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The Morning Dispatch: Turning an Eye Toward the Midterms
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The Morning Dispatch: Turning an Eye Toward the Midterms

Plus: The battle over vaccine mandates for first responders.

Happy Thursday! Nearly the whole Dispatch team—including the out-of-towners—was able to get together in Washington, D.C., yesterday, and it was just delightful.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday its widely anticipated plans to begin scaling back its monthly purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities in light of the “substantial” progress the economy has made over the past year. Fed officials said they will continue to keep interest rates near zero, and reiterated their belief that—although the timing is uncertain—the economy will eventually adjust to the supply and demand imbalances causing inflation.

  • In a statement issued Wednesday morning, Democrat Terry McAuliffe formally conceded the Virginia gubernatorial race to Republican Glenn Youngkin, urging Virginians to join him in “wishing the best to [Youngkin] and his family.”

  • Several news desks formally called New Jersey’s gubernatorial race for incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy on Wednesday. Results show Murphy leading Republican Jack Ciattarelli by 1.2 percentage points, with about 10 percent of the vote—from primarily Democratic areas—still outstanding. Ciattarelli has yet to concede the race.

  • Top Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani confirmed on Wednesday that Iran nuclear deal negotiations with the European Union and United States—paused  this summer—will resume in Vienna, Austria, on November 29.

  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, a case in which the justices will assess the constitutionality of a state law requiring New Yorkers to have a “proper cause” for carrying a concealed handgun in public.

  • The Department of Defense published its annual report on the People’s Republic of China’s military capabilities, finding that the PRC is accelerating its nuclear program and could have more than 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030.

  • Congressional Democrats remained adamant on Wednesday that their party’s dismal electoral showing this week will not lead them to abandon President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said yesterday the defeat “reinforces the fact that we need to get these things done.”

Can the GOP Capitalize on Its Election Success?

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.)

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, incoming Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared his victory “a defining moment … where we get to stand up and say no to this left, liberal, progressive agenda.” The newly elected Republican defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe by roughly 3 points in a state President Joe Biden won by 10 just a year earlier. And a short drive up interstate 95 in New Jersey, Republican Jack Ciatarelli lost by a point to incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in a race few predicted would be competitive.

Among the main questions political operatives debated in the wake of these strong Republican performances and GOP success down-ballot: What does this mean for the 2022 midterms? Do these results and Joe Biden’s dismal approval numbers—along with a GOP-friendly map—point to big gains for congressional Republicans? It’s true that much can change between now and then—those contests are a long way off and, as the hoary cliche has it, a year is a lifetime in politics. But it’s also the case that results in a year will be determined in part by decisions made today and the shift in the political landscape this week may have some would-be candidates thinking more seriously about running next year than they were a short time ago. 

“I think there’s people who are potentially more interested in running than certainly there was yesterday morning,” a GOP operative working on Senate races told The Dispatch Wednesday. 

The operative said that the results in Virginia and New Jersey affirm the strategy that the GOP has adopted over the last nine months. “We need to hold on to the gains made among white working-class voters, we need to continue the trend of Hispanic voters coming to our side, and we need to win back some of the suburban voters that we’ve lost,” the operative said.

Three reluctant potential tier-one Republican Senate candidates—Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, and New Hampshire Gov. Gov. Chris Sununu—are being pushed hard again to take on Democratic incumbents in their states. 

A second GOP source assessed the trio this way: “Sununu should be hopefully deciding in the next two weeks. I’ve heard kind of a mixed bag on Hogan. And as of now, it’s pretty unlikely that Ducey does it. But, this source added,  “if there was hesitation on their parts or they were a hard no, [Youngkin’s victory] might soften them up a little bit.”

Sununu, who has been urged to run against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, told News9+ Politics in late October that he will reveal his decision in the “next few weeks.”

Speaking in January, Ducey’s communications director, C.J. Karamargin, told reporters that the outgoing governor harbored no secret intention of seeking a Senate seat. Hogan, meanwhile, has insisted repeatedly that he will finish out his term as governor, which ends in January 2023, before considering a senatorial run. “I’ve said like a million times I haven’t really expressed any interest whatsoever in that,” he told a local news site, Maryland Matters, in August. 

But some have speculated that the prospect of a “red wave” come next year might entice candidates who have previously publicly vowed not to run. Following Youngkin’s win, Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics changed its  ratings for U.S. Senate races in Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia from “Lean Democrat” to “Tossup.” 

“If Biden is struggling in Virginia, a state that he won by 10 points, these are all states that are less blue than Virginia,” said J. Miles Coleman from Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “So you have to imagine Biden is probably even more under water in those States.”

In Maryland, a state considerably more blue than Virginia, a recent Goucher College Poll found that Hogan continues to get  exceptionally high marks, with 68 percent of respondents reporting that they approve of the job he is doing as governor. Biden, meanwhile, has a solid but waning approval rating at 53 percent, down from 62 percent in March 2021. 

To be sure, the job descriptions for governor and senator are fundamentally different, both in function and in constituent perception. While Hogan boasts support among Maryland’s moderate and Democratic voters, it’s unclear whether his bipartisan popularity will translate to national politics.

“He’s popular, but as soon as Democrats see, well, you may like what he does at the state level, but once he starts voting with Mitch McConnell, he’s probably going to have less crossover support,” Coleman said. “No matter how popular you are as governor, it’s hard to run in states that don’t match your partisanship at the federal level.” McConnell has lobbied Hogan hard to run, promising significant fundraising help if the governor were to challenge incumbent first-term Sen. Chris Van Hollen. 

In an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt in October, Hogan again downplayed his interest in the Senate, saying that he preferred an executive role. “I’ve been saying for a long time that I don’t have a lot of interest in the Senate,” the governor said. “It’s just not the kind of job for me. I’m more of an executive. I’m running a $50 billion dollar a year budget with 60,000 employees and making decisions every day. And you know, I’ve spent my whole life as a business executive. And being one of 100 people yelling and arguing in Washington and getting nothing done doesn’t have a great appeal to me.” When Hewitt suggested working alongside West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and other centrists, Hogan acknowledged that “a lot of people are making that argument” and that he’s been listening. “I don’t throw them out of the office,” he said. 

As for Ducey, a source  familiar with the Arizona governor’s thinking tells  The Dispatch that “nothing has changed” regarding a prospective Senate run. “But the fact that there’s speculation swirling, that shouldn’t come as a surprise,” the source said. Speaking of the current head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the source said: “Rick Scott—what’s his job? To get people who can win Senate elections. So it may be as much a statement about the current state of the race [in Arizona] and who’s in it.”

“Rick Scott for some reason really wants Ducey to run,” Coleman said. 

Republicans are also hoping to regain ground in the House, eyeing new districts with Democratic incumbents. In a statement released following Youngkin’s victory, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced plans to target the seats of Reps. Greg Stanton of Arizona, Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, Joe Courtney of Connecticut, Darren Soto of Florida, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Frank Mrvan of Indiana, David Trone of Maryland, G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, Teresa Leger Fernandez of New Mexico, Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has also taken cues from the Virginia governor’s race. Seeking to capitalize on an issue that animated the Virginia contest, McCarthy said during a Wednesday press conference, that House Republicans will “will soon unroll a ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights.’” There is some irony in the GOP insistence that Tuesday’s results will have profound national implications. McAuliffe tried desperately to nationalize the contest, focusing on Donald Trump and the national GOP, while Youngkin ran a disciplined campaign taking advantage of the challenging national environment for Democrats but concentrated on local issues that motivated Virginia voters. 

Vaccine Mandates and Public Safety

Major cities across the U.S. have implemented vaccine mandates for city workers. Despite generally high vaccination rates, the number of holdouts and the threat of mass resignations show the sometimes thorny situations facing local governments as they try to persuade workers to get vaccinated.

New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers kicked in on Monday; roughly 9,000 of the city’s 378,000 employees were placed on leave for refusing to be inoculated and not having an approved or pending medical or religious exemption. In Chicago, meanwhile, an Illinois Circuit Court judge stepped in on Monday to prevent the city from enforcing a December 31 vaccine requirement for police officers. The stay is temporary and meant to give the police union time to complete its arbitration process with city government officials.

The New York Times reported that de Blasio’s vaccine mandate caused some pushback among first responders, especially in the fire department, and that about 2,000 firefighters have used sick days as a form of protest against the mandate.

The threat of mass resignations lingers, a Los Angeles-area sheriff warned in a letter. He called the “mass exodus” caused by a vaccine mandate an “imminent threat to public safety.” A spokesperson from Los Angeles County told The Dispatch the county has “not seen an increase in early retirements or resignations among sworn staff in the Sheriff’s Department since the vaccination policy took effect.”

In Chicago, about 73 percent of the city’s police officers have reported their vaccination status as of November 1. Of the 12,758 employees in the department, slightly more than 7,400 officers have been fully vaccinated, while around 1,700 said they were “not fully vaccinated.” It’s unclear whether those who answered no were partially vaccinated or had not taken the shot at all. More than 3,000 police department employees had not yet provided their status.

In putting Chicago’s mandate on pause, Illinois Circuit Court Judge Raymond Mitchell wrote that due to its unionized workforce, the city’s police officers have the right for their objections to be worked out in the arbitration process before the mandate is implemented. However, he didn’t prevent the city from implementing a requirement for officers to provide their vaccination status, and to submit to regular testing if they are not vaccinated.

“The reporting obligation itself is a minimal intrusion,” Mitchell wrote.

The precedent for state and localities’ authority to require vaccination dates back to a 1905 Supreme Court case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts. The court ruled that it is constitutional for states to require members of the public to be inoculated against smallpox or be penalized with a fine.

Legal battles over vaccine requirements and what exemptions might apply are starting to make their way up to the Supreme Court, and justices have so far have refused to interfere with mandates.

Last week, the court declined to prevent Maine from requiring the state’s health care workers to be vaccinated. Three of the court’s most conservative justices—Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch—dissented.

The court previously opted not to block Indiana University’s vaccine mandate, leaving a lower court’s decision in place. Eight students had sued the university on the grounds that the mandate violated their constitutional rights vis-a-vis “bodily integrity, autonomy, and medical choice.” The campus offered exemptions on religious, ethical, and medical grounds.

Dr. William Schaffner—an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center who is currently a non-voting liaison to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—told The Dispatch that “there are really very few genuine medical exemptions to these vaccines.”

He gave two primary examples: individuals who have had a record of serious allergic reactions to vaccines that share ingredients with the COVID-19 vaccines, and those who may have had a serious reaction to the first dose, such that a doctor advised them against further inoculation. 

That reaction would be something like anaphylactic shock, an allergic response that can induce difficulty breathing and other symptoms that can be very serious if not treated quickly. 

Schaffner added that while these types of reactions are “pretty darn rare,” they can and do happen.

And what about the claim that the vaccine mandate violates personal liberty? “Weak,” Keith Whittington, a politics professor at Princeton University, told The Dispatch via email. “Long-standing SCOTUS precedent says [this is] not a high hurdle.”

When it comes to employers, “courts apply a pretty deferential standard,” Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, told The Dispatch. “It wouldn’t surprise me if employers won all of the [challenges].”

Union contracts are a complicating factor, he added. “The whole process of settling the dispute is different, they go into arbitration.” Judges might be more likely to allow that process to work itself out. But ultimately, “employers can generally ask for vaccine mandates.”

Worth Your Time

  • In a piece for The Atlantic, Dr. Monica Gandhi argues that this week’s approval of pediatric COVID-19 vaccines should be viewed as one of the final steps on the path back to normalcy. “By now, Americans should realize that there isn’t a magic solution that will make COVID go away,” she writes. “But within two or three months of introducing vaccines for 5-to-11-year-olds, the U.S. should be able to begin winding down most of the formal and informal limits to which Americans have become accustomed—office closures, masking mandates, educational interruptions, six-foot distancing, and more.”

  • Postmortems on how Republicans captured Virginia have already begun. For FiveThirtyEight, elections analyst Geoffrey Skelley crunched the numbers and found that Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin outperformed his benchmark margins in most of Virginia and beat former President Donald Trump’s 2020 performance in every locality in the state. “We can’t know with absolute certainty that the Virginia race is a harbinger of things to come in the 2022 midterm elections,” he writes. “But the result does show how damaging an electoral environment like the current one could be for the Democrats next year.”

  • If Democrats truly believe the current iteration of the Republican Party represents an unprecedented threat to democracy, Yascha Mounk argues, progressives need to take an “unflinching” look at their own role in what played out this week. “The idea that critical race theory is an academic concept that is taught only at colleges or law schools might be technically accurate, but the reality on the ground is a good deal more complicated,” he writes in his latest essay. “[It is] both intellectually dishonest and electorally disastrous [to] insist on a verbal trick unworthy of a middle-school debate team: to keep claiming that widespread concern over these ideas is misguided because the term by which they have publicly come to be known technically applies to an academic research program rather than the lessons that real children are being taught in real schools. And yet, this is precisely what McAuliffe and so many others attempted to do—with disastrous results—over the closing months of his campaign. ”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Join Sarah, Jonah, David, and Declan for an all-Election Day edition of The Dispatch Podcast. Will Democrats and Republicans learn the correct lessons from Tuesday’s races? Has the GOP uncovered a post-Trump electability cheat code? And is Biden’s Build Back Better agenda doomed?

  • For more Election Day takeaways, look no further than Wednesday’s Sweep! “Clearly picking an electable candidate is important,” Sarah writes. “And a political party willing to give serious thought to what process is most likely to yield the most electable candidate is going to have an advantage in midterm elections.”

  • Scott’s Capitolism this week (🔒) focuses on work, and Americans’ increasing unwillingness to do it. “Declining labor force participation in the United States isn’t all bad, but some of it surely is—especially given the labor shortages popping up all over the country right now,” he writes. “[But] the trendiest scapegoats—trade, technology, industry concentration, etc.—materialized years after the largest declines in American wages and actually coincided with slow-but-steady gains in inflation-adjusted compensation across demographic groups over the last 25 years.”

  • On the site today, Danielle Pletka notes that the Biden administration has weighed its options in Syria and decided on capitulation: “Team Biden should recommit U.S. troops to the fight in northern Syria, and reconcile itself to the notion that a) betraying another ally is a bad look; and b) that the battle inside Syria hardly distracts from the larger mission on China.” 

  • Scott Winship files the latest in his series on poverty policy during the pandemic, saying that the progressive focus on safety net spending left other problems unaddressed, including the learning loss that can impact upward mobility and hurt our economy for decades.

Let Us Know

What will matter more in the 2022 midterms—the national political environment or local issues?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).