Happy Friday! If you’re going to throw a gender reveal party this weekend, please go a different route from this dude in New Hampshire, whose use of 80 pounds of Tannerite caused “an explosion that shook homes in neighboring towns.”
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
After more than two weeks of massing troops and armaments to the Ukraine border, Russia’s defense minister announced an end to its military exercises in occupied Crimea and near eastern Ukraine. “I believe that the objectives of the surprise check have been fully achieved,” Sergei Shoigu said Thursday.
In his opening remarks Thursday at an international climate summit, President Joe Biden unveiled his administration’s goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent from 2005 levels within the next nine years. “These steps will set America on a path of net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050,” he said.
The House voted entirely along party lines on Thursday (216-208) to make Washington, D.C. the 51st state in the union. The White House has said President Biden supports the move, but the measure will almost certainly stall in the Senate.
The Senate voted 94-1 on Thursday to pass a bill that seeks to address rising hate crimes against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic by bolstering hate crime reporting at the local level and creating a position at the Department of Justice to focus on the issue. Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley opposed the measure, which will now head to the House of Representatives.
A preliminary report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Moderna and Pfizer’s COVID vaccines are safe for pregnant women to receive. “Preliminary findings did not show obvious safety signals among pregnant persons who received mRNA Covid-19 vaccines,” the study’s author writes. “However, more longitudinal follow-up, including follow-up of large numbers of women vaccinated earlier in pregnancy, is necessary to inform maternal, pregnancy, and infant outcomes.”
Labor Department data found that initial jobless claims dropped by 39,000 to 547,000 in the week ending in April 17, marking a pandemic low.
The United States confirmed 64,972 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 4.3 percent of the 1,496,602 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 911 deaths were attributed to the virus on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 570,312.* According to the Centers for Disease Control, 38,876 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 2,995,734 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 135,791,031 Americans having now received at least one dose.
A Way, Way Too Early 2024 GOP Primary Check-In
It’s Friday, April 23, and you know what that means: Approximately 1,019 days until the 2024 Iowa caucuses! (If both parties opt to keep the Hawkeye State first, that is, which is not a given after the Pete Buttigieg/Bernie Sanders fiasco last year.)
You may think it’s too early to start thinking about the next presidential election—Joe Biden hasn’t even hit 100 days in office yet. We’re inclined to agree with you. But you know who doesn’t think it’s too early? The throng of Republicans who are gearing up for a White House run. Some of the top contenders are already working overtime to carve out a space for themselves.
In the past few days, Axios reported that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s friends believe he’s going to mount a bid, and Politico received a tip that former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was in Miami recently to meet with Mayor Francis Suarez and “gauge the 43-year-old Republican as a potential running mate in 2024.” Sen. Tim Scott—who will be delivering the GOP rebuttal to President Biden’s address to Congress next week—just happened to be in Davenport, Iowa for a fundraiser last week. Funnily enough, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Tom Cotton, Gov. Kristi Noem, and Sen. Rick Scott have all made pit stops there in recent months as well. Haley, it was just announced, will be headlining the Iowa Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner in June.
If Donald Trump decides not to run for a second term in three years, the number of Republican candidates could be eye-popping. In addition to those listed above, former Vice President Mike Pence, Govs. Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, and Larry Hogan, and Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Marco Rubio are likely to try their hand. Younger members of Congress like Reps. Elise Stefanik or Dan Crenshaw could use a run to build their national profile; other lesser-known candidates may be rising stars within two years as well.
Currently languishing in the political wilderness, the GOP’s post-Trump direction is undefined—and lots of ambitious politicians will convince themselves in the coming months and years that they are just the one to define it.
But it’s far from certain Republicans are in a post-Trump era. If they aren’t—and current trends hold—then the field will be a heckuva lot smaller. “I would not run if President Trump ran,” Haley told reporters last week, answering in the affirmative when asked if she’d support a comeback bid. Hawley and Rick Scott are on the record supporting Trump ’24, and Rubio has said he thinks the former president would win if he decides to run.
A mid-March survey from GOP pollster Echelon Insights found 60 percent of Republican and lean-Republican voters would “definitely” or “probably” vote for the former president in a primary if he were to run again, up 12 points from his post-January 6 dip in support. About the same percentage actively want Trump to lace up his boots one more time.
If he doesn’t, however, early indications are DeSantis has the most to gain. He led the Echelon survey with 17 percent, just edging out Pence’s 16 percent. Cruz, Haley, Pompeo, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson garnered between 4 and 5 percent, and no one else received more than 3 percent. (For his part, Carlson said on his show this week that “no one here is running for anything or plans to.”)
So much will change between now and the first votes being cast that horse-race surveys should be taken with massive grains of salt. At this point in the 2016 cycle, Christie, Rubio, and Sen. Rand Paul were polling as the race’s top three candidates, and no one was even including Trump’s name on their survey. But the surveys take a snapshot of the electorate’s mindset at any given time. They also help anchor the race—and, importantly, how media outlets cover it.
That latter point may have been on the mind of John Bolton—former Trump national security adviser turned vehement Trump critic—when his super PAC commissioned a poll released this week that he argued demonstrated Trump’s loosening grip on Republican voters. The survey showed Trump’s “very favorable” rating with GOP voters drop 19 points while his “somewhat favorable rating” increased by 12 points. 46 percent said they liked Trump’s policies but not his personality, and 44 percent of GOP primary voters said they’d vote for the former president again in the 2024 primary. Nearly nine in 10 said they care more about a candidate’s policy agenda than their loyalty to the former president.
Bolton said he was motivated to conduct the poll to test the pundit class’ assumptions that the GOP had “become a cult of personality.”
“I think there’s a myth and reality at work here,” he said. “The myth is, if Trump is for you, you’re in great shape. And if he’s against you, you’re toast. We tested the question of how it affects primary voters if Trump opposes a candidate and it shows something of a reality very different from the myth.”
Trump was paying attention: Within hours, his Save America PAC sent an email to reporters across Washington with the subject line, “Statement from Highly Respected Pollster, John McLaughlin.”
“President Trump is the strongest endorsement I have ever witnessed in politics,” it read. “Polling continually shows that when President Trump endorses, it almost always clears the field and puts his America First candidate on the path to victory. That’s why everybody is coming to Mar-a-Lago for his support.”
GOP Senators Release $568 Billion Infrastructure Plan
Senate Republicans unveiled an outline of their $568 billion counteroffer to Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan yesterday, signaling a new benchmark for future negotiations on infrastructure legislation. “This framework is meant to serve as a guide as we continue to develop bipartisan bills that will move by regular order,” the package’s two-page outline reads.
Prominently featured in the Republicans’ outline is a definition of what they believe infrastructure to be—a narrower definition than Democrats have been operating under of late. Roughly a quarter the size of Biden’s plan, the GOP proposal would direct $299 billion toward roads and bridges, $81 billion to public transportation systems and railroads, $65 billion to broadband internet infrastructure, $17 billion to ports and inland waterways, $44 billion to airports, and $14 billion to water storage. Another $13 billion would go toward motor, highway traffic, and pipeline safety and security. The investments would be spread over five years.
GOP Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, Roger Wicker, John Barrasso, and Pat Toomey presented the plan during a Thursday press conference. “This is the largest infrastructure investment that Republicans have come forward with,” Capito told reporters. “We agree that these bills are necessary and that the committees of jurisdiction forge the compromise.”
The GOP framework was more vague on how its backers would pay for the new spending, but unlike Biden’s American Jobs Plan—which would finance infrastructure projects by hiking the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from the current 21 percent—Republicans’ preference would be to lean on unspent funding from coronavirus aid and user fees. “We’re not interested in raising taxes,” Capito said. “We think that people that use our infrastructure are a lot of the solution. There’s a lot of private money out there.”
Democrats’ reception to the counteroffer was mixed. Many in the Senate harshly criticized the size and scope of the GOP proposal, citing Republicans’ unwillingness to raise taxes as their biggest concern. “It goes nowhere near what has to be done to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and the funding is totally regressive and anti-working class,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said.
“Any infrastructure proposal has to be green and cannot be paid for on the backs of working people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer added.
But the Biden administration was far more conciliatory. Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the White House views the framework as a “legitimate starting point” for negotiations. “We certainly welcome any good-faith effort, and certainly see this as that,” she said. “But there are a lot of details to discuss and a lot of exchanges of ideas to happen over the coming days.”
Sen. Chris Coons—a close ally of President Biden—said he was “encouraged” by the proposal as well, calling it a “serious attempt at providing a counteroffer.”
Sen. Joe Manchin may have something to do with his party’s rhetoric on bipartisanship. Back in March, the West Virginian was adamant in an interview with Axios that he was not on board with passing infrastructure through the reconciliation process. “I am not going to get on a bill that cuts [Republicans] out completely before we start trying,” he said.
If Manchin sticks to his word—and he reiterated the sentiment earlier this week—infrastructure will need 60 votes to pass, not 50. That means Democrats can’t just blow off Republicans like they did on COVID relief, when Biden invited GOP senators to the White House for negotiations only to plow ahead without their input.
Manchin could still flip if he decides Republicans aren’t operating in good faith. But that didn’t seem to be the case yesterday, when he called the GOP outline a “starting point,” and applauded his colleagues’ efforts to come to the table. “I appreciate and respect what she did,” Manchin said of Capito, his fellow West Virginian.
Could Police Reform Actually Get Done?
Policing has been in the news a lot this week, with the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial coming down, an officer in Chicago killing a 13-year-old who had just dropped a gun, and an officer in Ohio killing a knife-wielding 16-year-old who appeared to be on the verge of stabbing another teen. Each situation was tragic—for a variety of reasons.
In Washington, however, there may be cause for (cautious) optimism: Democrats and Republicans appear to be making incremental progress on bipartisan police reform after striking out last summer. Haley has the details in her latest Uphill—which you should be sure you’re subscribed to!
Who is doing the negotiating, and what are they saying?
South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who introduced a police reform bill last year, told reporters this week that his discussions with Democrats on the issue have been fruitful.
“We’ve made progress. We still have to make progress, but we have come a long way since last summer,” Scott said as he left a vote series Wednesday. “The important principles that are still outstanding, I think we’ve made progress on all of them.”
Scott is in talks with Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, alongside members of the House led by California Rep. Karen Bass, also a Democrat. Bass told CNN this week that she is hopeful about the odds of passing legislation soon. Under current Senate rules, any deal would require support from all Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to make it to President Biden’s desk.
“I am hopeful because the group of people where we’ve been having just informal discussions are very sincere, and it’s a bipartisan group, and I believe that we want to make something happen,” she said. “Senator Scott is a key. I think he has been a complete honest broker. It’s been very helpful working with him.”
What are the biggest differences that need to be hammered out?
Chokeholds: The House bill, titled the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, would establish more stringent use-of-force rules for federal officers and would require states and localities that receive certain federal funds to ban the use of all chokeholds. Sen. Scott’s JUSTICE Act, the Senate GOP bill, would also condition law enforcement-related federal funding for states and local governments on a requirement that they develop policies banning the use of chokeholds, except in instances where deadly force is authorized. It also calls for a similar policy at the federal level.
No-knock warrants: The Democratic bill would ban no-knock warrants at the federal level in drug cases and would encourage states and local governments to impose similar bans. Scott’s bill includes provisions to gather data on the use of no-knock warrants but does not ban the practice for federal law enforcement.
Body cameras: The House bill would require the use of body cameras and video recording in police vehicles for federal law enforcement officers. The Senate GOP bill does not include a similar requirement for federal officers. Both bills, however, would provide grants to boost the use of body cameras in state, local, and tribal law enforcement.
Qualified immunity: The Democratic bill would end qualified immunity, the doctrine that significantly shields law enforcement officers from liability. Republicans are largely opposed to ending qualified immunity, arguing police should have legal protections in the course of their work. Scott has instead proposed that the legislation could make room for legal action against police departments, agencies, and cities as a whole instead of individual officers.
Worth Your Time
You might remember that the House Republican Conference held a vote back in February over whether Rep. Liz Cheney should remain in leadership after she voted to impeach Donald Trump a few weeks earlier. Robert Draper has some incredible details on the leadup to that vote—and so much more—in his profile of Cheney for the New York Times Magazine. “Individual colleagues had confided in her that most of the conference was only too happy to move on from Trump—but saying so in public was another matter. To do so meant risking defeat at the hands of a Trump-adoring Republican primary electorate or even, many of them feared, the well-being of their families. In sum, it risked getting the Liz Cheney treatment,” Draper writes. “‘We’ve redefined what it means to be conservative,’ [former Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Matt Micheli] continued ruefully. ‘I could go through issue by issue, and I guarantee you I’d be more conservative than you on every single one of them. But that doesn’t matter anymore, right? It’s all about being angry and obnoxious and demonstrating how loyal you are to Donald Trump.’”
Millions of Americans continue to get COVID-19 vaccines every day, but millions more still have concerns. Kristi Gustafson Barlette, a writer for the Albany Times Union, was in the latter camp—but she changed her mind. She was far from a COVID denier and followed all the rules, but something about the vaccine worried her. She noted that she was “nervous” and “a bit apprehensive” when it was her turn for a shot, but ultimately decided it was the right thing to do. “Getting the vaccination wasn’t just for me, but for my children and for all the people around us who are not able to receive the shot, due to their immune system,” she writes. “It’s part of being a good citizen. A considerate human. And a good American.”
Presented Without Comment
Toeing the Company Line
On Thursday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah provide their reactions to the Derek Chauvin trial verdict, talk about potential issues on appeal, and break down Minnesota state law on the competency of a juror as a witness. They also discuss an interesting court filing involving Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and whether the law can or should protect employees from political discrimination.
Vital Interests author Thomas Joscelyn joined the latest episode of The Remnant to catch Jonah up on all things foreign policy. The duo touch on China, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Al-Qaeda.
As figures like Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens depict the outcome of Derek Chauvin’s trial as the result of a mainstream media-led smear campaign, David argues in his Thursday French Press that irresponsible press coverage of the police shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio lends unnecessary credence to the right’s bad-faith critiques. “The police shooting of 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was tragic and deeply, deeply sad. It was also nothing like the police murder of George Floyd,” he writes. “It is very wrong to treat cops who stop murders the same as we treat cops who commit murders. And there is no better way to harm the cause of justice than by treating an innocent man as guilty for the sake of an alleged greater good.”
Let Us Know
If you’re a Republican, who’s your very, very early 2024 pick? If you’re a Democrat, who are you most unenthused to potentially run against?
Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).
Correction, April 23, 2021: An earlier version of this newsletter had a typo in the cumulative COVID-19 death toll.