Good morning! It’s Wednesday, September 15, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 419 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,147 days away.
Today is the International Day of Democracy, as declared by the United Nations. The UN is focusing this year’s observance around threats to democracy sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by the non-partisan organization Freedom House, democracy has weakened in 80 counties during the pandemic (including the U.S.) and improved in only one (Malawi).
Speaking of democracy: There’s been a bit of a debate recently over whether California’s recall laws are democratic or not. As the New York Times reported, some have argued that it’s anti-democratic to let a popularly elected governor be ousted in the middle of his term and replaced with someone who receives fewer votes. Meanwhile, others point to the Progressive Era roots of the tradition and say there’s nothing more democratic than giving the people an extra check on their executive.
No matter where you fall on that question, we’ve got plenty of recall news for you in this morning’s newsletter. I’m leading off with the results of yesterday’s vote; further down, you’ll see my answer to a reader question on one quirk in California’s laws governing the process. Let’s get to it...
All the top headlines to know this morning.
— California Gov. Gavin Newsom will remain in office after easily fending off a Republican recall effort on Tuesday. With 67% of precincts reporting, Newsom’s supporters are currently leading backers of the recall by more than a 30-point margin, 64.2% to 35.8%. The Associated Press declared that the recall had been defeated at 11:46 p.m. Eastern Time, less than an hour after polls closed.
- “Now, let’s get back to work,” Newsom tweeted after the race had been called. Despite laying the groundwork for days to contest the election, conservative radio host Larry Elder, the leading choice to replace Newsom had he been recalled, conceded the race on Tuesday night. “Let’s be gracious in defeat,” he said. “We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.”
— Democrats unveiled an updated voting rights bill on Tuesday. The Freedom to Vote Act is mostly made up of provisions from the For the People Act, which was defeated by a Republican filibuster earlier this year. Both pieces of legislation would make Election Day a national holiday, enact minimum nationwide standards on mail-in and early voting, create new campaign finance requirements, and ban partisan gerrymandering.
- The revised bill was crafted in a bid to secure buy-in from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); it includes his proposal to create a national voter ID requirement, although voters would be allowed to present a wide variety of IDs in physical or digital form. Manchin met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday to discuss the bill, which McConnell announced hours later he would oppose. Republicans are expected to once again filibuster the proposal when it is brought up for a vote in the coming weeks.
— The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff worried that former President Donald Trump would launch a military strike against China in his final months in office, according to a forthcoming book from Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, twice called his Chinese counterpart to assure him that the U.S. would not attack and took to limit Trump’s ability to launch nuclear weapons, the book reportedly says.
- According to Woodward and Costa, Milley “was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline” and agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she said in a phone call that Trump was “crazy.” The book, which has launched to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list ahead of its September 21 release, also chronicles former Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to certify the results of the 2020 election.
— “Justice Department seeks immediate order blocking enforcement of Texas abortion law” NBC News
— “Covid hospitalizations hit crisis levels in Southern ICUs” New York Times
— “Poverty fell overall in 2020 as result of massive stimulus checks and unemployment aid, Census Bureau says” Washington Post
On Wednesdays, Wake Up To Politics contributor Miles Hession writes in with the top international stories to know each week:
Belarus and Russia made further steps towards integration through economic cooperation and a show of military might against the West. In a joint military exercise known as the Zapad, Russian and Belarusian troops demonstrated their response to a hypothetical invasion by a supposedly imaginary Western military coalition that clearly resembles NATO. Many reports put Zapad 2021 as the largest military exercise in Europe in the last 40 years, and showed stronger military ties between the two nations against the Western alliance.
- Belarus and Russia have long had integration plans, with the foundation being laid in the 1990s, but following Zapad 2021 further steps were taken towards integration. The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, warmed to the idea of a merger after dragging his feet for years, in a large part due to recent sanctions and Western pressure after a contested presidential election and subsequent political repression.
- Lukashenko, who had once sought diplomatic ties with much of the world, has narrowed his focus towards Russia for economic relief after these sanctions, which Russia provided given greater steps towards integration. Belarus serves as a crucial buffer between Russia and Western Europe as relations between the two continue to sour.
Iran is likely to soon become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a prominent regional group. The pact, which was formed in part as a security measure against the U.S. and NATO, will provide substantial support for Iran in the midst of renegotiations of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iran’s membership would grant it crucial access to economic facilities, like a bank headed by other members, Russia and China. These facilities could assuage growing economic domestic pressure to finish negotiations with the U.S., and allow Iran to maintain its current hardline stance.
- News of Iran’s expected membership came at the same time as reports that Iran now has the ability to produce enough fuel to make a nuclear warhead in months. While still very far away from actually manufacturing a nuclear weapon, Iran’s increased nuclear capabilities will also up the nation’s bargaining power during renegotiations. Iran maintained a commitment to the talks, though, after officials agreed to continued nuclear monitoring.
More global headlines, via Miles:
- Center-left opposition in Norway won the general election in a landslide, ending the conservative government rule which had led the country for the past eight years.
- The junta in Myanmar has embraced “war” with resistance groups, damaging its hopes for international recognition.
- Germany has launched an investigation into a series of pre-election cyber attacks; federal prosecutors have alleged Russia is responsible.
- Opposition candidates have been nearly completely excluded from upcoming elections in Russia as the Kremlin ramped up efforts to confuse voters and maintain power.
- Ahead of snap elections in Canada, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is lagging in polls behind the Conservatives in a tougher-than-expected face-off.
Your questions, answered.
Q: Doesn’t California have a lieutenant governor? I would assume that if they recall the governor that the lieutenant governor would assume the role of governor until the next election cycle. — Dane T.
A: There are 19 states that have provisions triggering gubernatorial recall elections, and essentially three different ways that the elections are run. In eight states, voters go to the polls twice if a governor is recalled: once for the recall election, and then again for a special election to choose their successor. In five states, if a governor is recalled, it is treated like any other vacancy and the lieutenant governor takes over the top spot.
California, though, is one of six states that holds “simultaneous recall elections.” That means the question of whether or not to recall the governor is on the same ballot as the question of who should succeed the governor if they are recalled. (As happened on Tuesday, the second question becomes inoperative if the governor secures a majority on the first question.)
Some allies of Gov. Newsom charged that this way of running a recall election violate the principle of “one person, one vote,” since it allows a governor to be replaced by someone who might receive far fewer votes than they do. A federal judge affirmed the constitutionality of the recall process last month, but there are still efforts underway in Califronia to modify the state’s laws so a recall would work exactly as Dane described, where the lieutenant governor takes over in the event of a recall.
What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern, unless otherwise noted.)
President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9 a.m., followed by a 1:30 p.m. meeting with business leaders and CEOs on COVID-19 response. At 5 p.m., Biden will deliver remarks about a “national security initiative.” (The White House has not released any further details.)
Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver remarks at 3:50 p.m. on the Biden administration’s proposed investments in child care. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will also speak.
First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Wisconsin and Iowa today. At 11 a.m. Central Time, she will visit Marvin E. Pratt Elementary School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to “highlight the importance of helping keep students safe as they return to in-person learning.” At 3:45 p.m. Central Time, she will visit Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa, to “highlight how the Biden administration is supporting families through the American Rescue Plan and its Build Back Better agenda.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 12:45 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 11 a.m. Following remarks from the party leaders, the chamber will resume consideration of Margaret Strickland’s nomination to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of New Mexico. The chamber won’t hold any more votes until Monday, breaking early for the week due to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s failures in its investigation of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who has been convicted of sexual assault. The hearing will include testimony from Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and other top gymnasts who are among Nassar’s hundreds of accusers. Horowitz will also testify, as will FBI Director Chris Wray.
The House is on recess until September 20.
- The House Ways and Means Committee will meet at 9 a.m. to finish marking up its portions of the Build Back Better Act, the Democratic reconciliation package. Today is the deadline for congressional committees to draft their sections of the legislation.
The Supreme Court is on recess until October 4.
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