Nice Try Donny, But No Dice

[ Posted Thursday, September 22nd, 2022 – 14:59 UTC ]

All of Donald Trump's legal defenses (if you can even call them that) for having hundreds of stolen classified U.S. government files in his possession just crashed into the brick-wall reality of a panel of three actual law-abiding appellate judges (as opposed to whatever you want to call Trump's pet district judge who issued the ruling on the special master that Trump was seeking). It wasn't pretty, to put it mildly. The three judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals -- two of them nominated by Trump himself -- all unanimously agreed that the lower court's ruling was hogwash, as well as all the various legal excuses he's been deploying being complete bunk too, just for good measure. It was truly an epic legal smackdown.

The three judges took 28 pages (plus cover page) to eviscerate the initial ruling on the special master as well as Trump's public defense of: "I magically declassified them all just by thinking about it, so there!" The appellate court properly responded (paraphrased a bit): "Who cares? That's not even what's at issue here!"

Continue Reading »

Which Hunt?

[ Posted Wednesday, September 21st, 2022 – 15:44 UTC ]

Today Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, announced a civil case against Donald Trump, three of his children, and the Trump Organization. This stems from a long investigation into fraud committed by the company, mainly tax fraud and bank fraud. It is the first actual legal case against Trump that has been announced, and his reaction was entirely predictable -- calling the whole thing a "witch hunt." But this isn't the only legal problem Trump faces, even if it was the first out of the gate. Trump could soon be looking at criminal charges in more than one jurisdiction and for more than one crime. So the real question is which hunt has the best chance of succeeding?

Continue Reading »

To Be Over

[ Posted Tuesday, September 20th, 2022 – 15:13 UTC ]

Joe Biden gave an interview to 60 Minutes last week, and in doing so he made some news. He reiterated his previously-held position on Taiwan (which his aides tried to walk back afterwards), he did not unequivocally say that he was running to get re-elected president in 2024, and he declared: "The pandemic is over." Which, of course, set off a frenzy of: "See? He said it's over!" versus: "It is most definitely not over!" from all sides. But what Biden actually said was a little more subtle than anyone is really giving him credit for.

Continue Reading »

The Lame Duck Will Be Busy

[ Posted Monday, September 19th, 2022 – 14:34 UTC ]

The lame-duck Congress, which will take place from just after the midterm election to the end of the calendar year, is shaping up to be a rather busy one. This isn't too unusual, since punting things to the lame-duck period is always a tempting option for politicians worried about their re-election. But this year's lame duck might be more significant than most, because of what is being teed up for it. They'll only have two months to act on all of it, minus all the breaks they'll take for the November and December holidays. And it looks like they'll have a lot to get done.

Continue Reading »

Friday Talking Points -- Ukraine, Trains, And Lindsey Graham

[ Posted Friday, September 16th, 2022 – 17:13 UTC ]

We fully admit that headline isn't really close enough to the original to trip off the tongue very well. But we're in an optimistically cheerful mood, so we're not going to change it.

These were really the three big political stories of the week. Last weekend saw the culmination of an incredible performance by the Ukrainian military. Within a week, they had retaken over 2,000 square miles of their country, as the Russian invading forces mostly just fled. That is beyond impressive, and may prove to be a real turning point in the whole war.

Or maybe not. They've still got an enormous amount of territory to reclaim, and the Russians are still fighting hard to hold the city of Kherson, in the south. So we'll see whether this astoundingly successful counteroffensive is a real harbinger of more such victories or merely an aberration. But whatever it turns out to be, the Ukrainian fighting forces had one heck of a good week.

Continue Reading »

Crisis Averted As Biden Shows Leadership

[ Posted Thursday, September 15th, 2022 – 15:00 UTC ]

President Joe Biden has averted a major crisis by getting the freight rail carriers to agree to a compromise with their Union workers. Details of the compromise are still slowly trickling out, but the big achievement was getting the railroad companies to allow workers to schedule doctors' visits without being penalized for taking time off (unpaid time, mind you). Biden was reported to have been angry that the rail companies hadn't budged an inch on the time-off policy, so this is a clear victory not just for the workers but also for Biden and his team.

A rail strike would have been devastating, if it had lasted for more than a few days. Supply chains would have completely broken -- there just aren't enough trucks to carry all that freight on the roadways. Store shelves would have been bare. Fuel and water supplies would have been in danger (although emergency contingency plans were already in place to ensure clean water was still delivered to where it needed to go). Prices would likely go up. It would have been a big hit on the American economy and would have had all sorts of ripple effects which lasted far beyond the actual duration of the strike. It would have been a disaster, plain and simple.

Continue Reading »

Making The Trains Run On Time

[ Posted Wednesday, September 14th, 2022 – 15:30 UTC ]

President Biden is facing a crisis. The nation's freight railways might shut down in the wee hours of Friday morning, due to a strike. This puts Biden in an incredible bind for a number of reasons, but the one most important politically will be one of optics. You can almost feel the headline-writers of America salivating as they test out their clever variations on: "He Couldn't Make The Trains Run On Time." This is a throwback to the old political joke that "Benito Mussolini may have been a fascist dictator and all of that, but at least he made the trains run on time." This claim was actually false -- it was little more than fascist propaganda -- but the saying lives on in the political lexicon. And Joe Biden loves trains. A railroad strike on his watch would be devastating for his image.

Of course, a railroad strike would be a lot more devastating to a lot more people for much bigger reasons. The agricultural sector would essentially shut down. Something like one-third of the country's freight moves by rail. It would destroy all the progress made to improve the country's supply chains, and it could spill over into halting commuter rail as well. It'd be a major blow to the economy. These are all real-world effects (as opposed to political optics) and if it went on for more than a few days, there will be bare shelves in stores across America -- which will impact just about everybody. It'd be an enormously big deal, in other words.

Continue Reading »

Lindsey Graham Creates Some Headlines

[ Posted Tuesday, September 13th, 2022 – 15:22 UTC ]

Senator Lindsey Graham today decided he'd like to be headline news. That's really the only possible conclusion I can draw, since what he did and the timing of it are so downright incomprehensible, politically-speaking. Graham introduced a nationwide 15-week abortion ban, with less than two months to run before an election that was already becoming dominated by the abortion issue. The incomprehensible thing is that all the data have pointed to the fact that the abortion issue is motivating Democratic voters, and also motivating independent voters to vote Democratic. So why would Graham shoot his own party in the foot in such spectacular fashion? I have no idea, other than "because he wanted to see his name in the news." It's the only conclusion I can come up with, really.

When the Supreme Court issued their Dobbs decision which overturned Roe v. Wade, many sanctimonious Republicans reacted with their standard "states' rights" argument: abortion should be decided within each and every state, instead of some national solution being imposed upon the states by a heavy-handed federal government. One of their biggest complaints about Roe had always been that it had been imposed by the Supreme Court instead of letting the states work it all out in the fabled "laboratories of democracy." Overturning Roe would just "send it back to the states, where it should be," they argued.

Graham's bill puts the lie to this stance, obviously. It would not prevent states from enacting abortion laws that were stricter than Graham's 15-week limit, but it would prevent states from passing laws that were less restrictive. So states could be more anti-abortion than the federal law, but not less so. That is a one-way street, obviously.

Graham has introduced federal abortion bans before, but previously he had set the limit at 20 weeks. A pregnancy normally lasts 40 weeks. Roe set the standard at "viability," or the ability of the fetus to survive (with medical care) outside the womb, which was generally understood to be between 22 and 24 weeks. A 20-week limit isn't that different than Roe, in other words, but a 15-week limit is a much bigger departure from the previous standard.

Abortion bans vary by state, currently. Some have 20-week limits, 15-week limits, 6-week limits, or even "zero-week" limits. The 6-week bans are often referred to by anti-abortion politicians as "heartbeat bans," since that is approximately the point when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The absolute "zero-week" bans would ban any abortion past the point of conception. Some states allow for exceptions (sometimes even beyond whatever gestational limit the ban has) for victims or rape and/or incest, and when the mother's life is in danger. Some states allow for no such exceptions.

Lindsey Graham, of course, is not a medical doctor. Why he chose 15 weeks, when he was obviously previously fine with 20 weeks, is a mystery. The vast majority of abortions happen before the 15th week already, but this limits an important category, since the fetus is usually tested for defects and anomalies during the second trimester (often in the 20th week). A woman who knows that her child may not live much past birth or will have crippling deformities now has the option to end her pregnancy. Under Graham's bill, she wouldn't. This is the basic problem with legislators (mostly men) deciding what are, in fact, painful and traumatic medical decisions that should be made between a woman and her doctor.

Why Graham chose now to introduce his bill is an even bigger mystery. The Republican Party missed their chance to coalesce around a single policy on abortion when the Dobbs decision was handed down. It was leaked a month earlier, so everyone knew it was coming. But the GOP didn't unify around any position. To be fair, President Joe Biden and the Democrats hadn't unified around any one position either, even though they had the same advance warning.

So far, Democratic candidates have been making lots of political hay over accusing their opponents of supporting a nationwide abortion ban. Many Republicans have retreated to the cop-out of: "Let's just leave it up to the states." They will no longer be able to do this. They will be directly asked (many of them already have been, after Graham's political bombshell dropped) whether they support Graham's bill or not. It will likely become the de facto "official" position of the Republican Party, even though it was not agreed upon in their conference before Graham acted. Many Republicans are now trying to backpedal away from Graham's position, and many more could choose to follow this route. But will the voters really believe them? One thing they cannot any longer do is deny that the Republican Party will indeed push for a nationwide abortion ban -- whether Graham's bill or someone else's. That much seems certain, at this point. "We have no plans to institute a federal law that would pre-empt state laws" is no longer an operative phrase for Republican office-seekers, in other words.

Graham's bill has precisely zero percent of passage, at least in this Congress. He would need 60 votes, and it is doubtful he could even get the 50 from his own party, at this point. Even if Republicans were actually in control of the chamber (as they could be, next year), it is doubtful that Mitch McConnell would even allow such a bill a floor vote -- today he threw some cold water on the idea: "I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level."

So did Lindsey Graham, at one point. He tweeted, after the Dobbs decision: "Today's decision by the Supreme Court is a long overdue constitutional correction allowing for elected officials in the states to decide issues of life." Last month, he reiterated this position on CNN: "I've been consistent. I think states should decide... the issue of abortion."

Democrats have already been running nationwide on the fear of what Republicans would do if they got into power. "This may be a blue state with abortion rights protected, but if Republicans win that won't matter!" or, when running against a GOP candidate who isn't fervently anti-abortion: "Don't believe what he says, once the GOP get into power, they'll try to pass a nationwide ban and he'll just be another rubberstamp vote in favor of it, mark my words!" These tactics are already being used quite effectively. Now, they're going to become inescapable for every Republican running. They can't insist it'll never happen when Lindsey Graham has a bill drafted and ready to go. And at least some of them are quickly realizing the corner this paints them into.

So why did Graham choose now to act? It's impossible to know, really. Graham is a media creature, he absolutely loves being the go-to guy for a quote on all sorts of subjects, and is usually ready with a quip that guarantees he'll make it onto the evening news. This used to be rather charming, when he was seen as a protégé of John McCain's, whom Graham would often join in tweaking his own party. Since Donald Trump's rise, however, Graham has become little more than a Trump toady, and his charm has completely worn off.

Today's move guarantees that Graham will be the center of attention on the abortion issue not just for this coming election but likely long afterwards as well. That much seems certain. Was that really all he cared about? His action today could help flip several midterm races to the Democrats. Without a bill to center upon, Republican moderates might have won in battleground districts (many of them suburban). With Graham's bill, it'll become impossible for moderate Republicans to dodge the question any more. They'll be pushed into either supporting Graham's bill or taking a stand against it -- which is an uncomfortable position for them to be in, obviously.

Graham could have waited until after the midterms. He didn't. He could have stuck to his "states' rights" argument. He didn't. Instead, he tossed the equivalent of a hand grenade into every midterm race. If this truly becomes a single-issue election over abortion (some are already calling for a "Roevember election"), Graham's bill isn't going to do the Republicans any favors. But he will get to see his name brought up in a lot of political ads and headlines, that's for sure. If that's all he was aiming for, I'd have to say he at least hit his mark.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


Ukraine Makes Huge Battlefield Gains

[ Posted Monday, September 12th, 2022 – 15:18 UTC ]

It was perhaps badly-timed to get the world's media attention (due to a royal death sucking up all the media oxygen... which it continues to do...), but nevertheless the Ukrainian military just had a stunningly good week.

In one sector of their country, they achieved what can only be called blitzkrieg -- "lightning war." Their forces set out from Kharkiv and within days held not only Kupiansk and Izyum, but all Ukrainian territory -- right up to the Russian border -- which is west of the Oskil River. The BBC has an update on just how stunning a development this truly is:

Continue Reading »

Friday Talking Points -- Winning The Culture Wars

[ Posted Friday, September 9th, 2022 – 17:07 UTC ]

For decades now, Republicans have very effectively been using "culture war" issues to entice voters to vote against Democrats. Democrats are routinely pictured as being out of the mainstream and out of touch. This used to work wonders for them. But the shoe seems to be on the other foot this year. This shift is mostly due not to Democratic politicians switching tactics so much as the electorate itself changing its mind on a number of big culture war issues.

The public is no longer anti-gay and pro-gun. Public support for abortion is getting stronger and stronger. All of the traditional Republican positions on these issues are now losers for them, because they appeal only to a minority of voters (which didn't used to be the case). Gun control is rising as a political issue with every new mass shooting. Gay marriage is now favored by over seven in ten Americans -- including a majority of Republican voters. Support for abortion jumped five points in the past few months, up to 60 percent. Due to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, it is now the most potent culture war issue out there.

Continue Reading »