The Morning Jolt


Jeff Sessions Is Running for His Former Senate Seat

Attorney General Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee, June 13, 2017. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until Tuesday. To all our veterans, thank you in advance.

Making the click-through worthwhile: Jeff Sessions is running for Senate again, in a move that makes sense for him but not for anyone else; Republicans had a pretty good night in western Pennsylvania, but that may not quite offset their losses in the Philadelphia suburbs; and NR’s John McCormack interviews senators and finds evidence that the Assault Weapons Ban, the Green New Deal and Medicare for All will never pass the Senate, even if Democrats win control of the chamber in 2020; and Elizabeth Warren finds an innovative new way to be dishonest about her background.

Why Are You Running for Senate, Jeff Sessions?

I can understand why he wants to run. Sessions was the lone senator to endorse Trump early in the 2016 cycle, became Trump’s closest ally among Washington Republicans, was nominated as attorney general, won a tough confirmation fight . . . and then quickly turned into the president’s punching bag. Six months into the job, Trump was publicly complaining he shouldn’t have appointed him, and went on to call Sessions “beleaguered,” “VERY weak” and “DISGRACEFUL.” Instead of being a capstone to a long career in Washington, Session’s last job in the nation’s capital was a long exercise in perpetual public humiliation.

But while the bid makes sense for Sessions, it doesn’t make much sense for anyone else. Sessions is going to become one of the president’s favorite targets and distractions in this cycle. Sessions’ entry further splits an already crowded GOP Senate primary field, slightly increasing the odds of Roy Moore making it to a runoff and getting the nomination. A lot of Trump supporters see Sessions as a turncoat or incompetent, so they may well adopt an anybody-but-Sessions stance, either in a runoff or a general election. (In case you’re wondering, Democratic senator Doug Jones is voting with the administration’s position 35 percent of the time. Alabama’s Republican senator Richard Shelby, is voting with the administration 93.7 percent of the time.)

Sessions turns 73 on Christmas Eve. Is it unreasonable to want some new blood? Alabama must have some scandal-free conservative Republican out there who would make a fine senator. Sessions has had four terms.

Was Pennsylvania Not Quite So Bad for Republicans This Year?

Dave Wasserman notices that because of less-covered races in western Pennsylvania counties, Republicans picked up control of six new county commissions, while Democrats picked up five.

Kurt wonders if the Republican gains in the western part of the state will offset those GOP losses in the Philadelphia suburbs. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility, and Trump certainly could still win Pennsylvania in 2020; those Siena/New York Times polls showed a close race among likely voters no matter who the Democrats nominate.

But I would be extremely wary of any strategy that deliberately traded support in much more populous suburban counties for a higher level of support in much less-populated rural counties. On Tuesday Republicans gained control of commissions in Armstrong (Census-estimated population 65,623), Cameron (4,492), Greene (36,506), Luzerne (316,646), Washington (207,346), and Westmoreland counties (350,611).

That adds up to a population of (not registered or likely voters) 981,224 people.

Democrats flipped Bucks (628,195), Chester (522,046), Delaware (564,751), Lehigh (368,100), and Monroe (169,507) counties. That adds up to a population of (not registered or likely voters) of 2,252,599 people. So yes, Republicans won control of more county commissions on Tuesday, but a lot more Pennsylvanians will live in counties with Democratically controlled county commissions.

Winning or losing the state all comes down to the margins. Republicans don’t need to win suburban counties to win statewide races in Pennsylvania or many other states; they need to keep them reasonably close and then run up their margins in rural and exurban counties, while hoping Democrats don’t have huge turnout in the cities. In 2016, both Trump and Senator Pat Toomey won Pennsylvania, but they took different paths, so to speak; Toomey ran much better in the suburbs but didn’t have as large a margin in the rural counties.

Perhaps one of the most important statements of the 2020 cycle came from Chuck Schumer (and as far as I can tell, I’m the only reporter at that event who spotlighted it): “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” Schumer’s math didn’t work out correctly, but he correctly diagnosed the change in the party’s demographics. In 2018, that shift obliterated most of the GOP House members representing suburban districts, and it’s worth remembering that Trump won Pennsylvania by about 68,000 votes and Wisconsin by about 28,000 votes. Schumer’s calculation was wrong, but it wasn’t wildly wrong.

We’re starting to hear more about how the Trump campaign believes it hasn’t reached its ceiling of potential supporters, that they can identify and find like-minded potential voters who didn’t cast a ballot in 2016 and turn them out. That could indeed help win the state — but no campaign that wants to win can just shrug off losing the suburbs by a wide margin. (Note that Republican congressman Brian Fitzpatrick won reelection in 2018, 51 percent to 48 percent, and his district includes Bucks County and a bit of Montgomery County. Republicans can win in the suburbs, but the first step is wanting to win there.)

Democratic Senators: the Filibuster Is Here to Stay

Our John McCormack quietly snares a big scoop that means that most of the policy dreams of progressives will never happen, even if they elect Elizabeth Warren president, Democrats win control of the Senate, and keep control of the House of Representatives. Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, have all declared, on the record, that they do not support “nuking the filibuster” for legislation, meaning the Senate will continue to require 60 senators to agree to bring legislation to a vote. Both Manchin and Tester told McCormack that they cannot imagine any circumstances where they would change their mind.

But wait, there’s more: two more blue-state Democrats don’t want to change the rules, either:

“I think we should keep the filibuster. It’s one of the few things that we have left in order to let all of the voices be heard here in the Senate,” Nevada freshman Jacky Rosen, the only Democrat to unseat a Senate GOP incumbent in 2018, tells National Review. “I’m a yes” on keeping the legislative filibuster, Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey says.

And a slew of other Democrats, from Chris Coons to Mark Warner to Ben Cardin to Michael Bennet all sound reluctant. From the comments of these senators, it sounds like a half-dozen think it’s a bad idea and at least another half-dozen have the wherewithal to realize eliminating the filibuster would bite them in the tush the moment the GOP gets control of the Senate again.

As John notes, “Keeping the filibuster would ensure Democrats could not enact a variety of laws, from the Assault Weapons Ban to the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, if they take control of Washington in 2020.”

Of course, politicians lie. It would only require 51 votes (or 50 votes and the vice president) to change the rules of the Senate, and eliminate the filibuster; if Democrats get to, say, 48 votes and these three are the last obstacle, the amount of political pressure upon them will be enormous. But Sinema, Tester, and Manchin all represent red or reddish states and campaign each year on being different from other liberal Democrats. Folding on the filibuster and enabling a lot of hard-left ideas that wouldn’t be popular in Arizona, Montana, or West Virginia would probably spell the end of their senatorial careers.

ADDENDUM: Today, Kevin Williamson’s column is titled, “Elizabeth Warren thinks voters are stupid. There isn’t any obvious reason to doubt that she’s right.” Kevin is writing about her alleged plan to pay for all of her ideas, which would require raising federal tax revenue by around 80 percent.

As if on cue, Politico reports:

[Warren] checks to see if there are any fellow “Okies” in the crowd. She describes herself as a “teacher,” the job she yearned for as a young girl when she lined up her “dollies” for instruction (“I had a reputation for being tough but fair,” she quips.)

She doesn’t poll her audience for people from Massachusetts, where she is the senior senator and where she has lived for over 20 years. Nor does she refer to herself as a “professor,” instead saying that after a brief public school teaching stint she “traded littles ones for big ones and taught in law school for most of my life.” At times on the trail, she wears a Berkshire Community College cap — from the small school in western Massachusetts where she gave the commencement address in 2015.

What, does she think people will just forget she’s been teaching at Harvard for two decades and that she was paid $429,981 over two years to teach two classes?


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