Intramural Republican Deliberations on Gun Control

The Story:

There is some sentiment within the Republican Party for supporting certain new gun control measures, even at the expense of alienating important interest groups such as the National Rifle Association.

Making the Case: 

Senator Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, is one of the Republicans making the case for a change in course on this issue. Toomey believes that background checks should be extended to all commercial sales of guns, including those that occur online or at gun shows, an extention the NRA has long successfully opposed.

Toomey has spoken to President Donald Trump on background checks, and he says Trump has displayed “a very constructive willingness to engage on this issue.” Nonetheless, Trump has avoided any unequivocal commitment, and he retains close ties to the NRA.

The Thing to Know: 

It is still the dominant view of the Republican caucus that any willingness to compromise on this issue will unleash a process that Republicans could not control. Senator Ted Cruz (R – Tx), speaking recently at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, suggested that any compromise could demoralize conservatives, help energize the opposition’s base, and even “go a long way to electing a President Elizabeth Warren.”

Foreign Policy Tweet War WIthin the GOP

Liz Cheney on her hopes for the 116th Congress

The Story:

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wy) and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky), two very prominent Republicans with decided opinions about foreign policy, have been using their twitter accounts to air in public their differences on America’s place in the broader world.

The Difference  Between Them:

Senator Paul’s tweets aimed at Cheney, and at her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, have included this: “Hi @Liz_Cheney,  President @realDonald Trump hears all your NeverTrump warmongering…I’m just grateful for a President who, unlike you, supports stopping these endless wars.”

Some within the Trump coalition believe that the Trump slogan “America First” suggests an America that withdraws from entangling alliances and from military commitments overseas.  Rand speaks for that sentiment. Others, though, plainly believe that “America First” refers to an America that is involved with and leads allies in the fight against terrorism and against the nation-states that offer safe havens to terrorists. Cheney speaks for them.

The Thing to Know: 

Some of Rep. Cheney’s responses to Paul’s jibes have referenced the fact that Paul ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2016 and had to drop out early. Cheney tweets, “I know the 2016 race was painful for you….No surprise since your motto seems to be ‘Terrorists First, America Second.'”

Top Ten Democratic Candidates Debate

Joe Biden finally enters 2020 presidential race

The Story:

On Thursday, September 12, the leading ten candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States met on a stage at a historically black college in Houston, Texas for a third round of DNC sponsored debate. There were a lot of illuminating moments, but the debate as a whole doesn’t seem to have had any clear winner.

Observations:

Each candidate has offered a plan for how to expand access to health care for uninsured or underinsured Americans. Some candidates believe that it is enough to work on the margins of the existing Obamacare system, while saving that system itself from Republican attack. Others want to go much further and, among them, Warren and Sanders stand out, as advocates of a ‘single payer’ system. Some of the sharpest exchanges of the night, including a brief shouting match between former Vice President Biden and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, arose in the health-care policy context.

Much of the debate, too, turned on issues of criminal justice. Biden made a clear and simply worded statement in this context, “Nobody should be in jail for a non-violent crime.”

The Thing to Know:

Biden, Senator Warren, and Senator Sanders went into this debate as the “top tier” of candidates for the nomination. They left the debate stage with that status unchanged.

Secretary Pompeo May Run for Senate

Mike Pompeo calls reporter’s question ‘insulting’

The Story:

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, may run for a seat in the Senate from his home state of Kansas next year. Amid widespread speculation on the subject, Pompeo has neither confirmed nor denied such a plan.

Background:

One of Kansas’ Senators, Pat Roberts, announced early this year that he will not run for reelection next year. Roberts is a Republican, and the Democratic Party would presumably love to pick up this seat as part of the larger goal of gaining a majority in that chamber. Running a strong candidate to replace Roberts is, likewise, a critical goal for the Republicans.

Secretary Pompeo spoke at Kansas State University on Friday, September 6. He did not speak on the subject of his ambitions, but stuck with the advertised topic of human rights as a matter of foreign policy. He made reference, for example, to the oppression of the Uighurs in China.

The Thing to Know:

One issue of more pressing concern for many Kansans than the rights of the Uighurs may be Kansans’ ability to sell their wheat to China, an ability threatened by the administration’s trade war. Pompeo’s association with that trade policy may be a hindrance should he make the run for Senate there.

Changes at Fox News: The President is Unhappy

Judge Jeanine: Dems have turned into an angry, unreasonable mob

The Story:

Fox News, part of the Murdoch publishing empire, has long been considered friendly to Donald Trump — first as a candidate and later as a President. Now, though, the times may be a-changing.

Background:

Just four days after his inauguration, President Trump took time off from mastering his new duties to tweet congratulations to Fox News for having gotten the highest television ratings in its coverage of inauguration events. Fox ratings, he said, were “many times higher” than CNN’s, because the “public is smart.”  Since then (January 24, 2017) there has been a lot of mutual admiration between POTUS and Fox.

On August 28, 2019, though, the President tweeted about Fox with a very different tone. He wrote, “The News @FoxNews is letting millions of GREAT people down! We have to start looking for a new news outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” This prompted responses from various Fox personalities along the lines of, “we aren’t supposed to work for him — we cover him.”

The Thing to Know:

It may be one sign of the shift in the winds at Fox that one of the most staunchly pro-Trump commentators there, Judge Jeanine Pirro, was briefly suspended from the air in March of this year, for a blatantly anti-Moslem comment. More recently, (September 3) Pirro complained to the host of a webcast that Fox might fire her, “You know I’m worried that that suspension was the basis to tee up for anything I’m doing wrong, they’ll fire me.”

 

Schultz, Citing ‘Spoiler’ Prospect, Bows Out of 2020

The Story:

Throughout 2019, Howard Schultz, the man behind the explosive growth of the Starbucks coffee empire in the 1990s, has been very publicly contemplating the use of his wealth to mount a third-party campaign for President of the United States. Last week, though, he decided that he will not, after all, run such a campaign.

Background:

The old political term “spoiler” refers to a candidate with little or no chance of prevailing himself who nonetheless divides support for one side of a campaign, therefore intentionally or not spoiling that side’s chances and allowing the other side to prevail.

Many in the Democratic Party, for example, have criticized Ralph Nader as a spoiler in connection with the campaign of 2000, when Nader arguably took critical votes in Florida away from the Democratic nominee Al Gore, allowing Republican Gorge W. Bush’s victory in that state, and in the final result.

The Thing to Know:

In his statement Friday, Schultz said “There is considerable concern that four more years of a Trump administration pose a graver threat to our democracy than four more years of political dysfunction.” In the end, he was persuaded by that concern.

Gillibrand Abandons the Presidential Race

The Story:

Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Senator from New York, last week abandoned her campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States. She never scored as high as 2% in the national polls, but she is perhaps the most high profile figure to withdraw from the race thus far, given New York’s importance as a media center and the prominent part Gillibrand has played in pressing both for “Medicare for All” and, in 2017, for the resignation of Senator Al Franken (D – MN).

Not Her Time: 

In a video announcing her decision to withdraw, Gillibrand said: “It’s important to know when it’s not your time and to know how to best serve your community and country. ” She said that the best service she can now provide is working to defeat President Trump in 2020, and that requires a unified Democratic Party.

The Thing to Know:

Clearly a winnowing of the Democratic field is underway, driven in part by the desperate need for money for 21st century national campaigns, and the finite nature of the resources available even to wealthiest of donors.  It appears that Gillibrand in particular bowed out when her funds ran dry. As one consultant reportedly said, “She could never get enough oxygen.”

Justice Ginsburg’s Fight with Cancer

White House preparing for possible Justice Ginsburg departure, reports say

The Story: 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an Associate Justice, on the US Supreme Court since 1993, received treatment for pancreatic cancer this summer.  The radiation treatments, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, are said to have gone well, but they are simply the latest battles in a long-running war. Justice Ginsburg has been treated with cancer in various organs over a period of twenty years now.

Background:

One of the many memorable opinions of Justice Ginsburg was her separate opinion (concurring in part and dissenting in part) in the big Obamacare case, NFIB v. Sebelius (2012).

The opinion of the Court in that case found for the plaintiffs on the issue of the extent of the commerce clause power. That is: it found that Congress cannot assume the power to re-wire the entire health care insurance market simply because insurance has an impact on interstate commerce. But the Court also found that most of the challenged features of the statute was constitutional regardless, because Congress was working under the authority of its taxing power.

Ginsburg went further. She concurred as to the taxing power, but she also thought that the commerce power is broad enough to have been used as an alternative source of authority.  She praised Congress for having produced what she called a “practical, altogether reasonable, solution” to the national problems posed by uninsured medical patients and the costs they impose.

The Thing to Know:

Any disclosure of serious illness in a Justice inevitably produces speculation, sometimes ghoulish, over whether a vacancy is about to open and how, if it does, the President will fill that vacancy.

Often this speculation is accompanied by rather simplistic talk of the “balance” on the Court, in left-right terms, and of how the next appointment will decisively “tilt” that balance with revolutionary results.  The balance of the Court is never what the simple account says it is, so people are always disappointed (or relieved) when the supposedly ’tilting’ appointment occurs yet jurisprudence developments proceed on an undramatic evolutionary course.

 

The US Senate and an Unexpected Retirement

Official Senate photo of Johnny Isakson

The Story:

Senator Johnny Isakson (R – Ga), who has represented Georgia in the US Senate since January 2005, announced last week that due to bad health he is retiring, effective December 31, 2019. This means that the Governor of Georgia will appoint an interim Senator, and that the seat will be the subject of an election next November. Had Isakson remained in office, he would not have had to stand for reelection until 2022.

Background:

Isakson has a voting record of 84.25, according to the American Conservative Union. The highest possible rating — available only if one votes as the ACU thinks right on every issue, is 100.

Isakson won each of his three elections for Senator by sizeable margins. The most impressive of these was his election to a second term in 2010, when he received 58.31% of the votes cast. His Democratic opponent received only 39%, with another 2.69% going to a Libertarian candidate that year.

The Thing to Know:

The other Georgia Senate seat, that currently held by Senator David Perdue (R), is also up for grabs next year. Perdue is expected to run for reelection. But this sets up the very rare situation in which both of a state’s Senate seats are filled at one time. The national Democratic Party is happy at the extra opportunity to chip away at the Republican’s majority in that chamber.

 

Antitrust and Big Tech

The Story:

The prominence of a handful of Big Tech firms — especially Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google — has become a pressing political issue. Conservative and pro-Trump Republicans believe that Big Tech is too liberal and plots against them. But it also has enemies among the progressives of the Sanders/Warren wing of the Democratic Party, as it represents to them the 21st century face of Capital.

Background:

As her catchphrase has it: Senator Elizabeth Warren in particular “has a plan for that.” She proposes to break up each of the four companies named above, saying that they have both stifled innovation and hurt small business. She is invoking laws and precedents from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when large business concentrations were popularly known as “trusts” and their political foes as trust busters.

The Thing to Know:

There are reasons to be skeptical that any such remedy will have the desired effects, or that it won’t have quite negative side effects. The first President Roosevelt did break up Standard Oil into parts, but over the following century the oil industry continued to be a great, even a growing, force in US politics, due to market realities that a change in organizational charts could not amend. [And most of Standard Oil eventually put itself back together under the name ExxonMobil.]