Category Archives: Senate

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. Continue Reading...

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The Supreme Court and the Filibuster

This week has the potential to be a significant week in Senate history.  Over the past two presidencies, there was a rise in the use of the filibuster to block executive branch and lower court nominees.  During the George W. Bush presidency, there were enough Democratic and Republican senators willing to work out a deal in which the Democratic senators agreed to vote for cloture on most nominations and the Republicans agreed not to invoke the “nuclear option” (exempting such nominations from the three-fifth’s rule for cloture by the vote of a majority of the Senate).  During the Barack Obama presidency, there were not enough Republican senators willing to make such a deal and the Democrats were forced to go with the nuclear option on such executive branch and lower court nominees.  However, the normal cloture rules were left in place for Supreme Court nominees.

As a starting point, here is the tentative schedule for the week.  First, on Monday, the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Neal Gorsuch.  Right now, it appears likely that the committee will approve that nomination by a majority vote.  Assuming that the Committee sends its report on that nomination to the Senate on Monday, that would trigger Rule XXXI which provides that (except by unanimous consent which will not be given) the Senate may not vote on a nomination on the same day that the nomination is reported to the full Senate.   The Republicans will then attempt to call the matter up for a vote by unanimous consent on Tuesday.  At least one Democrat will object, and the Republicans will file a cloture motion.  Under Rule XXII, that motion will probably come up for a vote on Thursday and would take sixty votes to pass.  Based on current whip counts, those sixty votes will not be there.  If somehow, the Republicans get the sixty vote or invoke the nuclear option, Rule XXII would permit thirty more hours of debate resulting in a vote between Friday and Monday the 10th.  (Technically, the Easter state work session is currently scheduled to start on the 10th and go through the 21st.  The last two weeks of argument in this year’s Supreme Court term are the weeks of April 17 and April 24.  So if Judge Gorsuch is confirmed this week, he could sit on the last thirteen arguments of this term.  If the final vote takes place after April 21, Judge Gorsuch will not sit on any argument until the next term beginning in October.)

Assuming that the cloture vote goes as currently anticipated, the Republicans will have three options.  Option number one would be to use the Easter recess to put pressure on vulnerable Democratic senators.  Right now, the two most vulnerable Democratic senators (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota) seem likely to vote for cloture, but there are other Democratic senators from other states that Trump won by wide margins.    While there are ten Democratic senators on the 2018 ballot from states that Trump won (and Maine’s independent Senator is not necessarily going to join the Democrats on this issue), half of those senators are from swing states.  The only two other Senators who come from states that were not too close to call in 2016 are Senator McCaskill from Missouri and Senator Donnelly from Indiana.  Unless the Democratic senators hear from party activists that party activists do not really care about this issue, the vote is unlikely to change much after the recess.  On the other hand, the Republican leadership would be in a stronger position to invoke the nuclear option after the recess.  (The more moderate members of the Republican caucus might believe that the Democrats should at least be given some time to debate and make their case before the nuclear option is invoked.) Continue Reading...

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Easier Said than Done

While November was disappointing, the Democrats did gain seats in the Senate.  As a result, the Republicans only hold a 52-48 majority.  If three Republican Senators vote no on any confirmation or bill, it fails.  We are already seeing signs that the next two years could get very interesting — even if the Democrats are more responsible in using the filibuster than Republicans were.

Right now, the Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  The Republicans have never been able to exactly what they don’t like about the Affordable Care Act other than that it was passed by a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress.   For seven years, the Republicans have been asserting the need to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.  While the Republicans have been relatively unified on their desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they have never been able to reach a consensus on how to replace it.

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Protecting Democracy

democracy-header1Every day, more nominees. I never thought I’d actually be rooting for Mittens so there will be at least one adult in the room.

If you’d told me that “President of these United States” was an entry-level elected position, I would have laughed.

Who could have predicted that the Weekly World News would have gotten more right over its years of publication than what is shown on most news stations. (At the very end of this post is the best story EVER about the Weekly World News.) Continue Reading...

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DCW 2016 Senate Forecast

Well the Senate is going down to the wire, but the bottom line hasn’t changed.  Assuming the Dems take over the seats in WI and IL, they need 3 additional seats from IN/NV/MO/NC/NH/PA. While WI has tightened up, the signs are positive in NV and PA.

The forecast is based on a average of pundit and poll based forecasts, including own own DocJess. The 3rd column shows a running total of Senate seats.

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Election 2016 — Missouri and Kansas

mo-sealBy the time that this posts, there will be one week to go until the end of voting.  For a variety of reasons, the national campaign has been even more negative than is normal (although nowhere near the most negative presidential campaign in US history, the campaigns of the 1800s were routinely negative with lots of slanderous accusations).  More importantly, the daily release of a new piece of negative information about the presidential candidates have sucked up a lot of the oxygen from state and local races.

While the news media focuses on the national race for president, the reality is that even, for president, there is not a national election.  The race for president is actually 51 local races (one in each state and in the District of Columbia).  Senate control will be decided by 34 local elections, and control of the House will be decided by 435 local races.  It’s impossible for anyone person to know the lay of the land in all of the races (one reason why polling exists), but each of us have some idea of what is happening where we live.  Here is what things are looking like in Missouri and Kansas.

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DCW 2016 Senate Forecast

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Democratic Convention Watch 2016 Senate Forecast, showing the Democrats projected to win 50.3 seats. Assuming the Dems take over the seats in WI and IL, we need 3 additional seats from IN/NV/MO/NC/NH/PA.

The forecast is based on a average of pundit and poll based forecasts, including own own DocJess. The 3rd column shows a running total of Senate seats.

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Sunday with the Senators: Saturday Edition

Vote by JessWe’re 17 days out from the election, and while the main event seems like a foregone conclusion, the Senate is pretty much a nail-biter. Matt will have the Senate race rankings up tonight and we’ll see the specifics, but first, a little context, and a race that no one is looking at, which may actually delay knowing who controls the Senate until 10 December.

Let’s play. We need a net of 4 seats to take back the Senate, assuming that Secretary Clinton wins the general, and thus Tim Kaine would be the tie-breaker. Based on current projections, we’ll pick up Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois. Will we hold Nevada? Maybe. If we do we need one more, if not, we need two. The likeliest options should be Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Should be. Could be. The data indicate that if Secretary Clinton wins by 7 points in Pennsylvania and 6 points in New Hampshire, her coattails will be enough. I have been following New Hampshire from a distance and it appears very close. Ayotte is constantly tied to Trump in ads. For some reason, a lot of politicians don’t seem to get that everyone has a phone, and thus video capabilities, and when you call Donald Trump “a role model” that’s going to make the ads even if you disavow some of his actions. A lot will depend on how much money is poured into the ads in the next couple weeks. The polls have been tied, and just yesterday WMUR said that Hassan is 8 points ahead: is it an outlier or has the die been cast?

Pennsylvania is so tight there’s no daylight in the polls. Brooklyn knows this and that’s why both Clinton and Kaine will be in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia today. Should be noted that Secretary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Senator Kaine, President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Biden and even Bubba the Big Dog have all been here. Upcoming in the next two weeks, Anne Holton (Senator Kaine’s wife), Jill Biden, Jon Bon Jovi and Katy Perry.  It seems as though the street closure information is an almost daily occurrence on the traffic reports. Continue Reading...

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The Supreme Fillibuster

US SenateWhen Justice Antonin Scalia died, Senate Republicans announced that they would not hold hearings because of their belief — not supported by any precedent — that a lame duck president should not get to fill a vacancy during his last year in office.   Earlier this week, in a classic gaffe (i.e. he mistakenly told the truth), Senator John McCain announced that Senate Republicans intend to block any nominee that President Hillary Clinton might put forward.  While Senator McCain has attempted to walk back this statement, he revealed what many of us have known to be true all along — the Republicans do not have any problem with any specific nominee that President Obama has or that President Clinton might put forward; there problem is with losing the majority on the Supreme Court.

If the Republicans can keep their current Senate majority, the process of blocking all nominees is simple — although with potential political consequences.  They simply vote down any nominee.  Their problem is if, as current polls suggest, the Democrats regain the Senate majority for the next two years.  If that happens, we are potentially looking at the next conflict over the filibuster.

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Senate Primaries: Arizona and Florida

US SenateIn the weeks since the nominating conventions, a lot has happened.  Trump royally blew the immediate post-convention period and re-shuffled his staff.  U.S. athletes, for the most part, had a strong showing at the Olympics.  And many states have held primary elections for state and federal offices.  There are about two more weeks of primaries left.  (Except for Louisiana which does not really have a primary election, and a special primary election for one district in New York, the last primaries will be held on September 13. )  This week, we have the Senate primaries in two states that are seen as potential Senate battlegrounds in November:  Arizona and Florida.

In Arizona, the Democratic candidate — Representative Ann Kirkpatrick — is running unopposed.  The potentially interesting primary is the Republican primary.  Senator John McCain is facing three opponents — one of whom has semi-withdrawn, urging voters to support whichever candidate is most likely to defeat McCain.

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