Greetings, comrades and fellow travelers, and welcome to Monday. I hope your weekend was relaxing and/or productive. We’ve got lots to catch up on this morning, so let’s get to it. —Jeffrey C. Billman
1. N.C. AMONG THE MOST GERRYMANDERED STATES.
THE GIST: Over the weekend, the Associated Press came out with a deep dive into the partisan advantage of congressional and legislative districts across the country. Its findings were less revelatory than a confirmation of what we already know: Republicans, who gained control of state houses in 2010 and thus controlled the most recent redistricting process, locked in a huge advantage.
- Nut graph: “The analysis found four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts. Traditional battlegrounds such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia were among those with significant Republican advantages in their U.S. or state House races. All had districts drawn by Republicans after the last Census in 2010.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The AP’s analysis found that Republicans won as many as twenty-two more seats than would be expected based on their share of the vote. As Democrats are currently twenty-four seats away from securing a majority, that’s not an insignificant difference. In North Carolina, where the GOP has a 10–3 advantage in the congressional delegation, the AP’s analysis found that Republicans had picked up two excess House seats based on the vote share.
WHAT’S NEXT: Here, the congressional districts were ruled a racial gerrymander and the legislature was forced to draw new maps last year. Now, we’re waiting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a Wisconsin case that asks whether explicitly partisan gerrymanders are constitutional. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court deemed North Carolina’s legislative districts unconstitutional as well, so the state will have to revise those ahead of next year’s elections, if not before.
2. RUMOR: JUSTICE KENNEDY COULD ANNOUNCE RETIREMENT.
THE GIST: The eighty-year-old Supreme Court justice, who has been on the court for twenty-nine years, is rumored to be looking at retirement soon, perhaps today. If he leaves this year, that would give President Trump the ability to reshape American jurisprudence for decades to come and take it in a much more conservative direction. Because Senate Majority Leader eliminated the filibuster to muscle through Justice Neil Gorsuch earlier this year, there’s nothing Democrats could do to stop him.
WHAT IT MEANS: Gorsuch is a right-wing judge who replaced another right-wing judge, Antonin Scalia. This appointment would give Trump the ability to appoint a right-wing judge to replace a moderate. No matter how unpopular Trump is or how little he accomplishes legislatively, shifting the court so dramatically would make his presidency undeniably consequential.
3. THE SENATE HEALTH CARE BILL STRUGGLES.
THE GIST: With at least five senators saying they can’t support the Senate’s health care bill in its current form—a number that could rise with a bad Congressional Budget Office score today—and McConnell still pushing for a vote later this week, Republicans are scrambling to cobble together the fifty votes they need to pass it. While the Chamber of Commerce crowd backs in, the health care industry doesn’t; neither do the powerful Koch brothers, who have deemed it insufficiently conservative. Several Republican governors have joined doctors and nurses organizations to express concern about the havoc the bill would wreak on health care for the poor. And even reliable Republican senators are questioning McConnell’s timing, saying they don’t see how they’ll be ready to vote this week.
- Important point: “Republicans are finding allies to be few and inconstant. Mr. Trump has said he is ‘very supportive’ of the Senate bill. But that support will be of limited help to Mr. McConnell. Few senators feel loyal to Mr. Trump, whose erratic message has often weakened his influence on Capitol Hill. After pushing for passage of the House repeal bill, he criticized it as ‘mean’ several weeks later. A spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said last week that Mr. Trump did not necessarily support cuts to Medicaid, even though his budget and the Senate bill would make such cuts.”
THE PROBLEM: McConnell is rushing this because he knows that the longer it’s out there, the less likely it is to pass. Sending senators home to face angry constituents won’t help fence-sitters get to yes; neither will weeks of editorials pounding them for heartless cuts to Medicaid to finance tax cuts for the wealthy. But at the same time, health care is complicated, and the Senate bill has practical and political problems that may need more than a few days to work out. The Senate leaders need to appease both those who think the Medicaid cuts are too draconian and not draconian enough, as well as those who think this bill keeps in place too much of the ACA’s infrastructure.
ON THE OTHER HAND: There’s a lot of posturing, and a lot of these supposedly recalcitrant Republicans will find a way to get to yes by week’s end. The question is, will three remain holdouts?
4. OBAMA’S EFFORT TO PUNISH PUTIN.
THE GIST: On Friday, The Washington Post released a long story detailing the Obama administration’s reaction to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. If you have time, you should read the whole thing; it’s quite illuminating.
- Nut graph: “In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.”
KEY POINT: “[The administration] also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph. … The administration encountered obstacles at every turn.” When the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security called secretaries of state to warn about Russian interference, the Republican secretary of state of Georgia denounced it as an intrusion on state’s rights. Then Mitch McConnell refused to go along with a bipartisan statement warning the public.
THE TAKEAWAY: “To some, Obama’s determination to avoid politicizing the Russia issue had the opposite effect: It meant that he allowed politics to shape his administration’s response to what some believed should have been treated purely as a national security threat.”
Related:Jared Kushner’s firm got a $285 million loan from Dueutsch Bank just before Election Day, as the bank was negotiating a settlement to a federal mortgage fraud case and charges that it had been part of a Russian money-laundering scheme.
Related: Trump goes on Twitter and gives his lawyers heartburn.
5. SHOULD N.C. CONTINUE ELECTING JUDGES?
THE GIST: In a speech to the N.C. Bar Association Saturday, Mark Martin, the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, argued that voters should be asked to decide whether they want to keep voting on judges or shift to an appointment process. This statement follows a fifteen-month review by a Martin-appointed commission of the state’s court system. The appointment system would look like this: a panel appointed by the governor and the legislature would evaluate judicial candidates “in an objective way”; a government authority “with accountability to the people” would appoint the judges, who would then face periodic retention elections.
THE BACKDROP: If nothing else, would mark an effort to reverse a stark trend of politicizing the state’s courts. Earlier this year, over Governor Cooper’s veto, the legislature voted to make all judicial races in North Carolina partisan, in the process making it harder for unaffiliated judicial candidates to access the ballot. In 2013, the GOP legislature abolished a public financing program for judicial candidates, leading to a surge in outside spending. And last year, in an effort to protect Justice Bob Edmunds and the then-narrow GOP majority on the Supreme Court, the legislature attempted to turn Supreme Court elections into retention elections. An appeals court struck that down, and Edmunds lost in November to Mike Morgan (owing, as the INDY reported, primarily to ballot placement).
Related: Today, a House judiciary committee will take up a bill to redraw judicial districts, which Democrats are saying is another form of gerrymandering.
TWO SIDES OF THE COIN: 1) Should you give up the power to choose those who exercise power over you? 2) How much did you really know about the judges you voted for last year?
6. FOUR LOCAL HEADLINES.
- Reverend Barber—recently in the news for calling the GOP health care plan “political murder”—delays stepping down from the N.C. NAACP until a new president is elected in October. [N&O]
- Multiple shots were fired in downtown Raleigh early Sunday. [N&O]
- After four long years, I-40 construction is nearly finished. [WRAL]
- The state budget will give legislative leaders state trooper protection. [N&O]
7. ODDS & ENDS.
- It’s been two years since the Supreme Court said in Obergefell v. Hodges that gay marriage was a constitutional right. Here, The New York Times revisits its conversations with a dozen same-sex couples. Also, here’s my interview with James Obergefell from last year’s Pride Issue. And here’s my story marking the Obergefell ruling with Ziggy and Jeremy Sprinkle, one of the first local same-sex couples to be married in North Carolina.
- The Tories and the Democratic Unionist Party reach a £1 billion deal to keep Theresa May in power as prime minister in the U.K.
- Coal mining is rising in China, India, and the United States, after falling sharply last year.
- Mostly sunny and dry with low humidity today (thank God). High of 85.