Cup of Joe – 1/27/22

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring after serving more than two decades on the nation’s highest court, NPR reports.

NBC News: “Breyer is one of the three remaining liberal justices, and his decision to retire after more than 27 years on the court allows President Joe Biden to appoint a successor who could serve for several decades and, in the short term, maintain the current 6-3 split between conservative and liberal justices.”Breyer would officially step down at the end of the Supreme Court term, which would be in late June or early July.

President Joe Biden dramatically narrowed the field for his first Supreme Court pick when he said during the presidential campaign that he would make history and choose a Black woman.

Biden made the promise at a Democratic debate in February 2020: “I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a Black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure we in fact get everyone represented.”

Since nearly all recent Supreme Court picks have been federal appeals judges, that suggests Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is just 51 years old and was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by Biden last year, is the clear frontrunner.

Jackson also attracted three Republican votes when confirmed by the Senate to her current position just last year — from Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). That suggests Biden might not have to rely on just Democratic votes.

But Biden could go against recent precedent and choose a new justice from the state court system. In this case, Leondra Kruger, who is just 45 years old and a justice on the California Supreme Court, has been mentioned as a top possibility. But she’s politically moderate and would probably not be the first choice of liberal Democratic senators.

And then there’s the speculation Biden could make a non-traditional pick and choose Vice President Kamala Harris, who is 57 years old. While some think that would allow Biden to reshuffle Democratic expectations about who might succeed him, it could also expose some of Biden’s other political vulnerabilities — such as being too old to run for re-election in 2024.

Considering Biden’s rough last six months, it seems most likely he’ll go the traditional — and safest route — and pick Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Playbook: “After months of legislative stumbles (Build Back Better, voting rights), the White House has the chance for a major, legacy-shaping win that the entire Democratic Party can rally around.”

“The early handicapping of the nomination points in Dems’ favor (the filibuster doesn’t apply to SCOTUS nominations, and it’s unlikely that Biden will be unable to muster at least 50 votes in the Senate), and the appointment of a Black woman could be an energizing moment for the party’s base.”

“If all Democrats hang together — which I expect they will — they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support. Elections have consequences, and that is most evident when it comes to fulfilling vacancies on the Supreme Court.” — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), quoted by Politico.

New York Times: Democrats can seat a new justice on their own, even if Republicans unite in opposition.

President Biden cast a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine in stark historical terms, saying, “it would be the largest invasion since World War II,” CNBC reports.

Said Biden: “It would change the world.”

“Biden’s remarks reflect a growing consensus among NATO allies that any conflict in Ukraine is unlikely to be confined to a small area or a short window of time.”

Russia warned on Wednesday that imposing sanctions on President Vladimir Putin personally would not hurt him but would be “politically destructive,” Reuters reports.

New York Times: Here’s what U.S. sanctions on Putin might look like.

Washington Post: “Analysts from the Conflict Intelligence Team, an independent Russian open-source investigative outfit that monitors Russia’s military, reported Tuesday the first confirmed video of Russian paratroopers moving closer to Ukraine, calling the development ‘ominous’ because it follows the movement of Russian military groups into Belarus, north of Kyiv.”   Meanwhile, the White House briefed reporters on two new plans to discourage Putin from an attack.

Fiona Hill: “With Putin it’s always important to expect the unexpected. He makes sure that he has a range of options for action and different ways of leveraging a situation to exploit weakness. If all our attention is on Ukraine, then his next move might be somewhere else to throw us off balance and see how we react.”

Fiona Hill: “Putin and Russian propaganda have effectively depicted the U.S. and NATO as the aggressors and Ukraine as a threat to Russian security. He has put the onus on the U.S. to respond to Russian demands in Europe otherwise Moscow will be ‘justified’ in taking military action.”

“Biden needs to turn the tables on Putin; secure international condemnation of Russian threats and actions at the U.N. and in other institutions; enlist global support for Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty; and tie further negotiations with Russia on European security arrangements to Moscow de-escalating the situation by demonstrably pulling back forces recently deployed to regions bordering Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports the U.S. has now sent its official written response to Russia’s demands on Ukraine.

New York Times: “No European country matters more to European unity and the Western alliance. But as Germany struggles to overcome its post-World War II reluctance to lead on security matters in Europe and set aside its instinct to accommodate rather than confront Russia, Europe’s most pivotal country has waffled in the first crucial test for the new government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.”

“Germany’s evident hesitation to take forceful measures has fueled doubts about its reliability as an ally — reversing the dynamic with the United States in recent years — and added to concerns that Moscow could use German wavering as a wedge to divide a united European response to any Russian aggression.”

Euro Intelligence: “Germany has finally reached this Oh My God moment, when the country realizes that it is dependent on Russian gas to get through the winter, and that they have not prepared for a plan B…”

“Do not underestimate the political dynamics of what happens when people freeze to death.”

“The emir of Qatar will meet with President Biden at the White House on Monday to discuss Afghanistan as well as contingency plans to provide natural gas to Europe in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Axios reports.

Washington Post: “Democratic strategists increasingly worry that Biden faces no easy options to avert a seemingly imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine — and that no matter how he handles Russian President Vladimir Putin’s escalation, he could end up looking weak.”    Said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman: “There’s a lot to lose politically, but there’s not a lot to gain. I think the administration is doing a great job with this, but the Russians are the ones who are going to decide in the end whether to invade or not. If they decide not to invade, there are not going to be ticker tape parades for Joe Biden across America, and if they do decide to invade, people are going to wonder if the administration handled it correctly.”

“Domestic violent extremists have been planning to try to disrupt the U.S. power grid and will probably keep doing so, according to a Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin shared with law enforcement agencies and utility operators,” CBS News reports.

“Prosecutors explained the plot of a Game of Thrones episode to argue that a Capitol rioter who quoted the character Cersei Lannister on social media showed proof of criminal intent,” Insider reports.  “Two days after the insurrection, Jeremiah Caplinger, 25, posted an image of a soldier from the American Revolution with the caption: ‘As said by Cersi Lannister ‘I choose violence.’”

“The Justice Department is investigating the fake slates of electors that falsely declared Donald Trump the victor of the 2020 election in seven swing states that Joe Biden had in fact won,” the New York Times reports.  “The false certificates appear to have been part of an effort by Mr. Trump’s allies to reverse his defeat in the presidential election. Even as election officials in the seven contested states sent official lists of electors who had voted for Mr. Biden to the Electoral College, the fake slates claimed Mr. Trump was the winner in an apparent bid to subvert the election outcome.”

“The Federal Reserve held short-term interest rates steady on Wednesday and signaled intentions to raise them in mid-March, the latest turn toward removing stimulus to temper elevated inflation,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Wall Street Journal: “Shipping industry officials say the factors that triggered big bottlenecks earlier in 2021 persisted through December and have continued into 2022. Ships can’t unload quickly because terminals are full of containers. Truckers can’t pick up loads due to a shortage of drivers and the steel trailers used to pull boxes. Warehouses near the ports and at nearby logistics hubs are short workers and don’t have space for more deliveries.”

“Port congestion is a major worry for the Biden administration. The backups are exacerbating supply-chain delays and driving up shipping costs that are contributing to inflation reaching its highest level in decades.”

“Oil touched $90 a barrel for the first time in seven years on Wednesday, supported by tight supply and rising political tensions between Russia and Ukraine that added to concerns about further disruption in an already-tight market,” Reuters reports.

Dominion Voting Systems said this week in a court filing that there was no “realistic possibility” that it would settle its $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and the pro-Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, Insider reports.

Said lawyers in a filing: “Given the devastating harm to Plaintiffs, the lack of remorse shown by Defendants, and the fact that many of them continue to double down on their lies, Plaintiffs do not believe any realistic possibility of settlement exists.”

“‘Big Joe’ Ellicott, a former Florida shock jock with potentially key information about the sex trafficking ring involving Rep. Matt Gaetz, has pleaded guilty in federal court,” the Daily Beast reports. “Ellicott is the long-time best friend of corrupt Florida tax official Joel Greenberg, who was Gaetz’s wingman in the underage sex operation.

“Justice Department investigators have reached a cooperation agreement with a man whose attorney says he witnessed Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) attend parties involving ‘a whole lot’ of sex and drug use — another potential boon to the sprawling and slow-moving sex trafficking investigation into the congressman,” the Washington Post reports.

“Joseph Ellicott agreed to plead guilty to two federal criminal charges in a case separate from the probe of Gaetz. But Ellicott also has been talking with Justice Department investigators examining whether the congressman committed sex trafficking of a minor… Ellicott’s plea agreement requires him to cooperate fully with the government as they explore other potential crimes.”

“White House officials announced Wednesday that the United States has donated more than 400 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to other countries under the Biden administration,” the Washington Post reports.

“Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. have reached the highest level since early last year, eclipsing daily averages from the recent Delta-fueled surge, after the newer Omicron variant spread wildly through the country and caused record-shattering case counts,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Bloomberg: “Packed bars in San Francisco. Popular hot yoga classes in Boston. Signs are mounting that many Americans in highly vaccinated places are grasping for a near-normal life, even as the most contagious Covid-19 surge yet passes over.”

“Ben Williamson, a top aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, met on Tuesday with the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection,” Politico reports.

“His cooperation with the committee is significant, given that his boss, Meadows, is currently facing possible criminal contempt of Congress charges because of his lack of cooperation with the committee.”

Washington Post: “Thousands of Americans who jumped into crypto investing over the past two years in hopes of a rocket ride to instant wealth now face a similar reckoning: Prices for cryptocurrencies — from relative stalwarts such as bitcoin and Ethereum to more exotic tokens — have cratered since reaching all-time highs in early November, wiping out an astonishing $1.35 trillion in value globally, nearly half of the total market.”

“Melania Trump’s much-discussed online auction, featuring a hat she wore at the White House during a 2018 visit by President Emmanuel Macron of France, is turning into a potential victim of the crash in the cryptocurrency market,” the New York Times reports.  “Only a few bids appeared to have been made on Mrs. Trump’s items as of early Tuesday evening, and the value in dollars of the highest bid was around $170,000, with the exact dollar value fluctuating along with the volatile crypto market.”

A 31-year-old man in need of a heart transplant has been bumped from the transplant list at Brigham and Women’s Hospital because he won’t get vaccinated against Covid-19, CBS Boston reports.  Said Dr. Arthur Caplan: “The flu could kill you, a cold could kill you, Covid could kill you. The organs are scarce, we are not going to distribute them to someone who has a poor chance of living when others who are vaccinated have a better chance post-surgery of surviving.”

“A group of Kansas politicians tasked with steering public health policy are pushing to allow doctors to prescribe unproven treatments and preventives for Covid-19 without any potential for responsibility,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

“While the FDA has warned against using ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19, some Republican senators want to shield doctors from legal liability and board discipline for prescribing the drugs.”

Hall of Fame basketball player John Stockton falsely told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that more than 100 professional athletes have died of Covid vaccination.  Said Stockton: “I think it’s highly recorded now, there’s 150 I believe now, it’s over 100 professional athletes dead – professional athletes – the prime of their life, dropping dead that are vaccinated, right on the pitch, right on the field, right on the court.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) vetoed legislation that would have guaranteed Covid-19-related sick leave for school employees, while signaling support for a “compromise” plan that would limit compensation to only those who are fully vaccinated, the Chicago Tribune reports.

WCVB: “Alcohol excise taxes have increased slightly in the past five fiscal years. Halfway through the current fiscal year, Massachusetts has collected $51.3 million so far in alcohol excise taxes.”

“For the first time, marijuana excise taxes have exceeded alcohol’s. At the same midway point this fiscal year, the state has collected $74.2 million as December 2021.”

“A new program in New Mexico is streamlining the process to allow state workers and National Guard members to work as substitute teachers and aides as staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant continue — and that includes Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham,” CNN reports.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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