still, will continue to flog the Castros for as long as they possibly can as a means of attacking the "socialist" Democratic Party. But that's a line of attack whose expiration date is looming. The Cuban Revolution ended 60 years ago, the Cold War ended 30 years ago, and the hated Castro family is going gentle into that good night. At some point, either due to the passage of time, or to the passing of older Cuban immigrants, waving the anti-Castro flag isn't going to get it done anymore. And when that time comes, that is going to push purple Florida in a blue direction. (Z)