TL(PM) DIGEST: Federal charges come for the former president
Plus Ukraine's counteroffensive begins, GOP voters not ready to quit Trump, and removing the threat of debt ceiling hostage-taking
1. Trump becomes first president to face federal charges
What happened? The Justice Department formally charged former president Donald Trump with multiple federal felonies related to his post-presidential possession of highly classified documents, including “willfully retaining national defense secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, making false statements and a conspiracy to obstruct justice.” Trump is expected to surrender to federal authorities in Florida on Tuesday.
Why does it matter? These charges mark the first time in American history that either a sitting or a former president has been charged with federal crimes. It’s also the first time in more than a century that a major presidential candidate will seek his party’s nomination for the nation’s highest office under the cloud of federal and state criminal indictments.
TLP’s take: The federal charges against the former president are indeed serious; other, lower-ranking government officials have received stiff penalties for offenses far milder than what Trump is alleged to have done. If anyone had any lingering doubts that Trump remains wholly unqualified and unsuited for the office he seeks, these charges—which he brought almost entirely on himself—ought to dispel them once and for all.
2. Ukraine’s counteroffensive now underway
What happened? Ukraine’s heavily anticipated counteroffensive against Russian occupation forces appears to be underway according to Biden administration officials and images posted on Russian social media accounts. Thrusts have reportedly been made against along several axes, and heavy military hardware provided by the United States and its NATO allies now appears to be in the field.
Why does it matter? The success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive will shape the trajectory of the war moving forward and could potentially set the conditions necessary to bring Russia’s war against the country to an end—either on the battlefield or at the negotiating table.
TLP’s take: While rapid Ukrainian advances or a sudden collapse of Russian lines certainly remain possible, it’s likely Kyiv’s counteroffensive will take time to fully develop—it’ll probably take weeks and months, not days, to see results. We should also expect to see Ukraine take losses as it pushes through built-up Russian defensive positions and not panic when we see images of burning U.S- and NATO-provided heavy equipment posted to social media accounts.
3. GOP voters not yet worried about electability
What happened? At FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley offers an interesting analysis of Republican voter attitudes, finding a clear majority focused more on shared positions rather than electability.
Why does it matter? As seen in the table below, nearly six in 10 registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe it is more important that the GOP nominates someone who shares voters’ policy positions rather than someone who is electable.
In contrast, Democratic voters in 2020 placed a clear premium on electability, eventually settling on Joe Biden—who went on to victory in November.
TLP’s take: GOP reactions to Trump’s federal indictment will reveal a lot about the priorities of voters. Republican voters and most party leaders (including challengers to Trump) seem to be rushing to his defense thus reinforcing a view that shared values and grievances matter more than electability to Republicans—at least for now.
4. Democrats push to eliminate debt ceiling hostage-taking opportunities
What happened? The Wall Street Journal reports that Congressional Democrats are introducing a bill today to permanently end opportunities for legislators to use the threat of default to extract policy gains.
Why does it matter? Co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, this bill would make the threshold for legislative default attempts extremely high:
The Debt Ceiling Reform Act would reverse the current power dynamic between the White House and Capitol Hill. It would empower the Treasury Department to continue paying bills for the country’s existing obligations. To stop Treasury’s payments, Congress would have 30 days to pass a veto-proof joint disapproval resolution, which would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.
TLP’s take: Although President Biden, Speaker McCarthy, and bipartisan congressional legislators did the right thing last week to avoid the current default threats, the hostage-taking opportunity the debt ceiling gives extremists must be eliminated for the benefit of the country. This bill likely won’t pass the GOP House, but it’s still a step in the right direction for national sanity and fiscal prudence.
Just one more thing…
A National Science Foundation-supported ocean drilling expedition has recovered a record number of rock samples from the Earth’s mantle from the Atlantis Massif on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the planet’s tectonic plates spread apart and make it easier to obtain material from deeper within the Earth itself.