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The Biden Boom

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Debt Ceiling Crisis Averted?
      •  Senate Pokes Biden in the Eye
      •  Meadows, 1/6 Commission to Fight It Out in Court
      •  North Carolina Primary Rescheduled
      •  Perdue Says What Everyone Already Knew He Was Thinking
      •  Meanwhile, Trump Has a Decision to Make in Missouri
      •  Angela Merkel Passes the Baton to Olaf Scholz
      •  A December to Rhymember (Parts 9-10)

Debt Ceiling Crisis Averted?

There was a time when the party leaders of the Senate talked to each other all the time. During his time as Senate Majority Leader, for example, Lyndon B. Johnson had the numbers of Minority Leader William F. Knowland, and his successor Everett Dirksen, on the 1950s version of speed dial. The recently departed Bob Dole, who served alternately as Majority and Minority Leader, regularly had dinner with Robert Byrd, George Mitchell, and Tom Daschle. Current Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) thought they'd go old-school, and try talking to each other for once, just for funsies. And guess what? They managed to hammer out a deal that will avoid another pi**ing contest this year over the debt ceiling. Funny how that works.

The basic deal is the one that the Democrats offered during the last round of debt-ceiling ballet, namely that they are willing to raise the number strictly on Democratic votes, while McConnell will see to it that his conference stays out of the way, and quashes any attempt at a filibuster from, say, senators who were born in Canada. The preliminary vote on the plan is scheduled for today; Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has already said she'll be able to herd her cats when the bill makes its way to her chamber.

What the Democrats get out of this is that they can focus their attention on other matters, most obviously the Build Back Better bill. And the Republicans get their talking point, namely that the Democrats raised the debt ceiling all by themselves, and that they are reckless, wasteful, socialist tax-and-spenders. Of course, when the country hits the debt ceiling, it's due to past spending, not future spending, but the voters that McConnell & Co. care about are not concerned by that "minor" technicality.

Why, exactly, did McConnell dig his heels in the last time, and yet accept the Democrats' basic offer without complaint this time? He is not known as someone who puts the good of the country over the good of himself and his party, so we doubt he's suddenly turned over a new leaf and has become a more public-spirited senator. Only he knows for sure what his thought process is, but here are three guesses:

  1. Risk Management: The Republicans have a lot of advantages going into next year's midterm elections. This debt ceiling talking point is just icing on the cake, with the cake being constant carping on vaccine mandates (more below), and critical race theory, and inflation, and gas prices, and yada, yada, yada. A game of debt-ceiling chicken might give the Republicans a slightly better talking point, but it might also blow up in their faces and hand the Democrats a talking point along the lines of "They say we're reckless? We're not the ones who sat on our hands while the economy crashed." In short, in this case, it's probably smarter to take the bird in the hand rather than get greedy about the two in the bush.

  2. Who's in Charge Here?: The White House-aspiring members of the Republican conference, particularly Ted Cruz (, TX) and Josh Hawley (MO) have gotten very willing to play games, and to say impolitic things, in service of being anointed Trump v2.0. They did more muscle-flexing, and more setting of the narrative during the last round of debt-ceiling chicken than the Minority Leader is happy with. Effectively cutting them out of the process is a useful reminder about who is currently the general and who is currently just a foot soldier.

  3. It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: In the end, senators are people too. Well, some of them, at least. They want to enjoy the holidays, and December is also prime time for fundraising, when people are feeling generous and/or have Christmas bonuses in hand. Many members of McConnell's conference surely don't want to be in Washington executing parliamentary tricks until just days before Dec. 25.

There's a good chance that all three of these are right, actually.

It is not too likely that the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood that has permeated the leadership is going to linger beyond this one meeting of the minds. That said, now that things have worked out so well this time, who knows? Maybe you can teach an old turtle new tricks. (Z)

Senate Pokes Biden in the Eye

The debt ceiling deal was not the only news to come out of the Senate yesterday. The upper chamber also voted 52-48 to rescind President Joe Biden's mandate that businesses with 100+ employees require their staffs to be vaccinated. The matter was brought to a vote, over the objections of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), utilizing a provision of the Congressional Review Act. The "yea" votes included the 50 Republicans, plus two ruby-red-state Democrats, Jon Tester (MT) and Joe Manchin (WV).

There is zero chance that the bill will become law, of course. House Republicans are going to try to bring it to the floor in their chamber using parliamentary trickery, but it's not clear it will work. They would also need a few Democratic votes, but it's not clear they can get them. And even if House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) overcomes these two rather sizable issues, the administration has already promised to veto the bill. And 52 votes in the Senate is just a tiny bit short of the number needed to override a presidential veto.

In the end, the courts will be where the fate of Joe Biden's mandate is decided. Actually, his mandates, as the mandate for federal contractors is currently on the docket of a federal judge in Georgia, the mandate for healthcare workers is before a judge in Louisiana, and the large-employer mandate is on the to-do list of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (headquartered in Ohio). And, of course, the Supreme Court is sure to get involved in at least one or two of these cases, particularly the large-employer mandate.

So, the Senate vote was just political showmanship as Republicans prepare for the 2022 elections, in which they are going to hammer the Democrats hard for being vaccine fascists. The extent to which that works is going to depend on how bad the pandemic is in summer and fall of next year, and also what the courts decide. The worst-case scenario for the blue team is that Biden gets his mandates, they don't help because of refusal to comply/new variants of the disease, and the Democrats are left with the double whammy of being attacked as "Big Brother" and yet still not getting the pandemic under control. They will be in much better shape, obviously, if the pandemic recedes.

Failing that, if the courts rule against Biden, that at least gives the president and his party the ability to say, "We did everything we could, but the courts, stocked with Republican-appointed judges, got involved." For what it's worth, the judges in Georgia and Louisiana are Republican appointees, the Sixth Circuit is majority-Republican-appointee, and so too is the U.S. Supreme Court. (Z)

Meadows, 1/6 Commission to Fight It Out in Court

Speaking of the legal system, dueling legal challenges are going to be the order of the day as the House 1/6 Committee tries to squeeze testimony out of former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Now that he's back to stonewalling, the Committee is going to move forward with recommending a criminal contempt charge. The Committee also released text messages and other previously unpublished evidence that Meadows was deeply involved in trying to subvert the election results, so they are most certainly not going to let this particular fish go.

Meadows, for his part, got the drop on the Committee by filing a civil suit on Wednesday against them and against Nancy Pelosi. The suit claims, as you might guess, that Meadows is protected from having to talk by executive privilege. As we have written many times, the argument that a past president (Donald Trump) has greater power to assert executive privilege than a current president (Joe Biden, who has already waived privilege) is a tenuous one, indeed. It's particularly tenuous for Meadows, who has just published a book talking about many of the same things the Committee wants to talk about. Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has already observed that claiming you can't talk about something before the Committee, but you can talk about it in a mass-market book, is a curious position to take.

The default assumption has to be that these executive privilege lawsuits are just about wasting time and trying to run out the clock on this Congress. Alternatively, maybe Trump, Meadows, Steve Bannon, et al. are hoping they get before a friendly judge who will stand on their head to produce a favorable ruling. It's also possible that they actually think they have the stronger legal hand to play. That would run contrary to what approximately 99.9% of lawyers are saying, but never doubt the power of delusion. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

Meadows' journey in the last couple of weeks has been a particularly strange one. It was not long ago that he was not only cooperating with the 1/6 Committee, he was also leaking unfriendly-to-Trump excerpts from his book, and was coming under withering fire from the former president. Then, the former chief of staff switched gears back into "I'm not cooperating" mode, apparently made amends with his former boss, and then went on TV and said that Trump is right and that the book is indeed fake news.

That said, the book is written and is coming out, the publicly known evidence against Meadows is pretty damning, his lawsuit is not promising, and the criminal contempt charge could have him looking at a couple of years of making lanyards and macramé MAGA signs (magamé?) at FCI Danbury. So, maybe the current Trump-Meadows bromance won't last. (Z)

North Carolina Primary Rescheduled

We've got one more item for the legal beat. Thanks to the delay in releasing the census data, and the habit the Republicans in the North Carolina legislature have of creating gerrymanders on steroids, the Tar Heel State does not yet have a new district map, and is not likely to have one soon, given that the matter is already in the hands of the courts. Meanwhile, the primaries are less than 3 months away (March 8). Or they were less than 3 months away, at least. Yesterday, however, the North Carolina Supreme Court stepped in and pushed the primary election to May 17. The Court also ordered the lower court, which currently has the map on its docket, to come up with a decision no later than Jan. 11.

On one hand, North Carolina goes very early in primary season, and state law there makes it a little harder to get away with a gerrymander than in, say, Texas. On the other hand, the census data was late for every state, the gerrymandering has been particularly aggressive in some places, and there are pending lawsuits pretty much everywhere (including places that don't actually have maps yet). For reference, here are the states other than North Carolina that have primaries scheduled in the next 6 months:

  • March 1: Texas
  • May 3: Indiana, Ohio
  • May 10: Nebraska, West Virginia
  • May 17: Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Idaho
  • May 24: Alabama, Georgia
  • June 7: California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota

Some of these states, like California, use nonpartisan redistricting commissions, but that's no guarantee against lawsuits. Reflecting on the factors in play in North Carolina, Texas and Ohio seem the likeliest states to require rescheduling, even if it's at the business end of a judge's gavel. One way or the other, we'll know soon. (Z)

Perdue Says What Everyone Already Knew He Was Thinking

Donald Trump loathes Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) and state Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) because they refused to step in and "find" the votes needed for him to "win" Georgia last year. That means that if you want the former president's endorsement for one of those two offices, you need to be willing to commit to doing things his way. Rep. Jody "Faust" Hice (R-GA) has no problem with that, and is now running to unseat Raffensperger with the promise that if he (Hice) becomes secretary, he will see to it that Trump (and presumably any other Republican) will "win" any elections that take place under his supervision.

When former senator David Perdue (R) announced a challenge to Kemp earlier this week, in a desperate attempt to save his political career, and then got Trump's endorsement just nanoseconds later, there was no question that he and Trump had made the same bargain behind some closed door at Mar-a-Lago. We imagine it looked something very much like this:

The closing shot of the 
movie 'The Godfather'; the viewer watches through a doorway as a man pays fealty to Michael Corleone by kissing his hand.

The only thing that was in question was whether Perdue would admit to the quid pro quo openly. And it didn't take long to figure it out. Sitting for an interview with Axios on Wednesday (a.k.a. less than 48 hours after becoming a candidate), the former senator made clear that he would not have certified the 2020 results. "Not with the information that was available at the time and not with the information that has come out now," Perdue explained. "They had plenty of time to investigate this. And I wouldn't have signed it until those things had been investigated, and that's all we were asking for."

You could perhaps argue that the would-be governor is hedging his bets a little bit, and that just because he wouldn't have immediately certified the 2020 results does not necessarily mean he would not have certified them eventually, or that he won't certify the 2024 results if elected governor. However, given that there was, and is, no evidence of chicanery in Georgia and yet Perdue claims the election seemed crooked, it's hard to imagine what would cause him to deem a 2024 result to be fair and square if the Republican candidate loses (particularly if that candidate is Trump). And promising to "fix" election results is a necessity for Perdue, not only to secure Trump's support, but also that of the MAGA faithful.

Just because this is what Trump and the Trumpettes need to hear, however, doesn't make it good politics. It is going to be easy as pie for Kemp and Raffensperger to make the case that Perdue and Hice are anti-democracy zealots who have no problem with turning the American democracy into some sort of dictatorship. Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams will also make that case, as will Democrats across the land. They will point to Perdue and Hice and observe that the election isn't just about infrastructure, or gas prices, or vaccines, it's about the very future of the American democracy. The last time a party was able to make that argument without it being hyperbole, way back in 1860, it worked out pretty well for them. And if Republican office-seekers keep talking about how little they care for the wishes of voters, that might just be enough to scare low-information/low-turnout Democrats, and to forestall a red wave in 2022. (Z)

Meanwhile, Trump Has a Decision to Make in Missouri

Next year's Republican Senate primary in Missouri is going to be a real barnburner, one featuring four serious candidates. There are two sitting members of Congress, Billy Long and Vicky Hartzler, who are Trumpy but are not fanatical about it. There is state AG Eric Schmitt, who is very Trumpy, and is quite good at the sort of stunts that please the former president, like filing suit against the Chinese government.

And then there is former governor Eric Greitens. He is the Trumpiest of all, and has the backing of a lot of high-profile MAGA folks, like billionaire Richard Uihlein. On the other hand, he was forced out of the governor's mansion due to a sex abuse scandal wherein he tried to use compromising photos of his paramour to blackmail her into keeping his adultery to herself. He's damaged goods to the point that the GOP establishment wants nothing to do with him, and even many commentators who have their lips attached firmly to Trump's rear end are begging the former president not to bestow his endorsement. For example, sycophant radio host and columnist Hugh Hewitt, who was pretty normal back when he was a local guy in Los Angeles, by the way, had Trump on his radio show and pleaded: "Please don't. Please don't endorse Eric Greitens. That's a nightmare, Mr. President. We'll lose that seat."

It is going to be very interesting to see how Trump plays this. On one hand, he tends to favor the Trumpiest candidate. Or, at very least, the Trumpiest candidate who has a chance to win (sorry, Mark McCloskey!). Further, the former president likes to be a rebel and to do something other than what the establishment wants. On the other hand, he hates to disappoint fawning acolytes like Hewitt. Further, Trump isn't the shrewdest political mind in the land, but he knows that if he endorses Greitens and Greitens loses the seat to a Democrat, then the blame will fall squarely on Trump's shoulders. It would also be embarrassing if he backed Greitens and then Greitens lost the primary. The former president could just stay out of it, but remaining above the fray in a high-profile primary race that he absolutely has the power to swing is definitely not his style.

In short, Trump's three plausible options—Schmitt, Greitens, and nobody—all have pros and cons, and he's clearly struggling with the decision or he would have endorsed already. Missouri's primary isn't until August 2 of next year, so there's still plenty of time for the former president to think about it. (Z)

Angela Merkel Passes the Baton to Olaf Scholz

Just 10 days short of Helmut Kohl's record as the longest-serving post-World War II chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has officially turned power over to Olaf Scholz, leader of the Social Democratic Party, who will head a coalition government.

Scholz is not from Merkel's Christian Democratic Union Party, but there will nonetheless be a fair bit of continuity between administrations, as the new chancellor began his national career as Labor and Social Affairs minister in Merkel's first coalition government and then, after a successful stint as mayor of Hamburg, served as vice-chancellor and finance minister in Merkel's final government.

That is not to say there will be total continuity, however. Scholz and his coalition came to power, in particular, based on a staunchly pro-environment platform. That means that the new chancellor is nowhere near as friendly to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany as the old chancellor was. Complementary to that, Scholz's rise to power may signal a shift from a weakly pro-Russia posture to one that is more favorable to Ukraine. Needless to say, given the threat of Vladimir Putin invading Ukraine, not to mention the extent to which the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has become a political football in the U.S., Joe Biden is probably not that disappointed to see the departure of his friend Merkel in favor of someone more on the same page as the White House is.

That said, given her experience and her leadership of one of the world's mightiest nations, Merkel had emerged as something of the leader of the free world during the Trump years, inasmuch as Trump himself was not especially interested in the job. Now there's a vacuum, and one that Scholz is not likely to fill, since he has limited diplomatic experience. Biden, who has plenty of foreign policy smarts as a result of being ranking member or chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years, figures to reassert the primacy of the United States and the American presidency. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson could also try to seize the opportunity, but he's a pretty lousy diplomat, and he's got yet another scandal right now, so probably not.

We have a fair number of readers in Germany and in her European neighbors, so perhaps some of them will write in with thoughts that we can run on Sunday. After all, German politics isn't exactly our specialty, and our staff Teutonic Affairs Consultant is still in recovery after eating a bad piece of schweinshaxe. (Z)

A December to Rhymember (Parts 9-10)

Once we double up today and tomorrow, we'll have run 12 limericks for 13 days of Advent. But then the weekend will arrive, and we'll fall a bit more behind. So, there may be doubles through Wednesday of next week, or we might just stick with doubles everyday, having already established a precedent. Who knows? Not us, at least not yet.

Here are the previous entries:

Why don't we recognize a certain Kentuckian today? Leading off, K.C. in Los Angeles, CA:

The Senate Minority Leader
Has proven a true bottom feeder
Trump became Putin's bi**h
Didn't bug Moscow Mitch
And now American democracy teeters

And a second from S.B. in New Castle, DE:

There was a proud turtle named Mitch,
With a wicked obstructionist pitch:
"Owning Obama is grand!
And No Merrick Garland!"
'Til Trump said, "You're now my new bi**h!"

It would seem that Dr. Seuss used up all the good "turtle" rhymes, but there are still some useful rhymes for "Mitch." (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec08 Biden Warns Putin Not to Invade Ukraine
Dec08 Biden's Pick for Bank Regulator Withdraws
Dec08 Now Meadows Is Not Cooperating with the Select Committee
Dec08 Democrats Are Getting Tired of Waiting for Godot
Dec08 Manchin and Sinema Are Starring in Pennsylvania
Dec08 The Courts Are Getting Involved in Redistricting
Dec08 Former Democratic Representative Will Run again for Staten Island Seat
Dec08 Democrats Are Having a Problem with Latinx
Dec08 In Defense of Lauren Boebert
Dec08 A December to Rhymember (Parts 7-8)
Dec07 The Walls May Be Closing In
Dec07 Perdue Will Challenge Kemp
Dec07 It's All about the Grift?, Part I
Dec07 It's All about the Grift?, Part II
Dec07 Diplomatic Boycott of the Winter Olympics Is a Go
Dec07 A Date Which Will Live In Infamy
Dec07 A December to Rhymember (Parts 5-6)
Dec06 Manchin and Sinema Are Still Not on Board the S.S. Biden
Dec06 Secretary of State Races Will Get Top Billing in 2022
Dec06 Eastman Takes the Fifth
Dec06 Steve Bullock: Democrats Need to Get Out of the City More
Dec06 Maybe "Roe" Won't Save the Democrats
Dec06 Does Fox News Matter?
Dec06 Some Advice for the Democrats from a Lifelong Conservative Republican
Dec06 More Republicans than Democrats Are Dying of COVID-19
Dec06 "Democracy Has Failed"
Dec06 Truth Social Raises $1.25 Billion
Dec06 Bob Dole Is Dead
Dec06 A December to Rhymember (Parts 3-4)
Dec05 Sunday Mailbag
Dec04 Saturday Q&A
Dec03 Surprise! Crisis Averted!
Dec03 Republicans Stand for Nothing
Dec03 Murder Was (Almost) the Case
Dec03 Predictions: Trump Won't Run Again
Dec03 This Week in Schadenfreude
Dec03 Talkin' 'bout Baseball
Dec03 A December to Rhymember (Parts 1-2)
Dec02 A Triple Play
Dec02 It's Not a Good Time to be on Team Trump
Dec02 Abrams Is In...
Dec02 ...and Baker Is Out
Dec02 McCormick Wants to Head to Washington...
Dec02 ...While Peter DeFazio Is Going to Leave
Dec02 It's a Lockout
Dec01 Today's the Day
Dec01 Appeals Court Appears to Be Ready to Reject Trump's Lawsuit
Dec01 Meadows Is Said to Be Cooperating with the Committee
Dec01 Trump Is Trying to Place Allies in Key Positions in Advance of 2024
Dec01 Trump Helps NRCC Raise $17 Million at One Dinner