The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Democratic State Supreme Court Justices Suddenly Discover Partisan Redistricting Is Bad

It’s not hard to notice that in many minds, drawing district lines to maximize partisan advantage only became a threat to democracy once Republicans started doing it.

In a move certain to upend state politics and the critical 2018 elections, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state’s congressional map “clearly, plainly, and palpably” violates the state constitution and blocked its use in the May primaries.

The justices, a majority of whom are Democrats, sided with a group of voters who contended that the state’s 18 U.S. House districts were unconstitutionally drawn to discriminate against Democrats. The court ordered the Republican-led legislature to draw a new map immediately.

Senate Republicans vowed to request a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. In a statement, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Majority Leader Jake Corman attacked the ruling as a “partisan action showing a distinct lack of respect for the Constitution and the legislative process.” The court, they said, had overreached.

Some are arguing this could bring about four or five new Democratic-leaning districts in the state, but having just looked at the map for an upcoming big roundup of the 2018 House races, I’m not sure it will be that much of an advantage. As Keegan Gibson points out, there are four Pennsylvania Republicans retiring this year, so they don’t need to preserve old district lines to protect those incumbents. Even if the Democrat-leaning Pennsylvania State Supreme Court draws the lines, this is a state where a bit more than a year ago Trump won, Senator Patrick Toomey won, Republicans won the state House and state Senate, and Republicans won 13 out of 18 U.S. House seats. In 2016, three million Pennsylvanians voted for Republican candidates for Congress, and 2.6 million Pennsylvanians voted for Democratic candidates for Congress. Eventually, you run out of Democratic voters.

As for the nefariousness of redistricting for partisan advantage, I swear, it’s like some aspects of recent history are subject to Stalinesque erasure:

One day in the spring of 2001, about a year after the loss to Rush, [Barack] Obama walked into the Stratton Office Building, in Springfield, a shabby nineteen-fifties government workspace for state officials next to the regal state capitol. He went upstairs to a room that Democrats in Springfield called “the inner sanctum.” Only about ten Democratic staffers had access; entry required an elaborate ritual—fingerprint scanners and codes punched into a keypad. The room was large, and unremarkable except for an enormous printer and an array of computers with big double monitors. On the screens that spring day were detailed maps of Chicago, and Obama and a Democratic consultant named John Corrigan sat in front of a terminal to draw Obama a new district. Corrigan was the Democrat in charge of drawing all Chicago districts, and he also happened to have volunteered for Obama in the campaign against Rush.

Obama’s former district had been drawn by Republicans after the 1990 census. But, after 2000, Illinois Democrats won the right to redistrict the state. Partisan redistricting remains common in American politics, and, while it outrages a losing party, it has so far survived every legal challenge. In the new century, mapping technology has become so precise and the available demographic data so rich that politicians are able to choose the kinds of voter they want to represent, right down to individual homes.

If you weren’t bothered by Democratic redistricting, you cannot be upset by Republican redistricting!

President Trump’s Successful Strategic Silence

“Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness.” – Sun Tsu

When Chuck Schumer gave his speech on the Senate floor Monday, announcing that Senate Democrats would support a continuing resolution to reopen the government in exchange for a promise of a vote on DACA in the coming weeks, everyone could tell he was surprised and dismayed that he had been forced to surrender so quickly. He was particularly irked that his position turned into a political loser over the course of a weekend, and that President Trump had failed to provide him some controversial statement to use as cover.

“The White House refused to engage in negotiations over the weekend,” Schumer fumed. “The great deal-making president sat on the sidelines.”

He’s trying to bait Trump; we will have to see whether that tactic works. The fact remains that Trump earned one of his biggest political victories of his presidency just by staying home and mostly staying quiet over the weekend.

I think Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is a deeply underrated leader, but it’s worth noting he and the Republicans had the wind at their back in this circumstance. Schumer had led his party further out on a limb than his red state senators were willing to go, and to a position a majority of the public did not support. The public is generally supportive of protecting the DACA kids from deportation, but they’re not willing to live with a government shutdown to get it.

The lingering problem for Democrats is that despite all of their Election Day setbacks in recent years, they’re not used to being out-negotiated or losing a messaging fight. They’re stunned.

It’s a debacle,” said Representative Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.) “I’m just saddened by it all.”

“This is a bad, outrageous deal. Trump and Republicans in Congress stood with their anti-immigrant nativist base, and too many Democrats backed down, abandoned Dreamers, and failed to fight for their values,” political action executive director Ilya Sheyman said in a statement.

“The only thing more astonishing than the man in the White House and the demands he’s made on our national conscience is the fecklessness of the party opposing him,” writes Osita Nwanevu in Slate.

Tonight, liberal groups will be protesting outside Schumer’s house in Brooklyn.

Ezra Klein is one of the few Democrats insisting that Schumer did not cave, and that Democrats can and should shut down the government again in three weeks if they don’t get what they want:

If Democrats get a fair vote in the House and Senate on an immigration deal and it doesn’t pass, will they shut down the government again in three weeks? Put differently, is this a deal about a fair process or about a particular outcome? If Democrats don’t get a deal and they shut the government back down in three weeks, it’s hard to see what was lost here.

But if red state Democrats were exerting enough pressure on Schumer to capitulate and reopen the government after one weekday of a shutdown . . . what will change in their position in the next three weeks?

Among the Democrats who voted to reopen the government yesterday:

Bill Nelson of Florida

Joe Donnelly of Indiana

Debbie Stabenow of Michigan

Claire McCaskill of Missouri

Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota

Sherrod Brown of Ohio

Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania

Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin

All of them represent states Trump won, and all of them are up for reelection in ten months. The only Democrat in that category who didn’t vote to reopen the government was Jon Tester of Montana. Also voting “yes” were the four senators who represent the most federal workers, Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Maryland Democrats Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

Do you think any of them will become fans of a government shutdown in the coming weeks? The only thing that will change about the politics of a government shutdown next month is that we’ll be a little bit closer to Election Day.

This morning, Schumer has a lot of egg on his face, and he’s probably going to be denounced and pilloried by his political allies for the rest of the week. But it’s worth keeping in mind that Monday’s move might eventually be seen as a wise tactical retreat. Because a shutdown-driven “pox on both your houses” mood is worse for vulnerable red state Democrats up for reelection in 2018 than the alternative, Schumer was wise to retreat and get back to traditional DACA negotiations. A lot of Republicans want the issue of DACA resolved and off their plate, and they want some concessions on border security. Schumer and Gutierrez made noises about reaching a deal on “the wall.” It’s not hard to imagine Democrats making sufficient concessions because they want to avoid a shutdown as well.

For the Democrats, the real big goal is success in the midterms. If they win the House, they’ll have a lot more leverage on negotiations on immigration policy and all kinds of other policies.

Most ‘Aren’t You Really Saying . . . ’ Questions are Thinly-Veiled Attacks.

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf watches an interview of Jordan B. Peterson, a University of Toronto clinical psychologist, and notices that the interviewer’s style of questioning is to contend Peterson has said something way more controversial and indefensible than he actually said.

It was the most prominent, striking example I’ve seen yet of an unfortunate trend in modern communication.

A person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.

Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and various Fox News hosts all feature and reward this rhetorical technique. And the Peterson interview has so many moments of this kind that each successive example calls attention to itself until the attentive viewer can’t help but wonder what drives the interviewer to keep inflating the nature of Peterson’s claims, instead of addressing what he actually said.

First, it’s not just “Fox News hosts” that do this on television. (I guess if you’re writing for the audience of The Atlantic, you need to reassure the readership that you’re on the correct side, even if your article is going to criticize a left-of-center British television host.)

Second, this isn’t that much of a mystery. A significant portion of those in the interviewing business don’t see their job as eliciting information; they see their job as haranguing their guest to ensure that the audience knows that the guest is to be demonized and disdained.

ADDENDA: From the Pew Research Center: “Since 2001, the share of Republicans sympathizing more with Israel than the Palestinians has increased 29 percentage points, from 50 percent to 79 percent. Over the same period, the share of Democrats saying this has declined eleven  points, from 38 percent to 27 percent.”

Y’all know the Palestinians elected Hamas to run their territories, right?

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