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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


Epstein Autopsy Adds Darker Notes to Mystery

Acosta's press conference on the Epstein matter

The Story:

The mystery of the death of financier/sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who died of strangulation in his cell in a federal prison in New York City on August 10, has deepened and darkened in recent days, with an autopsy that calls the cause of death suicide, but that discloses evidence that seems to some to favor a contrary conclusion: homicide.


Epstein had connections with at least two American Presidents, William Clinton and Donald Trump. His arrest on trafficking charges in July led to the resignation of US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, because Acosta, as a federal prosecutor in 2007-08, had approved a cushy plea deal for Epstein in the face of an earlier round of criminal charges.

Epstein apparently first attempted suicide on July 24. He was found “nearly unconscious” with injuries to his neck. Standard protocols for the protection of a prisoner after a suicide attempt were not thereafter followed in this matter. He (or someone else?) finished the job on August 10.

New York’s Medical Examiner, Barbara Sampson, performed the autopsy the day after Epstein’s death, but held off for days on issuing a report.

The Thing to Know: 

Her autopsy showed multiple breaks to the bones in Epstein’s neck. Although this is possible in a suicidal hanging, it is much more common in homicide victims of strangulation. Sampson’s report will surely not end the controversy about Epstein’s death.

Gun Control after Three Mass Shootings

Liberal Democrats set their sights on gun control

The Story:

Three gun massacres in quick succession — at a garlic festival in California (July 28), at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas (August 3), and on a busy downtown street in Dayton, Ohio (August 4) — have pressed the issue of gun control to the front of US politics at every level.


Every mass shooting has its own profile and raises a number of distinct questions. For example, the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 raised issues not only about the shooter’s possession of several firearms, but about his developmental and mental health problems, the reasons he may have targeted Sandy Hook, and school security needs in general.

In the unique case of the July-August cluster of killings, the rapid sequence has caused other elements in each of the three cases to fade into the background, so that public discussion is more focused than usual on one point: the easy availability of firepower to civilians in the United States.

The Thing to Know:

Ohio’s Governor, Mike DeWine (R), who has a reputation as an opponent of gun control, sought to address a vigil after the Dayton shooting. The crowd picked up on a chant, “Do something! do something!” The following day, DeWine announced his support for a universal background check system. The chant may well represent the attitude of the contemporary electorate broadly.

Resumption of a Trade War Shakes Up the US Markets

 The Story:

US stocks lost 2.9% of their value Monday, in their worst day of 2019. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 767.27 points. The fall was widely linked to the latest developments in the ongoing trade war between the US and the People’s Republic of China.


On June 29 of this year, the leaders of the two countries directly involved in the ‘war’ announced a truce, at a summit of the major industrialized nations (the G20 summit) in Japan. President Trump and President Xi Jinping said that while existing tariffs would remain in place, neither country will add to them “for the time being.” Also, the US agreed to allow US companies to do business with the Chinese tech giant Huawei,  although it is still on the US trade blacklist.

That truce has badly unraveled in the final days of July and the early days of August. The US has officially declared China a currency manipulator, and China has halted all agriculture purchases from the US. Those shots precipitated the stock market plunge Monday.

The Thing to Know:

In March 2018, President Trump tweeted, “Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Events this year are falsifying that breezy assertion. The truce announced in Osaka has been good for the business climate in both countries, and its end may prove to be a grave misfortune.


Mike Gravel Suspends His Campaign for President

Live: Senate debates bringing Kavanaugh confirmation to a vote

The Story:

Mike Gravel, a former US Senator who was for much of this year waging a long-shot campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, suspended that campaign last week, and as he left the field he sharply criticized the Democratic National Committee for keeping him out of the televised debates.


Gravel, an Alaskan, became well-known during the Vietnam War period, first for his outspoken opposition to the draft of young men into the military; later for his enthusiastic support of the publication of the so-called “Pentagon Papers.”

Gravel lost his seat in the US Senate in 1980 and has been out of the public eye for most of the time since. But this year two young (teenager) admirers effectively ran a Presidential campaign on his behalf and with his blessing. It is that campaign that Gravel suspended on August 2.

Although Gravel met the criteria for a spot in the debates, the DNC had also set a limit on the number of candidates who could participate, putting the ceiling at 20. Since 20 other candidates crossed the necessary thresholds before he did, Gravel was not allowed in.

The Thing to Know:

Gravel’s distinction in the campaign was to be its foremost advocate of a non-interventionist (opponents might even call it an isolationist) foreign policy. Gravel has demanded that both former President George W. Bush and former President Barack Obama be tried by the International Court of Justice for “the crimes and murders they’ve committed” by way of overseas military actions.