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POLITICO Playbook: A contrarian view on the voting rights debate

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is pictured. | Getty Images

The NYT’s Nate Cohn says moves by Georgia Republicans like Gov. Brian Kemp are both under-discussed and exaggerated in various ways. | Brandon Bell/Getty Images

THE DANGER OF VOTING RIGHTS HYPERBOLE — Much ink has been spilled in recent weeks suggesting Democrats want to expand access to voting with their sweeping H.R. 1 proposal, while the GOP wants to limit it with their own restrictions, particularly in Georgia. This morning, the NYT’s Nate Cohn is up with an informative read taking the contrarian view, arguing neither would change much.

“There’s a real — and bipartisan — misunderstanding about whether making it easier or harder to vote, especially by mail, has a significant effect on turnout or electoral outcomes,” he writes. “The evidence suggests it does not.”

Diving into the numbers, Cohn says Georgia’s new law — panned by Democrats as Jim Crow-style voter suppression — could even expand voting. (Yes, you read that right.) On the other hand, Democrat-championed, voting-convenience provisions won’t necessarily boost turnout and certainly wouldn’t necessarily give them a leg up in elections — contrary to the fearmongering claims of some on the GOP side.

So what is happening here? Per Cohn, what Democrats and Republicans are doing right now as they face off over voting is worse than the typical exaggeration in political debates. It’s extremely important to democracy that voters regard elections as fair, and the hyperbole on both sides is unhelpful, he writes.

“The perception that voting laws have existential stakes for democracy or the political viability of the two parties has made bipartisan compromise extremely difficult,” Cohn says. “The virtue of bipartisanship is often and understandably dismissed as naïve, but voting laws are a rare case where bipartisanship has value of its own. Democracy, after all, depends on the consent of the loser.”

Those exaggerations, he adds, make it harder to call out actual problems, like Georgia’s move to empower the state legislature over nonpartisan state election officials. That, he notes, could enable what he called “partisan interference in election administration.” Curiously, Democrats’ H.R. 1 does nothing to counter that, he writes.

“If you want to protect democracy — and make sure HR1 does — you do need to be able to prioritize, and distinguish nuisances from fundamental threats,” Cohn tweeted summarizing his piece. “In the worst case, reformers could overlook more severe but less self-evidently morally repugnant threats.”

— Also new today: Our Nolan McCaskill and Zach Montellaro write this morning that in Georgia, the new law is “either the epitome of voter suppression or the embodiment of election integrity — depending on whom you ask.” A look inside those charged emotions Cohn is warning about, tearing at the state.

— Related: Will Saletan of Slate has a Twitter thread on the Georgia law provisions, listing “the good,” “the bad” and most importantly “the overhyped.” Worth the click.

Good Sunday morning and Happy Easter. It’s definitely a Honey Baked ham and cheesy potatoes kind of day. But between food comas, we’ll be checking our emails occasionally. So if you’ve got a news tip or a document to share, or just want to drop us a line, feel free: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.


— Transportation Secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG talking infrastructure package on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “In many ways, it feels like we’ve already convinced America. Now we just got to get Washington to follow suit. … If folks on the Hill have other ideas about how to pay for it, we’re going to be interested to hear those ideas, but there is a clear vision to pay for this bill in full.”

“Sen. Blunt sees ‘easy win’ if infrastructure plan scaled back,” by David Cohen: “Speaking to host Chris Wallace on ‘Fox News Sunday,’ [Roy] Blunt said that of the $2 trillion plan offered last month by President Joe Biden, only about 30 percent of it was truly dedicated to what has traditionally been called infrastructure. ‘I think there’s an easy win here for the White House if they would take that win, which is make this an infrastructure package, which is about 30 percent, even if you stretch the definition of infrastructure some, it’s about 30 percent of the $2.25 trillion we are talking about spending,’ he said.”

— NEC Director BRIAN DEESE on “Fox News Sunday,” on spending big even as jobs numbers improve: “We still have a long way to go. What our plan says is let’s keep the economy going, let’s see more job creation, that’s a really good thing for the economy. But let’s also think to the longer term about where are those investments that we can make that will really drive not just more job growth, but better job growth. Not just job growth in the short term, but job growth in the long term by investing in our infrastructure, by investing in our research and development, in a way we haven’t since the 1960s.”

— Retired Lt. Gen. RUSSEL HONORÉ on “This Week,” on what’s most important for Congress to do in the wake of Jan. 6 and Friday’s attack: “The additional resources [for the Capitol Police]. They are going to have to recruit hard, and in order to recruit, they’re going to need a special budget … They’ve got catching up to do. They’re going to need help. And the National Guard are going to have to continue to assist them.”

— @MeetthePress: “WATCH: Yesterday, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Kenny Shaver was released from the hospital to cheers from his USCP colleagues.” The video

— Rep. ILHAN OMAR (D-Minn.) on CNN’s “State of the Union,” on Minneapolis steeling for the possibility of a hung jury or not guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin: “The community is on edge about that. We have seen justice not delivered in our community for many years. And I think that there is a lot of confidence in Attorney General Keith Ellison and the prosecutors in this case. But we are all eagerly awaiting to see how this trial shakes out. It’s been really horrendous to watch the defense put George Floyd on trial, instead of the former police officer who’s charged with his murder.”

BIDEN’S SUNDAY — President JOE BIDEN and VP KAMALA HARRIS have nothing on their public schedules.

A Capitol police officer is pictured at a gate. | Getty Images

PHOTO OF THE DAY: A U.S. Capitol Police officer stands at a reinforced gate at the Capitol on Saturday, the day after an attack left one officer dead. | Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images


BIDEN’S BALANCING ACT — “How Joe Biden tamed the left — at least for now,” WaPo: “The administration’s warm relationship with the left is one of the most surprising aspects of the Biden presidency, particularly after a bitterly fought primary campaign where many liberals saw Biden as too close to Republicans and too timid to enact bold change. … But the honeymoon could also be short-lived.

“Biden is entering a period of complicated negotiations on Capitol Hill over his jobs and infrastructure plan, which is almost certain to result in setbacks for the left. … And an overly close relationship poses risks for both sides. Liberal leaders could lose credibility with supporters, particularly if Biden does not make progress on items such as increasing the minimum wage or defies them on other key issues. Likewise, if Biden appears too cozy with the left wing of the party, it could help Republicans paint him as a radical or a socialist — a narrative that the GOP failed to carry off during the 2020 campaign.


DEEP DIVE — “How Trump Steered Supporters Into Unwitting Donations,” by NYT’s Shane Goldmacher: “Stacy Blatt was in hospice care last September listening to Rush Limbaugh’s dire warnings about how badly Donald J. Trump’s campaign needed money when he went online and chipped in everything he could: $500. It was a big sum for a 63-year-old battling cancer and living in Kansas City on less than $1,000 per month. But that single contribution — federal records show it was his first ever — quickly multiplied. …

“What the Blatts soon discovered was $3,000 in withdrawals by the Trump campaign in less than 30 days. … But what the Blatts believed was duplicity was actually an intentional scheme to boost revenues by the Trump campaign and the for-profit company that processed its online donations, WinRed. Facing a cash crunch and getting badly outspent by the Democrats, the campaign had begun last September to set up recurring donations by default for online donors, for every week until the election.

“Contributors had to wade through a fine-print disclaimer and manually uncheck a box to opt out. As the election neared, the Trump team made that disclaimer increasingly opaque, an investigation by The New York Times showed. It introduced a second prechecked box, known internally as a ‘money bomb,’ that doubled a person’s contribution. Eventually its solicitations featured lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language.”


INSPIRED — “What the U.S. Can Learn From China’s Infatuation With Infrastructure,” WSJ: “Sleek airports, grand stadiums and stylized skylines captivate visitors to China. Infrastructure may be the most tangible — and admired — aspect of a modernization drive that in a generation transformed a poor country into the U.S.’s primary strategic and economic rival. …

“Emulating China is another story. China’s leapfrogging—practically to bullet trains from bicycles — may have limited direct application to improving American infrastructure. The two nations have different needs and diametrically opposed political systems, starting with carte blanche for Chinese leaders to order up construction.”


PEEK BEHIND THE CURTAIN — “Inside a stealth ‘persuasion machine’ promising Republican victories in 2022,” WaPo: “A Facebook page shows a child scampering down a school corridor, alerting Ohio families to a scholarship program. … Undisclosed on the Facebook page is the nonprofit’s partisan goal. … That goal, laid out in a private fundraising appeal sent last month to a Republican donor and reviewed by The Washington Post, relies on building new online communities that can be tapped at election time, with a focus on winning back Congress in 2022. …

“Titled ‘Reclaiming the Public Narrative,’ the solicitation argues that the left, because of its clout within cultural institutions, has more access to centrist voters while the right is stuck ‘within its own echo chamber.’ … The solicitation was sent to Warren Stephens, a billionaire banker based in Arkansas who backed President Donald Trump’s reelection effort. … The documents provide an unusual glimpse into the inner workings of a group whose activities are ordinarily veiled and illustrate how the Republican Party, still largely defined by Trump, is straining to connect with the country’s political center.”

JAIME HARRISON SPEAKS — “DNC Chair Jamie Harrison: The Democratic Brand Is Broken,” Daily Beast: “‘I think what we have to do as a party is battle the damage to the Democratic brand,’ Jamie Harrison, the former Senate candidate, tells Molly Jong-Fast in the latest episode of The New Abnormal. ‘I experienced it on my own race, Lindsey [Graham] and his crew of dark money effectively labeled me as somebody who believed in defunding the police. My grandfather on my stepfather’s side was in the Detroit police department for 40 years. So I don’t believe in that. But they were able to do it because the Democratic brand had been so tarnished in South Carolina that people would believe anything. If they said, “Jamie kicked a puppy the other day,” they would have believed it.’

“‘It’s not even just with Republicans, the Democrat brand with some of the folks who are core at the base of our party is not the greatest,’ Harrison continues. ‘And so I want to spend a lot of time, energy, and effort understanding why the brand is where it is, what it is and how, and what we can do in order to improve it.’”

— His comments come as the Democratic Party is split over how to handle such GOP attacks. After the bloodbath in 2020, many House Democrats in swing districts encouraged their leadership to rebut the GOP’s attempts to portray them as police-hating socialists head on. But the DCCC under Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) has downplayed the effectiveness of the Republican attacks, viewing the better strategy as running on what Democrats stand for and the legislation they pass.


MILESTONE — “More than 3 million people are now receiving a Covid vaccine in the U.S. each day,” NYT: “And on Saturday the country reported over 4 million doses in a single day for the first time.”

BUT DANGER LOOMS — “Virus Variants Threaten to Draw Out the Pandemic, Scientists Say,” NYT

ON THE HEELS OF THE CDC GUIDANCE — “TSA reports most passenger screenings since beginning of the pandemic,” Axios

BACK TO SCHOOL — “Fed Up With Remote Learning, Governors Make a Push to Reopen Schools,” NYT: “According to a school reopening tracker created by the American Enterprise Institute, 7 percent of the more than 8,000 districts being tracked were operating fully remotely on March 22, the lowest percentage since the tracker was started in November. Forty-one percent of districts were offering full-time in-person instruction, the highest percentage in that time. …

“In interviews, several governors described the factors motivating their decision to push districts to reopen, including the substantial evidence that there is little virus transmission in schools if mitigation measures are followed, the decline in overall cases from their January peak, and, most of all, the urgency of getting students back in classrooms before the school year ends.”


IN THE MIDDLE EAST — “Nearly 20 arrested in alleged plot against Jordan’s King Abdullah II,” WaPo: “Jordanian authorities on Saturday arrested as many as 20 people and sought to restrain the movement of a former crown prince amid what officials called a threat to the ‘security and stability’ of a country long regarded as a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East.

“Prince Hamzeh bin Hussein, the eldest son of the late King Hussein and his American-born fourth wife, Queen Noor, was told to remain at his Amman palace amid an investigation into an alleged plot to unseat his older half brother, King Abdullah II, according to a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official briefed on the events. The move followed the discovery of what officials described as a complex and far-reaching plot that included at least one other Jordanian royal as well as tribal leaders and members of the country’s political and security establishment.”


STATES OF HEALTH CARE — “Medicaid Expansion Is Under Reconsideration in Red States,” WSJ: “Some GOP-led states that previously declined to expand Medicaid are reconsidering that decision now that the $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief package has made billions of dollars available to enlarge the program.

“The legislation passed by Congress last month boosts federal funding for two years to states that expand Medicaid, more than covering a state’s cost for increasing eligibility for the program, which is currently used by almost 79 million low-income and disabled people. The availability of more federal funds is putting pressure on Republican leaders in some of the 12 states that haven’t expanded the program.”

VOTING IN AMERICA — “Her Ballot Didn’t Count. She Faces 5 Years in Prison for Casting It,” NYT: “On Election Day 2016, Crystal Mason went to vote after her mother insisted that she make her voice heard in the presidential election. When her name didn’t appear on official voting rolls at her polling place in Tarrant County, Texas, she filled out a provisional ballot, not thinking anything of it.

“Ms. Mason’s ballot was never officially counted or tallied because she was ineligible to vote: She was on supervised release after serving five years for tax fraud. Nonetheless, that ballot has wrangled her into a lengthy appeals process after a state district court sentenced her to five years in prison for illegal voting, as she was a felon on probation when she cast her ballot. … Her case is now headed for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest state court for criminal cases, whose judges said on Wednesday that they had decided to hear it. … This new appeal is the last chance for Ms. Mason, 46, who is out on appeal bond, to avoid prison.”

MEGATREND — “The Housing Market Is Crazier Than It’s Been Since 2006,” WSJ


YIKES — “533 million Facebook users’ phone numbers and personal data have been leaked online,” Insider: “A user in a low level hacking forum on Saturday published the phone numbers and personal data of hundreds of millions of Facebook users for free online.

“The exposed data includes personal information of over 533 million Facebook users from 106 countries, including over 32 million records on users in the US, 11 million on users in the UK, and 6 million on users in India. It includes their phone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names, locations, birthdates, bios, and — in some cases — email addresses.”

UGH … “Supreme Court ruling could make it easier for Americans to receive more robocalls, watchdog group says,” CNN

TRANSITIONS — Susanne Sachsman Grooms is joining Kaplan Hecker & Fink as a partner. She previously was chief counsel for the House Oversight Committee. … Elana Firsht is now senior digital director for political campaigns at ABD Direct. She previously was director of online fundraising for the Biden campaign.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Michael McCollum Adams, managing partner at TAG Strategies, and Jon Adams, founder and CEO at TAG Strategies, welcomed McCollum (Mac) Lyle Adams on Friday. Pic

— Hamed Aleaziz, BuzzFeed News immigration reporter, and Erica Valdovinos, an emergency medicine physician, welcomed Zayn Aleaziz on Friday. Pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) (56) … Business Roundtable’s Molly Edwards … NYT’s Jo Becker … Rob Stutzman of Stutzman Public Affairs … Richard Starr … WaPo’s Joe Marks … Kristin Bannerman … Dell’s Hillary (Maxwell) Beightel … Treasury’s Warren Ryan … Dan Jacobs, comms director and senior adviser to Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) … Dena Levitz … Michael Halle … retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, former NSA director (90) … Ryan Davis of Covington & Burling … Charles Halloran … former Sen. Mo Cowan (D-Mass.) (52) … Jake Olson … Jennifer Humphrey … Elizabeth Daigneau …

… POLITICO’s Katie Brennan and Mike Raburn … Kitty Kelley … Bruce Wolpe … Bloomberg Government’s Heather Rothman … Nancy Pack Williamson … Jeffrey O. Ekoma … Michael Merola of Winning Strategies Washington … GE’s Meg Thurlow … Tatia Rosenthal … Kevin Bingle … Mercury’s Melissa Sharp … Molly Mitchell of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee … Bridget Spurlock … Daisy Melamed Sanders … AT&T’s Neil Giacobbi and Katreice Banks … former Rep. William Clinger (R-Pa.) (92) … NBC’s Joy Wang … Lyft’s Darienne Page … David Johnston … Joe Ricca … Alfred Stanley … Allan Lichtman

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected]. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this Playbook misstated the organization for which Molly Mitchell works. It is the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

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