Is this the most underrated President of the United States?

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Over the last 70 years, numerous scholarly surveys have been conducted to identify the best and worst Presidents of the United States. Oftentimes the same names appear at the top of the list: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, to name a few. Meanwhile, the bottom of the list has its own usual suspects, including Warren Harding, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. Presidential greatness is commonly thought of as being defined by aspects such as crisis management and leadership, rousing rhetoric and vision, significant achievement and sticking power in the public memory. Meanwhile, the lowest-ranked presidents usually share scandals, crises happening on their watch and poor leadership as common factors.

But how suitable are these frameworks really for “ranking” Presidents? Is it fair to deem a president as mediocre on the grounds that he didn’t lead the nation through a major crisis, such as a war? Criticizing the notion of presidential rankings, Curtis Amlund says that “to say…that a president was average or near-great does not tell us much about anything”.[1] In the same way that you cannot always compare the crises of the past to today’s challenges, you cannot necessarily compare one President to another operating in a different time, as you will only get a partial picture.

Today I would like to discuss a particular President whom is often considered mediocre, but whom I feel is very much underrated. I will be considering his Presidency, his legacy, and what we could possibly learn from him. But not only is this President underrated, he is also oft-forgotten; a 2014 study found him to be the least-memorable President. And yet, Mark Twain is quoted as having said “it would be hard to better President Arthur’s administration”.

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Chester A. Arthur, 21st President of the United States, 1881-1885

Chester Alan Arthur is a difficult man to biographise, on account of the fact he ordered his personal and official papers be burned on his death. However, I will attempt to discuss his background, presidency and legacy here. Chester A. Arthur ascended to the Presidency on September 19th, 1881 following the death of President James Garfield, 79 days after Garfield had been shot by Charles Guiteau. Arthur was not really a politician; rather, he was a career civil servant, and by all accounts was an able administrator.[2] If we exclude serving as Garfield’s Vice President for a whole 199 days and a brief stint as Chairman of the New York Republican Party, the only real political office Arthur had held was Collector of Customs at the Port of New York. It was the civil service ladder, rather than the political ladder, that Arthur climbed to the Presidency.

In the approach to the 1880 Presidential Election, the Republican Party was divided between two factions: the Stalwarts, led by New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, opposed civil service reform, generally preferring they system of political patronage (the act of rewarding people, either financially or with things like political positions or government contracts, for their electoral support). Meanwhile, the Half-Breeds favoured reform, looking to build the civil service upon a merit system, as opposed to a spoils system, which was essentially patronage or cronyism. Stalwarts had opposed the attempts at reform made by Rutherford B. Hayes, and sought to re-nominate former President Ulysses S Grant for an unprecedented third term, while Half-Breeds supported Maine Senator James G Blaine’s campaign for the nomination.

During America’s Gilded Age – the term given to the period of rapid economic growth, increased immigration and expanding industrialisation in the later part of the 19th Century – corruption was a part of American political life, and the spoils system was openly advocated by some of the political establishment. As Port Collector, Arthur himself was not immune: “Back in the days before income tax”, Sybil Schwartz writes, “the customs provided the federal government’s chief source of revenue. As collector in New York, Arthur presided over an “industry” that grossed five times more than the nation’s largest corporations”. Customs House employees under Arthur were encouraged to make “voluntary” pro bono nostro (“for the common good”) contributions “to the Stalwart cause”; this practice was perfectly legal until it was outlawed in 1872.[3] Arthur was ultimately removed from his position in 1878 by President Hayes, a reformer who had the support of the Half-Breeds, on the grounds that reform of the Customs House would be impossible as long as Arthur was in post.[4] Who better then than Arthur to champion Conkling’s cause?

Cartoon of a man kicking another man into the street
An October 1881 Puck Magazine cartoon showing President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) booting Chester A. Arthur (who had recently become President) from the New York Custom House as part of his attempts at reform; however, a path leads straight from the Customs House to Washington DC. The cartoon references Arthur’s ascent, saying “From the Toe-Path to the White House.” (Library of Congress)

After thirty-five ballots between Grant and Blaine, the longest-ever Republican National Convention finally concluded on June 8th, 1880, after six days. With both the Stalwarts and Half-Breeds accepting that neither of their candidates would win, the convention ended in a compromise: a Half-Breed, Ohio Representative James Garfield, was nominated for President, with Arthur, a Stalwart now serving as chair of the New York Republican Party, for Vice President. While Garfield supported civil service reform, the Stalwarts had hoped that, by putting Arthur on the ticket, he would temper or moderate any attempt by Garfield to enact any reforms. Indeed, part of Guiteau’s motive in assassinating President Garfield was that his successor would appoint him to a consular position through the spoils system (Guiteau lived under the delusion that he had aided Garfield’s victory in the 1880 Presidential Election, and was therefore owed a position). Or so the Stalwarts had hoped, when Arthur was sworn in as the 21st President of the United States in the early hours of September 19, 1881.

Early on in his presidency, Arthur appointed Stalwart figures to his Cabinet, including Frederick Frelinghuysen replacing James G Blaine as Secretary of State. However, to the surprise of the Stalwarts, the reform-supporting staff at the Post Office and Customs House were largely left as they were. In fact, beyond surprising the Stalwarts, Arthur made it clear he was cutting ties with his previous cronies: indeed, the President’s refusal to replace the then-incumbent Collector of the Port of New York, the reformer William H. Robertson, with a Stalwart candidate carved a deep rift between Arthur and Conkling which would never heal.

Aside from simply falling out with his former friend and mentor, however, as President, Arthur had become committed to the cause of civil service reform. When news of the Star Route Scandal broke during Garfield’s presidency in April 1881, some thought that Arthur, the friend of the Stalwarts, would sweep the scandal under the rug. The Star Route Scandal was a scam whereby contractors looking to operate inland mail routes (or star routes) would, usually in collaboration with Post Office officials, look to artificially drive the price of the mail contract beyond the price that the US Treasury would normally pay contractors for the route. Having overcharged the Treasury, the contractors and Post Office officials would then pocket the “profits” between them. However, once in office Arthur pushed ahead with the investigation begun by the Garfield administration, which resulted in the resignations of some of his former allies, including Thomas Brady, the Assistant Postmaster General.

Beyond scandals within the Post Office, however, the achievement for which Arthur is probably best remembered during his presidency is the signing of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883. While the Act, named for its author, Ohio Democratic Senator George H. Pendleton, began under President Garfield, Arthur – against the wishes of the Republican Congressional majority – sought $25,000 in order to fund the Civil Service Commission which would advise on reform (Congress would ultimately agree to provide $15,000).[5] Furthermore, Arthur appointed reformers to the seats on the Commission, and by 1884 the spoils system began to disappear from the civil service, with half of Post Office employees and three quarters of Customs House jobs being awarded based on merit.[6]

Arthur also had notable accomplishments outside the realms of civil service reform: aside from rejuvenating the US Navy, Arthur was also a proponent of racial equality, calling for increased federal funding for education among black and Native American communities (although his efforts did not gain ground with Southern whites). Arthur was also critical of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Civil Rights Act of 1875; while Arthur favoured replacement Civil Rights legislation, he was not able to get anything through Congress.[7] While Arthur’s personal feelings on these issues are largely unknown due to the burning of his personal papers, he demonstrated a definite commitment to racial equality at a time where the United States were still healing and deeply divided following the Civil Ward and failed reconstruction attempts. One negative point from Arthur’s presidency is the Chinese Exclusion Act, which placed a ban on the immigration of Chinese labourers for a period of 10 years. However, in truth Congress forced Arthur’s hand on the issue with a veto-proof majority, but not before Arthur had managed to veto the previous attempt to get the Act passed, which sought to establish a 20-year exclusion period.

Official White House portrait of President Chester A. Arthur, Daniel Huntington, 1885

Ultimately, despite his attempts at reform being well-received, his change in stance came at a cost: as the 1884 Presidential Election neared, Arthur found himself rejected by the former allies among the Stalwarts, while Half-Breeds and reformers were turning towards James G. Blaine for the Republican nomination. With little support from anywhere in the Republican Party, President Arthur bowed out of the running for a full term as President, congratulating Blaine but not playing an active role in the campaign after that. Arthur’s health began to decline towards the end of his Presidency, and he died on November 18th, 1886, less than two years after leaving office.

The Presidency of Chester A. Arthur was not the most illustrious, but he is definitely a woefully underrated and under-discussed President. Thomas C Sutton argues that, as President, Arthur “focused on maintaining stability rather than on launching his own ambitious program”.[8] But does a President really need to have an ambitious program to enable him to get on with the job? Is it not enough that, immediately following the assassination of a President and during a period of rampant corruption, Arthur provided some much-needed stability and reform? Amlund argues that Presidents in office at significant periods in US history, or “great times” are unfairly judged using the same criteria as Presidents who served during quiet periods. “The term “great times”…”, Amlund writes, “implies ordinarily the existence of a war, or an economic depression of considerable magnitude; it most definitely suggests a crisis period of some kind”.[9] Therein, for me, lies the barrier between Arthur and the perceived notion of “greatness”: Arthur’s presidency was one with fairly modest but reasonably consistent achievement, one free of drama or scandal, and – perhaps as a result – one which quietly slipped from public memory.

Chester A Arthur may not be a memorable – or even a “great” – President, but he certainly deserves praise and a reputation beyond that which he usually gets. The Arthur presidency saw no new major scandals, wars or crises; instead, Arthur simply got on with the job he never really wanted in the first place. Despite his career being built through patronage, and despite being seen as a man who was made by – and who could have championed – the corrupt civil service spoils system, President Arthur turned his back on the system, becoming an advocate for reform, a fighter of corruption, a man committed to racial justice and running an honest administration. He left office with a reputation as an honest and decent man.

And in our present era of stark partisanship, media soundbites and the notion of the “celebrity president”, are those not good characteristics to have in a President?

[1] Amlund, Curtis Arthur, “President-Ranking: A Criticism” in The Midwest Journal of Political Science, Vol. 8, No. 3, August 1964, p309-315, p311

[2] Newcomer, Lee. “Chester A. Arthur: The factors involved in his removal from the New York Customhouse” in New York History, vol. 18, no. 4, 1937, p401–410, p403

[3] Schwartz, Sybil. “In Defense of Chester Arthur” in The Wilson Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 4, 1978, p180–184, p182

[4] Newcomer, p407

[5] Theriault, Sean M. “Patronage, the Pendleton Act, and the Power of the People.” In The Journal of Politics, vol. 65, no. 1, 2003, p50–68, p56

[6] Howe, George F, Chester A. Arthur, A Quarter-Century of Machine Politics, 1966: New York: F. Ungar Publishing Company, p209-210

[7] Sutton, Thomas C. “Chester A. Arthur” in Gormley, Ken ed., The Presidents and the Constitution: A Living History, 2016, New York: New York University Press, p276-287, p279

[8] Schwartz, p183

[9] Amlund, p310

What exactly is in the Infrastructure Bill?

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On Monday, less than seven months into his term in office, US President Joe Biden got a step closer to what could be the first major accomplishment of his presidency: the passage of his $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Bill. The plan has been weaving its way through Congress for months, and has been the subject of lengthy bipartisan talks between President Biden and both parties in the Senate.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which runs to over 2,000 pages, still falls short of the proposed $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan which Biden had been hoping for. However, the fact that a bipartisan deal has been agreed on such a sweeping, significant bill, as well as at a time where partisanship has been rampant – is a positive result for all involved.

So what exactly is in the bill? The list of investments is a long one: it includes $110 billion for roads, $40 billion for bridge repairs, $39 billion to modernise public transit, $66 billion for improvements passenger and freight rail, plus $12 billion in partnership grants for intercity rail (the President is well-known for his enthusiasm for Amtrak), $65 billion for broadband investment, $17 billion in port improvements, $25 billion in airports, $15 billion in electric vehicle infrastructure, and $73 billion to upgrade the electric grid and $55 billion to upgrade water infrastructure, plus an extra $50 billion to make it more disaster-resilient. And that’s just some of it.

Supporters of the bill say that a sizeable investment in infrastructure will be crucial in creating jobs and ensuring the US makes a good post-COVID recovery, as well as bolstering the economy, introducing more green technology, and ensuring that the US will continue to be able to compete with other global powers such as China. Aside from this, it means that sections of America’s infrastructure will get the help and renewal it desperately needs. A press release from the White House said “The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will grow the economy, enhance our competitiveness, create good jobs, and make our economy more sustainable, resilient, and just”, adding that “these investments will add, on average, around 2 million jobs per year over the course of the decade”.

Some key points from Biden’s American Jobs Plan were left out, however, including $400 billion to expand Medicaid, as well as services for ageing and disabled people, as well as increased pay for home health workers, along with improvements to Veterans’ Affairs hospitals and investments in training. Also left out of the deal were new and increased corporation taxes, which Biden hoped would have helped pay for the bill.

Despite the bipartisan support, opponents have described the bill as irresponsible, arguing that the bill would add $256 billion to the deficit over the next ten years. Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who opposed the bill, argued that the bill would be more than Washington had ever spent before, and that the government would be spending money it didn’t have. Former President Trump had also voiced opposition to the bill, calling it a “terrible deal” (repairing America’s crumbling infrastructure was something that Trump had said at length was part of his administration’s plan, as did other previous Presidents, although no bills were introduced during his term). Ultimately, however 19 Republicans voted with the Senate Democratic Caucus to pass the bill 69-30, above the 60 vote threshold which was needed.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could be a defining moment of Biden’s presidency. If nothing else, the passage of the bill through the Senate is an early vindication of Biden’s pledge to work across the aisle, something his former boss, Barack Obama, was not able to achieve with his cornerstone legislation, The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare did not have bipartisan support – not that it needed it – was divided straight down party lines and has been the subject of contention ever since).

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act still has to survive the House of Representatives – which is not guaranteed to be an easy task – before it can get to President Biden’s desk. Even if it gets signed into law, there is nothing to say there won’t be challenges, both legal and political, or delays to the plans. However, the fact that the President and Congress have been able to work together so far on such a huge piece of legislation will probably make Joe Biden’s first year as President of the United States a productive one.

Towards a Greater Idaho? Why some voters want an Idaho-Eastern Oregon merger

The Malheur National Forest in central-eastern Oregon, which would become part of Idaho under the proposals

On Tuesday, voters in five eastern Oregon counties approved a measure to break away from the state and join up with Idaho, across the border to the east. Voters in Baker, Grant, Lake, Malheur and Sherman counties all approved the measure instructing county officials to initiate the process.

The measures are supported by the conservative grassroots organisation Move Oregon’s Borders for a Greater Idaho (MOBGI), which believes that the current Oregon-Idaho border “doesn’t match the location of the cultural divide in Oregon”; many feel that rural counties in eastern Oregon are closer ideologically to Idaho than to the state’s government in Salem, as well as the rest of the Willamette Valley, the dominant region in the state, which is also home to the city of Portland. While only five counties in eastern Oregon voted for these measures, the wider plan supported by MOBGI and others is to expand Idaho into a “Greater Idaho”, which would see the state absorbing most of the south and east of the state of Oregon, meaning that – among other things – Idaho would have a Pacific coastline.

The organisation, which is not afraid of publicising its conservative leanings, wants to move rural Oregonians in conservative counties who live under “blue-state law” which “refuses to protect citizens from criminals, rioters, wildfire arsonists, illegals, and the homeless, but then infringes your right to defend your family with firearms” to a more conservative state (MOBGI also believes that “Idaho would have the sense of purpose and the satisfaction of freeing 1.2 million people from immoral blue-state law” by agreeing to move the border). However, they believe that all Oregonians can benefit from the re-adjusting of the Oregon-Idaho border; MOBGI calculates that the average Willamette Valley taxpayer spends $367 a year subsidising southern and eastern Oregon, and that adjusting the border would benefit them by raising the state’s average income and giving the Democrats a greater hold on the state government.

The idea is not as crazy as it sounds, and it is certainly not without precedent. MOBGI references a 1958 compact which saw the adjusting of the Oregon-Washington border: the border had previously been defined as being the middle of the main channel of the Columbia River, but both man-made and natural changes to the river’s currents meant that governance over some sections of bridges and highway came under dispute, and so an adjustment of the border was necessitated. MOBGI also cites an April 10, 1961 cessation of land in Clay County, Minnesota to North Dakota after an avulsion of the Red River left two parcels of Minnesota land totalling around 23 acres connected to North Dakota; the decision was made to transfer the land to North Dakota.

However, there is a big difference between these precedents and what MOBGI and other supporters of the move are seeking. When a natural feature such as a river forms a border between states, it makes sense to adjust the borders slightly when geographical changes occur. However, the changes above only concerned small areas of land (and the areas formerly in Clay County, Minnesota had no residents), while the plan proposed by MOBGI concerns nearly three-quarters of Oregon’s 98,000 square miles and would affect 1.2 million Oregonians. The move, while perfectly permissible within law, would effectively constitute the largest transfer of land from one state to another in American history.

The first phase of MOBGI’s Greater Idaho proposal (map from

Regardless of the size of the cessation, however, the right to self-determination is paramount. So how would it work if eastern Oregon wanted to join up with Idaho?

The process in theory is fairly straightforward: if residents in one state wished to cede to another, then both state legislatures would need to agree to it, and then the move would require congressional approval. MOBGI claim to already have the support of a number of leaders in the Idaho legislature, including the Senate Majority Leader, and also claim that Idaho governor Brad Little is on board with the idea (provided the would-be Oregonians recognise that the state would be Idaho). In practice, however, there are further considerations that would need to be made beyond just moving the Idaho-Oregon border, including the additional cost to Idaho of subsidising a host of new counties as well as the objections of residents who oppose the secession. There is also the chance that the Oregon State Legislature in Salem simply might not agree to it. In terms of representation, Idaho would most likely gain a single congressional district from the re-arrangement, as most of eastern and southern Oregon is covered by the state’s Second Congressional District; Oregon, which is set to gain a new congressional district in 2022, would sill be divided into five districts.

So how likely is any secession to happen? From where we are now, it’s fairly unlikely, at least in the next few years anyway. The five counties that approved the measure do not all border Idaho, nor even each other. While there is nothing in law to say that the counties have to border the state they want to secede to, there are 21 Oregon counties in which either in whole or part form part of the Greater Idaho plan; it would be far more practical – politically, financially, logistically – for the counties to secede as a bloc rather than individually or in small groups. Of course, none of this is to say this wouldn’t happen, but don’t expect any changes overnight, as it will be a long process.

However, there is an underlying issue to be considered here: while the city of Portland has a reputation as an ultra-liberal and progressive city in the Pacific Northwest, the same cannot be said for the rest of Oregon. The stark divide politically between urban and rural communities is perhaps more evident here than in many other states. In the 2020 Presidential Election, the five Oregon counties which voted for secession – Baker, Grant, Lake, Malheur and Sherman – gave Donald Trump a higher percentage vote share than the state of neighbouring Idaho did on average. Furthermore, Lake County produced the most lopsided result in Oregon during the Presidential Election, with Trump winning 79.5% of the vote to 18.2% for Joe Biden.

The five Oregon counties which voted to secede have either increased or maintained their Republican presidential vote share, but the biggest increase was in 2016-2020. Source: Oregon Secretary of State.

In this age of increasing partisanship and polarisation, divides such as these are likely to grow. Meanwhile, out-of-state residents, mostly from California, have been moving to states such as Oregon to seek out cheaper house prices and a more relaxed pace of life, meaning rural Oregonians feel increasingly left behind. However, this is not just an issue in Oregon; across the most conservative states in the western US, including Montana, Wyoming and Utah as well as Idaho itself, are experiencing the growth of new residents from out-of-state as people seek to move away from big urban areas (MOBGI suggests that adding conservative-leaning counties from Oregon to Idaho “would prevent Boise from drowning out the state’s vote in the future”). And, as seemingly with everything, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this issue as urban and suburban residents have less of a need to live near a big city. However, the issue of polarisation works both ways; while the Willamette Valley area has grown more liberal, southern and eastern Oregon has remained a safe zone for conservatives. While Portland, with its progressive politics and perceived penchant for violent protest, is often viewed as extreme, opposing extremities are also present in rural areas of Oregon, which is visible in the high levels of Trump support and general anti-government sentiment (you may recall that, in 2016, an armed militia of far-right activists briefly occupied a wildlife refuge on federal land in eastern Oregon). In any case, what this issue shows is is that state borders are not always the best way of denoting social, political and cultural boundaries.

There could be an entire series of articles written on the growing political urban-rural divide, or the flight of residents from California and other areas to more rural areas of America, and for that reason I won’t dig too deeply into the issue here. However, with MOBGI supporting pro-cessation ballot initiatives in a further seven Oregon counties, the issue is not likely to go away any time soon. I do not know if the endeavour will be a success, but it is clear that a re-think of how rural and sparsely-populated areas of America are represented is needed. For now though, it seems as if rural Oregonians looking to redraw the Oregon-Idaho border are taking the view that, if you can’t beat them, join a state that suits you better.

How did Walter Mondale transform the office of Vice President?

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Walter Mondale, Vice President under Jimmy Carter from 1977 until 1981, has died at the age of 93. A longstanding and recognisable figure in American politics, he served as a Senator from Minnesota before joining Carter’s ticket, and later served as Ambassador to Japan.

Carter’s single-term presidency was not the most successful, being beleaguered by a poor economy and the Iran Hostage Crisis, as well as questions about Carter’s ability as President. Carter and Mondale were roundly defeated for re-election in 1980 by Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and Mondale would then go on to lose the 1984 Presidential Election to Reagan by a landslide, winning just his home state of Minnesota – and then by just over 3,000 votes – and the District of Columbia.

However, for the lack of success he had as a candidate on Presidential tickets, Mondale’s successes lay elsewhere, namely in how he transformed the very office of Vice President of the United States.

When Carter selected Mondale as his running mate, Mondale sent Carter a seven-page document outlining what he hoped his role as Vice President might look like. In it, he highlighted some key areas in which he felt he could be of greatest help to the would-be President: firstly, as a general advisor to the President. Mondale felt that previous administrations had been let down by “the failure of the President to be exposed to independent analysis not conditioned by what it is thought he wants to hear or often what others want him to hear”. Mondale, using his experience in government and politics, felt would be the best-placed person to offer Carter impartial advice. In order to achieve this, he required access to the same intelligence information as the President, a role in key meetings, and access to the President, including an office of his own in the West Wing of the White House and weekly lunches with the President – a tradition that continues today. Secondly, the Vice President would be a troubleshooter, as well as play a role in foreign relations. Overall, Mondale placed a greater importance on his re-imagined role than his duties as President of the Senate, a role which he viewed as “ceremonial with the exception of casting tie-breaking votes”, and one demanding “a minimum amount of time”.

It was Mondale’s eagerness to be of as great a practical use to the President as possible which was the key to the success of the re-imagined office; the Vice President was to be the President’s right-hand man and most trusted confidant, rather than – as Paul Light described – “errand-boys, political hitmen, professional mourners and incidental commission chairmen”.[1] While many Vice Presidents have used the office as a stepping stone into the presidency (Danny M. Adkison in 1983 suggested the Vice Presidency was “a kind of internship or apprenticeship” for future presidents[2]), Mondale developed a Vice Presidency which existed to support the President in his work. Indeed, Vice President Mondale set to work in his new role during the transition period, and travelled the world extensively during their four year term, playing a part in defining issues of the Carter Presidency, including the Camp David Accords and addressing racial discrimination in Southern Africa, as well as, domestically, the Chrysler bailout. However, despite selling Carter the advantage of having him on hand to advise, Mondale never tried to unduly influence Carter beyond his provision of advice and support.

While subsequent Vice Presidents have varied in their deference to the ‘Mondale model’, the impact of the changes Mondale made to the Vice Presidency have been carried by subsequent administrations; Al Gore and Joe Biden served as close personal confidants to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, George H. W. Bush provided Reagan with a solid résumé of government experience, and Mike Pence played a sizeable role in foreign relations in the Trump Administration. All have enjoyed offices close to the President, weekly lunches and greater access, all thanks to Mondale. Joel K Goldstein agrees that “[t]he Mondale tenure made the vice presidency a far more significant institution”, adding that it is thanks to him that subsequent Vice Presidents have enjoyed an office in the West Wing, increased access to the President and his classified information, and a role in the executive decision-making process.[3] Beyond this, the Mondale model has lead to greater attention being paid to Presidential running mates due to the level of influence the office now holds.

The modern Vice Presidency is Mondale’s success, and his enduring legacy. Reflecting on her 2018 book, First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power, Kate Andersen Brower said “every former vice president [since Mondale]…rhapsodized about the partnership between Carter and Mondale. That is because Mondale made the vice presidency — an oft-maligned position — into an actual job.”

Walter Mondale was probably the person who best understood the needs required by the office of the President, despite never having served in it himself. Marie D. Natoli wrote in 1977 – within the first few months of Mondale’s Vice Presidency – that “no matter how inept any President might be, he will be remembered while even the most brilliant occupants of the second office are dim shadows from the presidential administration of which they were part”.[4] Not so for Walter Mondale; he re-imagined the office of the Vice President into a dynamic, influential and engaged one, the model of which has continued to be embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike.

[1] Light, Paul. “Vice-Presidential Influence under Rockefeller and Mondale.” Political Science Quarterly 98, no. 4 (1983): 617-40.

[2] Adkison, Danny M. “The Vice Presidency as Apprenticeship.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 13, no. 2 (1983): 212-18.

[3] Goldstein, Joel K. “The Rising Power of the Modern Vice Presidency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 38, no. 3 (2008): 374-89

[4] Natoli, Marie D. “The Mondale Vice Presidency: Is the Die Cast?”, in Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 7, no. 2/3, 1977, p101–108. 

Who will run for Ohio’s Senate seat in 2022?

Portman on Senate Floor: I'm Voting Against the Articles of Impeachment |  Senator Rob Portman

On Monday, Ohio Senator Rob Portman made the surprise announcement that he will not be running for a third Senate term in 2022. The Republican – at one point considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney in 2012 – blamed his decision to retire on “partisan gridlock” in Washington preventing legislation from being passed.

Portman is one of the more moderate GOP Senators, and has gained a reputation in Washington for his bipartisan credentials, and has enjoyed a positive relationship with his fellow Ohio Senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown.

The 2022 midterms will be a key test for the Democrats, who currently have control of both the Senate and House of Representatives, but with the slimmest of majorities. The Republicans need to gain just one seat in the Senate – currently tied at 50-50 – and just five seats in the House to wrest control from the Democrats. Because of this, and with Portman’s retirement, Ohio’s Senate race will be far more crucial for both parties.

Ohio’s politics have been trending to the Republicans in recent years, and so this will likely give Portman’s successor an advantage in the race. But success or failure in an election can sometimes come down to the candidate. In this post, let’s consider some candidates from both parties who may look to succeed Portman in the Senate.

First up, for the Republicans:

Jim Jordan

The Representative for Ohio’s 4th District, Jim Jordan is a high-ranking member of the House Republican Party. He previously served as chair of the House Freedom Caucus, and as Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee and House Judiciary Committee. Jordan was also a close ally of former President Donald Trump – having been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump at the end of his term – and so Jordan’s candidacy would give more strength to the pro-Trump wing of the Ohio Republican Party. There had been some talk of Jordan running for Ohio Governor in 2022, mounting a primary challenge to Mike DeWine; however, a vacant seat in the Senate would be an easier target. Jordan has not yet commented on whether or not he will run.

Bill Johnson

Johnson, the Representative for Ohio’s 6th District, has expressed interest in running for Senate. A former US Air Force veteran, Johnson occupies a district which covers a swathe of Appalachian Ohio running the length of the Ohio-West Virginia border. This area was once heavily Democratic, sending former Ohio governor Ted Strickland to Congress for several years. While not as vocal in his support for Trump as Jordan was, Johnson still voted with Trump 100% of the time during the 117th Congress from 2019-2021, and holds a fairly consistent set of conservative viewpoints. However, Johnson also represents a heavily blue-collar district, and so he could be a good candidate to appeal to different sections of the party.

Jim Renacci

The former Representative for Ohio’s 16th District could try and make another run for the Senate, having run unsuccessfully against Sherrod Brown in 2018, losing out by seven points. However, Renacci did not mount a particularly strong challenge to Brown in a state with a noticeable Republican trend, and so there may be other candidates in a better position to take up Portman’s vacant seat. Furthermore, Renacci has been critical of Republican Governor Mike DeWine, and – like Jim Jordan – has hinted that he could launch a primary challenge against DeWine for the Ohio Gubernatorial election, which will also be held in 2022.

Jon Husted

Ohio’s Lieutenant Governor has risen through the ranks of Ohio state politics; he was first elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2000, becoming House Speaker five years later. After a stint in the State Senate, Husted became Secretary of State, finally being elected Lieutenant Governor on Mike DeWine’s ticket in 2018. Husted, a family man and former University of Dayton football player, has expressed interest in even higher office than where he currently is, although he might not be keen to bail on DeWine ahead of his gubernatorial re-election campaign. His reputation as a fiscal conservative might help, but he has drawn the ire of the right wing of the party due to DeWine’s approach to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Frank LaRose

Ohio’s Secretary of State, who has been in the role since 2019, could also be destined for higher office. One of the more difficult jobs LaRose has had as Secretary of State has been overseeing Ohio’s voting system, and he has been critical of suggestions of electoral fraud connected to the 2020 Presidential Election. Long considered a rising star of the Ohio Republican Party, LaRose has been highly rated by conservative organisations such as the American Conservative Union. However, LaRose – along with Husted – may be seen as a candidate from the Ohio Republican establishment; the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party has almost been at war with Governor DeWine over his Coronavirus pandemic strategy, and DeWine’s opponents will likely push to keep establishment candidates out.

So while a number of potential Republican candidates have been suggested, the Ohio Democratic party does not have the same plethora of names available to them these days. However, here are some of the more likely candidates whom the Democrats might turn to:

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan has been the Representative in Northeast Ohio since 2003, representing the 13th District since 2013. Ryan’s district covers the cities of Youngstown and Warren, as well as eastern parts of Akron. The 47-year-old, who briefly ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020, seems like the obvious choice for the Democrats; Mahoning County, which flipped to Donald Trump in 2020, is partly in Ryan’s district, and if Ryan can win the Senate seat then it will show that Democrats can still win with voters who may have drifted towards Trump in a state which is moving away from the Democrats. Ryan has said he is “looking seriously at” the idea of running, and could be a safe and sane choice for the party.

Nan Whaley

The Mayor of Dayton first rose to national prominence following the 2019 shooting at Ned Pepper’s Bar in downtown Dayton, for which she led mourning and called for greater gun control. Whaley previously ran for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2018, but withdrew and endorsed eventual nominee Richard Cordray. Whaley, who campaigned for Pete Buttigeig in 2019 and 2020, has said that she is mulling a run for Senate; she wouldn’t be the first Democratic mayor of a medium-sized city to enter the national political stage.

David Pepper

The outgoing chair of the Ohio Democratic Party has also been named as a possible candidate for Senate. However, he is one of the less likely candidates. Pepper served brief stints on Cincinnati City Council and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners in the early 2000s, and also run unsuccessfully for a number of offices. He leaves the chair of the Ohio Democratic Party at a difficult time, with the party having been on the backslide in Ohio during his time in the chair.

While Ohio as a state has been trending towards the Republicans in recent years, that is not to say that they will have an easy year in 2022, with not only a Senate primary but potentially a gubernatorial primary to fight through. The elections in 2022 will show which faction of the Republican Party – the Trump-ist right or the more moderate establishment consensus-builders – will become the dominant force in Ohio in the post-Trump era. For the Democrats, at this point it is too early to say how they will fare in the 2022 midterm elections. However, the Democrats will have an uphill battle if they want to claim Ohio’s other seat in the Senate; while it is often the case that seats left vacant by the incumbent are more vulnerable in elections, the trend towards the Republicans in Ohio cannot be understated. Donald Trump won the state in 2020, beating Joe Biden by eight points and ending the state’s 56-year streak of voting for the President.

If the Democrats can choose a good candidate with a broad appeal, and if they are able to run an active and engaging campaign, then they have a chance to make the race competitive. However, at this point in time, I agree with Center for Politics’s Larry Sabato; Ohio’s 2022 Senate race is still Likely Republican.

What the 25th Amendment says, and why it’s more complicated than you think

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The saga of the transition of power from Donald Trump to President-Elect Joe Biden continues, in the wake of the President’s incitement of insurrection at the US Capitol and the resulting violence. Since the initial insurrection on January 6th, figures from both the Democrats and Republicans have been questioning whether Trump is capable of fulfilling the role of President in his final days in office, or if he should be removed from office to allow Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the transition period. Trump has already said he will not be attending Biden’s inauguration on January 20th.

Democrats – who will control both the House and the Senate – have already filed an article of impeachment against the President for incitement of insurrection; this article will likely be passed by the House – where a simple majority is needed – to be considered by the Senate. However, there have also been calls for Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment in order to relieve Trump of his duties. But what exactly is the 25th Amendment, and what does it say?

The 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution was approved by Congress in 1965, and ratified in 1967. The Amendment formally stipulates that the Vice President should assume office in the event of the President’s death or removal from office, that the President should nominate a Vice President in the event of a vacancy, and stipulates what happens if the President is otherwise unable or unfit to fulfil the duties of office. Less than four years before the Amendment’s ratification, Lyndon Johnson became the 36th President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. However, at that time it was only accepted convention that the Vice President would succeed a President who died in office, and there was never any formal law saying that this should happen. However, there is more to this, and so we will need to look back a bit further.

Let us look back in time to April 4th, 1841, when William Henry Harrison became the first President to die in office just 31 days after his inauguration. At that time, Harrison’s Cabinet was prepared to allow his Vice President, John Tyler, to pick up the President’s duties; however, they did not feel he should automatically be allowed to ascend to the office of President if he had not been elected to it. The Cabinet agreed that Tyler would assume the powers and responsibilities of the President, but without actually taking office as President, and so Tyler was given the title “Vice-President acting President”, as permitted by Article 2, Section 1 of the US Constitution. However, Tyler argued that the Constitution allowed him to assume the Presidency in his own right, and the Cabinet, as well as the Whig Party, backed down.[1] John Tyler was inaugurated as the 10th President of the United States two days later; he was famously referred to as “His Accidency” due to his route into the Presidency.

The death of Harrison, and Tyler’s assumption of the Presidency, set the precedent of the Vice President assuming the role of President upon the latter’s death. However, no such precedent was ever set for replacing the Vice President should that office ever become vacant. Prior to the passage of the 25th Amendment, Vice Presidents simply were not replaced if a vacancy arose, and the President would simply continue on his own. Between 1789 and 1967, vacancies occurred in the Vice Presidency seven times, either through death or resignation, along with a further seven vacancies which arose when the sitting Vice President ascended to the Presidency. It wasn’t until the ratification of the 25th Amendment in 197s that the formal protocol for replacing the President and Vice President was put in place. Richard Nixon became the first President to fill a vacancy in the Vice Presidency under the 25th Amendment, appointing Gerald Ford to the office in December 1973 following the resignation of Spiro Agnew (Ford would, the following year, become the first President to assume office formally through the 25th Amendment after Nixon’s resignation; Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller as his Vice President).

In the case of Mike Pence invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, he would need to rely on Section 4, Part 1 of the 25th Amendment, which reads as follows:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

So in this case, Pence could, with the support of the majority of Congress, state that Trump, due to his incitement, is unfit to discharge the duties of his office. However, this is where things get a bit more complicated.

Firstly, we have a similar conundrum to the one which John Tyler and the Harrison Cabinet faced in 1841: Amendment 25, Section 4, Part 1 only stipulates that the Vice President “shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President“; it does not say that the President will be removed from office outright, just that the Vice President would assume the duties as Acting President, as the Harrison Cabinet hoped to achieve with Tyler. This distinct lack of clarity means that Trump could still remain in office until Biden’s inauguration, but at least without access to the nuclear codes. However, it gets more complicated still: Amendment 25, Section 4, Part 2 states the following:

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

To summarise this part, if Donald Trump was relieved of his duties under the 25th Amendment, he can state in writing to the House and Senate that he is, in fact, fit and able to carry out his duties (essentially appealing against the Amendment), and then he would be allowed to continue his duties. Mike Pence and Congress would then have four days in which to re-affirm that Trump was unfit for office. After that, both the House and Senate would have to vote with a two-thirds majority that Trump was unfit for office, at which point he would once again be relieved of his duties, and Pence would resume the role of Acting President. However, we must bear in mind that, after all this process, Pence would still only be Acting President, and Trump would still not necessarily be removed from office. We must also bear in mind that, with little more than a week at the time of writing until Biden’s inauguration, there is not much time for Mike Pence and Congress to go through the process.

The 25th Amendment was intended to formalise the protocol for what happens when the office of the Presidency becomes vacant, or what should happen when a President is unable to fulfil his duties; it was not intended as another process by which the President can be easily removed from office in the event of high crimes and misdemeanors. If Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer simply wished to minimise the amount of damage Donald Trump could do in the final days of his presidency, then invoking the 25th Amendment would be suitable, although Trump could turn it into a fight if he wanted. If they were keen to actually remove him from office, then impeachment would be the better route.

An article of impeachment has been submitted against Donald Trump; assuming the House of Representatives votes to impeach him, Trump will become the only President in US History to be impeached twice by the House. And if there is enough appetite among Senate Republicans to convict Trump – perhaps those looking for a final opportunity to cut the cord between Trump and the Republican Party – then there could still be time for a final insult to be delivered to the 45th President.

[1] Dinnerstein, Leonard, ‘The Accession of John Tyler to the Presidency’ in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 70, No. 4 (October 1962), p447-45

Donald Trump will go down as the worst President in American history

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I am writing this post having spent some time reflecting on yesterday’s scenes at the US Capitol Building in Washington DC: a militia – some armed – in support of President Donald Trump stormed and ransacked Congress, forcing elected representatives into hiding, threatening congressional aides and staff, and declaring President Trump the rightful winner of the 2020 Presidential Election. This attempted coup was staged on the day that Congress met to ratify the results of the November election, as is required of the Congressional representatives by the US Constitution.

The militia – or thugs, traitors, rioters, and so forth, as they have alternatively been named – are clinging to baseless conspiracy theories of voter fraud: that there was foul play during the recent Presidential Election that caused the President to lose his re-election bid in states such as Pennsylvania and Georgia – states which narrowly flipped to Democrat Joe Biden – as well as the campaign as a whole. It is not enough that several officials, both elected and appointed – including former Attorney General William Barr and numerous Republican Secretaries of State throughout the individual states – have said that there is no proof of any voter fraud, however: even Trump has been promoting these very conspiracy theories himself.

All of this came to a head yesterday with the traitors’ attack on the Capitol. As I write this, one person has been killed, and a Confederate flag has been paraded through the halls of the Capitol, something not even seen during the Civil War.

Yesterday, many Republican politicians were seemingly lining up en masse to turn their fire on the occupant of the White House, pinning much of the blame on him for inciting the violence, including telling the so-called “Proud Boys” – one such group of far-right Trump supporters – to “stand back and stand by”. During the day yesterday, it also appeared that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence’s partnership all but dissolved: Trump threw his Vice President under the bus, saying in a now-deleted tweet that the Vice President lacked courage for refusing to block the ratification of the election results. For himself, Trump said in another now-deleted tweet (social media giants have banned Trump for at least the remainder of his term): “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

It is quite possible that Donald Trump will go down as the worst President in US History, and what is alarming is that it would largely be based on his actions and words since losing the 2020 Presidential Election. To evaluate this, let us consider three other Presidents who vie for the not-so-coveted spot of worst President in History.

Going chronologically, we have Franklin Pierce, the 14th President who served from 1853 to 1857. Pierce, a Democrat from New Hampshire and a popular general in the Mexican-American War, helped to contribute to the events that led to the Civil War. Pierce, who was an anti-abolitionist, is perhaps most infamous for his signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act; the Act, which created the states of Nebraska and Kansas, also overturned the Missouri Compromise, which banned slavery anywhere north of the 36°30′ Parallel (the Arkansas-Missouri border), except for the state of Missouri itself. Pierce also enforced the Fugitive Slave Act from 1850, which forced free states to return escaped slaves to their masters. Pierce is noted for his pro-South bias during the lead-up to the Civil War (Pierce was “always looking to placate the South”, writes Paul Finkelman[1]), and appointed would-be secessionists to his cabinet, including future Confederate President Jefferson Davis as his Secretary of War. Throughout his single term as President, and while he ultimately opposed the Civil War and acted in the interest of preserving the Union, Pierce was known as a President who was on the side of slave-owning factions.

Franklin Pierce failed to receive re-nomination for a second term, and the Democrats nominated James Buchanan in his place; Buchanan served as the 15th President from 1857 to 1861. Buchanan had a respectable political career behind him, both as a Senator and Representative from Pennsylvania, as Secretary of State under James K Polk, and as Minister to the United Kingdom; there is no reason why Buchanan should not have been a good President. However, he is the President most blamed for the nation’s spiral into civil war, and this blame is not misplaced: it was largely through his own incompetence and failure to act that this happened. Buchanan set the Southern states on the route to secession by allowing Southern influencers who wanted Kansas to be a slave state to walk over him. What’s worse, Buchanan, in an address to Congress in 1860, blamed “the agitation at the North against slavery” for the events leading to the secession of South Carolina from the Union in December of that year. As a President, James Buchanan simply failed.

The third President I am going to consider is Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a Democrat from Tennessee who was elected on the National Unity ticket with Abraham Lincoln in 1864, and became the 17th President after Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865. Johnson, a former slave owner, was a defender of slavery and largely botched reconstruction efforts through both his leniency towards and eagerness to re-admit former Confederate states to the Union. Andrew Johnson was also known to be a difficult character with whom people struggled to work. Johnson was also the first President to be impeached: in 1868, Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act by firing his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, without Congressional approval, such was the law at the time. However, despite the law of the day, in hindsight it seems unfair that dismissing a Cabinet Secretary should have been an impeachable offense, considering how many cabinet members Trump has dismissed. Overall, Johnson put his entire life and career at stake in the name of national unity, which is why I consider him the most unfairly included of the three Presidents here mentioned. However, his general racism and leniency towards the South made him the architect of his own downfall.

So what sets Donald Trump apart from Pierce, Buchanan and Johnson? Ignoring the poor decisions and character flaws of these men, their main concern was preserving the Union and avoiding war, or a return to war in Johnson’s case. Their failure to adequately stand up to racism and slavery is a shame on their legacies, but never once did any of them – not even Andrew Johnson – seek to manipulate or overturn the result of any election once it had happened (although Johnson – when he lost the 1864 Democratic primary to Horatio Seymour – perhaps did not accept the results of the primary or subsequent Presidential Election gracefully, he did at least accept them, or rather did not object to them). Whatever their incompetencies were while in office, they never sought to undermine democratic elections in order to hold on to power for themselves. Donald Trump, in shouting baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud and inciting protest against Congress ratifying the results of the Electoral College, and in seeking to undermine the American democratic process, and calling on thuggish traitors loyal to his cult of personality to keep him in power, has surpassed all the worst mistakes and poor decisions these three men made. In my opinion, Donald Trump is the worst President in American history.

Some of Donald Trump’s supporters – both current and previous – have expressed admiration for some of his policies, including delivering promised tax cuts, for not entering in to any new wars, for his input in the de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East, and for being a voice for those left behind and ignored by the coastal elites. Many good people voted for Trump in November – as well as in 2016 – in good faith. However, is there any policy or position – no matter how successful or admirable – which can subtract from the inciting of anti-American and anti-democratic violence and overthrow?

As a historian, I generally feel that you cannot make a true assessment of a President’s tenure or legacy so close to the end of a President’s term, much less so when that President is still in office. However, I struggle to fathom any circumstance in which future historians can rehabilitate the act encouraging overthrow of a nation’s democratic institutions. As it stands now, with less than two weeks of his Presidential term remaining, it is not certain whether Trump will survive even that: articles of impeachment are already being drawn up against Mr Trump – for the second time in his Presidency. If it comes to another impeachment vote, or Vice President Mike Pence invoking the 25th Amendment against his former boss, his removal from office will be perfectly valid.

[1] Finkelman, Paul, ‘Franklin Pierce’, in Gormley, Ken, ed., The Presidents and the Constitution, Volume One From the Founding Fathers to the Progressive Era, 2020, New York: NYU Press, p181-193     

What to watch out for in the Georgia Senate runoffs

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Tuesday, January 5 will see the final election of the 2020 election season take place: the runoff votes for the United States Senate elections in Georgia. The state of Georgia saw elections take place in both of its US Senate seats: the regular cycle election for the Class II seat currently held by David Perdue, and a special election for the Class III seat currently held by Kelly Loeffler.

Georgia operates a runoff system in its elections: if no candidate receives 50% of the vote in an election, then the top two candidates will advance to a runoff election, as was the case in both Senate races. In addition, Georgia state law dictates that special elections are conducted as non-partisan blanket primaries, meaning that multiple candidates from the same party compete against each other to advance to the runoff.

In Tuesday’s special election, Loeffler, the Republican incumbent who was appointed by Governor Brian Kemp on January 6, 2020 following Senator Johnny Isaakson’s resignation, saw off a strong challenge from Congressman Doug Collins for a spot in the runoff. Loeffler will face Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock in Tuesday’s runoff; Warnock topped the blanket poll in November with 32.9% of the vote to Loeffler’s 25.9% and Collins’s 20.0%.

Perdue, meanwhile, will face Democrat Jon Ossoff in the regular cycle election, both candidates having been denied a majority of votes by the Libertarian candidate. Perdue is seeking a second term in the Senate, whereas this is the second special election in the state of Georgia that Ossoff is contesting: he was the Democratic candidate in the 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, losing the runoff to Republican Karen Handel.

Georgia’s role in the 2020 Presidential Election has been both noteworthy and notorious: Joe Biden’s victory here in November’s Presidential Election – the first for a Democrat since 1992 – by just 12,000 votes helped secure him enough Electoral College votes to deny Donald Trump a second term. However, it has also been home to electoral controversy never before seen as part of the President’s campaign against the election results, most recently when President Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” additional votes for him.

With Joe Biden’s victory in the Presidential Election, the Georgia Senate runoff elections are crucial for both parties: following November’s elections, the Senate Republicans lost two seats (Arizona and Colorado) and gained another (Alabama), giving the party 50 seats in the Senate at this time. If the Democrats can win both of these Senate seats, then the Senate will be tied (two Independent Senators caucus with the Democrats). In the event of a tied Senate vote, it falls to the Vice President to cast the deciding vote; on January 20th, the Vice President will be Kamala Harris. So while Mitch McConnell will remain the Senate Majority Leader, a loss of the two Senate seats in Georgia could effectively mean loss of control of the Senate for the Republicans. Even if the Republicans can hold just one of the Senate seats in Georgia, then holding 51 seats in the Senate may just be enough to provide McConnell with some breathing space.

So what are the polls saying? According to FiveThirtyEight’s running tally of polls from a variety of providers – some more reliable than others – gives Ossoff an average lead of 1.4 points and Warnock an average lead of 2.0 points as of January 4. This means that both races are effectively too close to call. However, the Democrats cannot afford to be complacent; there is usually some pro-incumbent unwind in particularly close elections, and the Democrats are still recovering from other Senate losses in races which they were thought to have locked in, including in Maine and North Carolina.

However, with Biden’s victory here in the Presidential Election, and significant attention being paid to Georgia’s possible new-found status as a purple state, if nothing else it would be a significant achievement for the Democrats to flip the state from a Republican trifecta with two Republican Senators and a six-Presidential Election victory streak to a Democrat state with two Democrat senators. That would be significant in itself, and may signal Georgia as a beacon in a new generation of swing states.

However, it will remain to be seen how the unique and controversial characteristics of this particular election cycle will impact the runoff votes. Are the attacks on the election results by the President and his closest supporters going to turn more reasonably-minded Republicans away from these elections, or is it going to shore up Perdue and Loeffler’s support even more? And with the Democrats back in control of the White House, will every Democrat who voted in November feel the need to turn out for Tuesday’s elections? More than three million early votes have already been cast in the runoffs, although – as with the increased turnout in November’s elections – this may not be as much assistance to the Democrats as previously thought.

Tuesday’s Senate runoffs in Georgia will draw a close to one of the most controversial and divisive election cycles of our time. On January 6, Congress will validate November’s Electoral College vote, although this has also seen a challenge from Trump’s supporters. The results of the runoff may provide short-term relief for the winning party, but with a tight Senate margin, a contested Presidential Election, and the Democrats barely maintaining control of the House of Representatives – along with reflection by both parties on where they go from here – the first two years of Biden’s presidency may well be a difficult time for both parties.

Texas v. Pennsylvania: what’s it all about?

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You have likely seen in the news that another legal battle has been going on with regards to the 2020 Presidential Election result: Texas v. Pennsylvania. The case has largely been characterised as an attempt by Republicans to either block or overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in November’s election. But what is the case really about?

The case of Texas v Pennsylvania – or, to use its full title, State of Texas v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, State of Georgia, State of Michigan, and State of Wisconsin – was originally filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on December 8. In his complaint, Paxton alleged that “government officials in the defendant states of Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania…usurped their legislatures’ authority and unconstitutionally revised their state’s election statutes”. Specifically, the complaint alleged that these states unconstitutionally changed their electoral law to allow for more mail-in ballots to be issued, and that therefore it could not be known “who legitimately won the 2020 election”.

Over the next few days, the case grew in support: sixteen attorneys general – all Republicans – from other states – all of which were won by Donald Trump in November’s election – joined Paxton in supporting the motion. Later, 126 of the 197 Republicans in the US House of Representatives announced support for the case, as did – oddly enough – the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. A handful of Governors, Senators, as well as President Donald Trump himself voiced support for the case.

The case ultimately failed, as the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear it. Conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito additionally said that, while they felt the court had a duty to hear the case, they would have decided against Texas if the case had been heard. The case was dismissed on the grounds that Texas, being a separate state to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Wisconsin, was a disinterested party in the case and could not bring about a case regarding another state’s practices which it was not party to.

While the case of Texas v. Pennsylvania was, to paraphrase Paxton, a concern over unconstitutional changes in electoral law which likely allowed voter fraud, some commentators have dismissed the case as simply an attempt to overturn, or at the very least stall, the result of the 2020 Presidential Election. Devin Dwyer of ABC News described the case as “brazen eleventh-hour attempt by the state of Texas and Republican allies of President Donald Trump to throw out millions of votes in four states and overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory”. Elsewhere, Bill Pascrell, a House Democrat from New Jersey, called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to refuse to seat any of the 126 House Republicans who supported Texas v. Pennsylvania.

The case has driven a deep divide through the Republican Party, while many high-ranking Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy – signed on in support of Texas v. Pennsylvania, many big names in the party have criticised the case. Texas Senator John Cornyn, part of the Republican Senate leadership, said of the case “I frankly struggle to understand the legal theory of it”. Utah Senator and 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney described the case as “madness”. In Utah, governor Gary Herbert and Governor-elect Spencer Cox condemned state Attorney General Sean Reyes’s decision to support the case, saying he did not consult either of them, and they did not understand his motivation for doing so. It remains to be seen if these divisions will go on to define the Republican Party throughout the upcoming Congress, and Biden’s term as President.

However, the case has now been dismissed, and it seems like Donald Trump’s supporters’ final Hail Mary pass to stall the result of the election has fallen through. There is now only one event to go to seal the result of the election: the Electoral College meets on December 14th.

Is this the end for the death penalty in Ohio?

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Ohio Governor Mike DeWine this week announced that the state would no longer be using lethal injection as an execution method for its death row prisoners. Issuing an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment for Ohio, DeWine said that the lethal injection appeared to be “impossible from a practical point of view”.

DeWine’s announcement comes at the end a difficult period in Ohio’s lethal injection saga: in 2016, it was announced that Ohio would adopt a new three-drug lethal injection following the botched execution of Dennis McGuire in 2014. The two-drug injection the state had been using did not work, meaning McGuire’s painful execution was drawn out over more than 15 minutes. However, the new three-drug injection was then itself blocked by a judge on the grounds that it was not humane enough. Since then, Ohio has struggled to find either a suitable alternative to the injection, or a company who can supply it.

With an injection seemingly impossible to procure, and pharmaceutical companies seemingly unwilling to provide drugs to the state of Ohio for use in executions, it seems as if the role of the lethal injection in Ohio may be reaching a natural end. Indeed, DeWine said in the same announcement that Ohio state lawmakers would need to choose a different method of capital punishment before any more executions can take place.

However, there is a problem: lethal injection is the only execution method permissible under Ohio law. The electric chair has not been used in Ohio since 1965, and was deemed cruel and unusual punishment in 2001. Hanging was the primary method of execution in Ohio until the introduction of the electric chair in the state in 1897. In addition, Ohio has never used firing squads or gas chambers as execution methods. With many other methods of execution now considered archaic, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which any of these methods would be signed into Ohio law.

In order to continue executions, Ohio lawmakers would need to introduce – or re-introduce – a new execution method in law. However, Governor DeWine does not think the hunt for a new execution method will be a priority for the Ohio State Legislature. So without an execution method on the books for Ohio, with the state unlikely to see any executions carried out at least during 2021 (and quite possibly beyond), and with no rush to introduce a new method of execution, it seems as if capital punishment in Ohio could be mothballed: execution could remain part of state law, but without any legal means of action.

However, what would be the point of mothballing the death penalty in Ohio? Why not just abolish it entirely? A September 2020 Gallup poll found that 55% of Americans favour the death penalty for convicted murderers, compared to 43% who oppose it. While the poll shows more people still approve of capital punishment, this is still the lowest approval percentage since March 1972, down from an 80% approval in September 1994. Only in March 1966 did a plurality of respondents oppose the death penalty.

While support for the death penalty has been waning over the last 25 years, simply mothballing the death penalty would avoid the political and legal wrangling of trying to abolish the death penalty. However, with an increasing number of lawmakers in Columbus on both sides of the aisle are voicing their opposition to capital punishment on both humanitarian and economic grounds, this situation offers Governor Mike DeWine an opportunity to push for a cause that an increasing number of conservatives are calling for: putting an end to capital punishment in Ohio.

Mike DeWine has himself said that today he is “much more skeptical about whether [capital punishment] meets…moral justification”. However, with the ongoing pandemic, and with whispers about possible primary challenges and impeachment attempts against DeWine from the more conservative wing of the GOP, the governor may have bigger fights at this time. It could still be a way off yet, but this week the end of the death penalty in Ohio seems like a distinct possibility.