Your Sunday morning read is this big swing on the precarity of American democracy from NYT’s David Leonhardt, who writes that we face “the most serious challenge to the country’s governing ideals in decades” thanks to two major threats.
1. “The first threat is acute: a growing movement inside one of the country’s two major parties — the Republican Party — to refuse to accept defeat in an election.”
2. “The second threat to democracy is chronic but also growing: The power to set government policy is becoming increasingly disconnected from public opinion.”
The increasing countermajoritarian structural bent of American politics is epitomized by conservative Supreme Court decisions, gerrymandering, and GEORGE W. BUSH’s and DONALD TRUMP’s Electoral College victories while losing the popular vote, Leonhardt argues. He traces these different threats to a variety of underlying causes — some baked into the design of American government, others arising from long-term economic, social, demographic and technological trends.
“Some experts remain hopeful that the growing attention in the United States to democracy’s problems can help avert a constitutional crisis here,” Leonhardt writes. “Still, many experts point out that it is still not clear how the country will escape a larger crisis, such as an overturned election, at some point in the coming decade.”
The threats in action: NYT’s Reid Epstein reports this morning that six key Senate and gubernatorial GOP nominees refused to commit to accepting the results of the November election: BLAKE MASTERS in Arizona, J.D. VANCE in Ohio, Rep. TED BUDD in North Carolina, KELLY TSHIBAKA in Alaska, TUDOR DIXON in Michigan and GEOFF DIEHL in Massachusetts. “The candidates and their aides offered an array of explanations. Some blamed Democratic state election officials or made unsubstantiated claims that their opponents would cheat.”
Several others didn’t respond to Epstein’s questions, though some high-profile Republicans — like MEHMET OZ in Pennsylvania and HERSCHEL WALKER in Georgia — affirmed they will accept the election results. So did every Democrat he asked.
“To some degree, the stances by these Republican candidates — which echo Mr. Trump’s comments before the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections — may amount to political posturing,” Epstein writes. “But they do have loud megaphones in a highly polarized media environment, and any unwarranted challenges from the candidates and their allies could fuel anger, confusion and misinformation.”
The Democratic response … or lack thereof: Democrats are “[i]ncreasingly worried that big donors are failing to recognize the scale of the threat to democratic norms,” as top spenders revert to the typical approach of shelling out for the flashiest races, Heidi Przybyla reports this morning. Once again, Dems are failing to spend big at the state level, including in critical secretary of state campaigns that could determine who controls election machinery: Far-right MARK FINCHEM in Arizona, for instance, has pulled in almost twice as much as Democrat ADRIAN FONTES, who’d raised just $700,000 as of last month.
HOWARD DEAN zinger: “Dean described the party’s tendency to prioritize federal races and political action committees focused on causes such as hunger, gun safety or climate change — instead of state-level candidates and races — as a function of ‘their own fascination with themselves.’”
Related: “President JOE BIDEN is finding it’s easier to call out attacks on democracy than it is to stop them,” AP’s Colleen Long and Zeke Miller report this morning.
The rule of law: AG MERRICK GARLAND also had some big-picture democracy threats on his mind in a personal, emotional speech at an Ellis Island naturalization ceremony Saturday, per Yahoo’s Caitlin Dickson. Garland talked about the danger of the country’s “intense polarization” and the importance of the rule of law. “We must not allow the fractures between us to fracture our democracy,” he said.
Marking the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, Garland also celebrated immigrants by relaying his family’s own story of fleeing persecution to come to the U.S. “This message, and the welcoming scene at Ellis Island, stood in stark contrast to those seen this week on Martha’s Vineyard, and outside Vice President KAMALA HARRIS’s residence,” Dickson notes.
More on the Martha’s Vineyard fallout: “‘Huge mistake’: DeSantis’ migrant transports could undercut support in South Florida,” by Gary Fineout in Tallahassee: “The move by [Florida Gov. RON] DeSANTIS dominated the radio and television airwaves in South Florida — where large swaths of Hispanic voters live. One Spanish radio host loudly denounced the move and even compared DeSantis’ actions to that of deceased Cuban dictator FIDEL CASTRO, who relocated Cubans in the early ‘60s.”
LATEST POLLING — A new NBC survey out this morning finds the parties tied on the generic congressional ballot at 46% apiece (compared to a 2-point GOP advantage last month) and Biden’s approval rating ticking up from 42% to 45%.
SUNDAY BEST …
— Senate Judiciary Chair DICK DURBIN (D-Ill.) on whether he’d take over the House Jan. 6 investigation if Democrats lose the House, on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “If there’s more work to be done and I’m in a position to call for it, you bet I will. … But there’s one key difference. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, in order to issue a subpoena, you need bipartisan agreement to do it. That’s not the case, I understand, in the House. So if the Republicans want to resist this, it’s going to be difficult to continue the investigation. I hope the House gets it done.”
— Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.) on his national 15-week abortion ban bill, on “Fox News Sunday”: “I’m pro-life, even in an election year. And to those whose suggest that being pro-life is losing politics, I reject that … To my Republican colleagues: Now’s the time to stand up and be counted. The pro-life movement is counting on you.”
— JOE O’DEA on GOP governors busing and flying migrants elsewhere, on “Meet the Press”: “Ron DeSantis and Gov. [GREG] ABBOTT were right to bring some visibility to this issue. We’ve got fentanyl killing our kids. People call what he did cruel? You know what’s cruel is ignoring this issue. Democrats are ignoring it, doing nothing, while our kids are dying.”
— NYC Mayor ERIC ADAMS on the migrant arrivals in his city, on ABC’s “This Week”: “Let’s coordinate in that fashion like we’ve done with other large communities we have in New York City, where we’re able to coordinate, get sponsors, work with our nongovernmental organizations. That is what crisis calls for — it calls for coordination. There was no coordination at all with Gov. Abbott, and Gov. DeSantis just wanted to use this political ploy instead of understanding these are people, these are families, these are human beings.”
— U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD on the latest evidence of mass graves and atrocities being uncovered in Ukraine, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “The horrific pictures of those grave sites will always be in our minds as we look at what is happening in Ukraine right now, and [Russia] should expect that it will not be business as usual when they arrive in New York tomorrow. They will be isolated. They will be condemned in the Security Council as well as more broadly in the General Assembly.”
— Former President BILL CLINTON on KEN STARR’s death, on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS”: “Well, I read the obituary, and I realized that his family loved him, and I think that’s something to be grateful for, and when your life is over that’s all there is to say. But I was taught not to talk about people that I — you know. I have nothing to say. Except I’m glad he died with the love of his family.”
TOP-EDS: A roundup of the week’s must-read opinion pieces.
The White House …
The Supreme Court …
All politics …
Big ideas …
ANNALS OF DIPLOMACY — Biden is in London, where he was originally scheduled to meet with new British PM LIZ TRUSS today. But her office “said Saturday they would skip the weekend hello, opting instead for a meeting in New York at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, though Truss still planned to gather with other world leaders converging on London,” per the AP.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — We have an exclusive clip from JAKE TAPPER’s new CNN special report, “American Coup: The January 6th Investigation,” which airs tonight at 9 p.m. in advance of the House Jan. 6 committee’s forthcoming first report. In the clip, Vice Chair LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) lays out the political stakes of this moment for American democracy: “It doesn’t matter what party someone belongs to: If they are running on the basis that they will, for example, refuse to certify legitimate election results in the future, they’ve got to be defeated.” Watch here
9 THINGS FOR YOUR RADAR
1. MAR-A-LAGO TIMING: Trump’s legal team will have to respond by Tuesday at noon to DOJ’s motion seeking a partial stay of the order blocking investigators from reviewing the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago, an appeals court said Saturday evening. Justice Department lawyers had filed Friday to get out from under Judge AILEEN CANNON’s ruling that bars investigators from looking through classified documents. More from Fox News
2. GAETZ-GATE LATEST: JOHNNY McENTEE told the House Jan. 6 committee that Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) had asked MARK MEADOWS for a preemptive pardon from Trump in the sex-trafficking investigation that has involved him, WaPo’s Jackie Alemany and Amy Gardner scooped. McEntee said Gaetz told him he’d done nothing wrong. “The testimony is the first indication that Gaetz was specifically seeking a pardon for his own exposure related to the Justice Department inquiry into whether he violated sex trafficking laws. His public posture in the final months of the Trump administration was much less specific.”
3. THE FINANCIAL FILES: House Oversight Chair CAROLYN MALONEY (D-N.Y.) told NYT’s Luke Broadwater on Saturday that Mazars USA has given her panel an initial tranche of Trump’s financial records, which Congress has finally now obtained after a drawn-out court fight. Maloney didn’t provide details on the documents, but more are expected to follow, and she said Mazars is cooperating. “Some of the most classified information, we don’t even know where it is,” she said. “Right now, we don’t know how much is still out there.”
4. PELOSI ABROAD: Taiwan wasn’t the only international kerfuffle into which Speaker NANCY PELOSI is diving. She arrived in Armenia on Saturday amid clashes with Azerbaijan that killed hundreds of people this week, with plans to meet with the country’s leaders and push for peace. “The trip was seen as a political move by Ms. Pelosi ahead of the midterm elections,” NYT’s Carlotta Gall reports, calling it “Ms. Pelosi’s latest effort to flex the legislative branch’s diplomatic muscle.” Today, Pelosi criticized Azerbaijan’s attacks and called for peace, per the AP.
5. FOR YOUR (LITERAL) RADAR: Major storms are hitting opposite ends of the country: In Western Alaska, the historically intense remnants of a typhoon battered the coast, “causing severe flooding, evacuations, power outages and wind damage,” the Anchorage Daily News’ Annie Berman, Zachariah Hughes and Sean Maguire report. “No fatalities, injuries or missing persons had been reported by Saturday night, but many communities were underwater and without power.”
And near Puerto Rico, Tropical Storm Fiona is expected to turn into a hurricane today, with a significant potential impact coming for the island’s coast. Gov. PEDRO PIERLUISI declared a state of emergency and urged everyone to shelter in place. Details from The Weather Channel … Spanish-language latest from El Nuevo Día
6. ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Trump rallied in Youngstown, Ohio, for Vance’s Senate campaign Saturday night, tapping into his usual themes about crime, immigration and elections, the Record-Courier’s Derek Kreider reports. The former president put some distance between himself and Democratic Rep. TIM RYAN, who’s tried to draw policy parallels to win over Republicans. Before a crowd of more than 6,000, Trump also poked some fun at Vance, per the L.A. Times’ Freddy Brewster: “J.D. is kissing my ass. Of course he wants my support … The entire MAGA movement is for J.D. Vance.”
7. HOW PAT RYAN WON: “New Democratic hero has a message for colleagues: Show voters the fight,” by WaPo’s Paul Kane: “Most instant analysis credits Ryan’s campaign, which he launched days after a leaked draft showed the Supreme Court intended to overturn Roe v. Wade, with capturing the lightning of that moment … But, according to Ryan and other seasoned Democrats, his victory came because he anchored the race in demonstrating to voters how much he would fight for the cause. … Ryan doesn’t dismiss inflation. If candidates sidestep that painful economic issue and just run on protecting abortion rights, he says, those Democrats will fail.”
8. BEHIND THE NEAR-RAILROAD STRIKE: Workers getting time off for medical treatment was one of the key issues at the heart of the railroad strike that almost upended the nation’s economy this week. WaPo’s Lauren Kaori Gurley has the story of AARON HILES, a Missouri worker who died of a heart attack in June after putting off a doctor’s visit due to attendance penalties under a new rail carrier policy. His death helped catalyze advocacy for change. And though a strike didn’t happen, the story isn’t over: “Unless union leaders persuade 115,000 workers across 12 unions to vote to ratify contracts, a nationwide rail strike is still possible — and could snarl much of the nation’s supply-chain just ahead of the midterm elections.”
9. DISINFORMATION DIGEST: “How Russian Trolls Helped Keep the Women’s March Out of Lock Step,” by NYT’s Ellen Barry: “Over the 18 months that followed, Russia’s troll factories and its military intelligence service put a sustained effort into discrediting the movement by circulating damning, often fabricated narratives around [LINDA] SARSOUR, whose activism made her a lightning rod for Mr. Trump’s base and also for some of his most ardent opposition. … Many people know the story about how the Women’s March movement fractured, leaving lasting scars on the American left. … But there is also a story that has not been told, one that only emerged years later in academic research, of how Russia inserted itself into this moment.”
Mike Lindell was using a phone at Donald Trump’s Ohio rally venue — a replacement for the one he said the FBI seized, per the Daily Mail’s Liz Elkind.
Johnny McEntee and Ryann McEnany’s new dating app for conservatives, The Right Stuff, is running into a trademark dispute and struggling to recruit D.C. women, per The Daily Beast.
WaPo’s Outlook section is running for the final time today, as the newspaper moves its Sunday ideas, opinions and books coverage elsewhere.
WHAT PLAYBOOKERS ARE READING: A roundup of the most-clicked links from the past week in Playbook.
1.“The Sordid Saga of Hunter Biden’s Laptop,” by N.Y. Mag’s Andrew Rice and Olivia Nuzzi
2.“Yes, the Polling Warning Signs Are Flashing Again,” by NYT’s Nate Cohn
3.“The Radicalization of Washington’s Most Famous Historian,” by Michael Schaffer for POLITICO Magazine
4.Amy Klobuchar’s run-in with some constituents at a sports bar for the Vikings’ opening game.
IN MEMORIAM — “Ronald Pelton, spy convicted of selling secrets to Soviets, dies at 80,” by WaPo’s Emily Langer
OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at a party for Elliot Ackerman’s new book, “The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan” ($22.49), hosted by Juleanna Glover on Saturday night at her Kalorama house: Josh Dawsey, Matt Gorman, UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, Michael Hirsh, Adrienne Arsht, Indira Lakshmanan, Suzanne Kianpour, Evelyn Farkas, Leon Wieseltier, Blake Hounshell, Cathy Merrill, Goli Sheikholeslami, Jen and Chris Isham, Ramesh and April Ponnuru, Alexander Nazaryan and Tim Mak.
— The Transatlantic Leadership Network held an awards ceremony for its 2022 Freedom of the Media awards at the National Press Club on Saturday night. Gold medals went to Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin and the Kyiv Independent’s Olga Rudenko. Other awards were handed out to Al Jazeera’s Shireen Abu Akleh (posthumously), Rappler’s Maria Ressa, Željko Ivanović and Vijesti, and Vladislav Davidzon of Tablet Magazine and Odessa Review. Special guest Volodymyr Havrylov, deputy defense minister of Ukraine, also spoke. SPOTTED: Montenegrin PM Dritan Abazović, Diana Riba i Giner, Neemat Frem, Sasha Toperich and Teresa Ribeiro.
— SPOTTED at the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s 15th anniversary celebration at Dock 5 at Union Market on Friday night: Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), Ai-jen Poo, Jenn Stowe, Hillary Holley, Christina Coleman and Carmen Berkley.
TRANSITION — Abby Jagoda is returning to ICSC as VP of public policy. She previously was VP and head of government and community affairs at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.
ENGAGED — Isaac Piller, federal affairs analyst at Salt River Project, proposed to Hannah S. Cooke, scheduler for Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), on Sept. 9 at the Bartholdi Fountain near the Capitol. They met while serving as political appointees at the Interior Department in the Trump administration.
WEDDING — Lisa Leonard, head of associations, advocacy and states partnerships at POLITICO, and Adam Bortnick, COO at SCL Consulting, got married Sept. 10 at the Oaks Waterfront Inn in Easton, Md. Pic … Another pic
BIRTHWEEK (was Saturday): J.T. Foley of Las Vegas Sands Corp. (4-0)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) … Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) … Scott MacFarlane … former HUD Secretary Ben Carson … Bakari Sellers … WaPo’s Griff Witte, Darryl Fears and Desmond Butler … Jeff Sadosky of Forbes Tate Partners … Katrina Bishop … Chris Lucas … Joan Walsh of The Nation … Jackie Calmes of the L.A. Times … Luis Navarro … Safiya Ghori-Ahmad of McLarty Associates … Jess Morales Rocketto … POLITICO’s Jala McFadden … E&E News’ Ian Bent … Rachel Irwin of Building Back Together … Dayna Cade … Daniel Burnett … Erin Buechel Wieczorek of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency … Adam Keiper … Angela Flood of Cove Strategies … FDA’s Monica Pampell … former Reps. Steve Watkins (R-Kan.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.) … Edelman’s Andrew Church … Carrie Hebert … State’s Carly Lindgren … Phil Lago … Trevor Houser of Rhodium Group … Sara Haines … Cheddar’s Baker Machado
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Correction: Friday’s Playbook misspelled Todd Zwillich’s name.