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The Morning Dispatch: Dems Poised to Capture Senate
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The Morning Dispatch: Dems Poised to Capture Senate

Plus: How today's raucous count of the electoral college votes will play out.

Happy Wednesday! Today is going to be an insane day. We’re simultaneously looking forward to and dreading telling you all about it tomorrow.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Georgians went to the polls yesterday to vote in the two U.S. Senate runoff elections, and—while the results are not yet official—Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff appear poised to come out victorious, which would give their party control of the Senate (with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking any 50-50 ties).

  • President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday banning Alipay and a slew of other Chinese apps, citing concerns that the apps vacuum up personal data from American users.

  • Police in Hong Kong arrested dozens of pro-democracy activists yesterday under the Chinese Communist Party-backed national security law that went into effect last July. It’s believed to be the widest use of the law to date.

  • A joint statement from the National Security Agency and its affiliated agencies announced Tuesday that “an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actor, likely Russian in origin” is responsible for the recent cyberattacks and security breaches of several federal agencies.

  • Kenosha County district attorney Michael Graveley announced on Tuesday he will not bring charges against Rusten Sheskey, the police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back on August 23, leaving him partially paralyzed. Graveley said it would be difficult for any case brought against Sheskey to prove he was not acting out of self defense.

  • Saudi Arabia announced yesterday that the kingdom will reduce oil production by 1 million barrels per day beginning in February. The move—which Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman said was made “with the purpose of supporting our economy”—will have the practical effect of raising oil prices worldwide.

  • University of Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy last night, becoming the first wide receiver to receive college football’s highest honor since 1991.

  • The United States confirmed 237,650 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 14.4 percent of the 1,652,108 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 3,840 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 357,228. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 131,195 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 17,020,575 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 4,836,469 have been administered.

Not the Night Republicans Were Hoping for 

In the two months since it became clear that both U.S. Senate races in Georgia were headed for a runoff, incumbent GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have been barnstorming the state presenting themselves to voters as the final “firewall” between America as we know it and an immediate descent into socialism. If their opponents—Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff—prevailed, Democrats would wrest control of the Senate away from Mitch McConnell and the Republicans by the slimmest of margins: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking 50-50 ties.

On Tuesday, the firewall did not hold. With more than 99 percent of the vote in, Georgians appear to have narrowly shown Loeffler and Perdue the door; as of 6 a.m. ET, Warnock led by about 49,845 votes, and Ossoff was ahead by 12,806. Election officials expect the count to be finalized by this afternoon. Network decision desks from Fox News to the Associated Press to NBC News projected Warnock as the winner in his race last night, while most held off on crowning Ossoff just yet. Some elections analysts—including Decision Desk HQ and Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman—projected Ossoff as the winner of his race as well.

Despite public polling that showed both Democrats leading their Republican opponents by about 2 percentage points, most GOP strategists entered Tuesday privately optimistic about Loeffler and Perdue’s chances. But that optimism began to melt away by the mid-afternoon, when the two GOP campaigns issued an ominous joint press release urging their supporters to get to the polls, saying “this is going to be a very close election and could come down to the difference of just a few votes in a few precincts across the state.” In all likelihood, they saw that their Election Day turnout numbers weren’t hitting the targets necessary to overcome the Democrats’ banked early votes.

As expected, however, neither Republican conceded last night. “This is an exceptionally close election that will require time and transparency to be certain the results are fair and accurate,” the Perdue campaign said. “We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted. We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”

Loeffler told supporters that “there are a lot of votes out there,” adding that “we have a path to victory and we are staying on it.”

If the results stand—and there’s no reason to think they won’t—they represent a remarkable fall for the Republican Party in Georgia, which has boasted two GOP U.S. Senators since Johnny Isakson first took office in 2005. David Perdue won his first race in 2014 by nearly 8 percentage points, and Isakson—who Loeffler was appointed to replace last year—won by nearly 14 percentage points in 2016. Republican Saxby Chambliss defeated his Democratic opponent in 2008, 57.4 percent to 42.6 percent.

The apportionment of blame for these losses has already begun in Republican circles, and President Trump is receiving the lion’s share of it. The GOP was hamstrung from fully making its best case—a Republican Senate as a check on the Biden administration—because acknowledging the reality of a Biden administration would likely provoke a vengeful Trump tweet. This weekend’s leaked call between the president and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger almost assuredly kept some suburban Biden voters from coming home and voting Republican down ballot. Months of voter fraud conspiracy theories and attacks against Republican election officials appear to have kept some base voters the GOP was relying on at home as well. Turnout in the county Trump rallied in on Monday night—which QAnon-friendly Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene now represents—was just 86 percent of what it was in November, per Wasserman. The growing anger with Trump among some congressional Republicans will undoubtedly intensify, while his most devoted supporters will seek to deflect any blame directed his way, ensuring the gap between Trumpist Republicans and non-Trumpists will grow. 

In the coming weeks, we’ll have much more on the opportunities this new balance of power presents Democrats in Washington. Biden will likely now have fewer issues getting his Cabinet picks—or judges—confirmed, and Senate Democrats will be able to move on some of their priorities through the budget reconciliation process. They will also control the chamber’s committees, dictating how the Senate spends its time and resources.

But it’s highly unlikely the election of Warnock and Ossoff on its own will allow Democrats to usher in a new Marxist era as Loeffler repeatedly claimed throughout the campaign. With just 50 senators, Democrats’ margin for error is zero—and their conference includes some pretty moderate members among its ranks.

Instead, Warnock and Ossoff’s (apparent) win will empower those moderate members, including Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, essentially giving them veto power over anything the Senate wants to accomplish. Manchin recently said he would vote against repealing the Hyde Amendment, for example, which prevents federal funds from going toward abortion. He also pledged back in November to stop Democrats from abolishing the filibuster or packing the Supreme Court.

Even so, Republican officials will be thinking long and hard about how they let control of the Senate slip away, when all they had to do is win one Senate seat in previously crimson Georgia. The GOP’s map in 2022 is not friendly either, as they will have to defend 21 seats to the Democrats’ 14. 

What to Expect Later Today

As you may have heard, Congress will convene in a joint session later today to count Electoral College votes. It will be a long day, with proceedings potentially stretching late into the evening.

Some Republican lawmakers are set to challenge results for several states. Each objection will lead to two hours of debate in both chambers of Congress, followed by votes on whether to uphold the challenge. None of the objections will be successful. Both chambers have to approve a challenge for it to be sustained, and not only do Democrats control the House, but a significant number of Senate Republicans (25) have already indicated they won’t join in the mischief.

“Some of my colleagues believe they have found a path [to overturn a state-certified election],” Sen. Tim Scott said in a statement yesterday. “I disagree with their method both in principle and in practice.”

Sen. James Inhofe added on Tuesday that challenging a state’s certification would “be a violation of [his] oath of office.” 

“That is not something I am willing to do and is not something Oklahomans would want me to do,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will reportedly speak later today in favor of certifying Biden’s victory. It will be interesting to see if he condemns his GOP colleagues in the same harsh manner he did Democrats in 2005, when Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer objected to Ohio’s electoral votes going to President George W. Bush. 

“America’s tradition of this peaceful transfer of power is now being challenged,” he said at the time, referencing John Adams’ theretofore unprecedented ceding of authority to Thomas Jefferson. “The obstruction of the counting of the electoral vote undermines the tradition that Jefferson and Adams established. By blocking this vote when there is no possibility whatsoever of overturning the result, the legitimacy of our republican form of government is questioned. I am sure that is not the intention of my colleagues who have forced us to debate this. Yet it is undoubtedly the result.”

In that dispute, Boxer was the only Democratic senator to oppose the election certification in that state; the final vote was 74-1. 

States will be addressed in alphabetical order. House Republicans are expected to question results from Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. But each objection to a state’s electoral votes must be supported by at least one senator as well.

Various GOP senators have announced they will dispute results from at least three states, with more possible. Sen. Ted Cruz is planning to object to Arizona’s results, a source familiar with the situation told The Dispatch on Tuesday. Sen. Kelly Loeffler is expected to challenge Georgia’s votes, and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has pledged to contest Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.

Floor debate in each chamber may be interesting, but the proceedings won’t make for particularly exciting viewing. Votes will be slow due to coronavirus precautions, and, again, the final outcome isn’t a mystery: States have already certified their results and the election won’t be overturned.

Members will be working throughout the day as Trump supporters are set to rally outside the Capitol complex. Heightened security concerns spurred House Sergeant at Arms Paul D. Irving to send a memo to offices earlier this week with recommendations for lawmakers to stay safe.

In it, Irving strongly encouraged members and staff to arrive at the Capitol “as early as possible” Wednesday morning. Although the joint session will begin at 1:00 p.m, demonstrations are expected to begin well before then; Irving recommended lawmakers and their staff arrive by 9 a.m. He also urged members to use underground tunnels between their offices and the House chamber instead of traveling outdoors or being driven to the front entrance in a car.

Access to office buildings will also be restricted early in the morning. Members of the public are usually able to enter the office buildings after a security screening, but on Wednesday, only members and credentialed staff will be permitted.

Other safety concerns exist: Lawmakers are likely to be packed into the House chamber at times during the joint session, limiting the ability to social distance. Two House lawmakers have tested positive for coronavirus since returning to DC, including GOP Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas last night. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reminded members in a memo yesterday that “face covers must be worn at all times” while on the floor. She also encouraged members to remain in their offices during floor debate on objections until they are scheduled to speak.

The one person most stuck between a rock and a hard place later today will be Vice President Mike Pence, who President Trump is convinced has constitutional powers to overturn the election results—even though he very much does not. Trump called Pence out explicitly in an overnight tweet: 

Mike, however, cannot send it back—and the New York Times reports that Pence told Trump that himself over lunch yesterday afternoon. Trump denied the report as “fake news,” saying “[Pence] and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.” Pence, however, did not join the president in denying the Times’ reporting.

Buckle up! 

Worth Your Time

  • Conservative columnist Ross Douthat published a somewhat counterintuitive take yesterday morning: He was hoping that incumbent GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue lost their respective runoff elections, handing Democrats control of both the Senate and unified control of the federal government. “The sense that there is a real political cost to slavishly endorsing not just Trump but also his fantasy politics, his narrative of stolen victory, seems a necessary precondition for the separation that elected Republicans need to seek … between their position and the soon-to-be-former president’s, if they don’t want him to just claim the leadership of their party by default,” Douthat argues. “Defeat for two Republicans who have cynically gone along with the president’s stolen-election narrative, to the point of attacking their own state’s Republican-run electoral system, feels like a plausible place for the diminishment of Trump to start.”

  • In a Wall Street Journal op-ed that echoes many themes of the founding “manifesto” of  The Dispatch, Sen. Ben Sasse reiterates his opposition to several of his Republican colleagues’ plans to object to the Electoral Vote count later today. While none of them actually believe the election was stolen, Sasse argues, our current incentive structure is set up in such a way that they will benefit politically from saying that they do. “Our central crisis isn’t the existence of political drug dealers. It is that we have a society-wide addiction to clickbait crack that treats politics like blood sport,” Sasse writes. “Our media habits are driving this country to the edge of suicide. Despite the evidence, too many Republican voters doubt the election results. But nobody should be surprised. That’s exactly what the outrage-industrial complex has been selling around the clock for nine weeks since Election Day. The same algorithms that know our favorite bands and when we need a shampoo refill are now curating our news feeds. The media ratchets up the rhetoric to increase clicks, eyeballs and revenue. News consumers reward outlets for ‘hot takes’ and for reinforcing their pre-existing opinions. It’s a civics wasteland.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing The Company Line

  • In his latest French Press (🔒), David argues that Trump’s recent phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “may have violated both state and federal criminal law.” In the call, David writes, Trump demanded Raffensperger “find” enough votes to crown him the winner of Georgia’s election, and he also issued a pretty clear threat against Raffensperger if he did not comply. “A president is not above the law, and we remain a nation of laws,” David concludes. “The futility of the president’s actions is no excuse for their malice, and it does not absolve him of any potential criminal intent.”

  • In a piece for the site today, Charlotte digs into one of the most pressing foreign policy issues the incoming Biden administration will need to tackle: Iran’s increasingly brazen enrichment of uranium to purity levels far beyond the 3.7 percent permitted by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “Iran’s moves belies the fact that their motives aren’t peaceful,” AEI Iran expert Michael Rubin tells her. “This is about testing Biden and thumbing their nose at the world and nothing more.”

  • After Sen. Hawley announced on Twitter last week that he would object to the Electoral College counting process, a Walmart employee accidentally called him a “#soreloser” from the retail giant’s official Twitter account. Hawley responded to the since-deleted tweet, demanding Walmart “apologize for using slave labor” and “for the pathetic wages you pay your workers as you drive mom and pop stores out of business.” Do Hawley’s criticisms of Walmart have any merit? In his latest Capitolism newsletter (🔒), Scott Lincicome analyzes why large retailers actually help both American consumers and the world’s poor.

  • As the Remnant podcast kicks back into gear post-holidays, we figured it would be best to let Jonah make his trek back to D.C. and instead treat you to a secret artifact from a few days after the election. This is a conversation between Jonah and American Enterprise Institute emeritus scholar Charles Murray on the state of libertarianism and liberalism (both of the “small-l” variants) in the aftermath of November 2020. Murray explains why he’s pessimistic, while he and Jonah also extol the virtues of a Madisonian system.

Let Us Know

What do you think about Ross Douthat’s argument? Is the GOP (and/or conservatism) better off in the long term for having (likely) lost control of the Senate yesterday?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).