7 min read

The RFK Jr. ticket

Update on the mifepristone arguments, RFK Jr.’s new running mate, and more.
The RFK Jr. ticket
RFK Jr. running mate Nicole Shanahan at yesterday’s announcement. (Reuters screengrab)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, March 27, 2024. Election Day is 223 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

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1. Supreme Court seems likely to reject mifepristone challenge

A majority of Supreme Court justices signaled skepticism towards a conservative attempt to restrict access to mifepristone, the widely used abortion pill, during oral arguments on Tuesday.

Chief Justice John Roberts, the court’s three Trump appointees, and its three liberal justices all expressed doubts about the challenge — focusing not on the merits but on whether the medical groups challenging the drug had standing to bring the case. Litigants are required to prove that they have suffered or will suffer a specific harm stemming from the action they are challenging, in this case the FDA’s 2016 and 2021 moves to expand mifepristone access.

“You need a person,” Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, said at one point, meaning a person who had been harmed by the FDA’s actions. “Who’s your person?”

“This case seems like a prime example of turning what could be a small lawsuit into a nationwide, legislative assembly on an FDA rule or any other government action,” Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch added.

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the court’s most conservative voices, appeared more sympathetic to the challenge. Both Alito and Thomas invoked the Comstock Act, suggesting that mifepristone distribution could be considered illegal under the 1873 law, which prohibits use of the U.S. Postal Service to mail “obscene” materials, including drugs for “preventing conception or producing abortion.”

  • Correction: In Monday’s newsletter, due to a typo, I misstated the number of abortions performed in the U.S. using mifepristone last year. In 2023, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 600,000 medication abortions were performed across the country — about 63% of the 1 million abortions performed within the formal U.S. medical system. My apologies for the error and thanks to the readers who caught it.

2. RFK Jr. unveils running mate

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Nicole Shanahan as his running mate on Tuesday, adding the 38-year-old tech lawyer to his third-party ticket.

Kennedy picked Shanahan, a political unknown, for the spot after considering several celebrities (NFL star Aaron Rogers), former pols (ex-Sen. Scott Brown and ex-Rep. Tulsi Gabbard), and some who blurred the line between the two (former wrestler turned governor Jesse Ventura).

Shanahan, a daughter of Chinese immigrants and the ex-wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, has been a major Democratic donor for several years, giving $25,000 to the Biden campaign in 2020. (She also donated to Marianne Williamson and Pete Buttigieg in the 2020 primaries.) She has also been one of the top donors to Kennedy’s campaign, bankrolling the $4 million pro-Kennedy ad that played during the Super Bowl.

Like Kennedy, she has expressed skepticism towards vaccines, despite the lack of evidence for such claims. “I do wonder about vaccine injuries,” she told the New York Times last month. “I think there needs to be a space to have these conversations.”

Kennedy is polling better than any third-party candidate in several cycles — he currently sits at 9.9% in the RealClearPolitics national polling average — but has so far achieved ballot access in only one state, Utah. Adding Shanahan to his ticket should help Kennedy get on the ballot in more states: per Ballot Access News, 26 states require Independent presidential candidates to name a running mate as part of their ballot petitions.

3. More Johnson tea leaves

In Monday’s newsletter, I noted that House Speaker Mike Johnson’s comments on Ukraine aid have been trending steadily more positive, a potential sign that he plans to bring a foreign aid bill to the floor after Easter recess.

The New York Times reports that his rhetoric behind the scenes has been leaning that way as well:

When Speaker Mike Johnson opened the floor for questions at a closed-door luncheon fund-raiser in New Jersey last month, Jacquie Colgan asked how, in the face of vehement opposition within his own ranks, he planned to handle aid for Ukraine. What followed was an impassioned monologue by Mr. Johnson in which he explained why continued American aid to Kyiv was, in his view, vital — a message starkly at odds with the hard-right views that have overtaken his party. He invoked his political roots as a Reagan Republican, denounced President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as a “madman” and conceded the issue had forced him to walk a “delicate political tightrope.”

“We’re going to do our job,” Johnson told Colgan, according to the Times, which also reported that the speaker has made similar signals to donors, foreign leaders, and fellow lawmakers in recent weeks.

More news to know.

📺 NBC News has cut ties with former RNC chair Ronna McDaniel after several of the network’s top anchors criticized her hiring as a paid political analyst. McDaniel, who survived only four days at the network, is reportedly considering legal options, hoping to force NBC to pay out her full, $300,000-a-year contract.

😷 The New York judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush money case has imposed a gag order on the former president, restricting him from making public statements about witnesses, prosecutors, and jurors.

🚢 Six people are presumed dead after a cargo ship rammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday, causing the bridge to collapse. President Biden signaled that he will request for Congress to pass an emergency bill to fund the rebuilding effort. “It’s my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge,” he said.

🇮🇱 American opinions on Israel’s military operations in Gaza have reversed in recent months. 55% now disapprove of the country’s actions, while 36% approve, per Gallup, compared to 50% who approved and 45% who disapproved in November.

📞 Former President Barack Obama is making “regular calls” to President Biden and the White House chief of staff, Jeff Zients, to offer strategic campaign advice.

🗳️ A Democratic candidate won a competitive special election for an Alabama state House seat on Tuesday, after focusing her campaign on reproductive rights amid the state Supreme Court decision restricting access to IVF.

👑 Did a Russian disinformation group help promote the rumors about Princess Kate?

More headlines:

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing this morning. He has nothing else on his public schedule. Vice President Harris will participate in a press call about AI and host a reception for Women’s History Month.

Congress: The House and Senate are on recess.

Supreme Court: The justices will hear oral arguments in Erlinger v. United States, a case concerning prior convictions in a criminal trial, and Connelly v. United States, a case about the estate tax.

Before I go...

The FEC form for “Literally Anybody Else”

Here’s something fun: Do you look at this year’s presidential contenders and wish you could vote for, well, anyone else?

Then, you’re in luck. A Texas math teacher has legally changed his name to “Literally Anybody Else” and launched a run for president. Else is currently seeking to get enough signatures to achieve ballot access in Texas; he is planning to run as a write-in candidate elsewhere.

“Literally Anybody Else isn’t a just a person,” his website says. “It’s a rally cry.”

Read more via Insider:

A Texas man is running for president after changing his name to ‘Literally Anybody Else’
“America should not be stuck choosing between the ‘King of Debt’ (his self-declaration) and an 81-year old,” Else wrote on his campaign website.

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— Gabe