Trump’s legacy on the line in Georgia

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our readers. The Briefing will be back on Monday, Jan. 4. 

This week:

  • Electoral vote challenge will at least be awkward
  • Becerra could meet stiff resistance
  • In Georgia, Republicans seem to have the upper hand


Electoral vote count: Some Republicans have promised to challenge electoral votes when the House reconvenes in the new year. This could cause a few uncomfortable moments or even uncomfortable forced votes for establishment Republicans. The thought of simply moving on from the Trump era is not realistic — he still wields far too much power within the party for that.

Any challenge to any state’s electors brought by a member of the House will require a Senate co-sponsor in order to go to a vote. The burning question is, how many Republicans really want to cross Trump by acknowledging Biden as the victor? It cannot be lost on any Republican officeholder at this point that Trump’s power within the GOP has been immense. It has helped end promising Republican careers, such as those of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. and Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah. 

On the other hand, it must be admitted that Trump is not omnipotent — he has not been powerful enough with his forceful personality and popular Twitter account to take down Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, nor Sens. Susan Collins or Ben Sasse, in spite of their occasional pointed criticisms of him. Those two senators have both just been re-elected to serve another six years. 

So where does that leave us? If senators refuse to join in a challenge brought by a House member such as Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., will they find themselves subjected to Twitter rants and perhaps later a primary that originates with Trump or his inner circle of supporters? If a vote is allowed, will the damage become greater as House members are forced to choose sides and try to overturn the result?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was once a Trump critic but became a staunch Trump ally throughout his administration, and continues even now to confirm the last of his judicial nominations. Last week, after the Electoral College vote, he publicly acknowledged Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race. As the party leader, McConnell is in an ideal position to be the first to step forward. He will not have to face the voters in his state for six years, and his action now helps make it easier for other Senate Republicans to follow suit.

Electoral College virtues: Trump’s challenge faces two main problems. The first is that the courts — and that includes judges appointed by Trump — have not found voting irregularities on the sort of scale that would come close to overturning the certified results. The second is that the Electoral College has now voted. In the American system, this is how the presidency is decided. And in fact, because the 538 electors’ votes are the only votes that actually count, the Electoral College system is ultimately a guarantor of the legitimacy of elections. Where presidential races are close and hotly contested, the electoral vote count removes any long-term doubts about the result. 

It should also be noted, at a time when Democrats are increasingly clamoring to abolish the Electoral College and move in the direction of a national popular vote, that the current system guarantees that the states’ say in who becomes president depends upon their population, not their voter turnout. This actually blunts the effect of money in politics, as it renders ineffective the sort of slick advertising campaigns that could potentially juice up turnout in deep Blue or Red states. It also guarantees that important down-ballot races or referenda in particular states will not have an outsized effect on the presidential outcome in the long run.

House Energy: As a sign of just how cowed Democrats are feeling about the left-wing message that probably damaged their party in the last election, Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee chose the more moderate Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., to serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee over the author of the Green New Deal, her fellow New Yorker, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

It is telling that although the Biden campaign was willing to put Ocasio-Cortez on its symbolic panel regarding global warming, the more liberal Pelosi is simply too practical to play along with such nonsense.

Becerra Nomination: The designation of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Biden’s Secretary of Health and Human Services is by far the most controversial aspect of his administration to date. In fact, the result of the Georgia runoff could decide Becerra’s fate. 

This is the nomination that Senate Republicans are most likely to resist, and one that Democrats are hard-pressed to defend, since he has no known expertise in the area. For that precise reason, the prospective appointment has caused some liberals to accuse Biden of tokenism.

Becerra, a former congressman and current attorney general of California, is not the average Democratic supporter of abortion — he is a rabidly pro-abortion official. As a member of Congress, he was a 100% NARAL voter, even opposing the ban on partial-birth abortion. As attorney general, he has used his position to hound and persecute the Little Sisters of the Poor as well as the filmmakers who exposed Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal body parts. He also attempted (unsuccessfully) to force pro-life pregnancy help centers to advertise for the abortion industry.  

Had Biden chose him for attorney general, it would probably have caused waves. But his choice for this specific position is much more dramatic. Biden has signaled a desire to govern in a less extreme manner, and he will be stuck with a Congress that will force him to honor that promise to some extent. Democrats’ narrow House majority, combined with a likely Republican Senate majority, will sharply limit his ability to make sweeping changes such as even the customary tax increases that tend to occur when Democrats take power. 

So his administrative appointments will be especially important. And to choose someone like Becerra, whose only qualification on the issue of health is his rabid promotion of abortion, sends exactly the opposite signal from the one he tried to send in his victory speech. 

If Republicans are genuinely determined to fight this nomination, they would have a very good chance of making Becerra the one they make an example of while allowing most or all of Biden’s other picks to go through. 

Senate 2021

Georgia: The last two rounds of polls — one by Emerson and one by the Trafalgar Group — suggest that Republicans hold a narrow advantage in both of the Senate runoffs to be held Jan 5. 

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R, in particular, seems to have put some daylight between herself and the Rev. Ralph Warnock, after a storm  of opposition research was dropped on the previously obscure pastor about his radicalism and about an incident at a youth camp in which he hindered police from interviewing campers about an abuse incident without camp staff or their representatives being present. After trailing a few weeks ago, she now posts a lead as large as six points. 

Although the state’s Republicans and Trump seem to have been at cross-purposes at times, the outcome of these races will determine whether Trump’s legacy survives this year’s election. Although Democrats’ more radical plans to abolish the filibuster and pack the Supreme Court are already on ice for now, at stake in the two Georgia races is Republicans’ ability to prevent Democrats from using the reconciliation process to undo tax reform and confirm a raft of judicial nominations.

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