In this edition: left-wing Democrats argue about a Supreme Court pick, New York Democrats build a monument to gerrymandering, and Nevada's governor talks 2022 (and a little 2024).
That's how some labor leaders and liberal activists described Judge J. Michelle Childs this week, hoping to blunt momentum for a potential Supreme Court nominee backed by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn. When the South Carolina Democrat described Childs as “a woman that will get universal support,” liberals got nervous; when he suggested that she'd get automatic support from South Carolina's Republican senators, they laced up their gloves.
“The fact that Lindsey Graham is vouching for her should give the White House pause,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, a campaign organization founded six years ago by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “It’s a coordinated campaign. When conservatives take power, they pick the most conservative justices ever. It's not clear, on our side, that we're picking the most progressive.”
Nobody arguing about this knows who President Biden will nominate. When asked by The Washington Post's Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim, the White House pushed back against liberal criticism of Childs's eight years at a corporate law firm, emphasizing her work on her state's Workers' Compensation Commission. But the chance to appoint the Supreme Court's first Black woman, which unified Democrats in 2020, is coming at a moment of maximum frustration for the party's left.
“I think the progressive movement should get in there and make known the type of Supreme Court justice they want to see,” said former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, who lost an August 2021 primary for a House seat in Ohio, in large part, over her criticism of Biden and Clyburn.
The argument over Childs is new, though Clyburn was pushing for the judge as a potential court pick even before Biden took office. In public, it started with a Jan. 31 article in the American Prospect, a liberal magazine that's urged the administration to take executive actions that poll well, like canceling a share of student debt and seizing the patents for drugs developed — as the coronavirus vaccines were developed — with taxpayer money.
Childs, wrote reporter Alex Sammon, was the only potential candidate on a semiprivate shortlist who'd represented corporations in labor and discrimination cases. While Clyburn touted Childs's compelling biography and her lack of Ivy League degrees, the magazine described her as the “typical corporate lawyer that the White House has purposefully tried to get away from in its attempt to remake the federal bench.”
This put on paper what some liberal strategists were saying behind the scenes. Our Revolution, which Turner had chaired between the two Sanders presidential campaigns, was the first well-known left-wing group to come out against her; others spoke for the first time to Stein and Kim this week. (The quotes at the top of this page came, respectively, from former Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen, Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson, and Geevarghese, who came to Our Revolution from the labor-linked group Good Jobs Nation.)
As Sammon wrote, Biden's lower-court picks have satisfied every faction of his party, even as the far left's top-priority legislation, the Build Back Better domestic spending plan, was choked to death in the Senate. Biden is the first Democratic president to take office with his party in control of the Senate, and with the minority Republicans unable to filibuster his judicial nominees.
Democrats killed the filibuster for lower courts in 2013, and Republicans killed it for the Supreme Court at the beginning of the Trump administration. Just as Trump used the new rules to confirm conservative judges with few or no Democratic votes, Biden had appointed more judges than any modern president during his first year, from a more liberal and racially diverse pool than any of his predecessors.
That, say Childs's critics, is one of the reasons they're warning against her. Clyburn had already angered the left by endorsing Biden, pushing him to a landslide win in South Carolina that helped him lock up the Democratic nomination. His junket of pro-Childs interviews had angered them again, with the third-ranking Democrat in the House noting that Graham and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) were likely to support Childs, and that she could be confirmed overwhelmingly.
“I know that Michelle Childs will have the support of several Republicans,” Clyburn told CNN.
Graham seemed to prove him right, using a Sunday appearance on “Meet the Press” to tout Childs, and telling Politico that three unnamed “guys in pickup trucks” at a garbage dump had told him they loved the idea of a justice who didn't get her J.D. from Yale or Harvard.
“Clyburn supporting anyone is a red flag. He is one of the most pro-corporate politicians in Washington,” said Cenk Uygur, the founder and main host of the Young Turks, a left-wing news network. “If Clyburn and Lindsey Graham agree on something, it’s an absolute guarantee that it’s something that is being pushed by corporate donors. And something progressives would be opposed to.”
Uygur, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2020, is more vocal than some Democrats who are hinting that Childs is the wrong pick. In an interview with Yahoo News, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that there was “no shortage of incredible, qualified, leading Black female candidates to serve on the Supreme Court,” which made it important to judge their views and their records.
“The question is, what is going to be that nominee's worldview?” she said. A spokeswoman for Ocasio-Cortez did not comment when asked what the New York Democrat was referring to. A letter being circulated by two other left-leaning Democrats, Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), made a similar point, and also named no potential nominee.
“For far too long, the Supreme Court has been dominated by pro-corporate justices,” Jones and Levin write in the letter. “Labor-minded jurists bring crucial knowledge and experience to the bench, experience that has not been brought to the fore in the Court’s decisions.”
Democratic skeptics on the left have a few weeks at most to make these arguments, with the president saying last week that he'll announce a decision “before the end of February.” They have a potentially rough year ahead when the pick is made, with several setbacks in the last week alone for candidates backed by the left-wing group Justice Democrats. That included a growing investigation into Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.); a new congressional map that obliterated a Tennessee congressional district where the left hoped to win; and a new map in New York that moved left-wing voters out of another targeted seat.
Childs's advocates, including Clyburn, say her nomination would inspire people and win Republican votes. A year into Biden's presidency, more Democrats, especially on the left, think the party's leaders have the wrong instincts. A bipartisan infrastructure bill that was supposed to help Biden had no effect, and polling showed the party's younger and more liberal voters tuning out the president.
“I think Build Back Better stalling is a huge problem,” said Cole Goodman, a member of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party's state committee, at a recent party meeting where members debated whether to endorse statewide candidates. “I believe that voting rights being stalled is also an issue. I also believe that things like the George Floyd Justice Act not being passed nationally is an issue. I believe stalling on student loans and student loan forgiveness is an issue, which is something he can do without Congress.” Goodman leaned over to make sure his words were making it into a reporter's recording device. “He can do that, which he should.”
Jeff Stein contributed to this report.
“Inside the campaign to pressure Justice Stephen Breyer to retire,” by Matt Viser, Tyler Pager, Seung Min Kim and Robert Barnes
The politics of telling a liberal justice when it's time to go.
“States moving fast after Congress failed to expand felon voting rights,” by Zach Montellaro
An election reform that used to be too hot to touch.
Accidental momentum for changing the Electoral Count Act?
Far-right allies prepare to take over Shasta County.
“Labor groups wary of potential Supreme Court pick backed by top House Democrat,” by Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim
Michelle Childs and her enemies.
“How much 2022 candidates are paying after endorsements,” by Lachlan Markay
Why buy a non-fungible ape cartoon when you can buy Bernie Kerik?
“Memo circulated among Trump allies advocated using NSA data in attempt to prove stolen election,” by Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman, Emma Brown, Jon Swaine and Jacqueline Alemany
The conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election keeps getting deeper.
New York Democrats are moving quickly to lock in a gerrymander that's incredibly friendly to their party. The 2020 census left the state with 26 House districts; the map includes 22 that backed Joe Biden in that year's election. Republicans who'd pointed to Illinois as a case study in Democratic hypocrisy found more to dislike about New York. They highlighted the most geometrically offensive seats, and asked how the party that yammers about saving democracy could defend such slanted districts.
“I'm looking forward to Merrick Garland suing NY over this preposterous gerrymander,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tweeted Monday, agog at a new 10th Congressional District that stretches all the way from Harlem to Bensonhurst and looks, from above, like one of the specially designed surgical tools in David Cronenberg's “Dead Ringers.” Garland, Cotton said, had sued only “GOP states” — so far, only Texas — over maps that locked in staggering partisan advantages.
A partisan gerrymander would have been illegal if H.R.1 got past a Senate filibuster, or if the Supreme Court had sided with plaintiffs in a Wisconsin anti-gerrymandering lawsuit a few years ago. None of that happened, so here we are: Democrats, in full control of the state's redistricting process for the first time, creating as few GOP seats as they think they can get away with. (The head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had actually wanted them to squeeze out one more.)
Shrinking the GOP's opportunities was the easy part. The party ended the 2020 election with five seats in upstate and western New York, and three in New York City and Long Island. Democrats broke apart those upstate seats, eliminating two competitive and Republican-held districts and creating just three deep red ones.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who flipped a Republican-trending north country seat in 2014, got a new 21st Congressional District that grabbed more conservative upstate towns. Donald Trump won her old seat by 10 points, and would have won her new seat by 18. Democrats kept their two western New York seats, centered in Buffalo and Rochester, while drawing new 23rd and 24th Congressional Districts that scooped up nearly everything else west of Ithaca.
The goal: Locking in Democratic strength upstate and making two swing seats much harder for Republicans to compete in. Deep-blue Binghamton was removed from the old 22nd District and given to the 19th Congressional District, shoring up Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.). Ithaca, a blue dot in the hypercompetitive 23rd District, was pulled into a new 22nd Congressional District. Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) announced his retirement before the lines were announced, and more conservative Republicans are now competing for a seat that backed Biden by 18 points, up from 9 points. Katko had run 9 points ahead of Trump in 2020; inside the new lines, that would have been good enough for a very narrow defeat.
The demolition crew had just as much work to do in New York, and it delivered, thanks in large part to the ability of mapmakers to count bodies of water as contiguous places on the map. The 11th Congressional District, which Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) flipped in 2020, will still contain Trump-friendly Staten Island. But it lost its old, narrowly Democratic strip of Brooklyn, and gained some of the borough's bluest neighborhoods, including Sen. Charles E. Schumer's (D-N.Y.) own Park Slope. The result: A seat that backed Trump by 11 points was replaced by one that voted for Biden by 9 points. The 2nd Congressional District in Long Island was cannibalized to turn the 1st Congressional District, narrowly carried by Trump in 2020, into a seat Biden carried by 11 points.
Like in other states where one party was hunting for an advantage, Democrats did all this by taking some safe precincts out of their own incumbents' districts. Just not enough to put any at risk. Republicans are expected to sue when Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signs the map, but candidates are already piling in to the new seats, and revealing just how convoluted some of these mergers were. Former Democratic representative Max Rose began running for his old seat, the 11th District, before the lines were drawn, when it was common knowledge that the party would do something — perhaps adding parts of ultra-blue Manhattan — to make it easier to win.
But the way that Democrats did this, including the addition of Park Slope, added tens of thousands of liberal voters — including former mayor Bill de Blasio (D), whose own home is just outside the district, but who's considering a run anyway. That could pit de Blasio, who lost Staten Island in both of his mayoral wins, against Rose, who ran ads in his losing 2020 campaign calling de Blasio “the worst mayor in the history of New York City.” And by combining Long Island's 3rd Congressional District with parts of Westchester County, the map may entice Westchester County state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi to run.
Democrats got a different kind of break in Pennsylvania, where they succeeded in kicking the adjudication of a new map from Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia A. McCullough to the Democratic-dominated State Supreme Court. McCullough is one of the most pro-Trump judges in the commonwealth, exciting Republicans in 2020 when she wrote that the lawsuits to toss out millions of absentee ballots on constitutional grounds had “established a likelihood to succeed on the merits.” On a campaign website, McCullough suggested that Trump had actually won the election, period. A deadlock between Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and the Republican-led legislature was always going to push the mapmaking process into court, and Democrats sued their way into one with a 5-to-2 majority for their party.
Perdue for Governor, “Complete and Total Endorsement.” Former Georgia senator David Perdue doesn't say anything in this ad, leaving almost all the talking to Donald Trump. “He was afraid of Stacey, the hoax, Abrams,” Trump says of Gov. Brian Kemp (R), whom Perdue is challenging. “Brian Kemp let us down.” After 15 months of efforts to overturn, then audit the 2020 election in Georgia — only to find no significant fraud — Trump doesn't need to explain what Kemp's offense was.
Friends of Brett Lindstrom, “Brett Lindstrom for Governor.” A Republican running for governor in Nebraska spends most of this ad on familiar images, family portraits and his conservatism. Most interesting is how he finishes the popular Republican litany — the third item he cites after being against abortion rights and pro-Second Amendment. He's “fighting to make sure elections are fair and transparent,” and illustrates this with imagery from Arizona's Republican-run ballot review last year.
Lee Zeldin for New York, “S.O.S.” When he started seeking the GOP's gubernatorial nomination, Zeldin expected a post-primary showdown with Andrew M. Cuomo. His first TV ad makes Cuomo the star, picturing him with Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) — Cuomo's two-time running mate, even if their relationship was frosty — and warns that the state is becoming unaffordable and corrupt under Democratic rule. “Former 82nd Airborne, so fighting's in his blood,” a narrator says of Zeldin.
Louie Gohmert for Texas Attorney General, “Louie Gohmert.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been running ads in East Texas, part of which Gohmert has represented in the House for 18 years, to prevent conservatives from considering the congressman as an alternative. Gohmert's ad follows on his reason for running: He believes that investigations into Paxton make him vulnerable in November, pointing out that Paxton ran behind most of the GOP ticket in 2018. “Democrats are licking their chops,” Gohmert says. “Look, he deserves his day in court, but Texans shouldn't be punished for his actions.” His closing promise: To be the “woke left's” nightmare.
Dr. Oz, “The MitraClip.” In paid TV ads, Mehmet Oz's U.S. Senate campaign is pummeling rival Dave McCormick over business ties to China. This digital spot goes in a very different direction: Oz just talks about a device he's patented to efficiently close tears in the ventricle that pumps blood between the heart's valves. That's it, a minute-plus of Oz describing how the device works and lifting it up as a story of how American technology has “made us number one in health in the world.”
Dave McCormick for U.S. Senate, “Dumb.” The other self-funding, prodigal Pennsylvanian continues his series of ads with one clear visual theme: the candidate, in a zip-up jacket, talking about his military experience and his readiness to fight the left. “Today, America's under attack, from the woke left, big tech and dumb government,” he says — the last part is new.
Nevada U.S. Senate race (OH Predictive Insights, 755 registered voters)
Catherine Cortez Masto (D): 44%
Adam Laxalt (R): 35%
Masto, elected narrowly in 2016, has never polled better this cycle, and even some internal Democratic polls have found a closer race. (Laxalt has primary competition, but has led the field in fundraising and endorsements.) Some of her advantage comes down to name recognition, with more than a fifth of voters not having an opinion of her or Laxalt. Some comes from her above-water approval rating, with just 36 percent of Nevadans saying they disapprove of the job she's doing. That's 16 points lower than President Biden's disapproval rating, and that's why Republicans who'd struggled to land hits on Biden in 2020 now link their opponents to him.
In the states
New Mexico. The candidate filing period ended on Feb. 1, with neither Democrats nor Republicans taking full advantage of a new map that made the state's three House seats more competitive. Taking Democratic precincts out of the 3rd Congressional District, which morphed it from a seat Joe Biden won by 18 points to one he'd won by 10, didn't attract new GOP challengers: 2020 nominee Alexis Martinez Johnson and perennial candidate J. Steve McFall were the only Republicans who filed, and neither has filed a fundraising report; Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.), who won a bruising 2020 primary, drew no challenger.
Democrats shifted votes from the 3rd District to make the largely rural 2nd Congressional District more winnable, but just two of them filed to challenge first-term Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.) — Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez and rural physician Darshan Patel. And four Republicans, including 2020 nominee Michelle Garcia Holmes, filed to challenge Rep. Melanie Ann Stansbury (D-N.M.), who won the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District in a special election last year. National Republicans, right now, are more optimistic about the race against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D); meteorologist Mark Ronchetti, who's led the field in fundraising and impressed donors by running a competitive race against Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D) last year, was one of five Republicans who filed.
Michigan. Democrat and immigration lawyer Hilary Scholten announced a second bid for a Grand Rapids-based House seat on Tuesday, setting up either a rematch against Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) or a race against a pro-Trump Republican trying to punish Meijer for his 2021 impeachment vote.
“The very foundations of our democracy are threatened by attacks on our electoral system,” Scholten said in a video posted to Twitter, “and working families are still struggling with the high cost of health care.”
Scholten's campaign outspent Meijer's in 2020, $3.8 million to $3 million, and Democrats saw the 3rd Congressional District moving their way thanks to Republican decline in the suburbs. Meijer won by 6 points, while Donald Trump was carrying the seat by 3, the closest margin since the district was created. That, obviously, was before Meijer impressed Democrats by voting to impeach the ex-president over stoking the Jan. 6 insurrection, then voting for the special committee to probe it. Trump has endorsed John Gibbs, but a few other pro-Trump candidates have remained in the race.
South Dakota. State House Minority Leader Jamie Smith will run for the Democrats' gubernatorial nomination, saying in a launch video that “[Gov.] Kristi Noem has been dividing us, rather than bringing us together” with her response to the pandemic.
“She's so focused on national policies that she's forgotten about everyday South Dakotans,” said Smith, a Realtor, who added that he'd respect the “will of the voters” on marijuana legalization and would expand Medicaid. Noem only narrowly won her first term in 2018, fending off a moderate Democratic challenger, in part, by reminding voters that he'd supported Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. State Rep. Steve Haugaard, a Republican, is challenging Noem from the right.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) won a close race four years ago, surfing a Democratic wave that put his party in full control of the state. He's now one of the GOP's top targets in the midterm election, with former senator Dean Heller, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo among the candidates running against him who argue that Sisolak bungled his covid-19 response and caused economic pain that other tourist-reliant states — chiefly Florida — avoided.
Sisolak came to Washington last week to take part in the National Governors Association's winter meeting, and sat down with The Trailer to talk about the pandemic, the new socialist leadership of Nevada's Democratic Party and whether Joe Biden should run for president again. This is a lightly edited transcript.
THE TRAILER: Can we start with how you're currently handling covid? We're seeing that even temporary restrictions or closures or mandates generate a huge backlash. How do you cope with that, and how do you keep things open?
GOV. STEVE SISOLAK: The first thing is to keep as many Nevadans as we can alive, and keep them from getting sick. Our hospital [numbers] are starting to come down … but we overwhelmed our health-care workers. I mean, my heart bleeds for these health-care workers on the front line that are working double and triple shifts, not getting a day off.
That being said, I don't want to take steps backwards. You've got to balance it with the economy and keep people working. And we've learned a lot about covid. People are quick to criticize and play Monday morning quarterback. You can ask Aaron Rodgers about being a Monday morning quarterback after you lose a game. It's easy to say, “I’d have done that different.” We're working in real time, making real life-decisions, and do the best you possibly can with the information that you have.
TT: Let's talk about Monday morning quarterbacking. The Republicans running for governor want to end every pandemic mandate, and say you could have taken the approach Florida took, a lighter touch in 2020.
SS: We could have had a lot heavier touch. Eight thousand Nevadans lost their lives. I'm glad it's not 12,000. It could have been 20,000. Who knows what it could have been? Our economy has come back stronger than any other state in the country. Gaming, our principal industry, set a record in 2021.
But you can't bring those lives back. I've seen covid bring out the best in people and the worst of people, and social media is not the place to go if you want to get your justification for what you've done, because the people that go along with it are usually not on social media, waving a flag. You get people that say, “You instituted masks too early. You did it too late. You shut down too early. You didn't shut down long enough.” You know? Everybody's an expert. I rely on experts, real experts, to provide me with advice that I think is necessary. [My] opponents are looking for political favor, I guess, by criticizing actions we took to keep people alive.
TT: Members of Democratic Socialists of America took over the party last year, and some party staffers simply left to start and independent operation to reelect Democrats. What's your relationship with the state party now?
SS: I try to get along with all the candidates and with both parties, if you call them that. All the different clubs. The parties are ways for people to get involved in the political process and express their views. I encourage everybody to do that. I'm confident that when push comes to shove, they're all going to be working towards the same goal: reelecting me, reelecting [Sen. ] Catherine [Cortez Masto], reelecting our congressional delegation, our state legislators. How do you get there? It's a messy process. It's the old story about making sausage. But I'm confident there's more commonality than there is differences. But just, you know, we are a very inclusive party. We want to be more inclusive, and that brings you extreme views. And that's not necessarily bad.
TT: And what's your reaction to the Republicans, who signed up as electors to Donald Trump, who submitted paperwork saying they were the real presidential electors?
SS: I think that it's a crime. There's no doubt in my mind that something needs to be done to not let people subvert our election system like that. I'm glad that the DOJ is focused on it.
TT: Do you see any kind of backlash to what came out of the summer of 2020, what the press calls a racial reckoning? The Republicans in this race are on the same page, saying the response was too permissive and drove up crime.
SS: I can tell you I spent 10 years on the Clark County commission. I was chair for six years. And we funded our police department better than many other states have funded the police department. The sheriff said he was willing to give money back, to use it for different resources! We increased the number of officers per 100,000 people in Nevada, because I think policing is extremely important. People want to go home and know that they're safe. When our crime rates are escalating in Nevada, in Las Vegas in particular, that scares people … and it's unfortunate that people, candidates, take these hot buttons and try to use them for political gain, when there is no truth to them whatsoever. We have not defunded police in Nevada.
TT: Last summer, the president suggested that the spike in inflation was transitory. Last fall he said the same about supply chain shortages. How satisfied have you been with the president's response to all of this? And I ask because since last year, Republican messaging and advertising has done a lot more Biden-bashing after ignoring him for much of last year.
SS: Yeah, there seems to be a lot of bashing in general, whether it's Biden-bashing or governor-bashing. There's a lot of that because I think a lot of people don't have answers or solutions other than to say I could have done better. What would you have done? “I'd have done it better.” Well, how would you improved it?
TT: Maybe they wouldn't have passed the American Rescue Plan.
SS: Is that what they're attributing inflation to? I don't know. But I can tell you that the general public just wants to see progress.
TT: Does it help the Supreme Court stopped the large employer vaccine mandate from going to effect?
SS: Some of the employers are happy about that. Some of the employees are happy. Some are not. Some wish that we have done more that way. I'm not going to overrule it. I'm not going to go the other way. I made that clear. That's what the Supreme Court did, and that's the law. When you meet health-care workers that had dozens of patients pass, and had to use their cellphones in order to FaceTime the loved ones that they're never going to see anymore, so that they can say goodbye — that kind of changes your perspective a little bit.
I think we need to be a little kinder as a society. You've got flight attendants get berated on an airline. Coffee shop baristas get hollered at. When did we get so uncaring about our fellow human beings? That's what it's resorted to?
TT: Do you think that the president will be a campaign asset in Nevada this year? And do you think he should run for reelection?
SS: I don't know if he should run for reelection. I think that's a personal decision he has to make. I know how much stress is on the governors across the country. I cannot imagine the amount of stress that President Biden is under. I saw him a couple of weeks back at Senator [Harry] Reid's funeral, and we had a chance to communicate just a little bit. You saw President Obama. He got to office with dark black hair and he left with hair as gray as mine. You can tell, the stress of the job. Is he an asset? To people that like him, he's a huge asset. The people that are his detractors, he's not an asset. You know, we'll stand in Nevada on our record what we've done.
… 12 days until school board recall elections in San Francisco
… 26 days until the first 2022 primaries
… 278 days until the midterm elections