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Wake Up To Politics - May 6, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: The GOP turning point that isn’t
Wake Up To Politics - May 6, 2021

Good morning! It’s Thursday, May 6, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 551 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,279 days away.

Analysis: The GOP turning point that isn’t

It’s difficult to remember now, but there was a brief moment after the Capitol riot on January 6 when it seemed as though outgoing President Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party — and the nation — was finally loosening.

Cabinet secretaries were resigning. Talk of the 25th amendment was in the air. Trump’s approval rating plummeted and the possibility of a 2024 comeback bid seemed weaker than ever. Even Mitch McConnell was reportedly in support of the brewing impeachment process.

But the moment soon passed, as quickly as it came. Most Republicans loyally voted against Trump’s impeachment and conviction, and the president left office to go into a relative hibernation. Throughout his presidency, aides had begged Trump to quiet his bombastic tweets, telling him that they weren’t in his political self-interest. Finally, banished from social media, Trump went quiet — and it did seem to help his political stock, which slowly rose again among Republicans as he left the spotlight and paused his years-long drumbeat of digital nastygrams.

Republicans had briefly hovered at a crossroads, glancing at a post-Trump future and decisively choosing to stick with the former president instead.

And yet, House Republican Conference Chair (for now) Liz Cheney, one of the few GOP lawmakers to back Trump’s second impeachment, penned a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday insisting that “the Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

Liz Cheney. (Getty Images)

But if Cheney is looking for a turning point, she should look behind her — because the “time for choosing” for the Republican Party seems to have firmly passed. That reality is best evidenced by Cheney herself, who has apparently given up in even trying to counter an effort to oust her from GOP leadership and install Trump ally Elise Stefanik in her stead.

The rise of Stefanik and fall of Cheney are proof positive of Trump’s staying power in the GOP. Cheney has a 78% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, compared to 44% for Stefanik. But conservatism is no longer the defining metric in the GOP; loyalty to Trump is, and Stefanik has shown hers in spades.

Stefanik’s past, like Cheney’s (in résumé and DNA), is littered with associations to the Bush-era GOP. But unlike Cheney, she has abandoned that waning faction of the party and thrown her lot in with Trump. In exchange, she received his endorsement for the conference chairmanship on Wednesday and is now expected to seize the position easily.

Elise Stefanik. (Watertown Daily Times)

The future of the House Republican Conference, then, seems decided — but what does this mean for Trump’s own future? The former president received something of a blow on Wednesday, when Facebook’s “Supreme Court” announced its decision to affirm Trump’s ban from the platform.

While Trump aides were hoping to use his possible return to Facebook as a “propellant” for a third presidential run, the ex-president remains “increasingly likely” to seek the White House again in 2024, according to Axios. A recent survey by GOP pollster Echelon Insights found that 59% of Republicans would “definitely” or “probably” vote for him in the 2024 Republican primary.

That number matches the 60% of the party who said in a recent Reuters poll that the 2020 election had been “stolen” from Trump, showing how fully his false elections claims (which are the focal point of the Cheney putsch) have been accepted.  

In an interview earlier this week, Trump seemed to tease a return to the political stage in 2024. “As you know, it’s very early,” he said. “But I think people are going to be very, very happy when I make a certain announcement.”

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Policy Roundup: Legal

The week’s top legal headlines, contributed by Anna Salvatore.  

In its final oral argument of the term, the Supreme Court considered on Tuesday whether the First Step Act of 2018 reduces prison sentences for low-level crack cocaine offenders. The man at the center of the case, Tarahrick Terry, was sentenced in 2008 to over 15 years in prison for possessing crack. At that time, punishments for crack cocaine — a drug used more often by African-Americans — were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine, a drug used more often by whites.

This disparity is “ridiculous,” Justice Stephen Breyer opined during oral arguments. But in his view, the First Step Act does not reduce prison sentences for low-level crack offenses. “I can’t get away from the statute,” he told the public defender representing Terry.

The Ninth Circuit heard arguments on Monday about whether Idaho can ban trans women from playing on women’s sports teams. The dispute could have “far-ranging consequences,” as the Associated Press notes that five states have passed similar bans this year. Republican legislators argue that trans women have unfair physical advantages over cisgender women. In arguments on Monday, ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio countered that the Idaho law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

However, the Ninth Circuit seemed less interested in constitutional questions and more interested in mootness — whether the case can go forward now that the trans plaintiff, Lindsey Hecox, has dropped out of Boise State and left the track team. The 9th Circuit might dismiss the case, leaving it up to other federal courts to resolve the issue.

A recent protest over a bill barring transgender girls from school sports. (Associated Press)

A federal judge has overturned the government’s nationwide freeze on evictions. The freeze — or “moratorium” — was enacted by Congress last spring and extended by Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden as the pandemic continued. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich wrote on Wednesday that the question in this case was “a narrow one”: Does the Public Health Service Act give the CDC the power to enact a nationwide moratorium on evictions? “It does not,” she wrote.

Friedrich’s ruling could make it easier for landlords to evict their tenants; the Justice Department has already appealed the decision and is likely to seek an “emergency stay,” which would keep the moratorium in place temporary if it is granted.

More legal headlines, via Anna:

  • The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a West Point cadet can’t sue the federal government for being raped and harassed on campus. Citing a 70 year-old legal doctrine, the court said her complaints were “incident to service.”
  • Can a law school student say the N-word when quoting from case law? Debate is “erupting” over this question at Rutgers Law School, the New York Times reports.
  • The full 4th Circuit heard arguments on Monday about when jurors’ social media posts create the need for a new trial. According to Courthouse News, the court seemed “unlikely to side with a disgraced former member of the West Virginia Supreme Court, who claims a juror’s use of Twitter impacted his 2018 trial on fraud charges.”
  • A district court sentenced a neo-Nazi to 41 months in prison on Tuesday for “swatting” an Islamic Center, a historic African-American church, and various other minority groups.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern.)

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m. before traveling to Louisiana. At 2:25 p.m., he will deliver remarks on the American Jobs Plan (his $2 trillion infrastructure package) near the Calcasieu River Bridge in Lake Charles. At 5:20 p.m., he will tour the Carrolton Water Plant in New Orleans, his final stop before returning to Washington, D.C.

  • First Lady Jill Biden is on the second day of a swing through the West. In the morning, she will participate in an event hosted by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at University Medical Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada, to mark National Nurses Day, which is today. She will then travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and deliver remarks at 4:15 p.m. at an event hosted by United Service Organizations (USO) at Fort Carson to mark Military Spouse Appreciation Day, which is on Friday.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris will hold a roundtable discussion on voting rights at 11:30 a.m.
  • Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to Memphis, Tennessee, with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. At 11:40 a.m., they will tour a Job Corps Center and participate in a listening session to promote the Biden administration’s economic agenda.
  • White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the trip to Louisiana. The Senate will convene at 4 p.m. for a brief pro forma session.
    The House is not in session.
  • The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing at 12 p.m. on “who wins and loses when short sellers, social media, and retail investors collide,” the panel’s third hearing on the GameStop stock rise earlier this year. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler will testify.
  • The House Administration Subcommittee on Elections will hold a hearing at 2 p.m. on “the potential for voter list purges to interfere with free and fair access to the ballot.”

The Supreme Court is not in session.

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