The House is done voting for the week while we’re trying to avoid a government shutdown. Again. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican hard-liners have not agreed as the shutdown deadline is looming. The folks within McCarthy’s own party are doing this, and he can’t control the monster he helped to create. But he did have some harsh words for them when speaking to reporters on Thursday.
“Frustrating in the sense that I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate,” McCarthy said. “And then you’ve got all the amendments that you don’t like to do.”
“This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down,” he added. “It doesn’t work.”
The Freedom Caucus isn’t “new.”
I don’t know, Kev. Maybe you can call Nancy Pelosi for some advice. She loves this country and would probably want to help. Because earlier this week, McCarthy said, “It’s hard to pass anything in this place.” I don’t remember Pelosi complaining; she had to pass things with the help of progressives. That’s how you do Speaker-y things.
On Thursday, the House failed for the second time this week to bring up the Republican defense spending bill up for debate, in another embarrassing moment for McCarthy.
Psst! Talk to Nancy.
On Wednesday, President Biden used his executive power to establish the American Climate Corps, which will employ and train 20,000 young people in the work of climate resilience.
Similar to but more modest than the famed CCC — the Civilian Conservation Corps established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 during the Great Depression — the ACC can provide young people with long-term job skills while accelerating the country’s transition to renewable energy.
Biden had hoped an updated, climate-focused version of FDR’s corps would be a provision in the Build Back Better legislative efforts he introduced at the beginning of his term. That agenda got watered down, with the Climate Corps among the losses. Republicans, and a few Democrats — notably Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — attacked it as a waste of money and “pure socialist wish fulfillment.”
The corps’ enemies, however, never questioned that it would be effective. That’s because California proved the value of a modern CCC years ago.
The California Conservation Corps, started in 1976 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, has a current roster of 1,634 members, mostly between the ages of 18 and 29, who typically serve for about a year. They join front-line battles against climate-emergency wildfires and floods, restore river habitat, “manage” forests, build and maintain wilderness trails, and retrofit homes, schools and businesses with solar panels and other forms of clean energy through state contracts.
The corps tallies its achievements with a range of metrics. Since its inception, for example, its members have planted 24.6 million trees, improved national and state parks to the tune of 11 million hours of work, and filled more than 3.5 million sandbags during floods and storms.
The payoff has been good for California, but it’s personal too. If new corps members don’t have a high school degree (about 15% to 20% don’t), they’re required to get one through the corps’ school partnerships. That schooling adds 10 hours to their 40-hour work week and opens new opportunities for more training and scholarships. California Conservation Corps alumni have gone on to be professional firefighters, hydrologists, electricians and park rangers.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched corps crews take chain saws to burned “hazard trees” at a state park east of Lake Tahoe, clear road obstructions during a storm, and cut fire lines under the direction of Cal Fire in Butte County.
One of the chain saw crew members, Elizabeth Wing, who was 21 when we met, summed up her experience with a joke: “We’re sure living up to the promise.” She was referring to the guarantee contained in the corps motto: “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions, and more!” The “more” in the motto works out differently for every corps member.
“I was just drifting job to job and wanted to be part of something larger than myself,” recalled 26-year-old corps firefighter Luie Valez. “I haven’t looked back since.”
“I’ve had a lot of crappy jobs, but not this one,” agreed Martin Castellon, who was raised in Tijuana and San Diego, and spent his 26th birthday shoveling snow for the corps at its residential center in Tahoe.
“The thing is it’s not a bunch of troubled youth like a lot of people think,” adds John Alviso, 24, another firefighter and a former Army reservist. “It’s people who want to learn and get a career and are willing to work hard to do that.”
Bruce Saito, the California corps’ director, expects his organization and more than 150 similar ones around the nation to “benefit from Biden’s incredible move and action.” He anticipates “dedicated grants to each state to strengthen and advance the work, [and] enrollment service opportunities for thousands of young folks to serve and address climate issues not just for California.”
Biden’s use of executive power to resuscitate his Climate Corps idea is in part a response to young voters’ climate fears and frustrations. When he greenlighted the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska earlier this year, the backlash was immediate from young voters and environmentalists. The national ACC effort, which so far consists of a recruitment website, may help motivate a cohort Biden badly needs in 2024.
On the other hand, the ACC is guaranteed to draw ongoing flak from the same forces that zeroed it out of the Inflation Reduction Act last year. After all, Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) claimed during the legislation battles that the corps idea was a way to “bully every state to become more and more like California.”
Replace the word “bully” with “inspire” and I have to hope that is exactly what happens.
David Helvarg is a writer; executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean policy group; and co-host of “Rising Tide: The Ocean Podcast.”
by Jacob Fischler, Alabama Reflector
September 20, 2023
The U.S. Senate confirmed a nominee for a high-ranking military post Wednesday night and advanced another, the first votes on military nominations or promotions since Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville started blocking them seven months ago to protest Defense Department abortion policies.
Tuberville did not object to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, setting up votes to end debate and confirm the nomination of Gen. Charles Q. Brown to be chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Senate voted to confirm Brown, 83-11. Tuberville and 10 other Republicans voted no.
But the process was a lengthy one. The chamber voted earlier Wednesday to end debate on the confirmation, a procedural step that can be skipped by unanimous consent. Tuberville has for months denied that consent for votes on all military nominees.
“We’ve been sitting around here for 215 days waiting for them to do something,” Tuberville told reporters Wednesday. “They finally figured out I wasn’t going to give in.”
Tuberville added his position was still to force singular votes on military nominees through regular order that requires a cloture vote.
Schumer filed cloture — which, if agreed to, brings an end to debate — on three nominations: Brown’s, Gen. Randy George to be Army chief of staff and Gen. Eric M. Smith to be the commandant of the Marine Corps.
Following the vote to confirm Brown, the Senate voted, 92-1, to end debate on George to be Army chief of staff, setting up a vote on his confirmation Thursday. The Senate did not consider Smith’s nomination Wednesday.
Schumer said he expected time agreements to allow votes on the confirmations before week’s end, but would keep the chamber in session through Saturday in the absence of such an agreement.
Tuberville told reporters he wouldn’t object to collapsing the time requirements.
Tuberville objects to the Pentagon policy that allows leave and travel allowances for service members seeking non-covered reproductive care, including traveling to states where abortion services remain available. He has blocked a growing list of nominees from Senate approval in protest of the policy, which he says violates the law.
“Let’s do them one at a time or change the policy,” Tuberville said.
Military nominations and promotions that require Senate approval are generally handled in batches and without much friction — a necessity in a chamber that often runs on the unanimous consent of its members.
Tuberville’s insistence on a time-consuming process for each confirmation is meant to force Schumer to either abandon military confirmation votes or grind other Senate business to a halt — which at the moment includes avoiding a government shutdown, authorizing Defense Department programs, reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration and providing disaster aid.
“They’re going to run out of floor time and we’ve got a lot going on up here,” Tuberville said Wednesday. “This whole thing is about the policy, it’s not about confirming people.”
‘Our military deserves better’
Tuberville’s approach has drawn criticism from many sources, including veterans groups, the White House and members of both parties in Congress.
In a floor speech announcing votes would proceed, Schumer blasted Alabama’s senior senator, saying his campaign would “change the nature of our non-political military.”
“Instead of just getting out of the way and allowing the Senate to approve the promotions that these decorated military officers deserve, the senator from Alabama, unfortunately and wrongly, is using them as pawns,” Schumer said.
“What Sen. Tuberville is doing will set the military and the Senate down a path to vote on every single military promotion,” he added. “It will make every single military officer’s promotion subject to the political whims of the Senate and even of one senator.”
Schumer also dismissed Tuberville’s efforts as ultimately fruitless. The three nominations will be approved by overwhelming majorities this week, Schumer said, while the abortion policy will remain in place. The only consequences of Tuberville’s holds are a list of hundreds of pending nominations and a deteriorated culture in the Senate, he said.
Schumer implored Republicans not to allow this process to become the norm, saying it would “grind this body to a halt.”
“It is my hope, indeed it’s my prayer, that we find a better way,” Schumer said. “Our military deserves better. We cannot allow Sen. Tuberville to set the Senate on a path that no senator wants to travel.”
Alabama Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Brian Lyman for questions: [email protected]. Follow Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is suing controversial clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers for alleged false advertisement of “abortion pill reversal,” a procedure considered experimental and opposed by top medical organizations.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is the latest attempt by state Democratic leaders to rein in faith-based antiabortion clinics that have so far evaded legislative attempts at stricter regulation despite health warnings about the procedure.
Bonta called the centers “predatory,” alleging they “took advantage” of vulnerable pregnant patients by making false promises. He is asking a judge to block “further dissemination of the misleading claims,” citing violation of California’s false advertising and unfair competition laws.
“Those who are struggling with the complex decision to get an abortion deserve support and trustworthy guidance — not lies and misinformation,” said Bonta, who held a news conference in Oakland on Thursday.
The so-called reversal, touted by pregnancy centers across the state and nation, involves ingesting the hormone progesterone after a patient has taken a dose of abortion-inducing pills. The practice has been deemed “unethical” and “not supported by science” by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
In 2019, UC Davis researchers halted a study of the practice after three out of 12 women participating in the medical experiment were sent to the hospital for “very significant bleeding.”
The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday, names the antiabortion organization Heartbeat International and RealOptions Obria Medical Clinics, a Bay Area chain, as defendants, alleging they have violated state law by falsely advertising the procedure as safe and effective.
The religious crisis pregnancy center industry has long been accused of misleading women about their services in order to steer them away from abortion. Some of the California centers advertise “pre-abortion screenings” but do not provide abortions, and promote misinformation about the procedure that has been refuted by the American Cancer Society and other leading medical organizations.
But supporters of the centers say they are an asset to communities, pointing to resources offered to parents in need, such as diapers and car seats and some health screenings. Some of the state’s clinics have denied claims that they pressure patients out of having an abortion or are intentionally misleading them, and say they have a right to oppose the procedure just as others do to support it.
Even in liberal California, home to the nation’s strongest abortion access protections, past legislative attempts to more strictly regulate crisis pregnancy centers have failed, in part because of legal arguments regarding constitutionally protected freedom of speech and religion.
Clinics across the state that advertise “abortion pill reversal” are licensed by the California Department of Public Health to operate. The RealOptions centers named in Thursday’s lawsuit are state-licensed community clinics.
In 2018, the Supreme Court blocked enforcement of a California law that would have required clinics to notify patients that the state offers subsidized abortions, birth control and prenatal care.
Known as the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, the bill was sponsored by Vice President Kamala Harris, then state attorney general.
The court’s opinion was led by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who said that the law unfairly targeted faith-based centers by forcing them to provide a “government drafted script” about services they oppose.
Earlier this year, legislation aiming to limit crisis pregnancy centers quietly stalled in the state Legislature. Opponents of the bill, including the California Catholic Conference, said the proposals were prejudiced, in favor of one reproductive health choice over another.
There are at least 165 crisis pregnancy centers in California, and they outnumber abortion clinics, according to a report issued last year by the Alliance, a women’s advocacy collaborative.
The report said that many centers in the state make “deceptive and misleading” claims, do not have a physician on staff and offer nondiagnostic ultrasounds that are not recognized as a medical service but as a “keepsake” or souvenir.
Colorado became the first state in the nation to approve a law banning abortion pill reversal earlier this year, butenforcement is on hold amid a pending lawsuit.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky came to Washington on Thursday with a problem to solve.
A year and a half after Russia invaded Ukraine, once-bipartisan support for U.S. military funding for the embattled nation has evaporated.
Seventy-one percent of Republicans — along with 55% of independents but just 38% of Democrats — said Congress should not authorize additional funding for the war, according to a July CNN poll.
Some GOP members have followed their constituents’ lead. In August, 70 House Republicans, nearly a third of the caucus, voted for an amendment that would have cut off all U.S. aid to Ukraine. Rep. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale was the sole California Republican to vote for the measure, which failed after Democrats joined with the majority of the House GOP to kill it.
Zelensky, fresh from a visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, arrived at the Capitol on Thursday under heavy security. His top priority: Make sure the number of Republicans unwilling to continue funding the war effort doesn’t get any bigger.
A meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who’s also facing a looming government shutdown and a potential leadership coup by far-right members of his caucus, was first on the Ukrainian leader’s agenda. The meeting was attended by committee and party leaders, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Zelensky later met with senators behind closed doors.
McCarthy declined Zelensky’s request to address a joint session of Congress, saying there was not enough time. He also reportedly declined a White House offer to give House lawmakers the same classified briefing the Senate received this week.
Asked by reporters about the meeting, McCarthy said only that “it was good.” After the meeting, McCarthy bolted to wrangle far-right members to back legislation to advance Pentagon funding. The measure failed in a floor vote, only adding to the list of McCarthy’s problems as the federal government barrels toward a shutdown.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was more enthusiastic after his meeting with Zelensky.
“American support for Ukraine is not charity,” he said after meeting with Zelensky. “It’s an investment in our own direct interest — not least because degrading Russia’s military power helps to deter our primary strategic adversary: China.”
Zelensky emphasized Ukraine’s gratitude for U.S. assistance — and expressed thanks to “both parties” in a tweet Thursday afternoon. “We have accomplished much together to safeguard democracy, freedom, and dignity—values shared by both of our nations,” he added.
Many of California’s Republican House members are in a particularly difficult position. Of the 18 Republicans who hold districts President Biden won in 2020, five — nearly a third — are in California. If they continue to back the war effort, they could alienate the GOP base in their districts. But voting against Ukraine aid, which Democrats still support, could limit their crossover appeal.
Peter Harris, a political scientist at Colorado State University, told The Times that some Republicans oppose approving funding because they believe the United States should be more focused on defeating another world power: China. Harris also predicted that support for Ukraine will probably continue to wane as the war drags on.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if a pretty sizable faction within the Republican Party came to the determination that it would be politically prudent to end the war rather than supporting Ukraine,” Harris said.
Some Republicans vying for the White House have already made that call. During the August GOP primary debate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy both said they would stop aid to Ukraine if elected president.
“It’s not unusual for the opposition party to be skeptical of an administration’s policies,” Alex Conant, a Republican strategist, told The Times.
Democrats were the first to critique then-President George W. Bush over the war in Iraq and now some Republicans are doing the same of Biden over his strategy for Ukraine, Conant argued.
“They’re the opposition so they’re not invested in his policies,” he said.
Conant added that there is a small but growing number of Republicans who are “very skeptical of foreign interventions” and that a “small faction can cause big problems.” Still, a majority of the GOP backs sending military aid, notably in the Senate.
Though support for the war has also slipped among Democratic voters since the invasion, Democratic lawmakers remain overwhelmingly supportive of approving military aid.
In an interview with The Times, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) said that “when there is contention within any political party people try to distinguish themselves from one another,” noting that many Republicans on the intelligence committee understand the stakes: If American military aid stops, it will make the war even more challenging for Ukrainians.
Propaganda pushed out by the Kremlin is successfully convincing many voters that the United States should not be in Ukraine — and some Republicans are gleefully repeating that propaganda, Gomez argued. Congress must “send a loud message… across the globe that we stand by our friends and we’re not going to let them get taken over by a rogue country,” he said.
“The role of the United States and its stature around the globe relies on us following through on our word,” Gomez added. “And if we allow a country like Russia to invade another country, it might create a willingness of other countries to take action through military might.”
Zelensky left the Capitol before noon and traveled to the Pentagon to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. Zelensky is expected to meet with President Biden at the White House on Thursday afternoon.
In a news conference, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said that Biden would announce a “new package of military assistance” that would “include significant air defense capabilities to help Ukraine protect its people.” The assistance would also include weapons and equipment to enable the beleaguered nation to “maintain its momentum in the counter offensive.”
“These capabilities will help Ukraine harden its defenses ahead of what is likely to be a tough winter filled with renewed Russian attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure,” he said.
The Pentagon is opting not to send ATACMs long-range missiles to Ukraine but Biden “has not taken it off the table” in the future.
Hours before Zelensky met with McCarthy, Ukraine was hit with the biggest barrage of Russian missiles in more than a month.
Overnight, 43 Russian cruise missiles struck cities from east to west including the capital, Kyiv; the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, close to the Russian border; and Lviv, near the Polish frontier. Ukraine’s military said 36 of the projectiles were shot down, including 20 over Kyiv.
Over a period of hours lasting until early morning, the repeated blare of air alarms sent people scrambling for shelter, many with small children and pets in tow. In Kyiv, falling debris damaged several buildings and left at least four people injured. Zelensky made grim note of the wave of strikes, writing in a post on the messaging app Telegram that air defense is “among the top issues” as he seeks to win congressional support for more aid.
Times staff writers Courtney Subramanian contributed to this report from Washington and Laura King from Kyiv.
Rupert Murdoch, the powerful and controversial mogul who helped transform the modern media landscape over seven decades, is stepping down as chairman of his two family-controlled companies Fox Corp. and News Corp.
Murdoch, 92, who will be succeeded by his son Lachlan, announced his decision in a note sent to employees Thursday.
“I am writing to let you all know that I have decided to transition to the role of Chairman Emeritus at Fox and News,” the mogul said. “For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change. But the time is right for me to take on different roles.”
The move is meant to be a firm statement that a succession plan will proceed, with Lachlan Murdoch pushing the influential media companies — owners of politically-right-leaning channel Fox News and the Wall Street Journal — forward with their ideological lean.
“My father believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause,” Murdoch wrote. “Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class.”
The succession story began six years ago, when Murdoch formulated plans to sell much of his entertainment company, 21st Century Fox, to the Walt Disney Co.
That move, which was finalized in March 2019, left a slimmed-down version of Fox — the Fox broadcast network, sports networks and Fox News.
Murdoch has long made clear that he wanted his eldest son, Lachlan, to run the operation. The Disney deal formalized his desire because the sale also nudged out his youngest son, James, leaving him without a role in the company. James Murdoch is now working on two separate entertainment ventures.
A restructuring of the executive ranks is expected to follow Murdoch’s announcement, according to people inside the company familiar with the plans but not authorized to comment publicly.
Murdoch is said to be in good health, but has faced various medical issues in recent years. His note said he will “remain involved every day in the contest of ideas.”
But the mogul has faced a challenging year. Fox Corp. had to pay $787.5 million to settle a defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems. The voting software company claimed it was damaged by Fox News repeatedly presenting Trump’s false charges of fraud in the 2020 election.
The company faces a similar suit from Smartmatic, another voting equipment firm that said it was defamed in Fox News coverage. The suit is scheduled to go to trial in 2025.
Critics have accused Murdoch’s media outlets of contributing to the coarseness and polarization of society.
In the U.S., he is equally loved and reviled for creating Fox News, which has championed conservative causes, including the political career of Donald Trump, and blasted liberals.
Fox News launched in 1996 as a conservative antidote to his rival Ted Turner’s CNN. With its marketing slogan “fair and balanced,” Murdoch’s outlet carved out its pugnacious profile with coverage of President Clinton’s sex scandal involving Monica Lewinsky.
Over the years, it became a potent platform for Republican politicians to speak to their base in the red states and helped fuel the tea party movement, among others.
Strategic, surgical efforts by former President Trump’s campaign to overhaul obscure Republican Party rules in states around the nation, including California, have created an opportunity for the GOP front-runner to quickly sew up his party’s presidential nomination.
The former president’s aides have sculpted rules in dozens of states, starting even before his 2020 reelection bid. Their work is ongoing: In addition to California, state Republican parties in Nevada and Michigan have recently overhauled their rules in ways clearly designed to favor Trump.
This election, “despite a large number of candidates, only the Trump campaign went out and did the really hard grunt work of talking to state parties to try and get them to meld their rules to Donald Trump’s favor,” said Ben Ginsberg, a veteran GOP attorney who represented the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush — notably during the 2000 Florida recount — and Mitt Romney.
The Trump campaign succeeded in changing the rules “in part because they knew what they were doing and in part because everyone else is asleep at the switch,” Ginsberg added.
The changes could discourage campaigning and decrease voter participation, said Dan Lee, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“There’s all this uncertainty, and there hasn’t been much campaigning going on in Nevada. I think that’s due to that uncertainty,” Lee said.
The success of the Trump campaign’s effort is partly attributable to his aggressive courting of state GOP leaders. The former president has headlined fundraisers that have raised millions of dollars for state parties. He wooed their leaders at the White House when he was president and has feted them at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida since leaving office.
“It’s sort of an advantage no one else is going to naturally have,” said Clayton Henson, a member of the Trump campaign’s political team who worked on political affairs at the White House during the former president’s tenure.
The Trump campaign’s rule changes have focused on ensuring he benefits from how all-important delegates are awarded after each state caucus or primary.
Though much of the media attention in presidential campaigns focuses on polling, particularly in early-voting states, the outcome is ultimately determined by delegates chosen in each state. The wonky quilt of rules determining how delegates are awarded to candidates vary across the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories. Each will send delegates to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee next summer, when the party will formally pick its nominee.
“The way delegate-selection rules are written by each state party every four years can make a huge difference to individual candidates and how many delegates they get,” Ginsberg said.
Trump’s success in changing the rules ahead of 2024 marks a complete reversal from his first presidential campaign, he added. “The Trump campaign in 2016 was five guys on a pirate ship who did not have the organization to go out and really work the rules.”
Trump’s 2024 campaign started working on shaping delegate-allocation rules in November, seeking modifications that were beneficial for the state parties as well as the campaign, Henson said.
“Parties are extremely keen on being more important in the primary and that’s why we’re seeing more winner-take-all rules … and seeing more early primaries or caucuses when they have the opportunity,” Henson said. “What that amounts to is a front-runner set of rules, something that benefits the front-runner, and delegates being allocated quickly.”
But the work started in earnest years ago — changes were made in 30 states and territories in 2019, according to Josh Putnam, a political scientist who focuses on the presidential nomination process and runs FrontloadingHQ. Among the rules changes were switching from proportional delegate allocation, where multiple candidates can win delegates in a state, to winner-take-all. In some states, delegates are also being awarded based on the outcome of party-run caucuses among GOP activists, many of whom remain loyal to Trump, rather than official state primary elections.
“The Trump team was unusually active in nudging state parties toward changes for 2020 that 1) made it easier for Trump to gobble up delegates as the nomination process moved through the calendar of contests and 2) made it much more difficult for multiple candidates to win delegates,” he wrote in March.
In the 2024 race, opinion polls show that the former president enjoys a commanding lead in the race for the GOP nomination. A UC Berkeley survey co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times released earlier this month found Trump has the support of about 55% of likely California Republican voters, compared with 16% for his top challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. If Trump can maintain that level of support in California’s March primary, he will win all of the state’s 169 delegates — the most of any state in the nation and about 14% of what a candidate needs to win the GOP nomination.
DeSantis backers said they focused on courting voters rather than trying to modify state party protocols.
“The effort we put into delegate rules is almost zero,” said Ken Cuccinelli, founder of the pro-DeSantis Never Back Down super PAC. “It’s one/10,000th of what we do. But talking to voters is a big part of what we do.”
He added that the Trump campaign is focused on delegate rules because it recognizes that DeSantis is the most formidable threat to the former president’s candidacy.
“He knows who his challenger is — it’s Ron DeSantis. This is effectively a two-person race. It’s why they’ve spent tens of millions of dollars attacking DeSantis,” Cuccinelli said. “DeSantis still has the highest favorables in the race. It’s why they’re playing the delegate rule games. We’re not doing that. We’re playing defense there, but we’re not trying to rig the rules. We’re trying to keep them from being rigged.”
That said, decisions to change the delegate-allocation process in California, Nevada and elsewhere prompted the DeSantis super PAC to reduce its efforts in those states. The group’s supporters had already knocked on about 130,000 doors in California.
“This was a huge factor in our decision. We started door-knocking with the expectation that the rules would remain consistent in California,” Cuccinelli said.
He said they would not have started their efforts in the state if they knew the state GOP would shift its rules from ones that rewarded grassroots campaigning to ones that give the edge to campaigns that bombard the airwaves: “We met a lot of voters, we answered a lot of questions one-on-one.”
Campaigns in both parties have long tried to work party rules to benefit their candidates, sometimes resulting in confusing outcomes — a candidate can win a state primary or caucus but his or her rival can collect more of its delegates.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in the Nevada vote 51% to 45%, but Obama won one more of the state’s delegates because of how they are awarded based on regional caucuses around the state — a game-changing moment in the campaign, said Bill Burton, who was Obama’s national press secretary at the time.
“It was a dog fight,” he said. “If Hillary was able to pull off a real victory there, it could have been real trouble for us in terms of momentum. But because it was a split decision and we won more delegates, she didn’t get the boost she could have.”
As a novice candidate in 2016, Trump had a similar experience as Clinton. He won Louisiana, yet Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was awarded more of the state’s delegates — an example of his team being outflanked by Cruz’s campaign, whose strategists understood the intricacies of the state’s nomination process.
“In 2016, the Trump campaign did not have an appreciation early on for the importance of actual delegates,” said Ron Nehring, a national spokesman and California chairman for the Cruz campaign who is also a former leader of the state GOP. “Part way through 2016, Trump said the process was rigged. What he was whining about was that the Cruz people absolutely outmaneuvered him in states where Trump won the primary.”
Ultimately, the delegate hunt was moot because Trump won so much support from GOP voters and Cruz dropped out. But Nehring said the former president clearly learned from that experience, given his current campaign’s successful efforts to change state party rules across the country in a manner “that blatantly favors Trump over other candidates.”
It’s an effort that he argues is grossly inappropriate.
“Changing the rules once the campaign has begun and changing the rules based on the political conditions of the race — that’s why it’s unfair,” said Nehring, who is not aligned with a 2024 presidential candidate.
Others argue that the Trump campaign is doing what campaigns have historically always done, such as working existing delegate rules as former Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s ardent supporters did in the 2012 presidential campaign. Although former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had effectively clinched the party nomination, Paul’s backers worked arcane party rules to take over GOP delegations across the nation.
For example, while Paul finished a distant third in the Iowa caucuses, 23 of the state’s 28 delegates who went to the nominating convention were Paul supporters who were not bound to support the victor of the state’s first-in-the-nation voting contest.
National Republicans fought back, raising the number of states required to put a name in contention and allowing campaigns to select state delegates.
Incumbent presidents have also often reshaped the rules, as Trump did before the last presidential election.
“He and his team laid the groundwork for this in 2020. They were active in turning the knob on making it really front-runner friendly in how the rules were crafted,” Putnam said.
Several of Trump’s top advisors in the 2024 campaign, including Chris LaCivita, are deeply versed in the intricacies of winning delegates.
“There’s an understanding from the senior campaign staff that this is how it’s done,” LaCivita said. “The president made it clear he wants an organization, he wants an organized, efficient campaign that is built around ensuring that some of the unknowns that they faced in ’16 are not faced this time.”
LaCivitia said the former president’s campaign has focused on advocating for winner-take-all delegate rules that benefit a front-runner, and if that’s not possible, proportional delegate allocation based on statewide vote tallies. They also pushed for caucuses, which draw the most committed conservative voters, rather than primaries in some states. And they supported rules requiring delegates to support the candidate who won in their state, cutting down on convention uncertainty.
They have had a number of successes: Nevada will award all of its delegates based on the results of a Feb. 8 in-person caucus, two days after a meaningless all-mail state primary — an uncommon scenario. The primary may be canceled if no candidate files to appear on the ballot, and there is talk of the state party not allowing any candidate who appears on the ballot to compete in the caucus. Michigan will allocate most of its delegates through caucuses on March 2 rather than the state’s primary on Feb. 27. Colorado and Louisiana are considering revamping their rules so delegates are bound to a candidate during a second round of voting if no candidate receives a majority during the first round.
Operatives in California, Nevada and elsewhere say they were forced to change their rules to align with national Republican Party requirements, which include mandating some proportional delegate allocation opportunities in states where contests take place before March 15. Though they claim these modifications do not benefit any candidate, most political experts are skeptical, partly because the leaders of many of these groups are Trump loyalists.
In California, the state GOP voted in late July to award all of their 169 delegates to a candidate who receives more than 50% of the vote in the March primary, and to allocate them proportionally based on the statewide vote if no candidate clears that benchmark. The state previously awarded them by congressional district, theoretically allowing candidates to target certain regions without having to advertise across a state that contains some of the most expensive media markets in the nation.
The change is largely viewed as making the state less competitive for candidates who can’t afford to blanket the airwaves before California and 14 other states vote on March 5, Super Tuesday.
However, some argue this rule change may have created additional risk for Trump if he falters before then.
“If they’re coasting to the nomination, then the old rules would have served them fine, but now, if they stumble, they probably don’t take as many delegates as they likely would have under the old rules,” said Rob Stutzman, a veteran GOP strategist who does not support Trump.
This presidential election is unlikely to be like any other. Trump has been indicted over his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, his handling of confidential government documents after leaving the White House and his payments to an adult film star during the 2016 campaign in an attempt to conceal their affair.
A judge recently set March 4 — one day before Super Tuesday — as the start of the federal trial over his efforts to stop the transfer of power after his 2020 election loss and his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Conservative grassroots activists also hope to upend the California rule change at the state party’s convention on Oct. 1 — a Herculean task because of the two-thirds vote required to make such a modification.
While DeSantis backers say they are not behind the insurgent effort to overturn the new delegate-allocation plan, they are angry about the former president’s meddling in state party rules.
“If Trump is going to keep breaking these rules in ways that just move everything away from grassroots campaigning, that means voters are going to have less and less contact with candidates. That’s exactly the opposite of what ordinary Americans want,” Cuccinelli said. “So this is Trump versus the little people. He can’t pull it off in every state, but he pulled it off in California.”
It was nearly 80 years from Congress’ creation to the first impeachment of a president, Andrew Johnson in 1868, and 130 years more until the second, Bill Clinton in 1998, both of them Democrats impeached by Republican House majorities. That total — two impeachments in more than two centuries — doubled in just over a year with the 2019 and 2021 impeachments of Donald Trump by a Democratic-controlled House.
And now, only three years later, we have House Republicans hellbent on impeaching President Biden.
Yet to conclude that we’ve entered into a sorry new era of tit-for-tat impeachments — as some scholars and other observers have suggested since House Speaker Kevin McCarthy ordered up an impeachment “inquiry” last week — amounts to simplistic bothsides-ism. It’s wrong.
By such reasoning, Democrats and Republicans alike are engaged in a vengeful, self-perpetuating cycle of seeking to oust a president of the opposite party, even when it’s clear the Senate won’t vote for conviction. No, what we have here is one party, a radicalized Republican Party, playing tit for tat and thereby normalizing the Constitution’s most extreme check on the presidency.
And it takes its marching orders from the former president, who has gone so far as to make “retribution” a literal campaign promise. “Either IMPEACH the BUM, or fade into OBLIVION,” Trump harangued House Republicans last month in an anti-Biden post on his social media site. “THEY DID IT TO US!”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, no fan of Trump or of the House Republicans’ extremism, nonetheless recently tried to justify their rogue behavior with a bit of I-told-you-so schadenfreude: “I said two years ago, when we had not one but two [Trump] impeachments, that once we go down this path it incentivizes the other side to do the same thing.” He scolded: “This is not good for the country.”
Indeed, it’s not. But the Biden impeachment inquiry is not the “same thing” at all as the House actions in 2019 and 2021.
Both of Trump’s impeachments were well-deserved, based on hard evidence of abuses of presidential power that fit well within the Constitution’s definition of impeachable offenses: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
It’s hard to believe that the founders wouldn’t agree that their criteria encompassed a commander in chief who withheld military aid from an ally fearing invasion by a shared enemy — aid he’d signed into law after Congress approved it — to pressure the ally to investigate the president’s political rival: “I would like you to do us a favor.” And it’s all but certain that the founders would approve of sanctioning a president for “incitement of insurrection” to overturn a demonstrably fair election and remain in power.
Contrast those justifiable instances of Trump’s comeuppance with McCarthy and Co. opening an inquiry into Biden’s … what? They can’t tell you: The grounds for impeaching Biden are yet to be filled in. That’s what an inquiry is for, McCarthy says.
Yet the hapless Javerts in the House have been investigating Biden and his troubled son Hunter, seeking ever-elusive evidence that the president was enriched by his son’s influence-peddling, since even before the Republicans took control of the chamber in January. McCarthy’s announcement of an inquiry changed nothing about that long-running investigation. It merely allowed the speaker to say the word “impeachment” in hopes of appeasing the bloodthirsty MAGA minions.
The move appeased no one. Meanwhile, more sane House Republicans kvetched that the so-far-baseless crusade was interfering with the real business of Congress — like funding the government and avoiding a shutdown on Oct. 1. (At least the impeach-Biden obsession has distracted Republicans from their talk of impeaching others in his Cabinet, though Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene assured reporters recently, “You can fire more than one person at a time.”)
Let’s say the House Republicans eventually do unite in impeaching Biden. Even then, the Democrats’ record of recent decades offers no sign that they would seek revenge through impeachment when they next find themselves in power opposite a Republican president. To be sure, they might act on actual evidence again if Trump is reelected. He has virtually promised to abuse power in a second term.
Democrats are not political patsies, but even many Republicans will tell you that their foes have a responsibility gene when it comes to government: Democrats tend to want it to work reasonably well; impeachments and shutdowns upset the regular order. It is Republicans, increasingly over the last quarter-century, who’ve become the chaos agents.
Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi long resisted calls on her left to impeach Trump as he broke norms and bent laws one after another as president. “He’s just not worth it,” she said — until his blatant Ukraine shakedown and election conniving left her no choice. Similarly, when she and Democrats took power after 2006, she declared that impeaching President George W. Bush over the Iraq war was “off the table” — this despite Democrats’ lingering bitterness about Republicans’ impeachment of Clinton over his cover-up of an affair.
Kevin McCarthy has none of his predecessor’s principles or leadership skills. In opening the investigation of the president, under pressure from Trump to weaken Biden for the 2024 election, he is doing exactly what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had the courage to refuse to do in 2019.
Pelosi, now a backbencher by choice, is just taking it all in, without pleasure. “For them to use [impeachment] in the frivolous way that they are is really a disservice to the country,” she said on MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show,” adding, “This is almost silly, except that it’s so serious.”
Yes, it is serious. Only the Republicans are not. They alone are treating impeachment as if it were just another hammer in the political toolbox, cheapening its power now and for the foreseeable future.
Donald Trump has successfully made up his own rules in the political arena, but in the legal arena, he will have to adhere to the rules that apply to all. That’s why a witness such as Molly Michael is so dangerous to him.
We just learned the broad strokes of what Michael, an assistant to the former president at Mar-a-Lago, told special counsel Jack Smith’s team investigating Trump’s mishandling of classified documents. It builds on what we already knew about Trump’s obstruction of justice in the case, particularly after the Department of Justice finally lost patience with his intransigence and issued a subpoena for the documents remaining at his Florida estate.
News reports this week led with the startling new detail that Trump sent Michael notes and to-do lists carelessly scrawled on the back of classified documents. It’s a memorable snippet that drives home Trump’s indifference to classification and national security.
For a prosecutor, however, that was among the least of the revelations from Michael, known as “Trump Employee 2” in the first federal indictment of the former president. What marks Michael as a blockbuster witness is her singular ability to tell the story of Trump’s conspiracy to obstruct justice in unimpeachable terms.
Prosecutors evaluate a witness from the vantage point of not just the substance of their testimony but also how persuasive they will be to a jury and how vulnerable to cross-examination.
Because it’s safe to assume that Trump won’t take the stand and therefore can’t challenge witnesses’ accounts by testifying, cross-examination will be his team’s main strategy for trying to create reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds. And every other witness in the case has at least some vulnerability to skillful cross-examination.
Trump’s aide Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos de Oliveira, who were also charged in the case, could end up testifying for the government. But they would be subject to accusations that they’re fabricating or shading their accounts to get out of a legal jam.
Yuscil Taveras, the Mar-a-Lago IT director also known as “Trump Employee 4,” lied to investigators before getting a new lawyer and telling them that he was asked to delete security footage. A capable cross-examiner can always draw blood from an admitted liar.
Trump’s attorneys also have at least a potential opening against Evan Corcoran, who told a federal grand jury he was “waved off” searching Trump’s office while trying to comply with a subpoena for all classified documents in Trump’s possession. They can suggest that Corcoran is trying to obscure his own culpability for the advice he gave Trump at the time.
Michael has none of these potential blemishes. Hired as an assistant at the White House in 2018 before joining him at Mar-a-Lago, she was reportedly uncomfortable with and unwilling to participate in his efforts to hide the records from law enforcement officials. She reminded him that maintenance workers and others knew about the boxes of classified files in a storage room at the estate, according to the indictment. She personally gave him a picture of scores of boxes stacked up against a storage room wall.
Michael apparently didn’t rush to tell authorities everything she knew but did draw a clear line at trying to deceive them. She found and turned over the classified documents with Trump’s notations. And she appears never to have hesitated to abide by her legal duty to tell the truth.
She also has detailed knowledge of the conspiracy to hide documents from the FBI. She dealt personally with Trump and Nauta. She brought some of the boxes of documents to Trump’s residence for his review.
And most damningly, when Trump learned that FBI agents wanted to talk to Michael, he told her, “You don’t know anything about the boxes.”
Given the plain evidence that Michael knew plenty about the boxes, and that Trump knew she knew, a reasonable juror could only interpret such an instruction as a patent effort to obstruct justice. You can almost hear members of the jury gasping at the revelation.
Many prosecutions have relied on high-level associates — think mafia underboss Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano or, in Trump’s case, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — turning on their former bosses. Prosecutors use such witnesses when they must, knowing they will have to weather brutal cross-examinations and must be presented to jurors as flawed but credible.
But prosecutors would prefer to make their cases with unimpeachable witnesses — the mild-mannered mob accountant or honest low-level aide with no ax to grind. In the classified documents case, that is the role Michael is likely to play to the former president’s great detriment.
Attorney General Merrick Garland sat in front of the House Judiciary Committee in their quest to take down the president’s son, Hunter Biden, in hopes that some of the mud they’re slinging sticks to Joe Biden.
Rep. Jim Jordan tried a bizarre approach, hammering Garland today, asking, “Who decided that David Weiss would stay on as U.S. attorney?” Former President Donald Trump appointed Weiss a U.S. Attorney in 2018 and began investigating Hunter Biden in 2019, and I think Jordan should know that.
NOTE: Special counsel Jack Smith garnered hundreds of hours of grand jury testimony given by Republican witnesses. I’m sure they will object to that, too. These aren’t normal people. Because they sure do seem mad at a lot of Republicans while trying to take down a Democratic President.
“Let me ask one last question real quick here,” Jordan said. “Who decided that David Weiss would stay on as U.S. attorney?”
“This occurred before I came,” Garland explained. “Mr. Weiss had been kept on. I promised the…”
“No, I didn’t say — you can walk all through that,” Jordan said. “I said, who decided? The White House decided. Mr. Weiss — They serve at the pleasure of the president, right?”
“Mr. Weiss was…” Garland said before being interrupted again by Jim Jordan.
“Joe Biden decided to keep David Weiss as U.S. attorney,” Jordan insisted. “You weren’t sworn in until March. He was — he was — he was — he was — he was told he was going to stay on.”
“And then in February — Your time has expired,” Jim said. “Pretty fundamental question. Who decided David Weiss was going to stay as U.S. attorney in Delaware?”
Jordan was then told his time had expired twice.
“I’m waiting for an answer, and then I’ll — and I’ll yield to you,” Jordan shot back, even though he didn’t give Garland a chance to answer the question.
“Mr. Weiss was the special U.S. attorney from the District of Delaware when I came on,” Garland told Jordan. “He had been appointed by President Trump. I promised that he would be permitted to stay on for this investigation, and that is what happened.”
This is a fishing expedition with a lot of projection added in. It was Trump who weaponized the Department of Justice, not Biden. Just because Trump did it doesn’t mean that Biden did — or would. He started the hearing with a lie anyway. That’s not good form, Jim.