Political Animal

Abolishing the Electoral College Was a Republican Idea

I’m going to crib off of Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog a little bit in this post, but first I am going to quote him.

In 2000, if Gore had won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, and if the GOP perceived that Democrats had a structural advantage that made a similar outcome likely in future presidential cycles, not only would Republicans have been agitating to get rid of the Electoral College, they would have browbeaten Democrats and the mainstream media into supporting the move. They’ve always been good at that, while Democrats and the media have always been fearful of being attacked by the GOP. If they were unable to prevent the electors from choosing Gore, they might have refused to certify the results of the electoral vote. Even if they didn’t go that far, they would have made abolishing the Electoral College the #1 topic of conversation in D.C. throughout the transition and the first few months of the Gore presidency, painting opponents of change as haters of democracy. They also would have treated Gore as an illegitimate president, hamstringing him from Day One, using the circumstances of his victory as an excuse. It wouldn’t be long before angry consumers of conservative media were bombarding Democrats in Congress with furious messages demanding the end of the Electoral College. Support for the status quo would be portrayed as left-wing extremism. The Electoral College would have been gone or neutralized by ’04.

As Steve demonstrates, this is no idle speculation on his part. To prove his point, he dug up an old article from the New York Daily News that covered the Bush team’s threats to cause mayhem if he won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College:

“The one thing we don’t do is roll over,” says a Bush aide. “We fight.”

How? The core of the emerging Bush strategy assumes a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course. In league with the campaign – which is preparing talking points about the Electoral College’s essential unfairness – a massive talk-radio operation would be encouraged. “We’d have ads, too,” says a Bush aide, “and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted.

“Local business leaders will be urged to lobby their customers, the clergy will be asked to speak up for the popular will and Team Bush will enlist as many Democrats as possible to scream as loud as they can. “You think ‘Democrats for Democracy’ would be a catchy term for them?” asks a Bush adviser.

Things turned out differently. Gore won the popular vote and he should have won the Electoral College, too. But the Bushies kept their promise not to roll over and they fought live trapped badgers until their man was in the Oval Office.

This is all relevant today because the Democrats are getting tired of winning the popular vote and not the presidency. It happened again in 2016. Someone recently pointed out that the Republicans have only won the presidential popular vote once since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in 1989, but they still won three out of the seven contests held during her lifetime. Yet, as Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats push to abolish the Electoral College and some states move to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, the Republicans are acting like this amounts to treason.

If it’s treason, they were ready to commit treason nineteen years ago if they thought it would benefit them.

How the Nation of New Zealand Is Mourning

After a white supremacist gunned down nine African Americans attending a prayer service at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Barack Obama engaged the country in a moment of national mourning when he sang Amazing Grace at the memorial service.

Cultures all over the world have different ways of coming together to both grieve and celebrate the lives of those they have lost. Just a few days ago, a white supremacist attacked Muslims worshipping at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people and injuring 50 more. The Māori people of that island nation have provided the people of New Zealand with traditional way of coming together to mourn their loss. It is called “haka,” and various groups have been performing it in recent days, including everyone from students to bikers. Take a look:

The word that comes to mind as I watch those videos is “fierce.” There is a reason for that, as is explained in this video.

The haka is a statement of national pride in the face of adversity and a celebration of the triumph of life over death. When performed by the people of New Zealand in the face of the recent terrorist attack, it obviously allows mourners to bundle everything from grief to rage and express themselves physically in a very powerful way.

There are obviously some issues involved with all of this when it comes to cultural appropriation. But it is fascinating to see that the majority culture in New Zealand has appropriated such a fierce statement of rebellion from the Māori people. Students from a school affected by the recent attack even performed a haka for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when she visited.

By contrast, the United States attempted in the past to wipe out native cultures, fueled primarily by a fear of that kind of ferocity. To this day, nothing threatens many white people more than a fierce (i.e., angry) black or brown person.

It is incredibly moving to watch the people of New Zealand incorporate the haka into their mourning process. There might be some things for all of us to learn from their practice.

Florida Republicans Are Attempting to Nullify the Will of Voters

One of the most significant breakthroughs of the 2018 midterm elections was the fact that Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment granting ex-felons the right to vote “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” Prior to that, Florida was one of only four states in the country that permanently banned former felons from voting. It has been estimated that the amendment could add 1.5 million voters to the rolls.

But just as we’ve seen in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Utah, Republicans who control the Florida state legislature are attempting to subvert the will of the voters.

On Tuesday, a Republican-controlled committee passed a measure that would require felons to pay back all court fees and fines — even if they are slowly paying those costs back in a court-approved payment plan, for instance — before they can register to vote.

The bill has the support of Republicans in both the House and Senate, as well as Governor Ron DeSantis. So it is likely to pass.

It is important to keep in mind what these Republicans are talking about when they refer to “court fees and fines.” It isn’t limited to restitution offenders are required to pay to their victims. As in most areas of abuse in the criminal justice system, Florida is a leader when it comes to imposing fees and fines on offenders.

The Brennan Center for Justice has documented some of those abuses. For example, they reported on “The Hidden Cost of Florida’s Criminal Justice Fees.”

In this report, we focus on Florida, a state that relies so heavily on fees to fund its courts that observers have coined a term for it – “cash register justice.” Since 1996, Florida added more than 20 new categories of financial obligations for criminal defendants and, at the same time, eliminated most exemptions for those who cannot pay.

The report goes on to note that these court fees create a self-perpetuating cycle of debt that in some counties leads to a new form of debtors’ prison.

In addition to court fees, a growing practice in the criminal justice system is to charge inmates and parolees for the “services” they receive.

In the last few decades, additional fees have proliferated, such as charges for police transport, case filing, felony surcharges, electronic monitoring, drug testing, and sex offender registration.

In Florida, prisons are even allowed to charge inmates for the cost of their incarceration at $50 a day.

Given all of that, it isn’t difficult to imagine that ex-felons in Florida could be straddled with a lifetime of debt, even after they have served their time and/or completed probation. So the Republicans have come up with a plan that pretty much nullifies the intent of the voters in their state.

The reason this is such a big deal is that, even amidst all of the chatter about Rust Belt vs. Sun Belt, Florida remains the “swingiest” of swing states. The path to winning the White House is an arduous uphill climb for the party that loses the sunshine state. As Republicans attempt to stop ex-felons from voting, Andrew Gillum is about to announce the launch of a major voter registration drive.

The former Tallahassee mayor and Democratic nominee for governor is expected to formally announce the effort today at a speech in Miami Gardens. One of the groups working with Gillum — Bring it Home Florida, named after his signature campaign phrase — was registered last week by his supporters with the state election division overseeing third-party voter registration organizations…

“In this period of time, whatever resources that I raise and time and energy I spend in this state is going to be around voter registration and deep-level engagement, so that when we have a nominee, we have an apparatus we can turn on,” Gillum said in January.

When it comes to the most recent attempt to stop ex-felons from being able to vote, Gillum is on it.

As Republicans do everything in their power to suppress the vote, Democrats are fortunate to have talent like Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum working at the local level to take on the fight for voters’ rights.

It’s Not the Collusion, Stupid! It’s the Compromise.

Since I wrote “What the Mueller Report Should Look Like” on February 25, 2019, I’ve seen the conversation shift in the direction I suggested it should. On St. Patrick’s Day, former Justice Department official Marty Lederman made an argument almost identical to mine in the Washington Post. Essentially, he stated that the most important part Robert Mueller’s work is not the criminal, but the counterintelligence investigation. This is because the core duty of the Office of Special Counsel is to perform an assessment of the risks the country faces in the present and future, rather than a retrospective look at who may have committed crimes.

One useful way of stating this is that “It’s not the collusion, stupid! It’s the compromise.”

Here’s how Lederman described this, echoing my own argument:

The public has understandably focused thus far on the special counsel’s prosecutorial decisions. Mueller was hired in the first instance, however, to superintend an ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation. Although detection of crimes is often part of such an investigation, its principal function is not retrospective and punitive but forward-looking and preventive — to disrupt, or protect against, an ongoing foreign threat.

Mueller’s primary charge, in particular, is to ascertain the nature and extent of the Russian threat to the U.S. election system and any “links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” including, but not limited to, Trump himself.

It’s nice to have someone with more relevant experience and reach and credibility than me making these points, but what’s more gratifying is that the argument has now reached the intended audience.

…in an interview with NBC News, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he is steering his investigation in a new direction to focus on [the counterintelligence aspects] — and he will demand any relevant evidence compiled by the FBI or Mueller’s team.

The California Democrat also expressed concern that Mueller hasn’t fully investigated Trump’s possible financial history with Russia.

“From what we can see either publicly or otherwise, it’s very much an open question whether this is something the special counsel has looked at,” Schiff told NBC News.

Schiff said the public testimony from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that in 2016 Trump stood to earn hundreds of millions of dollars from a secret Moscow real estate project is a staggering conflict of interest that must be fully explored.

“I certainly agree that the counterintelligence investigation may be more important than the criminal investigation because it goes to a present threat to our national security — whether the president and anybody around him are compromised by a foreign power,” Schiff said. “That’s not necessarily an issue that can be covered in indictments.”

Anyone who saw the president’s performance in Helsinki should suspect that President Trump is compromised. I’ve argued for a long time that it has already been established that Trump is compromised. The fact that he was pursuing the Moscow Trump Tower project during the primaries was something that Putin knew, that Trump was denying, and that could have sunk his campaign if it was divulged. And that is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle indicating that the Russians know a lot of things about Trump that he doesn’t want revealed.

It’s good to know that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff now understands the product he most wants to see from Mueller is not a report on who he indicted or declined to indict, but Special Counsel’s internal assessment of who in the Trump administration or orbit, including the president himself, is a security risk because they’re subject to foreign control.

We can argue about which offenses are high crimes, low crimes, or forgivable crimes, but there can be no serious defense of a president who is compromised. There is admittedly more subjectivity involved in assessing someone’s security risk than in figuring out if they’ve violated a criminal statute, but we have a whole system for providing or denying security clearances. That’s the system we should be interested in.  It has brought all the government’s awesome powers to the task of looking at the president of the United States’ potential compromise by foreign powers.

What have they concluded?