Cup of Joe – February 15, 2023

“Inflation turned higher to start 2023, as rising gas and fuel prices took their toll on consumers,” CNBC reports.

“The consumer price index, which measures a broad basket of common goods and services, rose 0.5% for the month, which translated to an annual gain of 6.4%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for respective increases of 0.4% and 6.2%.”

“An era of ultracheap debt is over in Washington as higher borrowing costs widen the U.S. deficit and fuel a partisan clash over raising the debt ceiling and how much borrowing could be too much,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The Treasury’s spending on interest on the debt was $261 billion in the first four months of this fiscal year, a 33% increase from $196 billion spent in the same period last year, according to the department.”

Bloomberg: “Three years into the pandemic, business leaders and city officials around the world are still trying just about everything to lure employees back into offices and revive local economies. But new data on in-person work analyzed by Bloomberg News show that in a number of cities across the US, Fridays at the office are dead. Mondays are a crapshoot. And returning to pre-pandemic work schedules looks like a lost cause.”

“Nowhere is the economic cost of remote work more pronounced when it comes to spending than in the world’s leading financial center: New York. Manhattan workers are spending at least $12.4 billion less a year due to about 30% fewer days in the office.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence is expected to announce publicly as soon as Wednesday during a pre-campaign stop in Iowa that he will fight a grand jury subpoena arising from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s Jan. 6 investigation, Politico reports.

But rather than contesting the subpoena on executive privilege grounds, Pence is expected to seek refuge in the Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause, arguing that he was acting in his capacity as president of the Senate, a legislative branch role, according to the Politico report out this morning. The Speech and Debate Clause protects members of Congress from undue intrusion by the executive branch.

Legal experts tell Politico there’s an arguable basis for Pence’s Speech and Debate Clause defense but that it remains an unsettled area of law, meaning a court fight could drag on for some time.

The Justice Department itself has previously argued that the vice president in his role as Senate president is covered by the Speech and Debate Clause, but the exact scope and contours of the legislative immunity it offers remain unclear and largely untested.

Pence’s lawyer is Emmet Flood, who represented then-Vice President Dick Cheney in the Valerie Plame affair. Cheney was of course renowned for exploiting the unique dual-hat role of the vice presidency as an executive and legislative branch official to secure and maximize his power.

Fending off Smith’s subpoena carries obvious political advantages for Pence, who is expected to seek the GOP nomination for president in 2024. It allows Pence to avoid testifying against Donald Trump and sidesteps getting entangled with Trump in raising executive privilege arguments.

Aside from the legal and political vagaries, the move to fight a grand jury subpoena would be another example of the extreme lengths Pence has gone to try to finesse his complicated relationship with Trump and his own personal political ambitions. The not-so-delicate dance has yielded a wandering and inconsistent response to Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election: While Pence was hailed as a hero for not acquiescing to Trump’s demands to throw out the Electoral College count on Jan. 6, there remain suspicions that Pence played along well after Election Day with the the efforts to overturn the result. Similarly, while Pence wrote a memoir that did confront Trump and offered some details about their fight over Jan. 6, Pence refused to testify to the Jan. 6 select committee.

Pence’s willingness to write about Jan. 6 in his book also may have had the effect of waiving some of his potential executive privilege defenses to the Smith subpoena: You can’t publicly speak about confidential executive branch deliberations on the one hand, and then refuse to divulge them to a grand jury on the other. It’s not clear that such a waiver would apply in the context of the Speech and Debate Clause, or whether Pence individually can waive a privilege of the legislative branch.

“A final report produced by an Atlanta-area special grand jury investigating efforts by President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia will be remain mostly sealed as a local prosecutor considers charges in the case, a judge ruled,” the Washington Post reports.

“But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney said in an order released Monday that he will make public three sections of the grand jury report, including the panel’s introduction and conclusion as well as a section in which the grand jury ‘discusses its concern that some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony to the grand jury.’”

The Atlanta district attorney mostly won her battle to keep a report from her special grand jury from being released publicly before she has secured indictments, so she will not be appealing the judge’s order Monday to partially release the report.

“A crane ship on the scene where a Chinese surveillance balloon went down in waters off South Carolina has raised from the ocean bottom a significant portion of the balloon’s payload,” ABC News reports.

“The U.S. military jet that downed an unknown object in the Michigan sky on Sunday missed on its first attempt over Lake Huron,” Fox News reports.

“It wasn’t clear where the missile that missed ultimately landed. The second missile took down the target. Each of the missiles costs more than $400,000.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo excoriated President Biden for his handling of the spy balloon issue, telling The Hill that the current administration “made an enormous mistake” that caused “global shame.”

Punchbowl News: “The American public — including lawmakers — knows surprisingly little about these objects aside from the White House’s unequivocal contention that they have nothing to do with aliens.”

“And a Senate that badly wants to conduct oversight of the Biden administration’s handling of these incidents and figure out how to prevent more in the future has been largely paralyzed.”

Said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): “It’s impossible to make an assessment because there’s virtually no information available beyond what you’ve already seen publicly reported. And it’s just not a sustainable position. I will tell you, this is not usual. You don’t shoot things down over American airspace. We’ve never done that before. And we’ve done it four times in the last eight days.”

“A growing number of Senate Republicans are saying that President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) should take defense spending cuts off the table in their negotiation over the debt ceiling,” The Hill reports.

“The Republicans are digging in their heels after receiving a classified briefing on a Chinese spy balloon that floated over sensitive military installations.”

“What in the world is going on? Has the Biden administration just dialed the sensitivity of our radars all the way up? If so, what are the objects that we are just now noticing for the very first time? Are they benign science projects and wayward weather balloons, or something more nefarious that we’ve somehow been missing all this time?” — Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), quoted by The Hill.

Playbook: “The biggest subplot of the slowest-moving story In Washington — the partisan standoff over the federal debt ceiling — has so far centered on whether, absent a deal between President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, moderate House Republicans might somehow band together with House Democrats to avoid a catastrophic default.”

“The speculation has gone far enough to prompt several explainers about how it all might work — whether through a discharge petition or other obscure House procedures that could allow a bipartisan coalition to skirt conservatives’ spending-cut demands.”

“It’s gone so far, we’re told, that McCarthy has in recent days sent a message from on high to centrists who have openly toyed with the idea: You’re killing my leverage with Biden.”

“But while these conversations might have gone underground, we can report that they are very much still alive.”

Paul Krugman: “First of all, if Republicans had absolutely no desire to make major cuts to America’s main social insurance programs, why would they sunset them — and thus create the risk that they wouldn’t be renewed? As Biden might say, c’mon, man.”

“And then there’s that historical record. Two things have been true ever since 1980. First, Republicans have tried to make deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare every time they thought there might be a political window of opportunity. Second, on each occasion they’ve done exactly what they’re doing now: claiming that Democrats are engaged in smear tactics when they describe G.O.P. plans using exactly the same words Republicans themselves used.”

Phillip Elliot: Why the GOP squabble over Social Security and Medicare is about power more than policy.

“As the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears, U.S. officials are telling Ukrainian leaders they face a critical moment to change the trajectory of the war, raising the pressure on Kyiv to make significant gains on the battlefield while weapons and aid from the United States and its allies are surging,” the Washington Post reports.

“Despite promises to back Ukraine ‘as long as it takes,’ Biden officials say recent aid packages from Congress and America’s allies represent Kyiv’s best chance to decisively change the course of the war. Many conservatives in the Republican-led House have vowed to pull back support, and Europe’s long-term appetite for funding the war effort remains unclear.”

Washington Post: “Over the first 100 days of their majority — what Newt Gingrich (R-GA) considered a critical moment when he took over as speaker in 1995 — the House Republican calendar includes just 30 days in the Capitol voting on legislation. Over the next roughly 10 weeks, the House is slated for just six full days in session, with nearly a dozen other half-day meetings so members travel into and out of Washington.”

“All told, this Congress will be mostly about sound and fury well into the spring and early summer.”

Washington Post: “These new members are now bracing for the possibility that hopes of fulfilling their campaign promises could be dashed if the GOP’s fractured ranks thwart the party’s desire to govern. The freshman Democrats and Republicans who spoke to The Washington Post see an opportunity to bridge the divide, given that they all believe voters gave Republicans a narrow majority in hopes that the parties will work together.”

New York Times: “The intensified pace of activity speaks to his goal of finishing up before the 2024 campaign gets going in earnest, probably by summer. At the same time, the sheer scale and complexity and the topics he is focused on — and the potential for the legal process to drag on, for example in a likely battle over whether any testimony by Mr. Pence would be subject to executive privilege — suggest that coming to firm conclusions within a matter of months could be a stretch.”

Said Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith: “The impulse to thoroughly investigate Trump’s possibly illegal actions and the impulse to complete the investigation as soon as possible, because of presidential election season, are at war with one another. One impulse will likely have to yield to the other.”

A lawyer for Donald Trump told CNN that the former president used a classified briefing folder years to block a light on his nightstand that had been keeping him awake late at night.

Said Timothy Parlatore: “He has one of those landline telephones next to his bed and it has a blue light on it and it keeps him up at night. So he took the manilla folder and put it over so it would keep the light down so he could sleep at night.”

 “Aid agencies and governments stepped up a scramble Tuesday to send help to parts of Turkey and Syria devastated by an earthquake, but a week after the disaster many complained they still were struggling to meet basic needs, like finding shelter from the bitter cold,” the AP reports.

“The situation was particularly desperate in Syria, where a 12-year civil war has complicated relief efforts and meant days of wrangling over how to even move aid into the country, let alone distribute it.”

“The Wyoming Republican Party is seeking to kill a bill working its way through the state Legislature proposing to raise the state’s legal marriage age to 16, arguing that putting ‘arbitrary’ limits on child marriage interferes with parental rights and religious liberty,” Newsweek reports.

Republicans are trying to portray House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) as inexperienced by highlighting former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) decision to remain in Congress as a backbencher, Axios reports.

Said a GOP spokesman: “Hakeem Jeffries begins his stint in leadership with his former boss Nancy Pelosi looking over his shoulder on every decision.”

Steve Bannon “hasn’t paid the lawyers who spent years defending him against an onslaught of criminal charges,” the Daily Beast reports. “With massive legal bills still outstanding, Bannon is now scrambling to find new attorneys, as he faces a looming trial over the way he scammed the MAGA crowd with a dubious plan to build a privately funded U.S.-Mexico border wall.”

“Bannon’s refusal to fully pay his bills has stunned some of his close advisers who’ve stuck around for years.”

Dan Balz: “Only two states, Virginia and Pennsylvania, have legislatures where each party controls one chamber, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 47 others, one party controls both chambers. (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature.)”

“President Biden has fired the Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton, a Donald Trump appointee who faced calls to resign from Republicans and Democrats after an inspector general report found ethical and administrative violations,” the Washington Post reports.

“Blanton, who oversees operation of some of the nation’s most historic buildings, was accused last year by his office’s inspector general of using government vehicles for family getaways and misrepresenting himself as a law enforcement officer.”

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

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