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On the roster: Biden’s struggle on assault claim raises doubts - House scrubs scheduled return over corona fear - Biden rebounds as Trump struggles with virus response - Ohio ready, or not, for new primary day today - ‘I ain’t mad at cha’
BIDEN’S STRUGGLE ON ASSAULT CLAIM RAISES DOUBTS
We have had difficulty with the question of what to call Joe Biden.
Republicans in the bleachers can keep their answers to themselves. We have an idea of what you think of Sheriff Joe.
We mean how to describe his current status as the not-yet-but-almost-certainly-inevitable Democratic nominee for president. In normal circumstances, we would describe the last credible candidate remaining in such a race as the “presumptive nominee,” as we sometimes have with Biden.
These are not, of course, normal circumstances. Because of pandemic-ly delayed primaries, Biden cannot clinch the nomination until June 6th at the earliest, and might need several more weeks to get it done.
No Democratic hopeful has been the “presumptive nominee” so early since John Kerry in 2004, but back then Kerry had actually clinched the nomination number in March. Biden is the presumptive nominee based on a political version of fiat currency: He is the nominee because the leadership of the party says he is.
Biden has the backing of all of his former rivals, including enthusiastic bitter ender from 2016, Bernie Sanders. Biden has the most recent Democratic president, the Democratic Speaker of the House and today will be joined by the party’s previous nominee, Hillary Clinton, for a campaign event.
And yet, something feels uncertain about Biden’s grasp upon the mace.
Now, don’t get us wrong. It would take an extraordinary series of events for Biden not to become his party’s nominee. The chances of such a thing happening are vanishingly small. But recent experience teaches us to avoid discounting extraordinary events and vanishingly small chances.
What's really got us thinking has been Biden’s incapacity when trying to address long-ago allegations of sexual assault from a former Senate staffer. We understand that this is a difficult time for Biden to do much in the way of controlling narratives, but even under national emergency circumstances, this has been a botch.
Republicans hoping to harm Biden with the newly resurfaced allegations have been talking a great deal about the standards for Biden’ accuser versus those set for a woman who accused now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh of a high school rape. This is in part because the Kavanaugh experience is so fresh in their minds, and in part because many Republicans tend to loathe the media even more than they loathe Democrats.
But Kavanaugh is not Biden’s problem here. There are two other names that should be of serious concern for Biden as he prepares for six weeks or more as the probably-but-not-official presumptive nominee: Clarence Thomas and Al Franken.
The tragic circumstances of Biden’s 1973 arrival in the Senate as a young father of two sons whose wife and infant daughter had been killed in a car crash made him a notable political figure from the start. But it was the 1991 confirmation hearings for now Justice Thomas that really made Biden a household name in a way that even his 1988 presidential candidacy did not.
The Thomas hearings, that have since been lamented by both Thomas’ supporters and those of his accuser, Anita Hill, was a national fixation and a moment of high political drama. Biden, along with Sen. Ted Kennedy, raked Thomas over the coals for the still-novel charge of workplace sexual harassment. Thomas carried the day but still bears the reputational damage.
The Thomas hearings are important because they are roughly contemporary to the claims of Biden’s accuser. The former Biden staffer, Tara Reade, claims the unwanted advances, culminating in a physical assault, happened in 1993, after Biden had established himself as the self-appointed scourge of workplace sexual misconduct.
But it is Franken, the former Minnesota senator ousted over sexual misconduct claims prior to his political career, that should provide the most alarming parallel for Biden.
Many Democrats have come to think that Franken may have gotten a raw deal. His ambitious colleagues, especially Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., drummed Franken out of the Senate during the peak of the #MeToo movement for creepy conduct during his career as a comedian.
Whether you think Franken was railroaded or rightfully ejected, he at the very least misunderstood the moment he was in and the unwritten rules of his party.
Democrats were eager to not only press President Trump on the multiple allegations of harassment and abuse against him, but also were looking at a Senate race in Alabama where Republicans had selected a nominee accused of abusing his powers as a prosecutor to take advantage of underage girls. By sacking Franken, Democrats bolstered their argument against Roy Moore.
Those Democrats predominantly interested in social justice and feminism were probably not Biden’s biggest fans in the first place. We heard complaints about Biden’s hair sniffing and handsy ways from his detractors long ago. And just because the party apparatus has circled the wagons around Biden does not mean those complaints will go away.
In fact, resentment of Biden’s default victory in a corona-shortened primary process, dovetail nicely with those same complaints. By their thinking here is a white, privileged male getting his way again.
Biden’s greatest asset throughout his yearlong presidential bid has been the widespread fear among Democrats of a potential Sanders nomination. Rightly understanding the potential catastrophic consequences, Democrats retreated to Biden as the last safe mainstream option.
Sanders is still around and would certainly be hard to deny if something were to befall Biden. But what if Biden started to seem much less safe? What if he, like Franken, started to look like a liability.
The drumbeat on the left for more attention to the accusations against Biden is real. Do not underestimate either the resentment of the hardcore progressives and Democratic socialists against Biden or the tenacious sincerity of the #MeToo activists.
Though it is not in their power to do much to hold Trump to account for similar allegations against him, they have power over Biden. Democrats are much more sensitive to these kinds of claims given their party’s reliance on female voters and the intensity in which they have accused Trump of such misdeeds.
Is it likely that Biden could find himself forced from the nomination given what we know so far? No. But there is no doubt that the way Biden and his party are handling the matter so far is increasing the odds.
Ironically Biden may end up needing the same thing Kavanaugh did in the form of some kind of external investigation into the charges against him. It was the FBI investigation proposed by then-Sen. Jeff Flake that got Kavanaugh over the line last year. It wasn’t so much about what the investigation said but about Republican senators being able to tell their constituents that due process had been followed.
Whether Biden can turn to the Senate Ethics Committee or some other governmental tribunal or has to find some other way to outsource the job, he pretty clearly needs another voice here other than those of himself and his accuser. A flat denial is not sufficient anymore.
The danger in such an investigation is that, aside from finding against Biden, could also dredge up other unhappy memories from a time when political correctness and gender sensitivity weren’t big considerations for sitting senators.
But it looks increasingly like Biden won’t have a choice. He might rather wait until after he has clinched, but five weeks of pressure on this subject may make clinching harder and more time consuming. Plus, would he prefer deal with the subject now or in July?
Again, Biden is almost certainly going to be the Democratic nominee, but this test has revealed some new reasons to be more dubious about his status. For now, we’re going to call him the “likely nominee,” but always reserve the right to change our mind.
THE RULEBOOK: AND YET...
“In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” –Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, Federalist No. 51
TIME OUT: BEFORE SCOUT
Today is the birthday of Harper Lee, who died in 2016 at the age of 89. Here’s a snapshot of the author of America’s most influential children’s novel as a young woman in Alabama. New Yorker: “During the Second World War, Lee, a student at Huntingdon College, in Montgomery, shunned the standard cardigan-and-pearls attire of the all-female institution in favor of a bomber jacket she’d been given by her brother, an Army Air Corps cadet. Her language was ‘salty,’ and she sometimes smoked a pipe, and, while her face seems to have been pleasantly approachable, she described herself as ‘ugly as sin.’ After she transferred to the undergraduate law program at the University of Alabama, mostly to please her father, her lack of polish struck some as ill-suited to the judicial decorum she was being trained to observe. Growing up, she had preferred tackle to touch football, and tended to bully her friends, including the young Truman Capote…”
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TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 46 percent
Average disapproval: 49.2 percent
Net Score: -3.2 points
Change from one week ago: no change in points
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: 46% approve - 51% disapprove; Gallup: 43% approve - 54% disapprove; Fox News: 49% approve - 49% disapprove; Monmouth University: 46% approve - 49% disapprove; CNBC: 46% approve - 43% disapprove.]
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HOUSE SCRUBS SCHEDULED RETURN OVER CORONA FEAR
Roll Call: “The House will not come back to Washington next week, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Tuesday, reversing an announcement he made on a Democratic Caucus conference call the previous day. … Hoyer said the decision to delay the return, which had been briefly scheduled for May 4, came after he talked with the Capitol physician, Brian Monahan, who said he recommended against taking the risk involved in members returning. … Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced in a statement Monday that his chamber would return next week but would ‘modify routines in ways that are smart and safe.’ ‘The Leader's statement from yesterday stands,’ McConnell spokesman David Popp tweeted after Hoyer announced the House was changing its plans. Another reason the House decided to delay its return is because the chamber is not ready to vote on the next coronavirus relief bill, Hoyer said.”
McConnell seeks to tie state bailouts to corona lawsuit curbs - Politico: “Mitch McConnell is open to cutting a deal to provide reeling states and cities with relief during the pandemic-fueled recession. But it will come at a price. In an interview on Monday, the Senate majority leader said it’s ‘highly likely’ the next coronavirus response bill will aid local governments whose budgets have been decimated by lockdowns and now face spiraling deficits. But to unlock that money, McConnell said he will ‘insist’ Congress limit the liabilities of health care workers, business owners and employees from lawsuits as they reopen in the coming weeks and months. … In acknowledging that states like New York and New Jersey can count on more federal aid in the next massive relief bill, the Kentucky Republican is cracking the door to an agreement with congressional Democrats after taking a hard line with his recent suggestion that states go ‘the bankruptcy route.’ But as befits his reputation for tough tactics, he said that would demand that his liability proposal be included in any deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”
Pelosi looks to mandate mail voting - NBC News: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday that Democrats will push for a vote-by-mail provision in Congress' next coronavirus relief package. In an interview on MSNBC... Pelosi said that it's important to protect the ‘life of our democracy’ as the coronavirus crisis continues. ‘In this next bill, we will be supporting vote by mail in a very important way -- we think it’s a health issue at this point,’ Pelosi said. Democrats have been for weeks pushing mail-in voting before May and June primary contests— over a dozen of which have been postponed or canceled because of the coronavirus— and as they look ahead to the November election. President Donald Trump, however, opposes the idea and has urged Republicans to fight the effort.”
BIDEN REBOUNDS AS TRUMP STRUGGLES WITH VIRUS RESPONSE
USA Today: “Six months before Election Day, the coronavirus pandemic has done what impeachment did not: Cost President Donald Trump his advantage over Joe Biden in the 2020 campaign. A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll shows the former vice president leading Trump nationwide by 6 percentage points, 44% to 38%, a shift from Trump's 3-point lead in the survey as he was being impeached by the House in December. In a contest without a third-party contender, Biden's margin jumps to 10 points, 50% to 40%. In the previous poll, when Trump led 44% to 41%, Biden was in the middle of a fierce battle for the Democratic nomination. Now he is the party's presumptive nominee. The findings underscore the challenge the deadly pandemic is posing to the president’s political standing, which has proved durable through investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, a Senate impeachment trial over his dealings with Ukraine and other controversies.”
Voters back Trump on immigration, disapprove on virus overall - WaPo: “Americans overwhelmingly support state-imposed restrictions on businesses and the size of public gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They also back a temporary halt to immigration into the country, as ordered by President Trump, to deal with the crisis, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. The poll finds that Americans’ concerns about becoming seriously ill from the virus have not eased in the past week and also shows that Americans continue to give their governors significantly higher ratings than they offer Trump, who still draws mostly negative reviews for how he has handled the crisis. Some governors have begun to relax shelter-at-home orders and allow certain businesses to reopen… But as these measures begin to take effect, support for tough limitations now in place continues to enjoy bipartisan support.”
How the digital ad strategy from 2016 is now hurting Trump - NYT: “Facebook users in five key swing states have been seeing a peculiar sequence of political ads pixelating their news feeds for the past six months. … Called ‘Barometer,’ the project has been the obsession of James Barnes, the former Facebook employee who was heralded as an ‘M.V.P.’ of the 2016 Trump campaign… During the 2016 election, Mr. Barnes often used a Facebook tool known as ‘brand lift’ to test different persuasion messages online for the Trump campaign. The tool provided insight into whether some of the online ads were moving people. That tool has since been taken away from political campaigns by Facebook, part of its broad restructuring… Through his small team of engineers and data scientists, as well as ample cash from Acronym, which does not disclose its donors, Mr. Barnes has been able to recreate, to an extent, a similar tool.”
White House begins prep for possible transfer of power - Bloomberg: “The White House instructed federal agencies on Monday to begin preparations in case Donald Trump is defeated in November and a new president takes office in January, a routine contingency ahead of the election. Russell Vought, acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, issued a memorandum ordering dozens of agencies to appoint a transition director by Friday, in keeping with the Presidential Transition Act. The law helps prepare for the potential inauguration of a new president, but is also ‘helpful to prepare for leadership transitions that occur between the first and second terms of administrations,’ Vought wrote. Each agency’s director will make up the Agency Transition Directors Council, which will meet on May 27, Vought wrote.”
OHIO READY, OR NOT, FOR NEW PRIMARY DAY TODAY
Cincinnati Enquirer: “The nation will look to Ohio [today] on how to vote during this pandemic. Or how not to. Ohio will hold an election like no other in the state's 217-year history, an almost all-mail primary. The novel coronavirus pandemic halted Ohio's March 17 primary a month after early voting had started and thousands of votes were cast. The primary was extended to April 28, with virtually all voters required to mail in their votes. … Slow mail delivery in Ohio also has elections officials concerned voters won't receive ballots on time. Days before the primary, it wasn't clear whether help would come. And it could lead to long lines as voters who applied for ballots but didn't receive them cast provisional ballots… Some voters told The Enquirer they've applied multiple times for ballots they haven't received. Others received their ballots within five days of submitting an application…”
Barr tells U.S. attorneys to watch for orders that violate Constitution - WaPo: “Attorney General William P. Barr on Monday directed federal prosecutors across the country to ‘be on the lookout’ for state and local coronavirus-related restrictions that might run afoul of the Constitution and to pursue court action, if necessary. In two-page memo to U.S. attorneys across the country, Barr wrote that the measures state and local government officials had taken ‘have been necessary in order to stop the spread of a deadly disease,’ but even in times of emergency, the Constitution could not be discounted entirely. … [Barr wrote,] ‘If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court.’”
TRUMP VOWS TESTING SURGE
NYT: “President Trump, under growing pressure to expand coronavirus testing as states move to reopen their economies, unveiled a new plan on Monday to ramp up the federal government’s help to states, but his proposal runs far short of what most public health experts say is necessary. Mr. Trump’s announcement in the Rose Garden came after weeks of him insisting, inaccurately, that the nation’s testing capability ‘is fully sufficient to begin opening up the country,’ as he said on April 18. Numerous public health experts say that is untrue, and Mr. Trump’s plan may do little to fix it. An administration official said the federal government aimed to give states the ability to test at least 2 percent of their populations per month, though the president did not use that figure and it was not in his written plan. Instead, Mr. Trump and other officials with him in the Rose Garden said the United States would 'double' the number of tests it had been doing.”
Briefing books warned strongly of virus threat - WaPo: “U.S. intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February, months during which he continued to play down the threat, according to current and former U.S. officials. The repeated warnings were conveyed in issues of the President’s Daily Brief, a sensitive report that is produced before dawn each day and designed to call the president’s attention to the most significant global developments and security threats. For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.”
Poll: Majority of Americans think their income taxes are fair - Gallup
Oxford University scientists lead the way in race for a coronavirus vaccine - NYT
AUDIBLE: BUT OTHER THAN THAT, SHE THOUGHT IT WAS SUPER
“There was a way to do this to be a killer hit, but instead, it’s a joke and muddled up with a bunch of garbage that will distract the voter from the actual hit” – A Republican campaign consultant talking to Roll Call about a new attack ad in an increasingly vicious primary campaign in a New Mexico House race.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Do I understand your comment in the April 27, 2020 Halftime Report that equates President Trump to President Nixon correctly? If I am mistaken, please correct me. I would be saddened to hear that my assumption would be correct, as you so eloquently and frequently state that you are not biased either way. A slip of the fingers or of Freud? I pray you and yours stay safe during these troubling times.” – David Kramer Sr., Wesley Chapel, Fla.
[Ed. note: I don’t want to infer bias on your part, Mr. Kramer, but I assume that you dislike Nixon and like Trump. I suppose there are those who are fonder of Nixon than they are of Trump, but that would seem to be a significantly smaller group. I understand why Nixon is so unpopular. He was corrupt and dishonest in his administration. His neediness certainly made him an unappealing political figure, too. I also understand why conservatives have come to disdain Nixon’s affection for big-government and demand-side economics. But however you personally feel about Nixon, try to imagine (or recall, depending on your age) how he was perceived by voters in 1968 and 1972. One of Nixon’s slogans was “This time, vote like your whole world depended on it.” His message was that the country was in tatters from protest, riots and crime, American prestige was taking a pasting from the communists in Vietnam and things were generally falling apart. You might even say “American carnage.” While Trump and Nixon are certainly very different kinds of men, their appeals to voters have significant similarities, especially as cultural populists. It’s no accident that Trump borrowed from Nixon (and his then-adviser Pat Buchanan) the term “silent majority.” You may have deeper or more personal reasons for disliking Nixon, which I will not begrudge you. But I do think some historical relativism is merited here. It may be helpful to try to see Nixon in the context of his and America’s moment, not in history’s judgment. My prayers go with you and yours, as well.]
“Great column [Monday]. And you’re correct Millennials have not had it easy and they’ve gotten a partially undeserved bad rap because of it. When you mention ‘the first American military failure since Vietnam,’ could you be more specific please? Peace be with you.” – Derek Thorsrud, Spanish Fort, Ala.
[Ed. note: I guess I should have qualified it with “large-scale” since there were certainly incidents like Desert Claw prior to the occupation of Iraq. It’s no reflection on the men and women tasked with the job, just as it wasn’t in Vietnam. But through a series of errors in intelligence, planning, strategy and political calculation, Iraq became a cautionary tale about the dangers of American interventions overseas. Leaders in a republic have to consider both strategy and domestic political will when considering military action. In the end, the American people were unwilling to pay the price for standing up a liberal democracy in Iraq. We can’t know what history has in store for Iraq, but we will spend a generation grappling with the lessons learned there.]
“I've read your entry about owing Millennials an apology a handful of times. At the end, you mentioned they have a point. What point are they making? Please forgive me, I must have missed it.” – Mark Hoffman, Des Moines, Iowa
[Ed. note: I didn’t want to wrap up on a negative Mr. Hoffman, but their point in the generational battles with Boomers has been that the old guard doesn't appreciate the nature of the challenges they have faced as a cohort. I’m not one to encourage excuse-making and it certainly falls to every individual to make their own way with the challenges and advantages they have been given. But I think we would do well to stop picking on the folks under 40. Of course, I think we would do well to stop picking on anybody! And I do think we would benefit by understanding better the unique challenges this cohort has faced.]
“Why are you quoting snarky articles from NYT and AP?” – Ron Schaffner, Venetia, Penn.
[Ed. note: I’m tempted to ask from which places you would like us to get snarky articles, but that would be… snarky. I’m not sure which articles you were referring to specifically, Mr. Schaffner, but I can only attest that we try to cast a broad net for useful articles. While some sources are out of bounds for obvious reasons and we shun articles that lack support or are tendentious, we generally assume that our readers are sophisticated enough to sort out basic questions about bias, etc. for themselves.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
‘I AIN’T MAD AT CHA’
Lexington [Ky.] Herald-Leader: “Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear [was] calling out the ‘bad apples’ who filed for unemployment under fake names during the coronavirus pandemic. ‘We had somebody apply for unemployment for Tupak Shakur here in Kentucky,’ Beshear said… ‘And that person may have thought they were being funny, they probably did. Except for the fact that because of them, we had to go through so many other claims.’ One problem: Tupac Shakur does live in Kentucky. And he’s waiting on his unemployment benefits. Tupac Malik Shakur, 46, goes by Malik. He lives in Lexington and worked as a cook at Alfalfa’s and Lynagh’s in Lexington before they closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. … Beshear called Shakur personally to apologize Tuesday morning. Shakur said he appreciated the call and that he forgave Beshear for the error. ‘I understand, he’s dealing with a lot,’ Shakur said. ‘Mistakes happen.’”
AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“North Korea may be just an unexploded ordnance of a long-concluded Cold War. But we cannot keep assuming it will never go off.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Jan. 5, 2017.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.