This may be a weird confession coming from a political journalist, but: I really don’t understand why anyone runs for office, at least not in the 21st century. It’s expensive and grueling and exhausting and filled with vitriol and social-media trolls, which just seems like … a lot of bother to win a job where the absolute best-case scenario is that you possibly get a single thing accomplished in exchange for spending most of your time listening to your colleagues make no sense. And you can’t even be snarky about that, because you’re sort of required to be cordial! What! Is! The! Draw!
In an ideal world, I know, you’d run for office to make a difference. But here in the less-than-ideal world, the impetus for a lot of officeholders seems to be the office itself. (Power, baby!) That’s not really what anyone should want from their elected leaders, but the unfortunate thing is that once a candidate has made it to office, it’s fairly easy to use the power of the office to keep themselves there.
The Big Takeaway
…Unless, perhaps, you are former President Donald Trump, in which case not even the power of the one-term presidency is enough to save you from imminent indictment. The New York Times reported Thursday that a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump on charges related to hush money paid to an adult film star during the 2016 presidential campaign, making him the first person in U.S. history to face criminal charges after serving as commander-in-chief.
The grand jury’s decision, which technically constitutes Trump’s first victory in the popular vote, has not been unsealed but was confirmed by his attorney, per the Associated Press. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, dismissed the investigation as politically motivated and implored his supporters to protest on his behalf, prompting authorities to beef up security around the criminal courthouse in Manhattan.
Despite the bluster, Trump’s attorney said previously that he would surrender to face criminal charges if he were indicted. It could be several days before that happens, according to The Times, but once he arrives in Manhattan, Trump will navigate the routine process of felony arrest in New York — giving fingerprints, posing for a mugshot and (finally) being informed that he has the right to remain silent.
He could also become the first president to face multiple criminal charges after leaving office, depending on the outcome of two other investigations — a probe in Georgia focusing on his repeated attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into alleged mishandling of classified documents at Trump’s Florida home, Mar-a-Lago.
The Trumpiest congressional Republicans reacted to the news in the way that you would expect the Trumpiest congressional Republicans to react to the news, which is to say that the goalposts have once again scooted miles down the field. Leaders on that roster include U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida (“A majority of Americans know [Manhattan District Attorney] Alvin Bragg’s witch hunt is a politically motivated prosecution”), Jim Jordan of Ohio (“Outrageous”), and Lauren Boebert of Colorado (“This is another political witch hunt targeting the people’s President”), according to reporting by our national bureau in D.C.
Democrats were more measured (and, frankly, not even slightly snarky). U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who led one of Trump’s two (2) impeachment trials, called the indictment “unprecedented” — but not unwarranted, given “the unlawful conduct in which Trump has been engaged.”
“A nation of laws must hold the rich and powerful accountable, even when they hold high office. Especially when they do,” Schiff wrote on Twitter, which he may have mistaken for a constitutional law textbook. “ To do otherwise is not democracy.”
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) went for the old “no one is above the law,” saying in a statement that Trump was entitled to due process in a case that had been “meticulously” assembled by prosecutors in New York.
“They secured an indictment not from political power brokers or the media, but from a grand jury of ordinary citizens,” she said.
Photo break before we resume our regularly scheduled program! The first version of this newsletter did not talk about Trump (the first former president to be indicted, ever) at all!
Remember — back before Trump got indicted — when I was talking about how politicians often have the power to keep themselves in power? Lawmakers in New Jersey did better at taking advantage of that self-serving job perk this month as they advanced a sweeping overhaul of the state’s campaign finance system, the New Jersey Monitor reported. The bill, which was expected to receive final votes Thursday, would strip the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission of its oversight authority and allow Gov. Phil Murphy to remake the four-member panel without legislative approval. It would also massively increase campaign donation limits to candidates, political parties and committees helmed by legislative leaders.
Lawmakers insisted that those changes — which would allow state candidates to receive individual donations of $5,200, double the current rate and $1,900 more than the cap for congressional hopefuls — were more about inflation than about cementing their own power. The limit hasn’t been raised since 2005, when campaigning was roughly 80% cheaper than it is now, according to Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, a Democrat and the bill’s main sponsor.
“The contribution limit increase is also a reflection that everything costs more today,” he said. “It’s no different in the other sectors.”
But critics of the bill said the bump in donations would disproportionately benefit incumbent and better-known lawmakers, who have had time to woo well-to-do donors who can afford to flood campaign coffers with the maximum contributions. In most cases, those legislators don’t even need the cash, said Assemblyman Brian Bergen.
“Those people get maxed out by everybody, and they’ll just get maxed out at the new rate,” said Bergen, a Republican. “The money will sit in their bank, and they’ll never spend it."
He’s not wrong. At the end of last year, the campaign accounts for state senators had a collective balance of about $10 million. More than half of that money belonged to just five lawmakers, none of whom represent competitive districts. The largest pile of cash (a little over $2 million) belonged to state Senate President Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat and a lead sponsor of the bill.
This type of self-serving gamesmanship isn’t limited to politicians. Look at Ohio, where special interest groups on Wednesday said that a revived proposal to make it harder to amend the state’s constitution was needed to protect the state’s constitution from … special interest groups, per the Ohio Capital Journal.
The legislation — a reboot of a 2022 proposal — would ask voters to approve a change to the state constitution that would require a 60% supermajority of voters to approve future changes to the state constitution. It’s a significant shift from the current system, which requires a simple majority that proponents claim is easily exploited by special interest groups and outside organizations.
And this is where it gets confusing, because those proponents are all members of special interest groups. Supporters who testified at a legislative hearing Wednesday included a lawyer for the right-wing American Center for Law & Justice, lobbyists for the Ohio Restaurant Association and the Center for Christian Virtue, the directors of three anti-abortion groups and a powerbroker named Rob Sexton who represented both the Buckeye Firearm Association and the Sportsmen’s Alliance.
“We must protect our Constitution from being bought and sold by out-of-state, wealthy interests,” Sexton said.
Some of the opposition came from advocacy groups, too. Catherine Turcer, head of the progressive nonprofit Common Cause Ohio, told lawmakers it’s a fallacy that outside special interests are constantly attempting to edit the state’s constitution. Most petitions are circulated by Ohio residents with concerns about Ohio, and anyone pretending otherwise is probably representing a special interest group, she said.
“The only people who are concerned about changing the Ohio Constitution are special interests themselves and the state legislature who want to take power away from voters by diluting their ability to change the Ohio Constitution,” she added.
Ultimately, according to Senate President Matt Huffman, both arguments were beside the point — because when you think about it, anything can be considered a special interest group.
“Everybody wants to call somebody they don’t like a special interest group,” he said. “But nearly everything we vote on here — whether it’s for the nurses, whether it’s for public schools, whether it is for veterans, as we did today — someone could define as a special interest group."
Lawmakers in Missouri apparently did not get that memo as they debated an identical proposal using those exact same arguments. They eventually reached the same sort of non-conclusion thanks to a procedural move that allowed Senate Democrats to seize control of the floor to block a vote on the bill, the Missouri Independent reported.
The filibuster worked in part because Republicans can’t agree on how to realize their dream of making it harder for citizens to amend the Missouri Constitution. There are three ways for residents to do that, but the bill focuses on the initiative process, which requires Missourians to gather petition signatures equal to 8% of the most recent gubernatorial vote total in at least six of the state’s eight congressional districts. Proposals with enough signatures proceed to the ballot, where a simple majority of votes cast is enough to amend the constitution.
Some Republicans would like to bump up that threshold, requiring a 60% majority of votes to approve changes. Others would prefer to leave the simple majority in place but require that proposed amendments win in more than half of the state’s eight congressional districts. And some GOP lawmakers apparently prefer to hide their intentions altogether by couching the proposal in anti-immigration rhetoric. (I can’t explain this and Republicans can’t, either. “I couldn’t tell you,” House Speaker Dean Plocher said when asked to account for the language.)
Frustrated with Republicans repeatedly doing literally nothing to prevent mass shootings, a trio of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday staged a gun-control rally during a legislative session at the Tennessee State Capitol, the Tennessee Lookout reported. The chaos erupted in the House three days after three children and three adults were shot to death at a Nashville elementary school.
During a five-minute recess near 11 a.m., Democratic state Reps. Justin Jones (Nashville), Justin J. Pearson (Memphis) and Gloria Johnson (Knoxville) stormed to the podium with a megaphone and began a series of chants (“Gun control now!”), urging viewers in the balcony to join. Leaders from both parties huddled outside as House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, admonished the crowd.
After 30 minutes, the entire House Republican Caucus exited the chamber, ostensibly to figure out how to quelch the protest without actually doing anything to prevent another mass shooting. (Familiar ground!) When they filed back in, Sexton told lawmakers that he understood their “frustrations,” which they should have used “acceptable behavior” to express. Republicans then invoked a procedural move to limit debate, allowing “absolutely nothing” to continue unabated.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Todd Gardenhire reaffirmed his committee’s commitment to inaction a day earlier, telling lawmakers that the panel would not consider gun control proposals for the remainder of the legislative session. He was “embarrassed” that some lawmakers had the audacity to make Monday’s shooting “a political issue and take advantage of a complete tragedy,” he added.
“This committee is not gonna be turned into a circus by people with other agendas,” he said. “The agenda on the table now is respecting the privacy of the victims’ families that were gunned down and let that healing process start.”
It’s convenient timing for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which already approved legislation that would lower the gun-carry age to 18. That bill emerged from a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 21-year-old age limit, which Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti decided to settle after determining he could not defend the law in court. A U.S. District Court judge signed the order Monday, the same day that six people were gunned down at The Covenant School in Nashville.
The prohibition on gun bills will likely affect only proposals advocating for stricter gun control, including a proposal that would require people to secure weapons left in boats and cars and a red-flag policy that would make it easier for law enforcement to seize weapons from people deemed a danger to themselves or others. Johnson has introduced some version of that bill every year since taking office, only to see it fail at the hands of Republicans who don’t want to put police in the “dangerous situation” of trying to confiscate someone’s guns. It’s not clear how those same Republicans feel about putting police in the far more dangerous situation of trying to stop an active shooter.
Except it is, actually, pretty clear: Kansas Republican asserts ‘God-given’ gun rights during debate on concealed carry fees … Nebraska lawmakers advance school safety package to full Legislature … ‘We’re going to pass this’: Walz advocates for gun control in Minnesota … Florida Legislature approves permitless gun bill; no license, no training course required
From The Newsrooms
One Last Thing
If you only sometimes sort of exercise, you’re reaping similar benefits to someone who more frequently sort of exercises, according to a recent study. Just take 8,000 or more steps per day once or twice a week and call it good, friends.
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