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As Trump attacks Biden on China, he’s playing a weak hand

As vice president, Joe Biden chummed around with China’s Xi Jinping from South Gate to Beijing, boasted of tutoring him on American politics during long walks and quiet dinners, and even helped him forge partnerships with Hollywood movie moguls.

President Trump subsequently worked just as hard to charm the Chinese autocrat, guiding him on a tour through Trump’s gilded Florida resort, posing for a joint portrait in Beijing’s ancient Forbidden City and repeatedly praising his “friend” for controlling the coronavirus outbreak.

For Xi, such coziness with America’s leaders was invaluable as he consolidated power at home and argued for China’s preeminence on the world stage. Those same moments have become toxic for both Biden and Trump, however, as they contend for the presidency with U.S.-China relations as bitter as at any time in memory, and Xi the symbol of America’s failed policies from trade to pandemic control.

For all of Trump’s own chumminess with Xi, his campaign sees voters’ anti-China sentiment as one of his most potent weapons against Biden, echoing a strategy Trump used in 2016 to portray Hillary Clinton as a globalist more eager to rebuild the U.S.-China relationship than to protect American manufacturing and tech jobs. Yet that isn’t proving an effective cudgel for Trump this go-round — not after 3 ½ years of his own missteps with China.

“We’ve squandered credibility, but with very little strategic gain” said Jude Blanchette, a China expert at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies, in assessing U.S. policy over the Trump years. “We’ve done nothing to dent China’s view of the world or change its strategy.”

During Trump’s presidency, China has furthered its incursion into the disputed South China Sea, given little in trade deals despite U.S. tariffs that have boomeranged on American farmers, cracked down on democracy activists in Hong Kong and put religious minorities in concentration camps in Xinjiang, all with little resistance.

As U.S. influence ebbed and warring administration factions clashed, Trump has vacillated between hurling racial slurs — blaming China both for the coronavirus’ spread and for the resulting American job losses — and continuing to flatter Xi as Trump grasps for a more favorable trade deal.

Multiple polls show Trump no longer holds an advantage on the question of which candidate Americans believe would better handle China. And the enthusiasm some top Chinese Communist Party officials express for Trump’s reelection — believing the U.S. is an ever-weaker adversary with him in the White House — is a damning endorsement for a leader trying to present himself as a bulwark against an ascendant rival superpower.

With all this baggage, another politician might avoid the China topic. Not Trump.

Even the recent, embarrassing revelations by Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton, that the president sought help from China toward his reelection have not deterred a strategy of trying to brand the former vice president as “Beijing Biden.”

The president and his team believe Biden will pay a heavy political price for the sharp turn in public opinion against China, so long as they keep the attacks coming.

Trump renewed his assault this month in a meandering Rose Garden polemic that blamed Biden for all the challenges the Trump administration has encountered with China, including its crackdown on Hong Kong. (Bolton, in his tell-all book, wrote of Trump’s assurances to China that he saw Hong Kong’s governance as “a domestic Chinese issue,” in keeping with Trump’s pattern of ambivalence toward international human rights.)

Biden does have his own record on China to answer for, not only as vice president but also, before that, as a senator deeply involved in foreign policy. Were he facing an opponent more effective than Trump, and less culpable, Biden might be in a tough spot. He was central to an Obama-era policy that even administration alumni now acknowledge was too patient, too often defaulting to conciliation over confrontation.

Ely Ratner, a former Biden advisor now at the Center for a New American Security, co-wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2018, “Nearly half a century since Nixon’s first steps toward rapprochement, the record is increasingly clear that Washington once again put too much faith in its power to shape China’s trajectory.”

“The Obama administration was a little slow in realizing how assertive Chinese foreign policy was going to be and the extent to which China was going to crack down domestically,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Biden’s dealings with China date to at least 1979, when as a senator he joined an American delegation to meet the new leader, Deng Xiaoping, during a period when China and its economy remained largely cut off from the West. During the Obama years, he spent endless hours cultivating Xi, who early on was China’s vice president and heir apparent. President Obama’s team sensed that China would continue moving toward democracy and capitalism when Xi ascended to the presidency.

Critics’ warnings that the United States was misreading Xi, and risked getting played, proved prescient not long after Xi became president in 2013.

China quickly reneged on assurances Biden helped extract from Xi that Beijing would cease its military aggression in the South China Sea. The disputed waters, valuable for shipping lanes and natural resources, are considered vital to American allies in the region. Human rights abuses escalated inside China. And a deal Biden brokered to curb Chinese government-sponsored cyber theft ultimately unraveled.

On Wednesday, such cyber theft drove the Trump administration to order the closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston, an extraordinary escalation in the tension between the U.S. and China. Beijing retaliated on Friday, ordering the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu closed.

Stephen K. Bannon, an informal advisor to Trump and the leading architect of his populist 2016 campaign, called confronting China “the single strongest issue” for Trump and “a huge vulnerability” for Biden.

Bannon, in an interview, called Biden “a useful idiot” to the Chinese Communist Party. He predicted that Biden’s tough posture on China of late will not make white working-class voters forget what Bannon characterized as a record of appeasement: “He’s going to have to defend that in the upper Midwest.”

Yet it is Trump who is losing ground with those voters, even as his campaign spends big on advertisements that target Biden’s China record and the president and his allies raise the issue at every opportunity.

Biden “cannot undo what he has done in the past by lying to the American worker,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a recent call with dozens of reporters. Republicans are spotlighting past Biden remarks that sound tone-deaf now, including one last year when Biden mocked rivals warning about China’s economic threat and said its leaders are “not bad folks” and “they’re not competition for us.”

Biden supporters are increasingly confident that the voters who in 2016 rebelled against establishment Democrats like him are coming back as they see the results of frayed international alliances, isolationist trade policies and inattention to human rights. Biden attributes America’s inept response to COVID-19 in part to Trump’s failure to work with other nations, including China when necessary.

Biden-style diplomacy, Democrats argue, enabled the United States to exert international pressure on China that proved effective in confronting its human rights abuses and forcing cooperation in areas where it was in the American interest. They cite Xi’s support of the Paris agreement on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and international efforts to isolate North Korea until it forfeits its nuclear weapons. Trump has renounced all three of those policies.

The Obama administration’s main effort to counter Chinese economic influence, the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, fizzled after Trump withdrew the United States from it during his first month in office. While the other Pacific Rim nations held to the agreement, it was a far less effective counterweight without America’s economic heft.

“Biden’s underlying policy has really been, it’s better to talk than not talk,” said David M. Lampton, a China scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “And, don’t make threats you can’t deliver on.”

Biden does point to his role in incremental achievements in China to bolster his claim to be a steady hand who can bring allies together to build U.S. influence.

Midway through the Obama administration, he was in China when it announced a “military defense zone” in the airspace of U.S. allies in Asia, declaring planes could not fly through it without Chinese permission. “He pushed back in a way that caused the Chinese to cease and desist its efforts to try to enforce it,” said Daniel Russel, Obama’s assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, who was traveling with Biden at the time. “He made it clear that we were going to keep flying through the area, and that Japan and South Korea were 100% with us.”

On an earlier trip, Biden jousted with the Chinese premier, who taunted the American delegation about a credit downgrade of U.S. treasury bonds and warned that China expected its large bond holdings would be repaid. Go ahead and liquidate them, Biden countered — China owned a small fraction of U.S. debt and wouldn’t find a better investment elsewhere.

Biden has spent little time defending his own record, however, trying instead to link Trump’s poor record on the pandemic response to his overall dealings with China.

He’s attacked Trump’s move, before the virus hit the United States, to hollow out a U.S. disease-response team that had been in China, and the president’s erratic comments as the virus spread. Trump alternated between praising Xi for controlling it — a tactic Trump believed would help win trade concessions — and blaming China for spawning a “plague,” the “kung flu” or “the China virus,” slurs that have hindered cooperation that many disease experts say is crucial to investigating the pathogen.

The Bolton book, released last month, proved an unexpected boon for the Biden campaign. Bolton reported that Trump consistently pushed his own political interests over the national interest in negotiating with China, including “pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win” election by boosting purchases of American soybeans and wheat. And, Bolton wrote, Trump told Xi he “should go ahead with building the camps” that detain more than a million Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority, in Xinjiang, calling it “exactly the right thing to do.”

The administration disputes the account. But when it comes to the candidates’ battling about China, the revelations in Bolton’s book seem to be taking a bigger political toll on Trump than Trump’s attacks on “Beijing Biden.”

By early July, a couple of weeks after Bolton’s book began circulating, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll asked voters whom they trust more to deal with China. It was no longer a toss-up, as in earlier polls: Biden was favored by 10 percentage points.

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GOP unveils second stimulus plan with $1,200 checks for Americans

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a $1 trillion coronavirus aid plan Monday that includes a second round of direct payments to Americans.

McConnell introduced the HEALS (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools) Act during a speech on the Senate floor on Monday.

“We have one foot in the pandemic and one foot in the recovery. The American people need more help,” McConnell said.

Also on Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer called the stimulus proposal “totally inadequate.”

“They can’t even put one bill together they are so divided,” Schumer said.

Despite issues that remain over some items in the aid package, direct payments are expected to easily make it through bipartisan negotiations. President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and McConnell were all in agreement that there should be another round of $1,200 in money for most Americans.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Saturday the next round of direct payments would be based on the same formula from the earlier aid bill. Then, people making $75,000 or less received the full amount and those making more than $75,000 received less, depending on their income. People earning above $100,000 did not qualify for the payment.

“We’re prepared to move quickly,” Mnuchin said after he and Mark Meadows, the president’s acting chief of staff, spent several hours with GOP staff over the weekend at the Capitol. He said the president would “absolutely” support the emerging Republican package.

Republican disputes over what to do with enhanced unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of July kept the $1 trillion plan from being unveiled last week.

The White House and GOP lawmakers reportedly settled on trimming the temporary federal unemployment benefit from $600 weekly to about 70% of pre-pandemic wages — a move that didn’t sit well with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats.

McConnell’s HEALS (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools) Act was expected to include $105 billion to help reopen schools, $25 billion for virus testing and McConnell’s top priority of a liability shield to protect businesses, hospitals and others against COVID-19 lawsuits.

Though McConnell and The White House came to an agreement on an aid package, not all GOP Senators are happy with the plan.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he doesn’t support the GOP legislation as proposed. He argued for lifting taxes and regulations he says are “hammering” small businesses. Cruz also argued for a payroll tax cut, which will not be in the bill. President Donald Trump had insisted on a temporary trim of payroll taxes, but both parties resisted the idea.

Cruz alleged that Pelosi isn’t working to solve either the virus crisis or the economic one.

“Her objectives are shoveling cash at the problem and shutting America down,” he said. “It’s just shoveling money to her friends and not actually solving the problem.”

If GOP Senate plan makes it through Congress this week, it’s possible checks could be distributed in mid to late August, according to a report from CNET.

“The president’s preference is to make sure that we send out direct payments quickly so that in August people get more money. There is no question this worked before,” Mnuchin said last week in a CNBC interview.

Lawmakers need to act with some urgency. The Senate is set for a recess after Friday, August 7 that would run through Labor Day.

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The Emergence of National Factions in Australian Labor

In the wake of Labor’s branch-stacking scandal in Victoria, attention has turned once more to the organized factions within the Australian Labor Party (ALP). While factions are decried as remnants of the Cold War or as patronage machines, the reality is more complex. Without understanding its factions, it is difficult to understand the party itself.

It’s crucial to grasp the factions’ self-told narratives as well as their ideological and historical influences. The Labor Left is home to a range of worldviews including Keynesian liberalism, militant laborism, Fabian social democracy, New Left social movements, and democratic socialism. The Left sees itself as the conscience of the party, seeking a government to represent broader social forces. It aspires to lead progressive change from inside the party, not simply use Parliament as a bully pulpit.

The Right is a heterogeneous Cold War alliance of anti-Communist social democrats, Catholic and pure-and-simple trade unionists, party officials, and Third Way neoliberals. They are united by a transactional approach to seeking governance, which, while rhetorically claiming to not be tied down by ideology, aims to deliver results to their social base. To quote former New South Wales (NSW) senator and right-wing power broker Graham Richardson, their ethos is “whatever it takes.”

Labor is a federal organization. Beyond the ALP National Executive, the true power lies in the state branches. In each state, factions operate very differently and are shaped by different branch rules. National factions are in reality alliances of these state-based factions.

Understanding the national factions is key to explaining the structures that constrain debate and silence dissent. It also sheds light on how the Left was sidelined under former prime minister Bob Hawke’s leadership before eventually compromising, which helps to contextualize the factional system since then. This, in turn, provides insights for possibilities within Labor.

While formal factionalism is often associated with postwar Labor, factions go back as early as 1916 when the conservative Australian Workers’ Union formed the “Industrial Section” in NSW.

Indeed, as historian Frank Bongiorno noted, there were many Labor Lefts prior to World War II: “they stretched back to the Australian Socialist League in the 1890s, through the industrial left of the First World War and its aftermath, the Langites and Socialisation Units, and the Hughes-Evans ‘State Labor Party’ with its Communist affiliations.”

The first of the present-day factions, the NSW Combined Unions and Branches Steering Committee (later the NSW Socialist Left), formed in January 1955. Initially formed to support federal Labor leader H. V. Evatt’s efforts against anti-Communist Industrial Groups, it gravitated leftward as more “moderate” elements were incorporated into the party machine.

However, it was not until the 1970s that today’s Left factions emerged at a state level as a result of local circumstances.

In Victoria, the Socialist Left formed after federal intervention in 1970 dislodged the left- and union-controlled Central Executive. Federal intervention into NSW in 1971 introduced proportional representation, transforming and institutionalizing the Steering Committee as an internal opposition to the NSW Labor head office. In Queensland, a broader reform group cohered into a Left around then-senator George Georges. In Tasmania, party reform in 1976 led to “Broad Left” dominance, leading them to formalize in 1983. The ACT Left Caucus was formed after a left-leaning candidate failed to be preselected in 1982.

While the modern national factional system did not emerge until the 1980s, an informal national left has existed since at least the 1950s. According to historian Paul Strangio, the “Left [was] loosely defined as it constituted little more than a small enclave in the federal caucus.”

Indeed, when Tom Uren joined parliament in 1959, he found no organized group of left MPs. As he recalled: “although a loosely knit grouping considered itself of that persuasion, it consisted mostly of anti-Catholics, although some members were militants or socialists.”

An older, “traditional left” enjoyed a majority on extra-parliamentary bodies, such as the Federal Executive, in the late 1950s. The split that saw the “Groupers” leave to form the anti-communist Democratic Labor Party helped to vouchsafe the Left’s extra-parliamentary majority through the 1960s. Yet as late as 1974, this was not reflected in Parliament. Former parliamentary left convener Ken Fry noted that when he entered parliament, the Left was centered around Tom Uren and Deputy Prime Minister Jim Cairns, a leader of the Vietnam Moratorium movement. Yet it did not meet regularly and it responded to events ad hoc.

While the political demise of Jim Cairns and departure of Senator Lionel Murphy to the High Court disoriented the Left in the lead-up to the dismissal of the Whitlam Government, by the latter half of the 1970s, it had regrouped and the Left had become the most organized grouping across the labor movement. Graham Richardson recounted that “At the beginning of the 1980s the Left was the only national faction.” He also recalled unsuccessful attempts to corral state anti-Left groups into a national grouping at the 1977 and 1979 National Conferences.

Two factors converged to reverse this situation. First, the 1981 ALP National Conference introduced proportional representation into Western Australia and South Australia. It was feared this would benefit the Left. State machines no longer fully controlled national delegations, making factional representation in other states more important.

The founding of the Centre-Left in 1984 was the second factor. The Centre-Left was an elitist alliance between parliamentary supporters of former Labor leader Bill Hayden (who had resigned in favor of Bob Hawke) and smaller state party officials who feared the move away from equal state representation at National Conferences would lead to a loss of influence. Given factionalization in NSW and Victoria, the Centre-Left focused on other non-factionalized states like South Australia and Western Australia.

This forced the Left and state-based anti-left factions to develop national structures, the Right effectively formed as an anti-Left “pro-Hawke coalition.” Over two years, the caucus and every state branch became factionalized.

Formal factions within the caucus and the creation of separate Inner and Outer Ministries have been justified as mechanisms to manage party and caucus conflicts, necessary to avoid the tumultuous experience of the Whitlam Government. The reality was a Government run by the Centre-Left and Right, with the Left largely locked out of Cabinet.

While the Left held around a third of the caucus, the first Hawke Cabinet included only a single left minister, Stewart West, who resigned within eight months in protest over a Cabinet decision to expand uranium mining. Despite scoring highly in the ministry ballot, leading Victorian left-wing MP Brian Howe was excluded from the Cabinet and given the position of the most junior minister. At the same time, the decision-making power of caucus was diminished, while the factions hardened and the number of non-aligned MPs declined.

Before 1990, the Left had only two Cabinet-level ministers. According to journalist Mike Steketee, “the position of the Left in the early years [of Hawke] is perhaps best described as being in government but not of it.

This was the result of a concerted effort. At its launch, leaders of the Centre-Left spoke of rejecting “extreme ideological positions” and guaranteeing party “stability.” Lacking a trade union base, support for “economic rationalism” — the Australian incarnation of neoliberalism — ran deep. For all these reasons, Centre-Left figures such as Finance Minister Peter Walsh were instrumental in facilitating the rightward shift of Labor, pushed by then-treasurer Paul Keating. This enabled Labor’s fiscally restrictive “trilogy,” which curtailed planned social wage-spending associated with the original Accord, while promoting a neoliberal agenda consisting of deregulation and privatization.

While the Left held a National Conference majority as late as 1979, by 1981, it lost its majority. Throughout the 1980s, it only held around two-fifths of delegates.

The combination of a binding pledge to accept caucus discipline and the combined Centre-Left and Right majority was fundamental to marginalizing the Left. Unlike other comparable parties, this formula does not allow for any level of meaningful dissent. Senator George Georges was a casualty of this — after voting against the Australia Card, he resigned before he could be expelled.

Pressure fostered divisions within the Left, widening the gulf between those incorporated into the Hawke Government and those excluded. Lindsay Tanner, later finance minister in the Rudd Government (2007–2010), described a division between “traditionalists” and “rationalists” that transcended factional boundaries.

The elevation of Brian Howe to the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet, in 1987, symbolized the Left’s incorporation.

Though the early Hawke Government opposed privatization, by 1986, it had shifted its position and began agitating for a change in the party’s platform.

In September 1990, a special National Conference changed the party platform to allow privatization. The conference approved the sale of the Commonwealth Bank, the airline Qantas, and Telecom.

The privatization of the Commonwealth Bank was a pivotal movement. A combination of bad management and the early 1990s recession saw the virtual collapse of a number of state-owned banks, including the State Bank of Victoria. This was used to wedge the Left: the new premier of Victoria, Joan Kirner, hailed from the Socialist Left. Yet she supported the partial privatization of the Commonwealth Bank, which was used to bail out the state-owned State Bank of Victoria. As Political historian Geoffrey Robinson argued, this bailout undercut the Left’s opposition to privatization.

In Victoria, internal turmoil followed. The state Socialist Left split in 1991, with one side forming the Pledge faction to oppose privatization. This was followed by a landslide electoral defeat.

Eventually, the Socialist Left lost control of Victoria in 1996 to an alliance between Pledge, another Socialist Left splinter faction called the Labor Renewal Alliance, and the right-wing Labor Unity faction. The fragmentation of the factional system in Victorian Labor with shifting alliances has continued to this day and has been an ongoing source of instability and conflict within the party.

By the mid-1990s, the Left’s incorporation was complete. Elected positions in the caucus broadly reflected internal factional balance while convention allowed the minority faction to hold leadership roles. Conflict was also ameliorated by the declining significance of uranium mining, defense, and foreign policy issues.

The remnants of the Centre-Left, which held the balance of power in both the National Conference and the National Executive, gave way in 2004 to a Right majority. By the mid-2000s, the Left and Right were all that remained of the national factional system of the 1980s.

The Hawke-Keating era was federal Labor’s longest period in office. In that time, the Left was first locked out of power before being allowed in, only to have their ideological worldview repudiated. The imprint of those years continues to linger half-consciously on the Labor Left. It was no longer outside of power but changed by it.

The Left was forced to choose between irrelevance and collaboration for concessions. The pledge to not vote against the caucus denied them the option of parliamentary rebellion, unlike the Socialist Campaign Group in British Labour.

Despite this history, there are still opportunities for shifts within Labor. While Labor has not returned to its pre-Hawke-Keating economic stance, there has been a gradual shift back towards laborism since the peak of neoliberalism within the party.

Any long-term gains still require critical engagement with Labor. Even where the Greens have governed in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, it has been as a junior partner to Labor.

Organizationally, the Right’s majority has waned. At the last two National Conferences, the Right held onto a very narrow majority through issue-by-issue deals with non-Right delegates. There is now parity on the National Executive.

NSW is the lynchpin for the Right. Formalized in 1979, the NSW Right (known as Centre Unity) emerged from a grouping of party officers who, since 1939, controlled the branch via an extremely gerrymandered State Conference. Only a national intervention can change it. However, this requires a shift in factional alignments, particularly in Victoria and the western states.

Recent shifts demonstrate this is possible. The Left took control of Queensland in 2014. The merger of the left-wing United Voice and the traditionally Right-aligned but militant National Union of Workers to form the left-aligned United Workers Union also has implications.

The loss of a Right majority at the National Conference and on the National Executive is the pathway to democratize NSW Labor, a move with far reaching consequences that could trigger a broader realignment within the party. Although the exact outcome is impossible to predict, this could transform Labor into a party with more internal contestation capable of sustaining fluid coalitions that leave behind historic Cold War divides. This may enable a more leftward turn.

Given the barriers in NSW and that Labor is not a mass party, left-wing organizing in other states may precipitate change. Queensland shows this is possible.

Just as Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid in 2016 and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign opened up possibilities completely unimaginable at the time, the end of a Labor Right national majority and democratization of NSW Labor has the chance to do something similar within the Australian Labor Party.

 

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Wealthy donors pour millions into fight over mail-in voting

By BRIAN SLODYSKO and THOMAS BEAUMONT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Deep-pocketed and often anonymous donors are pouring over $100 million into an intensifying dispute about whether it should be easier to vote by mail, a fight that could determine President Donald Trump’s fate in the November election.

In the battleground of Wisconsin, cash-strapped cities have received $6.3 million from an organization with ties to left-wing philanthropy to help expand vote by mail. Meanwhile, a well-funded conservative group best known for its focus on judicial appointments is spending heavily to fight cases related to mail-in balloting procedures in court.

And that’s just a small slice of the overall spending, which is likely to swell far higher as the election nears.

The massive effort by political parties, super PACs and other organizations to fight over whether Americans can vote by mail is remarkable considering the practice has long been noncontroversial. But the coronavirus is forcing changes to the way states conduct elections and prompting activists across the political spectrum to seek an advantage, recognizing the contest between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden could hinge on whether voters have an alternative to standing in lines at polling places during a public health crisis.

Some groups are even raising money to prepare for election-related violence.

“The pandemic has created a state of emergency,” said Laleh Ispahani, the U.S. managing director for Open Society, a network of nonprofits founded by billionaire progressive donor George Soros. “Donors who haven’t typically taken on these issues now have an interest.”

How much will be spent is unclear because many of the organizations are nonprofits that won’t disclose those details to the IRS until well after the election. Even then, many sources of money will remain unknown because such groups don’t have to disclose their donors, commonly referred to as “dark money.”

Tax filings, business records and campaign finance disclosures offer some clues. They reveal vast infrastructure that funnels money from wealthy donors, through philanthropic organizations and political groups, which eventually trickles down to smaller nonprofits, many of which operate under murky circumstances.

On the conservative side, organizations including Judicial Watch, the Honest Elections Project, True the Vote and the Public Interest Legal Foundation are litigating cases related to voting procedures across the U.S.

A substantial portion of the financing comes from Donors Trust, a nonprofit often referred to as the “dark money ATM” of the conservative movement. The organization helps wealthy patrons invest in causes they care about while sheltering their identities from the public.

In other instances, funding comes from charitable foundations built by the fortunes of Gilded Age industrialists.

Litigation is a primary focus. Democrats and good government organizations are pushing to eliminate hurdles to absentee voting, like requiring a witness’s signature or allowing third parties to collect ballots.

Conservatives say that amounts to an invitation to commit voter fraud. As these issues wind their way through courts, they say judges could decide complex policy matters that often were already debated by state legislatures.

“The wrong way to go about this is to run to court, particularly a week or two before an election, trying to get judges to intervene and second-guess decisions legislatures have made,” said Jason Snead, the executive director of the Honest Elections Project.

His organization is a newly formed offshoot of the Judicial Education Project, a group that previously focused on judicial appointments and received more than $25.3 million between 2016 and 2018 from the Donors Trust, records show. They are deeply intertwined with the conservative Catholic legal movement and share an attorney, William Consovoy, with the Republican National Committee, which has pledged $20 million for voting litigation.

Leonard Leo, a Trump confidant who was instrumental in the confirmations of the president’s Supreme Court nominees, plays a leading role. He’s now chairman of a public relations firm called CRC Advisors, which is overseeing a new effort to establish a clearinghouse for anonymous donors to fund conservative causes, including the fight over vote by mail.

The firm played a significant role in the 2004 election by publicizing unfounded claims made by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth, which questioned Democratic nominee John Kerry’s record as a Vietnam War hero, records show.

The group’s involvement in vote by mail marks a sea change for Republicans. Claims of widespread voter fraud have long energized segments of the party’s base. But it did not elicit much interest from donors, and the handful of groups devoted to the issue operated on minuscule budgets.

But in recent years, Democrats have mounted legal challenges that threatened voting laws championed by conservatives. And Trump’s repeated focus on “rigged elections” has made the issue part of a broader culture war.

Still, some activists question the GOP establishment’s commitment to the cause.

“They aren’t going to take on Republicans like we have,” said Catherine Engelbrecht, the founder of True the Vote.

While Republicans are focused on the courts and raising doubts about vote by mail, the challenge faced by Democrats is far more daunting.

In addition to litigation, they must mobilize their base during a pandemic. That includes educating the public about vote by mail, a difficult task when door-to-door canvasing isn’t an option.

Some groups are donating directly to local governments. In Wisconsin, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit with ties to left-leaning philanthropy, has donated $6.3 million to the state’s five largest cities to set up ballot drop boxes, help voters file absentee ballot requests and expand in-person early voting.

Even before the pandemic, government funding for elections was limited. Since then, the outbreak has escalated costs while cratering tax revenue.

“Due to COVID, there definitely has been a higher cost,” said Mayor John Antaramian, of Kenosha, which received $863,000 through the grant — roughly four times what the city budgeted for the election. “Is there a financial shortfall on that basis? Of course.”

Much of the untraceable money on the left is likely to come from a series of nonprofit funds managed by the consulting firm Arabella Advisors, which typically route upwards of $500 million a year to causes supported by liberal donors. The firm was founded by Eric Kessler, who served in Bill Clinton’s White House.

The operation has been instrumental in financing so-called resistance groups following Trump’s election. And some nonprofits they’ve provided seed money were responsible for millions of dollars in TV advertising that blistered Republicans during the 2018 midterms.

They’ve also pioneered the practice of creating “pop-up” organizations: groups that appear to be grassroots-driven efforts to influence public policy, which use trade names that obscure a deep pool of resources from those with ideological or financial motivations.

The firm recently registered a handful of trade names for groups that appear to be focused on voting rights, records show.

Another effort Arabella Advisors are involved in, the Trusted Elections Fund, aims to raise between $8 million and $10 million in case the pandemic leads to chaos in November.

The group is preparing for potential foreign hacking of state voting systems, “election day or post-election day violence,” as well as contested results.

A Trusted Elections Fund representative declined to comment. But a two-page summary available online elaborated on their aims.

“Philanthropy has a responsibility to make sure that we are prepared for emergencies that could threaten our democracy,” it read.

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Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa.

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Democrats Balk At New Republican Proposal For Pandemic Relief Bill : NPR

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, with President Trump at the White House. The GOP has unveiled a new pandemic relief bill but tough negotiations lie ahead with Democrats.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, with President Trump at the White House. The GOP has unveiled a new pandemic relief bill but tough negotiations lie ahead with Democrats.

Evan Vucci/AP

After days of delays, Congressional Republicans rolled out their proposal for a fifth wave of pandemic relief aid on Monday, setting the stage for a showdown with Democrats, who say the two sides remain far apart.

The plan, which was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., focuses on new funding for schools, a new round of payments to Americans and allows for some additional wage replacement for unemployed workers.

It also includes a marque issue for Republicans in this stimulus bill: new legal protections against lawsuits for businesses related to the pandemic.

“We have produced a tailored and targeted draft that will cut right to the heart of three distinct crisis facing our country: getting kids back in school, getting workers back to work and winning the healthcare fight against the virus,” McConnell, R-Ky., said from the Senate floor.

McConnell said the measure would be called the “HEALS Act,” or the Help, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act. Key committee chairs drafted the various components of the bill and introduced them later Monday in separate speeches on the Senate floor.

McConnell said the bill would include another round of direct payments to Americans, in the same amount that was in the previous CARES Act that Congress passed in March — $1,200 for individuals up to an income cap, with more for families with children.

McConnell also said there would be a supplement to unemployment benefits. However, he made clear he did not support extending the current $600 per week now in effect, saying of the program: “We have to do it in a way that does not slow down reopening.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley released details showing that the weekly supplemental payment would fall to $200 per week through September, and starting in October it would be replaced with an amount that would replace 70% of lost wages through a formula created by states. Those states unable to implement a new system could apply for a waiver and continue a fixed amount for up to two months.

Republicans and Democrats have feuded over how much unemployment support should replace someone’s lost wages — at, below, or more than what a worker was being paid before the economic disruption wrought by the pandemic.

In addition, McConnell indicated there would be money for schools, for testing, for additional loans to small businesses, and legal protections for health care workers and businesses. He said the bill would also include a plan to manufacture personal protective equipment in the U.S., to avoid the need to acquire a stockpile from China.

McConnell didn’t immediately unveil the costs of the bill, but it has been estimated to cost around $1 trillion.

Tough negotiations expected

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., faulted Republicans over their pandemic relief proposal because he said it came too late and was too stingy. Tough negotiations lie ahead.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP


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Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., faulted Republicans over their pandemic relief proposal because he said it came too late and was too stingy. Tough negotiations lie ahead.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The move sets in motion difficult negotiations ahead for Republicans and Democrats, with the parties diverging dramatically for this new effort in COVID-19 relief.

Earlier this year, Congress approved four rounds of relief aid in a matter of weeks, with talks between White House officials and Democrats cementing deals totaling about $3 trillion in aid.

Now, Democrats say Republicans should instead start with their proposal, known as the HEROES Act, approved by House Democrats more than two months ago.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., responded to McConnell with a speech of his own that faulted Republicans’ inability to settle their own positions, which he said not only wasted time but resulted in a proposal that doesn’t provide enough help. He called it “weak tea” and “too little, too late.”

Schumer mocked what he called Republicans’ fears about “big money donors” who object to helping workers as opposed to favored big industries.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, later called the unemployment assistance proposal “a punch in the gut and a slap in the face” to jobless Americans.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a House Republican until a few months ago, are expected to meet with Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her office on Monday evening.

Pelosi earlier on Monday had extended the invitation to her office within 30 minutes of Republicans rolling out their proposal.

“If Republicans care about working families, this won’t take long. Time is running out. Congress cannot go home without an agreement,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Congress is slated to begin its recess August 7, leaving negotiators a mere two weeks to wrap up negotiations and potentially send a bill to Trump’s desk.

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Black Rifle Coffee Company Teams Up With OSD & Soldiers’ Angels to Deliver Fresh-Roasted Coffee to Deployed Troops

SALT LAKE CITY, July 27, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Black Rifle Coffee Company (BRCC), America’s leading Veteran-owned and operated, premium, small-batch coffee roastery, is teaming up with Operation Supply Drop and Soldiers’ Angels to deliver more than 30,000 bags of fresh, roast-to-order coffee to troops serving overseas, veterans, and active reserves.

The delivery comes at the culmination of BRCC’s Independence Day “Buy a Bag, Give a Bag” campaign, a BRCC community-powered initiative designed to serve those who serve America. For every purchase of BRCC’s limited release Liberty Roast — a medium-bodied coffee with hints of almond, honey, grapefruit, minimal acidity, and maximum freedom — BRCC is donating a bag to deployed servicemen and women.

“For those of us who belong to the Veteran community, Independence Day has a special meaning,” said BRCC founder & CEO and former Green Beret Evan Hafer. “It represents a distinctly American tradition of making sacrifices for the people we care about and the ideas that make us free. The men and women still wearing the uniform are advancing that legacy. Because of organizations like Operation Supply Drop and Soldiers’ Angels that share our values and do the hard work to make these deliveries possible, we’re able to continue giving back to the men and women serving and sacrificing for this country.”

Through longstanding partnerships with Operation Supply Drop and Soldiers’ Angels, BRCC has been able to deliver hundreds of thousands of bags of coffee to active duty service members stationed all over the globe.

Operation Supply Drop, about whom Coffee or Die wrote, “Might be the coolest military support organization ever,” has been “Making Fun Where There Is None” by supplying video games, coffee and other bad*** items to troops deployed overseas and to installation recreation centers, day rooms and medical facilities state-side. To date, over 1.5 million games and over 2 million cups of coffee have been provided to our warfighters through this irreplaceable program.

“The value of a cup of coffee cannot be overstated, especially in the context of our programs,” said OSD & Operation Supply Drop CEO Glenn D. Banton, Sr. “We’ve had the pleasure of partnering with BRCC on numerous initiatives through a few of our companies over the years. We appreciate serving our brothers and sisters overseas and at home alongside a pragmatic, veteran-owned and unapologetically American company.”

Soldiers’ Angels global network of volunteers — representing all 50 states and 12 countries abroad — work tirelessly to ensure that those who serve or have served are supported, uplifted, and remembered through a variety of support programs.

“We are so grateful for Black Rifle Coffee Company’s long-standing commitment to give back to our nation’s service members and veterans. Thanks to their generosity, BRCC is helping Soldiers’ Angels in our mission to provide much-needed aid, comfort, and resources to the military veteran community. At a time when resources are stretched around the country, BRCC once again has gone above and beyond to serve our nation’s heroes,” said Amy Palmer, CEO and President of Soldiers’ Angels.

About Black Rifle Coffee:

Black Rifle Coffee Company is a veteran-owned and operated coffee company that specializes in premium, small-batch, roast-to-order coffee. Founded in 2014 by Green Beret Evan Hafer and Army Ranger Mat Best, Black Rifle develops their explosive roast profiles with the same mission focus they learned while serving in the military. They’re committed to supporting veterans, law enforcement, and the American way of life. With every purchase you make, they give back. Learn more at: blackriflecoffee.com/pages/about-us.

About Operation Supply Drop:

Operation Supply Drop™ is a part of OSD’s Veteran Support Ecosystem™. OSD is America’s Veteran Support Ecosystem™ enhancing lives through community engagement. Since 2010, OSD has enabled over 1,500,000 veterans, active military and their family members to thrive through award-winning initiatives including: Operation Supply Drop®, Games to Grunts™, Heroic Forces™, Heroes Gone Wild™, VETOBER® Foundation, 8-Bit Salute™ & 76 Operators™. Operation Supply Drop, Inc. dba Operation Supply Drop 501(c)(3) EIN 27-3842517. Learn more at: WeAreOSD.org & OperationSupplyDrop.org

About Soldiers’ Angels:

Soldiers’ Angels is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides aid, comfort, and resources to the military, veterans, and their families. Founded in 2003 by the mother of two American soldiers, hundreds of thousands of Soldiers’ Angels “Angel” volunteers assist veterans, wounded and deployed personnel and their families in a variety of unique and effective ways. (Tax ID# 20-0583415). Learn more at www.soldiersangels.org.

Media Contact:

Farahn Morgan

press@blackriflecoffee.com

276.393.5677

View original content:https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/black-rifle-coffee-company-teams-up-with-osd–soldiers-angels-to-deliver-fresh-roasted-coffee-to-deployed-troops-301100404.html

SOURCE Black Rifle Coffee Company

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Rep. Gaetz Files Criminal Referral Against Facebook’s Zuckerberg For False Statements

 Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz has filed a criminal referral with Department of Justice Attorney General William Barr against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for making false statements to Congress.

Gaetz said those “materially false statements to Congress” were while Zuckerberg was under oath during two joint Congressional hearings on April 10th, 2018 and April 11th, 2018.

Zuckerberg’s materially false statements were made during with the House Energy and Commerce Committee and also during a joint hearing where he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, stated the press release.

Gaetz’s referral contends that “Mr. Zuckerberg repeatedly and categorically denied his company engaged in bias against conservative speech, persons, policies, or politics and also denied that Facebook censored and suppressed content supportive of President Donald Trump and other conservatives.”

Once flagged by Facebook’s AI, moderators reviewed the filtered content, and adjudicated whether it qualified as removable. According to the Veritas report and undercover footage, the adjudicators were outspoken about their political bias against Republicans, and actively chose to eliminate otherwise-allowable content from the platform and from public view simply due to its political orientation. This arbitrary and capricious behavior is not done in good faith and falls outside of the express intent of §230 of the Communications Decency Act, which affords Facebook liability protection as long as the platform moderates content in “good faith.”

Additionally, these facts are in direct contrast to Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress where he stated under oath that Facebook is a politically-neutral platform, and that he personally is working to root out any employees who are restricting speech based on Silicon Valley’s overwhelmingly leftist culture.

From Gaetz’s letter to AG Barr:

“Project Veritas’ undercover footage shows that a great deal of “political speech” supporting the President was labeled “hate speech,” or was considered in violation Facebook’s “Community Standards.” At the same time, speech promoting violence against the President and his supporters was labeled as merely “political,” and was thus allowed to stay on the platform. For example, McElroy captured a shot of a Facebook corporate ruling that an illustration of a hand holding a knife slashing the throat of the President, captioned by “Fuck Trump,” would be allowed as political speech, despite being in clear violation of Facebook’s guidelines. In this case, the guidance to content moderators instructed them to watch for hostility directed at the gallery that posted the image.”

Project Veritas published the results of its undercover investigation in June, which featured two whistleblowers who worked as Facebook’s “content moderators.” Those whistleblowers revealed “that the overwhelming majority of content filtered by Facebook’s AI program was content in support of President Donald Trump, Republican candidates for office, or conservatism in general.”

If true, Zuckerberg’s company, which touts as being non-political, will be forced to face a criminal probe by the DOJ.

“Oversight is an essential part of Congress’ constitutional authority,” Congressman Gaetz states in the letter. “As a member of this body, I question Mr. Zuckerberg’s veracity, and challenge his willingness to cooperate with our oversight authority, diverting congressional resources during time-sensitive investigations, and materially impeding our work. Such misrepresentations are not only unfair, they are potentially illegal and fraudulent.”

James O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas, said in a Tweet that Gaetz’s decision came after his nonprofits expose on Facebook. This isn’t the first expose on social media giants. O’Keefe’s group has exposed similar actions taken against Trump supporters on Google, as well. This website also interviewed Google whistleblowers that have exposed bias inside their companies that led to serious concerns that the platform was being manipulated by the companies for political gain.

The letter refers Zuckerberg to the Department of Justice for an investigation into the false statements made to Congress while under oath.

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Washington bids farewell to civil rights icon John Lewis

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senior lawmakers participated in an invitation-only ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda to remember Lewis for his leadership in the civil rights movement and 33-year career in Congress.

“Under the dome of the U.S. Capitol we have bid farewell to some of the greatest Americans in our history. It is fitting that John Lewis joins this pantheon of patriots,” Pelosi said during the ceremony.

After Pelosi spoke, Lewis’ own voice came booming across the rotunda as excerpts from his 2014 commencement speech at Emory University played, followed by a standing ovation from attendees.

The roughly 100 members and other invited guests, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and biographer Jon Meacham, were arranged in seats around the Capitol Rotunda, spaced several feet apart, with Lewis’ flag-draped casket in the middle.

The bipartisan group of more than 100 members spent time mingling with each other, regardless of party, as Lewis’s casket made its way to the Capitol — celebrating his life with selfies and stories. Several lawmakers donned black masks with Lewis’ signature “Good Trouble” phrase emblazoned across them.

Lawmakers sitting in the rotunda, particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus, grew emotional during the tributes to Lewis. At one point, during a powerful rendition of Amazing Grace by vocalist Wintley Phipps, several members were openly crying and staff passed around a box of tissues.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), a close friend of Lewis, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) then placed two wreaths of red and white flowers on each side of Lewis’ casket.

After the ceremony, Lewis’ casket will be transferred outside to the Capitol steps for an outdoor public viewing through Tuesday evening — the first such ceremony of its kind, meant to accommodate coronavirus-related restrictions. Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, are among those expected to attend the public viewing.

President Donald Trump, who Lewis frequently criticized for his divisive politics, told reporters Monday he would not be visiting the Capitol to pay his respects.

The public memorial will look dramatically different from the ceremonies of other noted Americans because of the ongoing pandemic. Hundreds of people are still expected to line up to pay their final respects just beyond the Capitol, but they will need to stand entirely outside, spaced several feet apart with masks required at all times, on a day when D.C. has a heat advisory in effect with temperatures set to exceed 100 degrees.

In a sign of the heat impact, a sailor in the honor guard tasked with carrying Lewis’ casket into the Capitol briefly collapsed while waiting for the ceremony to begin outside.

The Capitol viewing was just one of several stops over recent days to honor Lewis’ storied life and indelible place in U.S. history. A horse-drawn carriage carried Lewis’ casket across the bridge in Selma on Sunday, where he was saluted by state troopers at the end, more than 55 years after members of that same police force nearly cost him his life.

A motorcade carrying Lewis’ casket made several stops in Washington on Monday before ending at the Capitol, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial; the Lincoln Memorial, where Lewis was the youngest speaker during the March on Washington in 1963; the National Museum of African American History, that Lewis fought for years to build; and Black Lives Matter plaza near the White House, where Lewis’ made his last public appearance in June.

Earlier in the day, the House unanimously adopted a resolution from Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to rename Democrats’ voting rights package after Lewis.

Lewis’ death comes at a watershed moment for the nation, as protesters continue to fill the streets in several major cities demanding immediate action to address decades of police brutality and systemic racism.

One of Lewis’ last public messages was to the Black Lives Matter protesters, who started the nationwide reckoning over racial justice after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police in May.

“To see all of the young people — Black, white, Latino, Asian American, Native American — standing up, speaking up, being prepared to march, they’re going to help redeem the soul of America,” Lewis said during a virtual town hall with activists and former President Barack Obama earlier this summer.

“We need to tell people, tell each other, to be hopeful, to be optimistic, and to never, ever give up,” Lewis added.

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SCOTUS & 2nd Amendment: Court Declines to Take Up Case After Roberts Signals Alignment With Liberals

Chief Justice John Roberts arrives to preside over the impeachment trial for President Trump at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The conservative wing of the Supreme Court reportedly declined to take up a case dealing with Second Amendment rights after Chief Justice John Roberts indicated that he would vote with the court’s liberal justices.

In June, the justices rejected petitions from 10 challenges relating to state restrictions on firearms after Roberts signaled he would not vote with them, depriving the court’s conservatives of the fifth vote needed to overturn gun regulations, CNN reported Monday.

In December, the Court heard a challenge to a New York City handgun regulation but ultimately determined that the challenge was made irrelevant when the New York City law involved was altered. The case revolved around whether licensed handgun owners may take a locked and unloaded handgun to locations outside the city, such as second homes or upstate firing ranges. The justices returned the relevant provisions of the challenge back to a lower court.

The four most reliably conservative justices were not confident that they would get a fifth vote from Roberts on the case or similar cases addressing the Second Amendment, according to unidentified sources cited by CNN.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh penned an unsigned opinion that was overseen by Roberts for that case in which six justices agreed that the case should be relegated to the lower court. In a separate statement that Kavanaugh signed, he said that the Supreme Court should address “soon” the issue of varying interpretations of the Second Amendment.

Roberts became a frequent deciding vote on the Supreme Court after Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018. Since then, the chief justice has voted frequently with the Court’s four liberal justices and most recently cast the decisive vote last month to block the Trump administration from ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which prevents immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children from being deported.

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From now on I won’t vote for SCOTUS nominees unless they say Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided

This is a sticky wicket for ambitious young conservative lawyers, as they’re usually careful not to show their cards on Roe lest it be used against them in a future confirmation hearing. You don’t need to show all of your cards, Hawley warned them in a new interview with WaPo, but I want to see at least one of them. Was Roe wrongly decided or not?

What he’s looking to do here is push the envelope on the so-called “Ginsburg Rule.” That refers to when a SCOTUS nominee refuses to answer questions about how they might rule on overturning Roe because to do so would violate their ethical obligation not to comment on matters that might eventually come before them on the bench. That’s fine, says Hawley. I’m not asking if you’d uphold Roe. What I want to know is whether you think Roe was wrongly decided.

I tend to view everything he does through the prism of his impending 2024 presidential campaign, which is unfair to him. Maybe he’s on the level with this. Maybe his old boss, John Roberts, disappointed him so gravely by joining the Court’s liberals in striking down Louisiana’s pro-life law last month that Hawley’s grasping for ways to avert similar betrayals by future justices. Pressing them on the merits or lack thereof of Roe is one way to gain a bit more insight into how they’re likely to rule on abortion issues, if not quite a guarantee.

But it’s hard not to notice that upping the ante this way on social conservatives’ cardinal policy issue won’t hurt him in the battle with Cruz and Cotton for populist votes in the primary four years from now.

“I will vote only for those Supreme Court nominees who have explicitly acknowledged that Roe v. Wade is wrongly decided,” Hawley said in an interview with The Washington Post. “By explicitly acknowledged, I mean on the record and before they were nominated.”

Hawley added: “I don’t want private assurances from candidates. I don’t want to hear about their personal views, one way or another. I’m not looking for forecasts about how they may vote in the future or predications. I don’t want any of that. I want to see on the record, as part of their record, that they have acknowledged in some forum that Roe v. Wade, as a legal matter, is wrongly decided.”…

Hawley, 40, a former law professor and clerk for Roberts, said in the interview that he is focusing on abortion ahead of the next Supreme Court nomination because he believes “Roe is central to judicial philosophy. Roe is and was an unbridled act of judicial imperialism. It marks the point the modern Supreme Court said, ‘You know, we don’t have to follow the Constitution. We won’t even pretend to try.’”

One obvious point here is that if Hawley’s serious about this, a hypothetical Trump SCOTUS nominee would be likely to lose at least one Republican vote in the Senate. That’s because purple-state senators like Susan Collins are destined to be squeamish about a judge who comes strolling into the hearing room boasting that they hated Roe before hating Roe was cool. At least three polls taken last year showed strong public opposition (67 percent or better) to overturning Roe. If a nominee said flatly that they thought Roe was wrongly decided, many would read that as a hint that they’d overturn the ruling if it came before the Court. Which means the nominee could either lose Hawley by refusing to comment on Roe or they could lose Collins — and maybe Murkowski, and maybe others — by giving Hawley what he wants and saying Roe was wrongly decided.

Which means GOP nominees would start at a disadvantage relative to Democratic ones, especially if other populist senators like Cruz decided to apply Hawley’s litmus test on Roe as well. Then there’d be entire blocs on either end of the caucus likely to vote no on the nominee because he/she either *will* say Roe was wrongly decided or *won’t*. And that’s a big deal potentially, since the best-case scenario for the GOP this fall right now looks to be a narrow Trump victory and a modest loss of a few seats in the Senate. Imagine Trump’s second term starting with a 50/50 Senate and the Collins/Hawley factions at loggerheads over Roe. How do you get anyone confirmed? If the plan is to let all the Collins-esque RINOs be purged from the Senate and start confirming justices with a 50-vote rock-ribbed conservative majority, it may be a loooong time before that’s feasible.

Ramesh Ponnuru identifies another problem with the Hawley rule. As the senator himself recognizes, thinking Roe was wrongly decided is no assurance that a justice will vote to overturn it:

A justice who had been on record against Roe would not be a lock to vote to overturn it, because of the force of precedent. Chief Justice John Roberts might well believe that Roe was wrongly decided as an original matter, just as he believes that Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was wrongly decided. But he voted to strike down abortion restrictions this year anyway, on the stated ground that precedent had to stand.

Amy Coney Barrett, the social-conservative favorite for the next seat on the Court, has hinted that Roe was wrongly decided but never explicitly said so — again, as young conservative legal stars tend to do. She’s also said that it’s “very unlikely” Roe will ever be overturned and that the “fundamental element, that the woman has a right to choose abortion, will probably stand.” If a seat on the Court opens tomorrow and Barrett won’t give Hawley the reassurance he’s seeking, is he … really going to vote no? Imagine that Collins, Murkowski, and Romney all decide to vote no as well simply because they believe the Merrick Garland precedent requires them to hold the seat open until after the election. Hawley would be the fourth vote to kill Barrett’s confirmation.

There’s no way he would cast that no vote. Not if he’s serious about running in 2024, and he is.

Here’s what’s clever about his “litmus test,” though: It’s highly unlikely that he’ll need to act to actually implement it. It’s mainly posturing for the base. Given the state of the polls, odds are that Joe Biden will be president next year and Hawley will be voting no anyway on Democratic SCOTUS nominees until he runs for president himself in four years. It’s possible that a Court vacancy could open up in the next five months, but Trump himself is destined to choose the most conservative candidate available given the base’s anger at Roberts’s recent abortion switcheroo. In fact, his aides are reportedly culling his shortlist to eliminate all but the most reliable righties on it. “The whole purpose of the list is to give hardline conservatives a guarantee that we will not be betrayed again,” said one Republican who’s close to the White House to Politico. Maybe there’ll be something in the nominee’s record that Hawley will deem “close enough” to saying Roe was wrongly decided that he’ll vote for them anyway. Or maybe Trump will have the votes needed to confirm the nominee even without Hawley, in which case Hawley might vote no harmlessly, to signal his seriousness of purpose.

The only scenario in which his litmus test is apt to make trouble for him this year is if the Senate is deadlocked 50/50 and his vote is needed to make a majority. That’s unlikely, if not impossible. As for a second Trump term, he can revisit his litmus test in January when he knows the composition of the next Senate. If Republicans are in the minority then it won’t matter how Hawley votes; Schumer’s going to block Trump’s nominees. If Republicans have a pared-down majority, it may be that the remaining caucus will be more conservative than the current one (e.g., Collins might lose in November) in which case the Hawley rule might gain traction as a litmus test among GOPers. If not, though, and if his vote looks to be decisive on confirmation, he’ll obviously find a loophole that justifies him voting to confirm. It’s simply unimaginable that he would sink a Trump Court nominee for any reason when he’s planning a presidential run and positioning himself to compete for Trump’s base. If Hawley has to choose between loyalty to POTUS and his litmus test, he’ll choose Trump. Under any other circumstance, given the great likelihood that his vote won’t matter, he’ll choose his test and be sure to remind social conservatives of it in 2024, early and often.