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A Double Standard in Alito Flag Flap?
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A Double Standard in Alito Flag Flap?

Plus: GOP tries again to flip a Pennsylvania swing district, this time with a new candidate.

Happy Friday! Sometimes when we report on Congress, we feel like the dog that CNN reporter Haley Talbot brought to Capitol Hill Thursday. Don’t worry, boy, we also have to get dragged along by our superiors from time to time.

We will have no newsletter on Monday due to Memorial Day. We remember all the brave people who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may continue to live in freedom. See you all next Wednesday!

Up to Speed

  • Nikki Haley announced Wednesday that she will vote for former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden this fall. “As a voter, I put my priorities on a president who’s gonna have the backs of our allies and hold our enemies to account, who would secure the border—no more excuses—a president who would support capitalism and freedom, a president who understands we need less debt, not more debt,” she said at an event for the Hudson Institute, where she has recently taken a position. “Trump has not been perfect on these policies. I’ve made that clear many many times. But Biden has been a catastrophe, so I will be voting for Trump.” Haley added that Trump should reach out to the people who voted for her to win their votes.
  • But the Biden campaign has not stopped trying to court those supporters. Just hours after Haley announced that she would vote for Trump, the campaign held a Zoom call with supporters of the former U.N. ambassador, the Daily Beast reported Thursday. Since the day she suspended her presidential campaign, the Biden campaign has courted Haley voters as a potential bloc for the president—as Haley has continued to garner a significant percentage of the vote in primaries even after she dropped out. However, Biden’s recent decision to withhold certain weapons from Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza has been a deterrent to Haley voters who are considering casting ballots for him.
  • Meanwhile, Trump is attempting to make the most of his hush money trial that has mostly kept him in New York, holding a rally Thursday in the Bronx. “If you want to help, you must vote. I believe that we can win New York State,” he told the crowd. “We have levels of support that nobody’s seen before. … Don’t assume it doesn’t matter just because you live in a blue city. You live in a blue city, but it’s going red very, very quickly.” Trump has tried to court black and Hispanic voters throughout the campaign.
  • In Congress, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida jumped into the race to succeed Mitch McConnell as the Republican leader in the Senate. “I believe that our voters want us to use this leadership election to make a choice to upend the status quo in Washington,” he wrote in a letter to colleagues that the Wall Street Journal first reported Wednesday. “If you also believe this to be true and want a leader dedicated to that principle, I would be honored to have the opportunity to earn your support.” Scott, who challenged McConnell for the top Senate Republican position in 2022, joins Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and John Cornyn of Texas in the 2025 race.
  • The Senate on Thursday voted to block the cross-partisan border deal that Republican Sen. James Lankford authored along with independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy. Lankford and Sinema voted not to advance the bill after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer scheduled a vote on it, with Sinema accusing Schumer of using the bill as a “political punching bag.” The bill, which was especially contentious earlier this year as the parties attempted to tie it to Ukraine aid, comes as Republicans have tried to capitalize on a flood of illegal border crossings under the Biden administration.
  • On our site, John McCormack has reported on how school-choice advocates, working with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, successfully backed primary challengers to Republicans who joined with Democrats last year to kill a school savings account provision opposed by the state’s educational establishment. “Nearly a dozen incumbent Republicans were already either forced into retirement or defeated in the March 5 primary, while four more will learn their fate this coming Tuesday in runoff elections that will decide the future of school choice in Texas,” John writes. Read more about it here.

Alito Flag Fallout in Congress

Associate Justice Elena Kagan (left, rear) and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh (center, rear), Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (center, front) and Associate Justice Samuel Alito pose for an Supreme Court official group photo on November 30, 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP via Getty Images)

One week after the New York Times reported that an upside-down American flag flew outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito days before the January 2021 inauguration of Joe Biden, congressional Democrats are keeping up a steady drumbeat calling for the justice to recuse himself from cases involving Donald Trump—at the very least those involving January 6 and potentially many more.

“The more he recuses himself on just about anything to do with MAGA, Trump, DACA—any of these things—I would be happy,” Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono told The Dispatch Thursday. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine similarly said Alito must recuse “more broadly on cases” involving Trump. Do Democrats think Alito needs to recuse himself in any case involving a potential second Trump administration? “I’m going to avoid speculation on that point. Needless to say, my hope is that you don’t have a Trump presidency. But I’ll comment if and when it happens,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal told The Dispatch.

The case for recusal rests on the view that the upside-down flag was a symbol expressing support for Trump’s stolen election claims. Alito has defended himself by telling the Times that he had “no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag” and that it “was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.” Alito elaborated in an interview with Shannon Bream of Fox News that his wife, Martha-Ann, had asked a neighbor to take down a “F— Trump” sign, and the neighbor responded by posting another sign personally blaming Martha-Ann for the January 6 attacks and later used vulgar language toward her, “including the c-word.” Alito’s wife then flew the flag upside down. The move is seen as controversial because the inverted flag was a symbol taken up by some Trump supporters at the time of the Capitol riot. But seven months earlier, the Associated Press had described the symbol as “the universal signal of distress” when it was deployed during the George Floyd protests. (For a more thorough discussion of the incident, listen to the Advisory Opinions podcast).

Alito’s allies have argued that Democrats are applying a glaring double standard on the matter of recusal because Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself—not her husband—spoke out against Trump’s election in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign, and congressional Democrats did not call for her recusal from any cases involving Trump.

In July 2016, Ginsburg told the New York Times: “I can’t imagine what this place would be—I can’t imagine what the country would be—with Donald Trump as our president. … For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be—I don’t even want to contemplate that.” She said that if her late husband were around to see a Trump presidency, he would have said: “Now it’s time for us to move to New Zealand.” A few days later, Ginsburg doubled down in an interview with CNN, calling Trump a “faker” and saying: “He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns?” Ginsburg then apologized for her comments, but she never recused herself from cases involving Trump, including one about the disclosure of Trump’s tax returns. 

Why didn’t Senate Democrats call for Ginsburg’s recusal following her public comments opposing Trump during the 2016 campaign? “Because I don’t remember her doing that. I don’t remember her doing that. And, like, who said that she did that?” Kaine told The Dispatch. When The Dispatch pointed out those Ginsburg comments were made in on-the-record media interviews, Kaine replied: “I don’t know. I would have to see that to believe that to be true.”

Asked the same question about why she didn’t call for Ginsburg to recuse, Hirono replied: “Why don’t we deal with the issues that are before us now?” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told The Dispatch: “I don’t know what cases she was ruling on at that point. They [Republicans] weren’t asking for [recusal].”

Blumenthal, who like Whitehouse and Hirono sits on the Judiciary Committee, told The Dispatch: “She probably should have recused herself as well.”

But did Blumenthal call for recusal at the time? “I don’t remember whether I called for it at the time,” Blumenthal replied. (There is no record of Blumenthal or any Senate Democrat calling for Ginsburg to recuse herself from cases involving Trump.)

Asked if congressional Democrats had applied one standard for Ginsburg and another for Alito, Blumenthal said: “What Alito did was—what he has done—I think there’s a clear distinction. Repeatedly and continually, he has stated clearly and unequivocally his political support for Donald Trump, not just the flags, but the op-eds he’s done, and other statements that he’s made and speeches to the Federalist Society.”

Multiple Senate Republicans have said it was bad for an upside-down flag to be flown outside the Alitos’ home, but they have been dismissive of new Democratic furor over a second New York Times report that a Revolutionary War-era “Appeal to Heaven” flag (also carried by some January 6 supporters) flew outside of the Alitos’ vacation home in New Jersey. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, said to the Huffington Post earlier this week about the upside-down flag incident: “Emotions are apparently high in that neighborhood but no, it’s not good judgment to do that.” But on Thursday, Graham dismissed the new report about the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, telling The Dispatch, “this thing goes back to George Washington.” As for Democratic calls that Alito needs to recuse himself from cases involving Trump, Graham said: “I will not support that.”

GOP Tries a New Tack to Oust Persistent Pennsylvania Democrat

For the last two cycles, Republicans have failed to topple a resilient Democratic incumbent in an increasingly red swing House district in Pennsylvania. But after narrowly losing twice with the same MAGA-minded nominee—plagued by accusations of carpetbagging, to boot—the GOP has finally turned to a homegrown candidate making a broader appeal to swing voters.

Last month, Republicans nominated businessman Rob Bresnahan to take on six-term Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat who represents Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District, located in the state’s northeast corner and includes Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton. Republicans coalesced around Bresnahan rather quickly, with Speaker Mike Johnson endorsing him in early January. That set up Bresnahan to run unopposed in the April 24 primary. 

“I’m born here. I’m raised here. I created jobs here. I went to the University of Scranton,” Bresnahan told Dispatch Politics in an interview last week. “Virtually every single investment I’ve ever made has been back into this community, whether it’s through real estate redevelopment and revitalization, or through a litany of various different nonprofits, including which is a board of directors for a cemetery. So I know ultimately I’ll be buried in northeastern Pennsylvania.”

Long before Bresnahan entered the race, Republicans had already identified Cartwight’s seat as a prime pick-up opportunity. Cartwright was first elected in 2012, winning by 21 points. Since then, Cartwright’s margin of victory has shrunk in every election. He won in 2020 by fewer than 4 percentage points, the same year Donald Trump won the district by nearly 3 points. Cartwright’s margin in 2022 was just 2 points, and the race was one of the many underwhelming performances for GOP House candidates across the country that year.

The party’s nominee in both those races was Jim Bognet, a political consultant born in the district but who spent much of his professional life living and working in other states. In 2020, his Republican primary opponents accused him of being a carpetbagger, giving Democrats plenty of fodder to follow suit in the general election in 2020 and 2022.

What’s more, in the leadup to his second run against Cartwright, Bognet made several statements casting doubt on the results of the 2020 election. He claimed in January 2022 that “non-verified, universal mail-in voting was the main tool used by Democrats to skew the election against President Trump, [failed House candidate] Sean [Parnell], and me in 2020.” He also said in his 2022 campaign’s launch video that “on election night, I was up by over 10,000 votes, just like President Trump, but Gov. [Tom] Wolf changed the rules of the election in the middle of the election.”

In his interview with Dispatch Politics, Bresnahan did not repudiate Bognet’s rhetoric about 2020 when asked, though he did steer away from the subject.

“Listen, Joe Biden’s our president. That’s who we have right now, and in November we have to replace him,” Bresnahan said.

Avoiding the “stop the steal” issue is no accident. Christopher Borick, a professor and director of Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, says Bresnahan has a general strategy to appear mainstream.

“He’s also not exposed himself, I think, to claims that he’s too far to the extreme of the Republican Party,” Borick told Dispatch Politics. “I noticed recently he supported Mike Johnson in his bid to hang on to the speakership. By taking that position, he’s counter to many of the MAGA-aligned members of the House like Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

After Greene threatened to trigger a vote on her motion earlier this month, Bresnahan denounced the gambit in an X post, saying the American people did not need “another speaker fight that accomplished nothing and more uncertainty.” He made similar comments in an interview.

“The motion to vacate on Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy was the first day on our campaign trail,” Bresnahan told Dispatch Politics. “And, you know, the amount of people that came up to me … encouraging me, giving me words of affirmation, saying, ‘This is why you need to go there, Rob. This is the dysfunction that we’re talking about, that we are all so sick and tired of seeing unfold.’”

To beat Cartwright, Bresnahan will need to compete not only with the incumbent’s experience but also his money. Cartwright raised over $1.3 million in the first quarter of 2024 compared to Bresnahan’s $728,000, which included $400,000 he loaned his campaign. Cartwright also closed that period with over $3.1 million on hand, while Bresnahan had about $834,000.

Notable and Quotable

“Evan Gershkovich, the Reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who is being held by Russia, will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office. He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will do that for me, but not for anyone else, and WE WILL BE PAYING NOTHING!”

—Former President Donald Trump in a Truth Social post, May 23, 2024

John McCormack is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was Washington correspondent at National Review and a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. When John is not reporting on politics and policy, he is probably enjoying life with his wife in northern Virginia or having fun visiting family in Wisconsin.

Charles Hilu is a reporter for The Dispatch based in Virginia. Before joining the company in 2024, he was the Collegiate Network Fellow at the Washington Free Beacon and interned at both National Review and the Washington Examiner. When he is not writing and reporting, he is probably listening to show tunes or following the premier sports teams of the University of Michigan and city of Detroit.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.