Plus, a question about the hunter Biden investigation.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
- The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case where a woman is challenging Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act, saying it violates her right to free speech by forcing her to create wedding websites for same-sex couples. Court watchers believe the 6-3 conservative majority may carve out a narrow exemption in the law, in favor of the website designer. (The arguments)
- The tallest volcano on Indonesia's most populous island has erupted, forcing close to 2,000 people to evacuate. (The volcano)
- Hackers tied to the Chinese government stole at least $20 million in U.S. Covid benefits, according to the Secret Service. (The money)
- Attorney Michael Avenatti was sentenced to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay $11 million for embezzling money from his clients. (The sentence)
- The Department of Homeland Security has delayed the enforcement of Real ID for two more years, from May of 2023 to May of 2025. (The delay)
Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.
The Georgia runoff. Today is election day in Georgia, where voters will cast their ballots in the Senate runoff between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. The two faced off in the November general election, but after neither candidate got 50% of the vote, they headed to a runoff today.
In November, Warnock won 49.4% of the vote, with 1,946,117 ballots cast for him. Walker won 48.5% of the vote, with 1,908,442 ballots cast for him. Chase Oliver, the Libertarian candidate in the race, won 2.07%, or 81,365 votes. Oliver will not be in the runoff. This is the second time in as many elections that Georgia's Senate race has gone to a runoff.
On Friday, election workers reported heavy turnout on the final day of early voting. As of Friday morning, at least 1,473,000 voters had cast early ballots in person or via mail, Georgia's secretary of state Brad Raffensperger said. That is about 37% of the total votes cast in the Nov. 8 midterm election.
Both Republicans and Democrats have poured resources into Georgia, with $80 million spent on television ads in the last four weeks alone. If Warnock wins, Democrats will pick up a seat in the Senate, moving to a 51-49 majority. If Walker wins, the Senate will be split 50-50, with a Democratic majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris's tie breaking vote.
Currently, Warnock is considered the favorite, as recent polls show him with a slight edge and he outperformed Walker in the first round of voting.
Today, we'll take a look at some opinions on the race from the left and the right, then my take. You can find our previous coverage of the Georgia race and midterms here.
What the left is saying.
- The left emphasizes the potential benefits of a win, saying Democrats could confirm federal judges more easily.
- Many question Walker's fitness for office, arguing that he is not someone who should be in the U.S. Senate.
- Some criticize the absence of substance in his campaign.
In Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein said 51 Senate votes is a "world apart" from 50 Senate votes for Democrats.
“One additional Senate seat would make a huge difference for Democrats — for judicial and executive-branch nominations, for oversight, maybe even for legislating. With a 50/50 Senate, any tie votes are broken by the vice president, while the committees operate under a power-sharing agreement and are evenly split,” Bernstein wrote. “So the Judiciary Committee, for example, which considers all judicial nominations, has 11 senators from each party. It will stay that way if Republican challenger Herschel Walker defeats Warnock. But if Warnock wins, Democrats will organize the Senate and have majorities on each committee.
“That will smooth the way for more rapid confirmation of judges and executive-branch nominees,” he said. “Republicans in the current Congress haven’t had the votes to defeat any of them as long as every Democrat stayed onboard. But tie votes in committee gave them extra procedural tools to slow things down. There’s no proxy voting on the Senate floor — if for any reason a Democrat cannot make a vote, it might need to be delayed. And while Democrats have stayed unified behind almost all of President Joe Biden’s selections during the past two years, 51 Democrats will give the White House just a bit of breathing room.”
In The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Patricia Murphy said Herschel Walker's campaign has been "beneath" Georgia voters.
“Among the many problems with his campaign is the fact that Walker has done the most limited of interviews outside of friendly media," Murphy said. "We still don’t know where Walker stands on funding the war in Ukraine, for example, or potential cuts to Medicare and Social Security, nor which regulations he’d cut in his promise to reduce government red tape. Which committees would he want to serve on? Who would advise him? Who knows?... If you think you’d get those answers by going to a Walker campaign rally, think again. Walker’s stump speeches are heavy on slogans and heroic biography — and almost totally devoid of policy proposals.
“Walker tells his audiences about getting a scholarship to college and making the Olympic bobsled team. He calls them his family and swears to protect them. He warns them about transgender kids playing sports and asks if they’d want their daughters competing against him. ‘No!’ comes the answer," Murphy wrote. "Lately, his staff has imposed a rule that reporters cannot get within 20 feet of the candidate. That’s kept him protected from both the easy questions he might have been asked and the hard ones, especially about his troubled personal background. That includes the “atrocities” he’s been accused of by his son Christian, the three other children he never discussed before the campaign, the two abortions separate women said he paid for, which he denies, and accusations of abuse from a different ex-girlfriend.”
In The New York Times, Ross Barkan said Democrats need Mr. Warnock in power for at least two overriding reasons: to safeguard their gains in the judiciary and to bolster their national bench.
“In four years, Mr. McConnell’s Senate majority confirmed three right-wing justices and 234 new judges overall, many of them youthful conservatives rubber-stamped by the Federalist Society. Since Democrats retook the Senate majority in 2021, Mr. Biden has undertaken his own successful counteroffensive, in tandem with Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader. Mr. Schumer’s Senate has actually confirmed federal judges at a faster rate than Mr. McConnell’s at the time of the first midterm election," Barkan wrote. "If Mr. Warnock wins, the Senate can move more rapidly and seek judges who are perhaps more progressive in their worldviews — the sort who could hit a snag if someone like Joe Manchin, the centrist from West Virginia, or Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is the deciding vote.
“Democrats must evenly split committee members in the 50-50 Senate, giving Republicans the power to delay votes on judges,” Barkan said. “A 51-49 majority would be much more dominant: Committees like the judiciary would be stacked with Democrats, greatly speeding up the confirmation process. There are about 75 vacancies on U.S. District Courts and nine at the appellate level. That number is bound to grow as more judges retire in the next two years. Democrats, with Mr. Warnock, could also be in position to replace a Supreme Court justice. The 6-3 conservative majority makes this seem less pressing, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was a lesson that Stephen Breyer, who retired this year, seemed to heed: Once you’re of retirement age, it’s best to leave the court if an ideologically friendly president and Senate majority are in control.”
What the right is saying.
- Many on the right argue this race is still important, even if Republicans can't take the majority.
- They urge Republicans to vote for Walker and limit the power Democrats have, but worry about Walker's chances.
- Others criticize Walker's campaign, but say he is still worth casting a ballot for.
In Newsweek, Newt Gingrich made the case for why the Georgia Senate runoff matters for Republicans.
"With a 51-seat majority, the Democrats would control every committee. They would be able to advance judges and other Biden administration appointees without needing any Republican votes," Gingrich said. "They would also be able to schedule hearings and push through whatever radical legislation they dream up. At 50-50, there is genuine power sharing. Every committee has an even number of Democrats and Republicans. All nominations require bipartisan approval to be reported out of committee. Hearings must be held with bipartisan agreement. The difference in power between the Democratic and Republican leadership could change dramatically depending on whether the Democrats have a one-seat majority or have to share control.
"Aside from Senate mechanics, there are enormous differences between Walker and Raphael Warnock as individuals. Walker is a genuine conservative who, as an athlete and businessman, knows the value of hard work, discipline, and commitment. These qualities are required for success at the individual and national levels," he wrote. "He has a deep faith in the American system and a sincere belief that opportunity is available to everyone willing to work hard. Warnock is an extraordinarily left-wing big-government socialist dedicated to woke principles. He is to the left of even Sen. Bernie Sanders. In two years in Washington, the Democrat has gone along with President Joe Biden and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer 96 percent of the time."
In The Washington Examiner, Byron York said the numbers "look ominous" for Republicans.
"There's no doubt something about the race has changed in the last few days. For one thing, what was Herschel Walker's main reason for running — to prevent Democratic control of the Senate — has disappeared. Democrats have already retained control of the Senate, and the Georgia runoff won't change that," York wrote. "Despite it all, Warnock is not a strong candidate. He is an undistinguished senator with a messy divorce and, as a pastor, serious questions about how his church funnels money to him and also treats its tenants. But of course, Walker has perhaps the messiest personal life of any recent candidate — for a while, previously unknown out-of-wedlock children seemed to be coming out of the woodwork — which has tended to lessen the effects of Republican attacks on Warnock.
"Yes, Walker sounds awful. But he still communicates with an audience. Listen to his speeches, and you will hear a few simple, solid Republican positions. He wants to restore American energy independence. He wants to reduce federal spending. He is against wokeness. He is for religious liberty. He supports police. He wants greater funding for the military. He wants a less intrusive federal government," York said. "That is all mainstream Republicanism, if badly spoken. 'I make common sense,' Walker says. Indeed, he does."
In The New York Post, Deroy Murdock said too many Republicans are "ho-hum" about the race.
“If Democrat incumbent Raphael Warnock wins, Democrats would dominate the Senate, 51-49. But if GOP challenger Herschel Walker prevails, Democrats and Republicans will split 50-50, with major benefits for conservatives. A 51-49 Senate means that Schumer can tell Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to suck moonshine. Democrats could bark orders and laugh at the GOP’s submissive position. In contrast, 50-50 would force Schumer to respect Republicans. Nothing would happen until Schumer and McConnell renew or renegotiate their current power-sharing agreement... Fifty-fifty would enable united Republicans to strand bills in evenly cleaved committees.
"Fifty-fifty would require Vice President Kamala Harris to hang around to break tied votes, as she has 26 times to date... Fifty-fifty demands every Democrat’s presence to function. Schumer could not excuse senators from votes that would irritate constituents. This would become hazardous given Democrats’ harrowing re-election prospects in 2024. Rather than skip a tough decision, say, to expand school choice, Sherrod Brown would have to vote Yea and offend the insatiable teachers’ unions or Nay and anger Ohio’s parents and students. Herschel Walker is the gateway to the Joe Manchin veto. Fifty-fifty once again would empower the non-insane West Virginia Democrat to derail his caucus’ zaniest dreams; 51-49 would let Schumer dismiss Manchin’s concerns rather than accommodate or swallow them.”
Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.
- This race matters a great deal for both parties now, and especially for 2024.
- Warnock looks like a clear favorite based on the current dynamics, but Walker is going to keep it competitive.
- Nothing is more at stake than how Democrats can reshape the federal judiciary in the next two years.
In our final bit of midterm coverage, I said that a split Senate heading into this race was an advantage for Democrats.
My philosophy here is tied to David Shor's theory of the thermostatic voter. That is, voters react strongly to change, and try to limit it. If voters in Georgia had a chance to flip this seat and hand the Senate to Republicans, I think they'd be in a stronger position than they are now. Instead, the Senate is already lost, and they're left trying to motivate conservative voters by warning them that Democrats may have full control of committee assignments in the Senate — which is not the sexiest talking point to drive turnout.
It's also just a matter of how all the other races played out. So far, we've seen Trump-endorsed candidates in swing states struggle. We've seen Democrats thrive in states where abortion rights were in play. And we've seen candidates with a lot of personal baggage turn off independents. I expect all of that to matter in this race, and all of it favors Democrats slightly: Trump has endorsed Walker, Georgia may restrict abortion rights, and Walker has a lot of baggage.
There's also the fact that Warnock already holds a slight edge in the polling. This morning, Cook Political's Dave Wasserman said if the race were outside a 2-4 point margin, he would bet Warnock was going to win by more than four points. And again, this is all in a context where Republican voters may not feel this race really matters.
Of course, this race does matter. A lot. Firstly, for the map. Senators hold six year terms and Democrats have a terrible Senate map ahead of them in 2024, one that almost guarantees they will end up in the Senate minority unless they can manage a blowout. Taking any seat off that map now will give them a fighting chance to mitigate those losses, and Democrats know this. It's why they have outspent Republicans in this race and why Barack Obama returned to Georgia last month to campaign.
But the primary concern for Democrats is the judiciary. As both Barkan and Gingrich noted above, the mechanics of the Senate restrain power significantly in a 50-50 split. Even though Democrats technically have a majority in legislation, it makes confirmation of high-ranking officials and justices in committee much harder than it would be with a 51-49 Senate majority. That is especially important when you zoom out and look at the federal judiciary.
Perhaps the most lasting impact of the Donald Trump-Mitch McConnell years is how they reshaped the federal courts for conservatives. I do not like speaking about our courts in political terms — conservative justices aren’t the same as legislative Republicans. We know that justices don't always rule along party lines and "conservative" justices can just as often limit conservative lawmaking as liberal lawmaking. And vice versa.
Still, McConnell and Trump managed a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court and confirmed 234 bonafide conservative justices who will all serve for the rest of their lives. We have seen in real terms the impact of those appointments, and it's silly to argue this overhaul hasn't advanced a more conservative vision of the country. It has. This is, perhaps, the crowning achievement of the Trump presidency — and certainly of McConnell's career.
Biden has quietly gone on his own crusade of confirming liberal justices, and up to now has had to win over both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) while also navigating all the tools Republicans have to slow the process down. Most of the 85 justices he has pushed through are traditional liberal types, but a 51-49 majority would open the door for the administration to push for more progressive justices. This is, above all else, what makes this such a high-stakes election for both the left and the right.
I also wouldn't underestimate the possibility of a Supreme Court vacancy. There is already chatter in left-wing circles I follow of ushering Sonia Sotomayor or Elena Kagan out. For all the idolatry of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, many Democrats felt spurned by her refusal to retire, which set Trump and McConnell up for the incredible opportunity to confirm three Supreme Court justices in just four years. Two of those justices (Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch) are in their 40s and will serve for life.
Democrats would surely love to lock in another youthful Supreme Court justice, and given Sotomayor's health problems it’s not unreasonable to imagine her feeling increasingly pressured to walk away a little early. She is, at 68, nearing a fairly common retirement age for SCOTUS justices.
All this to say: There is a lot of reason to keep an eye on this election, and a lot of reason for voters on both sides to turn out. Operating with a 51-49 majority is a different ball game than a 50-50 majority, and leaders of each party know this. The question now is which party’s voters recognize these stakes — and how many of them turn out.
Your questions, answered.
Q: Why would you equate the need for a special counsel to investigate former president Trump with [the] investigation of Hunter Biden who has never been elected to public office? It seems like a form of ‘whataboutism.’
— Alia, Menlo Park, California
Tangle: For starters, I don’t think this 'whataboutism.' Whataboutism is when you try to change a subject to something else that is vaguely but not really related. Since yesterday's edition was about Hunter Biden, it would have been 'whataboutism' to write something like, “This is bad, but what about what Trump's children did? Let's talk about that instead.” I appreciate that you're saying the cases are distinct, and I could be making a false equivalency. My reasoning for bringing up a special counsel for Hunter Biden is twofold:
First, while Hunter Biden has never held public office, he is under federal investigation. Which means that there is a direct connection between him and the federal government's judicial system. Given this, the fact that he is the son of the man who runs the federal government seems like an obvious issue. Special counsels are, historically speaking, still a fairly new creation. But they are designed to assure the public's trust in scenarios where conflicts of interest may be perceived. A Biden appointee leading a department that is investigating his son seems like one such situation.
Second, it's possible an investigation into Hunter could touch his father. This is, to me, the most critical factor. Hunter is under investigation for financial crimes like failing to report income from his overseas ventures. One big question is whether he ever roped his dad into his foreign business deals abroad. We know from the "Hunter laptop" that, at the very least, he tried. We know Biden has met with some of those business partners, and we are pretty sure Hunter suggested at least once to put aside a stake in a venture for his father.
I gather you have more liberal views, so let me put it this way: If an attorney general appointed by Trump was investigating one of Trump’s kids for the millions of dollars of overseas money they were getting while their dad was president, wouldn’t you want that investigation to have some separation from Trump? If the Justice Department had taken on such an investigation during Trump’s presidency, would you have wanted the investigation to be overseen by Bill Barr?
In this case, imagine the Justice Department is investigating Hunter's alleged financial crimes and discovers, say, a scheme where he was peddling his dad's influence in exchange for a stake in a company where he was also putting aside equity for his father's post-political life. That would be a pretty serious scandal, and I'd prefer such an investigation to have an extra degree of separation from Attorney General Merrick Garland.
All that being said, the original Hunter Biden investigation began in 2018, and the man currently overseeing it is David Weiss, the U.S. Attorney in Delaware who is also a Trump appointee. Weiss could never be mistaken for an ally of President Biden's, and I'm surprised more conservatives aren't calling for leaving supervision of the case in his hands.
In other words: Removing Weiss and replacing him with a special counsel would probably also be viewed as a political act, just as not appointing a special counsel is, which puts Biden and the Justice Department in a sticky situation. These are the kinds of problems that arise when the son of a president is tied up in shady business dealings.
Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.
Under the radar.
It has now been more than two days since Moore County, North Carolina, went dark, and many questions remain unanswered. Two power substations were attacked with gunfire, leaving nearly 40,000 homes and businesses without power just 60 miles outside Raleigh. Nobody knows who fired the shots or why, but with temperatures dropping into the 40s overnight, residents are trying to find ways to stay warm. The eerie result is an entire town immersed in darkness, where a few generators are powering a handful of homes and businesses. Axios Raleigh has the story.
- 41%. President Joe Biden's favorability rating in Georgia, according to the latest CNN/SSRS poll.
- 52%. President Joe Biden's unfavorability rating in Georgia, according to the latest CNN/SSRS poll.
- 39%. Former President Trump's favorability rating in Georgia, according to the latest CNN/SSRS poll.
- 54%. Former President Trump's unfavorability rating in Georgia, according to the latest CNN/SSRS poll.
- Zero. The number of visits Trump has made to Georgia in the last month.
- Zero. The number of visits Biden has made to Georgia in the last month.
- 21%. The percentage of Georgia voters who do not have favorable views of either Trump or Biden.
Have a nice day.
Employees at a Home Depot in Tennessee worked together to track down the owner of $700 in cash that was found in an envelope dropped inside the store. Adam Adkisson was the first person to discover the envelope, which he thought was empty before picking it up. He turned the money in to his manager, who waited to see if anyone would return for it. The manager, Alyssa Rocchi, ended up posting about the story on Facebook, omitting certain details to see if anyone could credibly claim it. A man eventually reached out saying the money belonged to his business partner, Jonathan Clayton. "I was stressing over it pretty bad. So, I am glad that he is a social media guy and was able to see that because I would have never seen it," Clayton said. Rocchi praised Adkisson for turning the money in. UPI has the story.
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