More Thoughts On The House Speaker

It’s been eight days since my last post and it hasn’t gotten any better. Last week I wrote that House Republicans ousted Rep. Kevin McCarthy because eight ulta conservative members didn’t like the job he was doing. They didn’t feel his promises could be trusted and they didn’t like the fact that he worked with President Biden and House Democrats to keep the government open.

Since then two things have happened: Hamas (the governing authority in Gaza) opened fire and stormed into Israel. There they killed and kidnapped Israeli citizens; the number keeps changing. The United States has always seen Israel as a longtime ally and ordinarily we’d help them. But without a functioning House of Representatives we can’t send them any aid.

Also the Republicans don’t appear any closer to find a Speaker candidate they can all support. As I said last week they removed Kevin McCarthy without having a clear successor. Within a few days two Representatives announced their candidacy: Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio. They both hoped they would garner the support of enough members to win a floor vote of all 433 members; there are normally 435 members but 2 seats are vacant. Since all 212 Democrats will almost certainly vote for the House Minority Leader Hakeen Jeffries of New York, any Republican candidate must get 213 votes out of the 221 members, leaving only a 4 vote margin. When Republicans voted on a secret ballot 113 members voted for Scalise and 99 for Jordan. Scalise hoped that after this he could convince 100 members to then coalesce behind him. When it didn’t happen he pulled his name from contention.

Still with me? Good. When Steve Scalise pulled out, Representative Austin Scott of Georgia announced he would run. Again on a secret ballot 124 members voted for Jordan and 81 for Scott; Jordan asked for another secret ballot and he gained a few votes but not nearly enough. This vote was 152 to 55.

Now let’s make this more complicated. These votes among Republicans were secret ballots but when they actually cast votes for Speaker they vote in public. Former President Trump backs Jim Jordan and has always made it clear that he has zero tolerance for disloyalty. It’s generally assumed that several members will vote for Jordan just to avoid angering Trump. But again, if more than 4 of them don’t vote for a candidate he won’t win.

Democrats are, as you would expect, taking a back seat and are seeing this as a Republican problem. But a “do nothing” Congress has real consequences. As I said earlier the government is set to run out of money on November 17th. With no Speaker the House cannot pass any legislation. That means no laws can be passed and no money can be directed to Ukraine or Israel.

For me the largest problem is this: there does not appear any Republican who can gain enough support. It was McCarthy, then Scalise, now Jordan and Scott. A small group of conservative Republicans don’t appear to be aware of the chaos they are causing and the damage they are doing. They appear to enjoy the limelight and crave job security above all else. They claim to demand that government do fewer things and do them better but their actions belie a different agenda. I pray that good sense begin to take over and they get back to their jobs.

Thoughts On the House Speaker

We all knew this was going to happen but it doesn’t make it better: the House of Representatives has no Speaker. With our two party system the selection of the House Speaker has been little more than a formality: every two years we swear in a new Congress and the leader is chosen by the Representatives. It’s almost always a straight party vote. But this past January we elected 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats (two seats are currently vacant). Representative Kevin McCarthy expected to be elected easily but a small group of ultra conservative members refused to support him at first. After fifteen ballots these Representatives agreed to support him with one condition: any one person can call for a “motion to vacate.” That means any representatives can call for a vote to see if they still want him.

When Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida called for such a motion. As expected no Democrats voted to support him, but 8 Republicans did the same. McCarthy was stripped of his role as Speaker (though not as a Representative) by a vote of 216 to 210.

So what’s next? Clearly the Republicans need to meet and choose someone they can all agree on. But that’s not going to be easy. The eight Republicans who refused to support McCarthy have not (as of yet) coalesced around one person that all the other Republicans can agree to. It may become a difficult fight.

I have two primary concerns about this:

The government is only funded until November 17; both houses of Congress and President Biden will need to agree on funding the government. If they don’t most government employees will not be paid and will not be allowed to work. Some of those deemed essential workers (e.g. TSA and the military) will be required to work but will not be paid. I’ve always felt that public service is a noble vocation but it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to work for the government given this level of nonsense. Unlike most members of Congress many government employees don’t have the luxury of missing paychecks. Last week I met an Air Force Reservist who was headed to Poland for several months while his family stays here. We’re asking enough of him without demanding that he do this for free.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022 we pledged monetary support to Ukraine. We’ve never seriously considered sending troops there but we found it important that Ukraine remain free and Russia be defeated. Some of the most conservative Republicans now believe we should end that support which would almost certainly lead to a Russian victory over Ukraine. I worry that these Republicans will not support a speaker without a pledge to abandon Ukraine. Even if you don’t think Ukraine is worthy of our support I believe it’s naive to think that a Russian win would satisfy Putin. Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO and we’re not obligated to support them. But if Russia then decides to invade Poland or one of the Baltic nations (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) they are NATO members and we are obligated to come to their aid. Article 5 of the treaty states that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. If we abandon Ukraine now it will require a larger support somewhere else.

As for now, fasten your seatbelts. Congress is going to be a bumpy ride.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 9: Updates and Thoughts

As I write this seven Republicans who hope to be the nominee in 2024 are debating at the Ronald Regan Library. I have to confess that I don’t watch debates from either party because they are so tightly scripted and spun that I find them fairly useless.

This debate is also probably an exercise in futility because it would take a large and unplanned event to keep Donald Trump from being nominated. His legal troubles are, if anything, cementing his support. At this point it would take something like a medical issue that would prevent him from serving.

I rarely agree with him on advice but if he asked me I would have advised him to skip the debates because of his lead. His presence would give a platform to his opponents; he would have nothing to gain and much to lose.

As I’ve said, every four years I attempt to list the serious candidates and spend the entire cycle trying to decide who is serious. I haven’t made any changes to the Democratic slate but with the Republican slate I’ve pared them down to the candidates who were invited to tonight’s debate, and of course, Donald Trump. I’ve decided to let the Republican party do the heavy lifting for me:

Democratic Candidates:

Republican Candidates:

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 160: Let’s Talk Indictments

In the last few months we’ve been reading about criminal indictments against former President Trump. It can be hard to keep up (unless you’re a news nerd like me). I thought this might be a good time to see if I can boil it all down and make things sensible to the average person. Let me know how I did. By the way I didn’t categorize this under the 2024 election chronicles because it has almost nothing to do with any of the other candidates.

Background: Donald Trump was elected President in 2016; he lost the popular vote but garnered more electors. This also happened in 2000 when George W. Bush beat Al Gore. Trump ran for re-election in 2020 and lost. He didn’t get enough electoral votes and current President Joe Biden won. Trump declined to acknowledge his defeat, and while he did leave the White House on January 21, 2021 he has claimed all along that the election was stolen from him. In the last few years we’ve witnessed several investigations of illegal activity around this and he’s been criminally charged four times in four different places. Since he is running for President in 2024 it’s gotten a little complicated.

New York On April 4, 2023 in New York Trump plead not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records from the 2016 campaign. Of all the charges this is the least worrisome to Trump. During the 2016 campaign an adult film actress whose stage name is “Stormy Daniels” claimed she had an affair with Trump. Since he was married to Melania then and she had just given birth to their son, Trump feared that news of this might hurt his campaign. At Trump’s direction his personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 on the promise that she would not disclose this to anyone. Cohen paid this out of his own pocket and Trump repaid him. But since the purpose of this payment was to avoid bad publicity for his campaign it was seen as an illegal campaign contribution. Trump attempted to portray the $130,000 as legal fees to his attorney but he and Cohen were unable to provide the paperwork to show what legal services Cohen provided to Trump for the $130,000. They falsified business records to hid the payment. Since the funds were drawn off of Trump’s Capital One checking account in New York, he was indicted in New York As I said, this is the least of Trump’s legal woes. These charges were brought by New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the trial is set for March 25, 2024.

Florida On July 27, 2023 the Southern District of Florida filed a 40 count indictment against former President Trump and others accusing him of illegally taking documents from the White House that belonged to the National Archives. Some of them were classified and were found in unsecured areas. When a President leaves the White House it’s a chaotic time because the White House staff has only a few hours to clean and prepare the White House for the new President and family. It can be difficult to determine what belongs to the President and what belongs to the National Archives. Because of the volume of paperwork involved it’s not hard to imagine that sometimes classified documents get misplaced. When this happened with President Biden his staff caught the mistake and returned the documents. But when Trump left the White House he directed that several boxes, some containing classified and highly sensitive information, be taken to his resort and residence in Mar-a-Lago. Since Mar-a-Lago is a public resort it’s impossible to know who had access to these materials; there was no attempt made to secure them. After Trump left the White House he was contacted by the National Archives because they believed he took boxes of documents that should have been sent to the Archives. In May and June of 2021 the National Archives made specific requests for documents. Trump claimed he didn’t have anything classified and as President he had the power to declassify anything. Over the next year the National Archives attempted several times to have Trump turn over documents; he lied, he instructed his employees to lie and he directed employees to move boxes from Mar-a-Lago, Florida to his golf course in New Jersey. Finally, on August 8, 2022 the FBI executed a search warrant to Mar-a-Lago and seized 102 classified documents. Trump and others were indicted on June 8, 2023. The trial is set for May 20, 2024.

Washington D.C. On August 1, 2023 Trump was indicted on four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. These indictments focus on the events leading to the insurrection to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021 to reverse the 2020 Presidential election and keep Trump in office. The Presidential election was held on November 3, 2020 and four days later Vice President Biden was commonly acknowledged as the winner. Trump insisted that he won the election and promised to reveal widespread fraud and cheating. Since most elections results are clear we have certain formalities that don’t normally get much attention. Each state counts the votes and declares a winner. The winning candidate then appoints electors and on December 14, 2020 electors met and awarded 303 votes to Biden and 235 to Trump. Those votes were then sent to the US Senate who was tasked to count the votes and certify the election on January 7, 2021. Almost from the beginning Trump and his allies began speaking with officials in several states that Biden won, arguing that there was fraud and the states had the right to choose electors themselves, regardless of the popular vote. When Trump learned that the Senate will meet on January 6th (with Vice President Pence in his role as presider of the Senate) to certify the election he began to pressure Pence to refuse to accept the electors and proclaim Trump the winner. Pence refused. He then directed his supporters to come to the Capitol on January 6th with the intention of preventing the Senate from accepting the electors and certify the election for Biden. The trial is set to begin on March 25, 2024.

Georgia This may be the indictment that Trump should fear the most. This also point to Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and there is some overlap from the Washington D.C. indictment. But here Trump was indicted with 18 others. On January 2, 2021 Trump made a conference call to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump insisted he won Georgia’s popular vote and ordered Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes (he lost the state by 11,779 votes). He and his co conspirators targeted Ruby Freeman, an election worker in Fulton County, Georgia. They accused her of election crimes (handling a suitcase of false or stolen ballots); they then harassed and threatened her. Fearing for her life she left her home for a period of time. Additionally, Trump and some of his co conspirators attempted to file “false electors,” that is, electors that would vote for Trump. Their hope was that the US Senate would be given the false set. What makes this indictment different from the others is that this make use of RICO. RICO is an acronym for “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations.” Legislation was written to give prosecutors broad ability go after criminal conspiracies. A conspiracy is when two or more people cooperate to commit a crime; as a funny aside, Rudy Giuliani made great use of this when he was a prosecutor in New York. This will allow one or several of Trump’s co conspirators to “flip” or testify against him for a reduced sentence. Nobody has, but his chances of everyone maintaining their silence are remote. That trial is set for March 4, 2024.

Still with me? This turned out to be much harder to write than I expected. I tried to be accurate and concise but I found that those terms are different points on the same continuum. The trial dates look close to each other and Trump is pushing to have them moved after the 2024 election. I see these dates are more as a starting point than fixed points. To the ability I can I’ll keep writing on this.

The Election 2024 Chronicles, Volume 8: Weekend Update

As I write this we are a short (!) 464 days until election day 2024. It’s often been said that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s true. There hasn’t been an update in the candidates I’m following but I’ve included that part of my page. I have hopes of placing a countdown clock in this space but I haven’t yet found anything that works.

So here’s my update on day 464 until:

On the Democratic side, President Biden continues to lead the small pack. I have to confess I haven’t heard anything from Marianne Williamson but her web page is still active and she’s still collecting donations. Meanwhile, Robert Kennedy Jr. continues to find ways to make news without making him look like a lunatic and continues to fail. He recently suggested a conspiracy that COVID was targeted to spare Jews from getting sick. He later claimed this was not meant to be antisemitic. A few days ago he claimed that even though he is running for President he has been denied Secret Service protection. The Secret Service does provide protection for candidates but they determine when it’s appropriate (for example they protected candidate Barack Obama because of credible threats because of his race). But here RFK Jr. claims that the President is blocking them from protecting him. It’s true that both is father and his uncle were assassinated and that must be taken into account. But, as always, he cries conspiracy at every turn.

The Republican side is more interesting, if not new. Former President Trump continues to hold a sizeable lead even though he’s been charged with 37 indictments for his mishandling of classified documents. With the exception of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, his opponents either supports Trump’s claim of innocence or have remained silent. Despite the indictments Trump continues to raise money and has not lost much support. On the other hand he’s continuing to have trouble attracting independents. I suspect that the other Republicans are hoping something happens to Trump to remove him from the campaign. That will allow them to gain support without appearing disloyal to Trump’s supporters.

This isn’t exactly the level of courage I look for in leadership but they are not a courageous bunch. Playing the waiting game and hoping outside forces put you in the driver’s seat is no way to run a campaign, or a country for that matter.

It’s going to be a long 464 days.

Democratic Candidates:

Republican Candidates:

The Election 2024 Chronicles, Volume 7: Another One Joins The Bus

I have to admit that this one caught me by surprise: Miami Mayor Frances Suarez has announced he is running for the Republican nominee for President. I have to confess he doesn’t sound much different than the rest of the field. I’ve linked to his campaign page but it appears ask for money and do little else. We’ll see how it turns out.

This may be a good time to ask why so many Republicans are running, particularly since Donald Trump currently runs so far ahead. Well, here’s my theory: I’ve discussed (and will continue to discuss) his many legal troubles; he’s also 77 years old and eats a poor diet. There is a distinct possibility that something outside of the voters will end his campaign and I think his competitors hope his exit will begin their rise.

This certainly explains why most of them are loathe to criticize him. They all know he has a loyal base who they don’t wish to anger. They know they can’t beat him with votes but want to be ready if he’s arrested (or flees) or has a health crisis.

In any case here’s the lineup:

Democratic Candidates:

Republican Candidates:

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 159; The Election 2024 Chronicles, Volume 6: Our First Former President Is Indicted

Since he first announced his run for President we’ve known that Donald Trump believes that rules and laws apply to other people and nothing he does is wrong. He is the only President to be impeached twice for clear wrongdoing; he successfully hid behind his office. But it appears his hubris may have reached its limit.

In March he was indicted by the state of New York for falsifying business records; a woman named Stephanie Clifford (stage name Stormy Daniels) claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump. Trump then directed money to buy her silence and claimed it was money paid to his attorney.

But he has since been indicted on far more serious charges. When a President leaves office virtually all his papers belong to the National Archives and special care is given to memos classified as Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. There’s always a fair amount of chaos when a President leaves office and it’s not unheard of for someone to accidentally remove documents that should have stayed. When President Trump left the White House on January 20, 2021 he directed boxes to be taken to his residence in Florida. When the National Archives noticed documents were missing they asked the Trump team to produce them. Trump refused. Trump was then issued a subpoena demanding those documents. Again he refused. He then directed his lawyers to either deny they exist or hide them to make sure they weren’t found. In August of last year the FBI obtained a search warrant as they believe Trump still has documents that belong to the National Archives; they search his residence and find 102 classified documents.

You can read the full text of the indictment here. It’s remarkably short and readable and I recommend everyone read it. Please note: if you haven’t read it and want to give me your opinion I won’t listen.

So where do we go from here? These are serious charges and he could end up doing serious prison time if he’s convicted. But he has a history of using social pressure and money to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. He’s claiming that he’s being singled out because he’s running for President and the whole thing is unfair. It’s been good for his popularity and fundraising but won’t make any difference as his case goes on.

At this point he has a few choices:

  • He can go to trial and hope to be acquitted. But he runs the risk of being convicted and sentenced. I don’t see him doing this
  • He can instruct his lawyers to bargain for a lighter sentence. In other words he pleads guilty to a lesser charge that will give him a lighter sentence. This would require him to admit guilt. Again, I don’t see him doing this.
  • He can plead “no contest.” This means he avoids admitting guilt but does not fight the charges and he accepts that he will be sentenced. Vice President Spiro Agnew famously used this plea in 1973. To the extent that this does not absolve him of the charges I don’t see him doing this.
  • Similarly a defendant can use the “Alford plea.” Here the defendant also does not admit guilt but recognizes that there is enough evidence to convict him. Once again this does not allow him to avoid being sentenced and I can’t see him agreeing to this.

So what will he do? I’ve been miserably wrong in all my predictions but I think he’ll run. Much like Edward Snowden I believe he’ll find a way to get to Russia and seek asylum from Vladimir Putin. Furthermore I believe that he kept many of those documents as a type of “currency” to get Putin to allow him in.

I know that’s a pretty serious charge but I believe nothing matters to Trump more than saving his own skin. When he was arraigned he wasn’t required to surrender his passport. If that happens you heard it here first.

The Election 2024 Chronicles, Volume 5: Yes, There’s More

While the Democratic field for the 2024 Presidential election appears pretty stable, the Republican field keeps getting bigger and bigger. Former President Donald Trump continues to be the front runner but his legal troubles continue to pile up. It appears that the other candidates are banking that at some point he won’t be able to continue his candidacy and they are hoping to be positioned to take the mantle. Some are critical of Mr. Trump, others are not. But all of them know that something will have to happen for them to have a shot.

As of now here is the lineup:

Democratic Candidates:

Republican Candidates:

The Election 2024 Chronicles, Volume 4: This Surprises Nobody

For several months now we’ve known that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was planning a run for the Republican nomination for President, and a few days ago he made it official. He’s been a strong supporter of Donald Trump and he probably hoped that Trump wouldn’t run in 2024 but instead would endorse him. Yea, I don’t think any serious person thought Trump would move over for anyone.

Unlike some of his early opponents it’s easy to see where DeSantis is planting his flag. He believes that homosexuality is evil and that young people can be “groomed” into that lifestyle. In other words he claims the need for laws that will “protect our children.” He has signed legislation that makes it illegal for elementary and high schools to teach about LGBT issues; he believes this education should come from parents and not from schools.

It is no surprise that the LGBT community and their supporters see this a way to drive them further into the closet and return is to the days of state sanctioned discrimination. The Disney corporation has expressed its opposition and this has led DeSantis to “reign in” Disneyworld. I’ll certainly have more to say about this as the campaign continues.

Here is the current lineup:

Democratic Candidates:

Republican Candidates:

The Election 2024 Chronicles, Volume 3: Another Hat In The Ring

This will likely keep happening over the next few weeks and months. Tim Scott is now officially a candidate for the Republican nomination for President. He is currently a Senator from South Carolina and is the only Black Republican Senator. You can read for yourself but he’s running on a popular platform: control immigration, restore traditional values, etc. He enjoys some name recognition partly because of his race. His challenge in the next months will be to differentiate himself from others and raise serious money.

Stay tuned, there will be more announcements in the coming days. In the meantime here is the updated field:

Democratic Candidates:

Republican Candidates: