* The top political news of the day is that Bob and Maureen McDonnell are guilty, guilty, guilty:
RICHMOND — A federal jury Thursday found former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption — sending a message that they believed the couple sold the office once occupied by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to a free spending Richmond businessman for golf outings, lavish vacations and $120,000 in sweetheart loans.
After three days of deliberations, the seven men and five women who heard weeks of gripping testimony about the McDonnells’ alleged misdeeds acquitted the couple of several charges pending against them–but nevertheless found that they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in a nefarious exchange for his largesse.
The verdict means that Robert McDonnell, who was already the first governor in Virginia history to be charged with a crime, now holds an even more unwanted distinction: the first ever to be convicted of one. He and his wife face decades in federal prison, though their actual sentence could fall well short of that. U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer set a sentencing hearing for Jan. 6, 2015.
The moment the first guilty verdict was read, Bob McDonnell closed his eyes tightly, shaking in his seat as he wept.
Maureen McDonnell seemed to cry, too, though with her back to the courtroom, her tears were less obvious. At the eighth guilty count, Bob McDonnell buried his face in his hands. By the end, he was slumped in his chair, still crying.
What’s the world coming to when a politician can’t take a couple hundred thousands of dollars in cash, loans and gifts from a CEO in exchange for the promise of official state action? There’s no justice, I tell ya.
* Today the full D.C. circuit court of appeals decided to hear the Halbig case, setting aside the ruling by a three-judge panel that a phrase buried deep in the text of the Affordable Care Act meant that millions of low- and middle-income Americans should have their health insurance subsidies taken away. Sarah Kliff explains why this is good news for the law’s supporters.
The real significance of today’s announcement is how it affects the Supreme Court. The architects of the lawsuit had already petitioned the justices, asking them to take up the case and issue a final, authoritative ruling. (Simon Lazarus wrote about that request in these pages last week.) But the best pretext for the justices to take the case would be a split among Circuit Court rulings—i.e., one decision upholding the lawsuit and one rejecting it. As of this morning, that split no longer exists. One Court (the Fourth Circuit) has ruled unanimously to reject the lawsuit while another one (the D.C. Circuit) has decided to bring the case before its full panel of judges.
Most legal experts I know think the justices will, at the very least, wait to see how the full D.C. Circuit rules before taking the lawsuits seriously. The D.C. Circuit rehearing is set for November and that court probably won’t issue a ruling until spring or summer of next year. If those judges end up reversing the decision, the Supreme Court justices might pass on the case altogether, although two other cases are in much earlier stages of the judicial process and could still produce conflicting rulings. As Andrew Koppelman, a constitutional law expert at Northwestern University, notes, “If the Court was going to blow up Obamacare, it would have done so in the big case in 2012. After Roberts paid a big political cost for doing that, why would he now adopt this hyper-technical and unpersuasive legal argument, yanking away benefits that a lot of people are already receiving?”
Of all the arguments and cases against the ACA, Halbig was undoubtedly the most cynical, a naked attempt to sabotage the law by screwing over huge numbers of Americans.
* Jamison Foser catches Joni Ernst in a truly spectacular feat of hypocrisy, in which she attacks her opponent Bruce Braley for suggesting in 2006 that raising the Social Security retirement age might be necessary at some point in the future, on the very same day she suggests raising the Social Security retirement age might be necessary at some point in the future.
* Meanwhile, Braley is up with a new ad hitting Ernst for supporting a “Personhood” amendment, expanding the number of Senate races in which Dems are moving to make this a major issue.
* And this ad from the DSCC hits Scott Brown for wanting to cut Medicare, showing again that Dems are trying to make this an issue once again after successfully doing so in many Senate races in 2012. Strange how Republicans always end up vulnerable to this attack.
* Dan Diamond explains: While lots of Americans are working part time, there’s no evidence it has anything to do with the ACA as so many conservatives claim, particularly since the employer mandate doesn’t take effect until 2016.
It is no great surprise that Congress will avoid most of the big issues, fail to finish work on bills that need final action, keep up its scandal focus, and be in Washington as little as possible. Congressional Republicans can almost taste a big victory in November, including taking a majority in the Senate and solidifying their majority in the House. Midterm elections are focused on the president and the president’s party; the worse he is doing, the better for the party out of the White House. So for Republicans, scandal mongering, blasting presidential fecklessness, and minimizing signing ceremonies where the president can declare victory, are far more potent than accomplishing legislative goals or moving to solve big problems. Meantime, for Senate Democrats, with a lot of incumbents up in tight races, votes on controversial issues are radioactive.
* Yesterday, Kansas Democratic Senate nominee Chad Taylor dropped out of the race, giving independent Greg Orman a real shot at ousting incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts. But today, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whom Josh Marshall accurately describes as “the nation’s top voter suppression advocate,” declared that Taylor has to stay on the ballot no matter what.
* Peter Beinart on how the horrific beheading of two American journalists appeals to the Jacksonian impulse to avenge an offense to national honor, but that this emotion may not be the best guide to decision-making.
* And finally, in my look at Senate projections this morning, there was one I left out, developed by Drew Linzer for Daily Kos. As of today, it shows Democrats with a 56 percent chance of holding the Senate.