A June to Remember/Fear?

There are times when, through the normal cycle, and discretionary decisions, events start to come in rapid procession.  June is shaping up to be one of those month between elections (both in the U.S. and abroad), the end of the Supreme Court term, and the matters currently on the plate of Congress.  We have already had the first major event of June — the decision by the Trump Administration to make America weaker by playing to his misinformed base on climate change and withdrawing from the Paris Accords.  It’s almost impossible to count the reasons why this decision is wrong,  here are a few:  1) the agreement was non-binding; 2) being a signator gave us a seat at the table in future discussions; 3) withdrawing makes China and the European Union more powerful; 4) state laws requiring an increasing percent of energy to come from renewal sources are still in effect and will contribute to the U.S. meeting its pledge anyway; 5) the federal courts have held that greenhouse gases are a pollutant requiring federal action under the Clean Air Act (even though the precise terms of the regulations to reduce greenhouse gases are not yet final) which means that we may have to meet or exceed the pledge anyway.

Moving to the Supreme Court, June is looking like immigration month.  May ended with a decision in the first of four immigration cases heard this term.  The case involved what types of sexual offenses against a child trigger deportation hearings for authorized immigrants (e.g., permanent residents).  The Supreme Court narrowly interpreted the statute, meaning that — for some sexual offenses (those that can be committed against a 16 or 17-year old — the first offense will not trigger deportation.  Two of the other three also directly or indirectly concern deportation.  In addition, with the lower courts having barred enforcement of the travel ban, the Trump Administration is asking the Supreme Court to stay those injunctions.  (The real issue is the enforcement of the restrictions on visas and entry.  It is likely that the Supreme Court will grant relief to some overbroad language in those bars that could be read as suggesting that the Trump Administration can’t begin work on revisions to the vetting process.)  There are 22 other cases to be decided this month, so immigration will not be the only big news this month.  And, even aside from the decisions in cases already argued, the Supreme Court will be deciding what cases to take next term and there are some potentially major issues that could be on the agenda for 2017-18.

Moving to U.S. elections, there are still three special elections — all of which will occur this month.  Two — in Georgia and South Carolina — involve vacancies created by the Trump cabinet appointment.  The other — California — arose from a vacancy created by filling the vacancy in the California Attorney General position created when the former AG won the U.S. Senate election last fall.  Because California uses a “jungle primary” (i.e.  one in which all candidates from all parties run in one primary with the top two advancing to the general election), we already know that the Democrats will keep this seat and the only question on Tuesday is which Democrat will be elected.  For the most part, both parties in choosing members of Congress to fill vacancies have followed the rule of only choosing people from “safe” seats.  As such, while the Democrats have so far — in the first round in California and in Montana and Kansas — run around 10% ahead of 2018, this success has not changed the winner of any seat.

The run-off in Georgia is the best chance for Democrats to actually win a Republican seat.  This district went solidly for the Republicans in 2012 with Romney winning by 13 percent.  On the other hand, Trump won by 2 percent (while the Republican member of Congress by 23 percent).  That leaves this seat as roughly an R+8 seat (meaning that Democrats would expect to win this seat if the Democrat’s national vote is around 58 percent).  This seat is the 165th most Republican seat — based on the 2012 and the 2016 results — so it is not necessarily one that the Democrats would expect to win, but if Trump is shuffling the deck on traditional party divisions, this suburban seat is the type of seat that a youth + white collar + minorities Democratic Party could win.   The race in South Carolina involves a district that is only slightly more Republican, but it is a mostly rural district which was even more Republican in 2016 than it was in 2012.  The bottom line is that — if predicting in advance — the fact that Republicans have had to fight hard in all four seats is a good sign for the Democrats, but it would be nice to get a pick up.  Both of these special elections are scheduled for June 20.

Besides these special elections,  New Jersey and Virginia will hold primary elections.  In New Jersey, the big question is which Democrat will be replacing Chris Christie after the November election.  There are six Democrats and five Republicans running.  (The primary is this Tuesday.)  Virginia (holding its primary on June 13) will be  closer general election.  The Virginia Democratic Primary looks like a close race between the state government Democratic establishment (supporting the current lieutenant governor) and the Washington D.C. Democratic establishing (supporting a former Congressman).  This fight represents the unique geographic position of Virginia, with northern Virginia dominated by the federal government and central Virginia dominated by the state government.  In November, regardless of which candidate wins, the Democratic nominee will need to do well in both the D.C. suburbs and in the Richmond area in order to carry the state.

In foreign elections, first up is the British elections this Thursday.  The continuing fallout from last year’s narrow decision to leave the European Union led to these early elections.  At the time that the Conservative government called these elections, polls suggested that they would win comfortably and substantially increase their current narrow majority.  Since then, the polls have tightened.   As with the U.S. election, the final national vote count is not what will determine the winner.  What will determine the winner will be the results in each of the 650 constituencies.  In theory, it takes 326 seats to win.  However, one of the parties running (Sinn Fein — the political wing of the Irish Republican Army) refuses to sit in Parliament (members of Parliament most take an oath of loyalty to the Queen before taking office and Sinn Fein members will not take this oath).   As such, depending on how many seats Sinn Fein wins (four in the last election), it actually takes around 323 or 324 to have a majority of the sitting members.   There are two additional complicating factors:  1) each of the four “nations” of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) have very distinct politics; and 2) third parties will win a significant share of seats.  In Scotland, the Scottish National Party is the leading party in Scotland and the “unionist” parties are simply hoping to win back some seats.  In Wales, Plaid Cymru will win some seats (but they are not anywhere near as strong as the SNP).  In Northern Ireland,  the parties likely to win seats are only loosely affiliated at best with the British parties.  In England, the Liberal Democrats have pockets of strength — particular in the South — where they will win some seats and the United Kingdom Independence Party may win a seat or two in “Trumpian” parts of England.  Polls in England close around 10 p.m. their time and — depending on the seat — can take between 1-4 hours to count; so we should have some idea of the results during prime time in the U.S.

After the British vote, France will have two rounds of voting in its parliamentary election.  The first round will take place next Sunday (June 11) with a second round on June 18.   If any candidate gets an absolute majority of those voting and more than 25% of those registered to vote, they can win the seat on June 11.  If no candidate meets that threshold, the top two candidates and any candidate who gets more than 12.5% of the registered vote will advance to the run-off.  In 2012, approximately 58% of registered voters participated in the first round.  Assuming the “average district,” any candidate who got an absolute majority would also meet the 25% of registered vote requirement.  It would take 22% of the vote in such a district to qualify for the run-off.  Thus most districts with run-offs would involve 2-3 candidates with a very tiny number having a fourth candidate.  (A candidate who advances to the run-off does have the option to withdraw which can avoid a district in which two candidates from the same side of the political spectrum “split” the vote and allow a candidate from the other side to win the run-off with 40% of the vote.)  In France, there are four major left-wing parties/alliances, the centrist party of the new President (running for the first time), a center-right (Gaullist) party/alliance, and two extreme right parties.  Current polling suggests that the presidential party will get about one-third of the vote in the first round and will probably end up with a slim, but working, majority after the second round of the vote.

Besides election and court cases,  June will also feature the continued business of government.  The two big issues here will be continued Congressional hearings related to Russia and the Trump Administration (including whatever pressure the President may have put on James Comey to stop the investigation).  Meanwhile Senate Republicans will continue to try to negotiate behind closed doors on a health care bill.  And at the same time, House and Senate Republicans will be looking at tax reform and infrastructure spending.  On all of these bills, there are three main problems:  1) passing any bill requires both moderates and conservatives to agree unless the Republicans want to negotiate with Democrats; 2) passing any bill requires both the Senate and the House to agree (and may require some Democrats in the Senate); and 3) the clock is ticking.  Recent years have shown that the Freedom Caucus/Koch Brothers/Tea Party is willing to primary Republicans who do follow their version of Republican purity.  That means that House and Senate Republicans will soon need to start worry about a potential primary opponent and switch from governing mode to election mode sometime this fall.  After about mid-July, the focus will shift from substantive legislation to passing a debt ceiling bill (which needs to be done before the end of July).  After that, the House will be in recess for most of August, and September will be focused on trying to finish appropriations (or at least passing some continuing appropriation to buy more time).  If we are going to see any movement on any of the big three issues on the Trump/Republican agenda, it has to come soon.

In short, there are four things to look for in June:  1) Will the Supreme Court be as hostile as the lower courts were to Trump’s immigration agenda; 2) what special elections and primaries say about the 2018 cycle; 3) do foreign elections have any impact on the U.S. agenda abroad; and 4) is there any sign that the Republicans can actually do anything legislatively with their control of both houses and the presidency.

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