When it comes to packing the federal courts, McConnell and Trump have no shame—and no principles

Focusing on the long-term—especially about matters of governmental and political process—isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do in the middle of a pandemic. However, Republicans never seem to think it’s the wrong time to push every button made available to them in their quest to gain as much power as possible. No matter what constitutional or historical norms they have to trample on, Donald Trump and his party are determined to create a conservative judiciary at the federal level that will endure for a quarter-century or more.

Let’s start, however, with what’s going on in 2020. Moscow Mitch—Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that is—has been doing things the Founders likely never envisioned when they wrote our Constitution. He, along with allies, have been making calls to aging conservative jurists on the federal courts, reminding them that the clock is ticking—on Trump’s time in the White House, on the Republicans’ hold on the Senate, and, most appropriately given his embrace of the nickname “Grim Reaper,” on their very lives. McConnell has been urging them to all retire ASAP so that he and The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote can put as many young whipper-snappers as possible into lifetime seats on the federal bench, seats they’ll hold long past a Sasha Obama presidency.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer recently called McConnell out on this blatant manipulation of the process: “Senator McConnell knows he can’t achieve any of his extreme goals legislatively, so he continues to attempt to pull America to the far right by packing the courts.”

As The New York Times notes, some progressives have made statements urging justices to stay in their positions so that Trump can’t appoint their successors, but McConnell has achieved a new low by targeting individual judges and asking them to retire. This ask is a nasty one, on par with greedy heirs rooting for wealthy relatives to die sometime before 2010 came to an end ... just so they could dodge the temporarily-repealed estate tax.

McConnell here is repeating, in private, sentiments that members of his party such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley publicly expressed in the run-up to the 2018 midterms: “If you are thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday. If we have a Democrat Senate, you’re never going to get the kind of people that are strict constructionists.”

For anyone confused, “strict constructionists”—i.e., conservative judges who claim that all they do is look to the plain text of the Constitution when making their rulings—is really just a fancy term Republicans use in public to give a more objective veneer to their preferred judicial approach, which almost always—coincidentally, of course—comes down on the side of the powerful. In other words, characterizing conservative judges as strict constructionists sounds less political than saying that they are right-wing ideologues who vote just like Rush Limbaugh would—even though the latter is the truth.

Republicans are being quite systematic about this whole affair. Their efforts are supported by a private organization called the Article III Project, named after the part of the Constitution that establishes lifetime tenure for federal judges, subject to impeachment and removal if they fail to live up to the standard of “good behaviour” laid down therein. This group exists to “fight for the confirmation of President Trump’s judicial nominees.”

The helpful folks over at A3P—that’s their clever moniker—want to clear out as many existing judges as possible. They’ve identified 90 who were appointed by a previous Republican president and who, based on their age and how many years they’ve served, either qualify or will qualify by year’s end for something called senior status.

According to the court system’s rules, those who take senior status now rather than outright retire allow Trump to put another, younger conservative in their place just as if they had retired. But judges on senior status get to keep drawing their full salary, hire clerks, and hear a reduced caseload. If this sounds bananas to you, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s the best of both worlds for those senior judges and for Republican leaders who want to increase their imprint on the judiciary. Thanks to A3P’s work, McConnell has a long list of people to target and a very attractive offer to make them.

McConnell and Trump have made a great effort to, in the senator’s words, “leave no vacancy behind.” They have placed 51 judges onto the U.S. Court of Appeals in Trump’s first three years (and 191 federal judges overall, as well as two on the Supreme Court), compared to 55 in Barack Obama’s entire eight years in office, and 62 during George W. Bush’s presidency. Trump has now named more than one-quarter of all sitting U.S. Appeals Court justices.

A good chunk of those new appellate judges—more than one out of three—took a spot previously held by a Democratic-appointed justice, thus shifting the bench hard to the right. Particularly noteworthy is the contrast between the diversity of the judges Obama appointed—only 31% of whom were white men, compared to 67% for Trump. For reference, somewhere around 40-45% of lawyers are white males, and white males constitute around 30% of the overall U.S. population, according to census data.

The New York Times conducted an in-depth analysis earlier this month of these Trump judges and found that they differ “significantly” from those nominated by either Obama or G.W. Bush. Regarding their activities prior to being nominated by Trump, they had been “more openly engaged in causes important to Republicans, such as opposition to gay marriage and to government funding for abortion.” They were also more likely to have been political appointees and made political donations. Even more alarming has been their impact after taking up their new positions:

When ruling on cases, they have been notably more likely than other Republican appointees to disagree with peers selected by Democratic presidents, and more likely to agree with those Republican appointees, suggesting they are more consistently conservative. Among the dozen or so judges that most fit the pattern, The Times found, are three Mr. Trump has signaled were on his Supreme Court shortlist.

While the appellate courts favor consensus and disagreement remains relatively rare — there were 125 instances when a Trump appointee wrote the majority opinion or dissent in a split decision — the new judges have ruled on disputed cases across a range of contentious issues, including abortion, immigration, L.G.B.T. rights and lobbying requirements, the examination shows.

Sen. McConnell has long been clear about the level of importance he places on reshaping the federal judiciary. "There are over 1,200 executive branch appointments that come to us for confirmation, and among the most important—in fact, I would argue, the most important—confirmations we have are lifetime appointments to the judiciary," McConnell told NPR. "Obviously, this is my top priority."

McConnell’s success in placing conservative judges on the federal bench during Trump’s tenure is a direct result of his actions in the final two years of Obama’s presidency. After Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015, they basically just stopped approving his nominees. The Brookings Institution noted the “unprecedentedly miniscule number of confirmations” that were carried out in those two years under McConnell’s leadership. That’s why there were 103 open seats on the federal bench for Trump to fill when he was inaugurated.

Without question, the most important of those openings was on the Supreme Court. McConnell ensured that seat remained open for almost a full year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia by denying a hearing, let alone a vote, to President Obama’s nominee, U.S. District Court Chief Justice Merrick Garland. Garland was a moderate about whom Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch had said in 2010: “I have no doubts that Garland would get a lot of (Senate) votes. And I will do my best to help him get them.” However, Hatch did not keep his word in 2016. Oh, and during the Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh, he pretended like the Garland nomination never happened. That’s what you call a double back-flip worth of bullshit.

Additionally, Garland was 63 years old when Obama nominated him, so his age itself served as a kind of compromise when compared to, for example, the nomination of 43-year-old Clarence Thomas by George H.W. Bush to a lifetime seat on the highest court back in 1992.

The way McConnell and Co. abused the established process when they essentially ignored a presidential nomination to the Supreme Court also qualifies as unprecedented, despite widely debunked Republican protestations to the contrary. As The New York Times editorial board wrote shortly after the 2016 election, the seat in which Justice Neil Gorsuch now sits is a “stolen seat.” Encouraging a mass wave of retirements in order to give Trump an even more outsized imprint on the federal judiciary would, if it succeeds, represent another form of theft.

All of this—from the blocking of Garland to the personalized arm-twisting aimed at getting judges to give up their seats in the coming months before it’s too late—reflects a level of cynicism and rejection of principle that has defined the contemporary Republican Party going back to even before Trump took it over. Principles? To Republicans, those are for suckers, i.e. Democrats.

Our Constitution’s authors were, generally speaking, not naive. They didn’t trust easily—they created the Electoral College because they didn’t trust the people to directly elect our president. However, the Framers failed to anticipate how the rules they wrote into the Constitution might be abused. They likely did not imagine that the Senate’s charge to provide “advice and consent,” as laid out in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution, would lead to the kind of treatment with which the nomination of Judge Garland was met. The Framers never planned for Mitch McConnell.

Because of what he has done, Democrats are faced with a choice if and when they retake the White House and the Senate. Do they act in kind, and similarly game the system? Or do they take the high road, which would allow Republicans to hold on to their ill-gotten gains in the judicial branch? Keep in minds they all too often use those gains to further tighten their grip on power through judicial rulings on, for example, matters like voting rights or gerrymandering.

There’s only one way out of that dilemma: namely, to fundamentally alter the process so that it could not be gamed so easily. We need to get rid of lifetime tenure for federal judges, from the Supreme Court right on down the line. There are many different proposals out there, most of which focus on term limits for the highest court, but McConnell’s most recent actions make clear that such limits are necessary at lower levels as well. I haven’t seen polling done on term limits for all federal judges, but Supreme Court term limits are quite popular, with Democrats, Republicans, and independents all expressing similar levels of support.

To be sure, it would not be easy to implement such changes, as they would require a constitutional amendment. Nevertheless, such changes are necessary because any process that is based on principles, for example the idea that life tenure for justices is necessary to ensure that they'll be independent and removed from politics, will be abused by Republicans who have no principles at all.

Our democratic system must be governed by processes that prevent abuse by the unprincipled. As I’ve written before, Republicans seem to be taking their cues from young adult fiction of all places, leaning on the values of Harry Potter’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort—derived from Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who has inspired everyone on the right from Hitler to today’s white nationalists (even if they all get him wrong, but that’s another story): “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly wrote that McConnell’s recent “outreach” to aging Republican judges indicates that he is “running scared” because “he is aware that his party will soon be out of power.” I rarely hope that McConnell is right about anything.

This time, however, Moscow Mitch and I are completely on the same page.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Pelosi, Trump start talking about the next phase of coronavirus stimulus, need to be talking bigger

The new Daily Kos/Civiqs poll is chock-full of important and astounding information about how the American public is handling the COVID-19 pandemic. In and amongst that data is the suffering, and the reason why Congress still has a lot of work to do to get us through this crisis. Through March 30, one in FIVE Americans who were working before the outbreak say that they have been laid off or furloughed from their position. Nearly 40%—fully 39%—of households have lost income. More than a quarter, 26%, has already been affected by a layoff, furlough, or cut hours and another 15% feel extremely concerned that it will happen to them. Another 28% are moderately or slightly concerned they'll lose income because of the disease and its economic impact.

That's a lot of economic uncertainty that a one-time check for $1,200 isn't likely to allay. The enhanced unemployment benefits that were included in the third coronavirus stimulus bill will help a lot of people, but it won't help everyone including all those people still working but with fewer hours. There's still so much work to be done to get the country through this, and with money practically free to borrow now, yes, Congress should be "tossing money out of helicopters" to answer it, since the Fed is unlikely to do it. Give everyone money, and while you're at it, all the things Speaker Nancy Pelosi is talking about, especially what was in the House bill that didn't make it into the Senate's bill.

In an interview in The New York Times Pelosi "emphasized the need to secure more equipment for health workers on the front lines, known as personal protective equipment, and ventilators for hospitals" and House Democrats would make another "push to bolster pensions and medical leave provisions, and would work to ensure that other aspects of treatment for the coronavirus, beyond the initial test, would be covered by the government." She also talked about more direct aid to families, including "a possible retroactive rollback of the limit on the state and local tax deduction, a change that hurt high earners in states like New York and California." Fine, if that's what it takes to get Republican support, but that's not a sword to die on.

The sword to die on is health care for everyone infected by this disease. It's food security for everyone. It's making sure that the nation's millions of incarcerated people aren't left to die locked up. It's making sure that the gig workers and minimum-wage workers and the undocumented workers who are securing our food supply have the protections they need on the job and in society. It means at least $2 billion to secure this year's elections AND saving the U.S. Postal Service to conduct the necessary vote-by-mail elections.

It means not just postponing student loan payments, but cancelling student loan debts. It needs to have Housing Security, including a moratorium on evictions, a national mortgage and rent holiday, and at least $200 billion to keep housing stable.

It could also have the infrastructure Donald Trump endorsed in a tweet Tuesday: "Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4." Whatever, if that gets Trump on board, as long as it's green, sustainable infrastructure. That, by the way, should include broadband infrastructure—the entire nation needs to have access to reliable, high-speed internet. That's one thing this crisis has demonstrated in spades; the technology gap can cripple communities. Earmarking those trillions now would be great for getting people to work on infrastructure right out of the gate when it's safe for people to be out in the world again.

So yes, Phase 4 or whatever Donald Trump wants to call it, provided he gets Republicans in Congress—who are so far rejecting the notion that more has to be done—on board. They're not going to have much choice, realistically. It's not going to take very long for the pressure to build on them to realize that they haven't done nearly enough to get us out of this thing standing.

McConnell rewrites history to blame massive fail on coronavirus on (checks notes) impeachment

Sen. “Moscow” Mitch McConnell went on the Hugh Hewitt radio show Tuesday, as he often does when he wants to be especially awful. He was exceptionally awful in all the most predictable ways: blaming the crisis we're in right now on impeachment—because of course he did—and rewriting all of the last three months of history while doing it.

The slow response by President Donald Trump and Congress to the COVID-19 crisis, McConnell said, was because the impeachment "diverted the attention of the government." Except that's total bunk. The Senate was still functioning while the impeachment trial was going forward during the last week in January, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was confirming the initial cases in the U.S. The business of the Senate included a Jan. 24 all-senators briefing on coronavirus with Trump health officials, including the CDC director and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. You remember that meeting, right? That's the one that happened just before three Senate Republicans dumped millions’ worth of stocks, collectively. That's the action they decided to take when confronted with the calamity that had hit our shores.

Enough of this. Please give $1 to our nominee fund to help Democrats and end McConnell's career as majority leader.

In fact, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who had received additional briefings, blew off the warnings. "The coronavirus doesn’t appear to pose any imminent threat to Americans who have not recently traveled to the Hubei province of China," he said. "For now, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control have the resources needed to prevent any significant contagion from spreading into the United States. If more resources are needed, Congress stands at the ready." He came to that conclusion on Feb. 4, the day before the Senate voted against the impeachment charges against Trump.

Continuing on with the rewriting of history in the Hewitt interview, McConnell gave credit to Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton for being "first" to warn of the dangers of coronavirus. "He was first. I think Tom was right on the mark." Right on the mark meaning spouting bigoted and dangerous conspiracy theories about how the virus might have been (wink, wink) a chemical weapon developed in "China's only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases." Sure Mitch, you go ahead with the idea of Cotton being the big epidemiological brain in the Senate GOP.

Because it's Mitch, there's more. More typical Republican denial of the breadth and depth of this crisis, and how it's affecting real people. "I'm not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items they wouldn't otherwise be able to pass," he sniffed, dismissing the necessity for further action by Congress to save the whole damned country. No, he's got his eyes on his true prize.

When the Senate gets back, it will "go back to judges. […] My motto for the rest of the year is to leave no vacancy behind."

Republicans are trying to get people killed (and are being stunningly effective)

The situation in Italy is spiraling out of control, with infections and deaths spiking by the hour. 

BREAKING: Another HUGE increase in #CoronaVirus infections in Italy �� 3 590 infected and 368 dead today alone. - 24 747 infected. - 1 809 dead. - 7.3% death rate. This is a human tragedy �

— PeterSweden (@PeterSweden7) March 15, 2020

The United States is on track to emulate Italy, both in the reach and severity of the human and economic toll. One party is doing its best to save lives. Unfortunately, it’s not the party in control of the White House, Senate, or wide swaths of the media. And those Republican efforts to confuse, obfuscate, and obstruct a real response are dismayingly effective. Let us count the ways. 

Impeached President Donald Trump

From disbanding the White House pandemic preparedness task force to refusing to let the U.S. use the World Health Organization COVID-19 test, to his daily lies, it’s obvious that the rot starts at the very top. What did people think was going to happen when they put a bigoted, serial sexual harasser reality TV star in charge of the country? Those who vote on racial animus and misogyny are getting a daily reminder of what that costs our country. And ironically, or perhaps not so much so, they are the ones who will bear the brunt of the coming pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Trump continues to model poor behavior; he shows on a daily basis that he is the single biggest impediment to the kind of national behavioral changes we need to see to arrest this disease with the least amount of damage possible.

Trump has decided the entire coronavirus mess is a dastardly plot to deny him a second term. He is incapable of considering the human toll of the disease, or the economic ramifications to everyday Americans. He’s concerned only about how it affects his reelection. And again, his acolytes take their cues from the top, such as the Trish Regan abomination that adorns the top of this post. 

Regan did end up losing her prime time show over that segment, showing that at least someone at Fox corporate realizes that killing off their core demographic (their median age is 65). But she’s not the only pushing the theory that this is all one big political ploy to damage Trump. Trump’s very own outgoing chief of staff has been making that case for weeks. “The press was covering their hoax of the day because they thought it would bring down the president,” Mulvaney told attendees at the conservative CPAC conference, at the same time the disease was spreading among its attendees. “The reason you’re seeing so much attention to [the coronavirus] today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the president. That’s what this is all about.” 

And of course, let’s not forget Trump: 

�They�re trying to scare everybody, from meetings, cancel the meetings, close the schools � you know, destroy the country. And that�s ok, as long as we can win the election,� POTUS told guests at Mar-a-Lago last weekend. https://t.co/UxZb0GumFU

— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) March 15, 2020

He literally says it’s okay if the country is destroyed as long as he wins reelection. He doesn't give a shit about the economic or human toll of the pandemic and will act only to safeguard his electoral effort. And that’s why we don’t have testing. He thinks a higher number of confirmed cases makes him look bad. 

President Trump "did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks [because] more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak, and the president had made clear the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president" https://t.co/aa2QHQVbPk

— Derek Thompson (@DKThomp) March 12, 2020

We all knew this. Even Republicans knew this when they acquitted him during the impeachment trial. Yet they didn’t care. So they own this: Every death, every job lost. It’s all on them. 

The Trump executive branch

Donald Trump had white nationalist Stephen Miller and idiot-boy Jared Kushner whip up a random-ass “I’m doing stuff” speech just hours before airing, with little regard to any consequences their spur-of-the-moment “proposals” would create. Among them, a complete ban on all travel and commerce between the United States and Europe that single-handedly almost completely crashed the US economy. Embarrassingly, the administration had to walk that back—no, it didn't apply to the cargo. And no, it didn’t apply to Americans. (So … what’s the point? Americans have super awesome immunity powers?) Yet in the panic that situation created, Americans rushed back home and … created these kinds of scenes at US customs points of entry:

#BREAKING: Passengers stuck in long lines for immigration at @DFWAirport tell us there are no offers of hand sanitizer, gloves, or masks from U.S. Customs / Immigration. Travelers say they�ve had no screenings of temp yet and no one following #coronavirus protocols. pic.twitter.com/9viCnWdncz

— Jason Whitely (@JasonWhitely) March 15, 2020

By supposedly acting to prevent the disease from entering the United States (even though, um, it’s already here), those morons in the executive branch didn’t think “maybe we should bolster staffing at customs checkpoints. Maybe we should create a plan to space out people, so we wouldn’t create the Petri dish we’re supposedly trying to prevent.” 


It is in precisely older, rural counties that hospitals are being closed in record numbers. “The hospital closure crisis is most pronounced in states that have declined Medicaid expansion, the policy in the Affordable Care Act that offers coverage for individuals whose income is at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line,” reported Mother Jones. “Of the 106 rural hospitals that have shut down since 2010, 77 were located in states that hadn’t expanded Medicaid, the study found.” In their zeal to stick it to Obamacare, those older rural areas are losing exactly the one thing that saves the lives of the elderly and those with compromised immune systems once infected—hospital beds. 

This novel coronavirus is treatable as long as severely impacted patients can be hooked up to respirators. But given available hospital beds, that becomes impossible once a critical mass of patients is infected, they outstrip the supply of hospital beds, and they are then left to die, gasping for air. That’s why the Italian death toll has climbed so high, with doctors having to perform battlefield-style triage—is this patient too old? Too (otherwise) sick? Do they have small children at home? Even patients who survive initial triage may be unplugged if someone with a greater survival chance shows up. It is beyond nightmarish. 

And you know what? The United States has fewer hospital beds, per thousand people, than even Italy

    South Korea: 12.3

    China: 4.3

    Italy: 3.2

    United States: 2.8

South Korea has handled the virus better than anyone else, and guess what, having hospital beds is part of the answer. Meanwhile, thanks to conservative hostility to the Affordable Care Act and its fealty to a for-profit health care system, our number of beds has fallen between 2010 and 2017, despite the population having grown by 16 million in that time frame. 

Republican elected officials

The Democratic House passed a coronavirus response bill on Friday. Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went on vacation over the weekend, adjourning the Senate as a result. He doesn’t plan on checking on that House bill until Tuesday, lunch, at the earliest, even though Trump has signaled that he will sign it. 

They just don’t give a shit. 

Here’s Oklahoma’s Republican governor Kevin Stitt, Friday night, in a now-deleted tweet: 

Of course, it stands to follow that if Trump doesn’t think this is a big deal, then those who blindly follow him will shrug off any attempts to contain the virus, or “flatten the curve.” Flattening the curve is slowing the rate of transmission so that people don’t get sick all at once. The more you can spread it out, the less stress on those limited hospital beds. 

Trump’s favorite bootlicker, Rep. Devin Nunes, went on Fox to tell viewers to go out on the town. “One of the things you can do, if you're healthy you and your family, it's a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant,” he said, dooming who knows how many people to death. “Likely you can get in easily. There's, you know, let's not hurt the working people in this country that are relying on wages and tips to keep their small business going. [...] Go to your local pub.”

In Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Republicans are refusing to postpone an election even though the state’s Democratic governor has ordered a statewide lockdown. 

Conservative media

It’s no surprise that most of the irresponsible dismissing of COVID-19 featured above is happening on Fox News. The network has prostrated itself before Trump, effectively becoming like a state-run propaganda arm. They won’t do anything to get on the wrong side of Trump. It’s a feature, not a bug. 

On Fox & Friends, Jerry Falwell Jr claims people are "overreacting" to coronavirus, the national response is "their next attempt to get Trump," and the virus itself is a North Korean bioweapon. pic.twitter.com/2JPuNBW7C3

— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) March 13, 2020

Or how about this? 

But it obviously goes far beyond Fox News. Just two days ago, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show, “We’re shutting down our country because of the … cold virus.” The Christian Right and their media machinery are praying away the coronavirus. They’ve been so effective at dismissing the threat that even pastors who take this seriously are dismayed, “One pastor said half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus,” one pastor told The Washington Post. Alex Jones is selling fake coronavirus cures. Idiot #MAGA types on Twitter are having their own, er, fun.

How do #MAGA & #KAG folks have fun during a pandemic? Apparently some like licking airplane toilet seats in a SAD attempt to show the #coronavirus is a hoax. Perhaps to also prove they'll make good tRump supporters!#COVID19 Found at @AwardsDarwinpic.twitter.com/y9jAqRrpbx

— McSpockyâÂ�¢ ðÂ�Â�½ðÂ�Â�Â�ðÂ�Â�Â� #VoteBlue2020 (@mcspocky) March 15, 2020

If you’re sitting here wondering what the hell is wrong with these people, you’re not alone. Trapped in their conservative anti-science media bubble, they’re whipping themselves up into a fervor of denialism and frothy conspiracy theories. 

The results

The results are devastating. Republicans simply don’t believe that they should take COVID-19 seriously.

The coronavirus partisan divide is real. Twice as many Democrats (60%) are changing plans or taking precautions than Republicans (31%). 88% of Republicans are satisfied with the government's response. Among Democrats? 11%. Survey report @Civiqs 3/8-11: https://t.co/sGoSTbhEsI

— Drew Linzer (@DrewLinzer) March 14, 2020

And it’s even worse among Fox News viewers, only 9% of which are “extremely concerned” about the virus. These are the same people who live in mortal fear of an “illegal” coming and murdering them. The big difference? They will definitely end up knowing about someone who died of the novel coronavirus, while those mythical hordes of undocumented murderers only exist in the imagination of the network’s most bigoted hosts. (48% of MSNBC viewers are “extremely concerned,” which is still low. It should be 100%. But that network isn’t sowing misinformation.)

I used to joke that Republicans would come out in favor of cancer if President Barack Obama ever declared his opposition to it publicly. At least, it was supposed to be a joke. Now we find out that a global pandemic killing tens of thousands has become a partisan issue. Not because it is a partisan issue. There is nothing Republican or Democratic or liberal or conservative about a deadly disease. But because Trump’s botched handling of the pandemic makes him “look bad,” and there is no greater sin in the world than making Trump look bad. 

It might be funny or the material for easy partisan points, except people are dying, and a lot more will die before scientists find a vaccine. And while we could be making efforts to mitigate the carnage, both in human and economic terms, we have an entire half of the country’s divide refusing to accept our new reality and demanding we pretend all is well, nothing to see here, please carry on, preferably at your local pub or cruise ship. 

It’s staggeringly irresponsible. The final culmination of an ideology so divorced from reality, that it will literally kill, disproportionately, the older and rural people that form its base. And—this is legitimately ironic—it is liberals trying to save their lives. 

Trump’s coronavirus response is a disaster—and Senate Republicans own Trump’s failures

U.S. coronavirus response has been … not the best. And that’s coming from the top, expert after expert says. While the career officials and scientists working on the issue throughout the government remain the same as in previous disease outbreaks, Donald Trump has set the conditions under which they’re working in important ways, through his emphasis on political messaging, his aides’ reluctance to give him news he doesn’t want to hear, and his own vast and sweeping ignorance.

From the moment COVID-19 started making news, Trump’s public statements have focused on the message that everything is fine. “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” told Sean Hannity on February 2. “But we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus. So, we’re going to see what happens, but we did shut it down, yes.” Fast forward five weeks and around 580 cases in the United States and it’s clear that Trump did not “shut it down, yes.”

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Of course not every case of coronavirus in the U.S. is attributable to Trump’s failures. The disease was always going to spread—but there’s the big problem. It was always going to spread, and Trump was working against preparedness. Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of the USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance under President Barack Obama—including during the Ebola outbreak—told Vox that once Trump has declared victory for his response to any crisis, “if in reality the response is anything less than a great success, it’s very, very hard for the government to acknowledge that and adjust accordingly.”

Specifically, “President Trump’s insistence that the strategy of keeping the disease out of the country was succeeding really handicapped the rest of the response. Here’s why: It makes it harder for the government to plan for the moment the strategy stops working. That’s critical in this kind of situation,” Konyndyk said. “The whole point of an overseas containment strategy is to buy you time. It delays the arrival of an outbreak in a country, but it cannot ultimately stop it. You’re not, or you shouldn’t be, hoping that that will be all that you need to do.”

The White House response to the outbreak has also suffered from typical Trumpian management, with muddled lines of authority over the response and lots of infighting. “The boss has made it clear, he likes to see his people fight, and he wants the news to be good,” an “adviser to a senior health official involved in the coronavirus response” told Politico. “This is the world he’s made.”

Trump’s message to the public also poses dangers, as when, talking to Hannity again, Trump downplayed the fatality rate from COVID-19, saying that “we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better, just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work, some of them go to work, but they get better[.]” Talking about people with coronavirus going to work? Not helpful in slowing the spread of the disease, even though it was not expressed as a direct suggestion.

Trump is able to botch this so thoroughly in part because he has no serious pushback from his own party. Senate Republicans are not sending him a strong message that he needs to respond quickly and effectively—instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dragged his feet on adequate funding to fight the disease and used it as yet another excuse to attack Democrats. In early February, Sen. Tom Cotton spread a conspiracy theory when he suggested that COVID-19 could have come from a “superlaboratory.” And, of course, every Republican senator other than Mitt Romney owns every damn thing Trump does after voting to acquit him in his impeachment trial.


Obamacare lawsuit? What Obamacare lawsuit? Senate Republicans play dumb

It's a horrendous look for Republicans, in the middle of a potential national epidemic and global pandemic, that their party and their White House are going to tell the Supreme Court this fall that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional and should be destroyed. So it's no great surprise that Republican senators who have to face voters in November don't want to talk about it.

Asked by The Hill about their position on this lawsuit, they dodged and weaved. Freshman Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst is going to have a hard time making this answer work for the next eight months: "I'm not saying whether I support it or not. It's in the hands of the Supreme Court now, so we'll see," she said. Maybe she feels the need to tread lightly here—she does have a primary opponent. He's just "some dude," but apparently Ernst still isn't willing to go out on any kind of limb by saying she thinks affordable health care for people is good.

Please give $1 to our nominee fund to help Democrats end the Republican Senate majority.

Arizona's stand-in, Sen. Martha McSally, who is there by appointment filling the late John McCain's seat, is trying to use that hook from impeachment days—it's in the court now, it’s in a "judicial proceeding"—and she won't comment. As if the Supreme Court was hanging on the words of a fill-in senator it’s never heard of before to make its decision. That's about as pathetic a response as you can get. Even McSally's counterpart, the other just-filling-in-for-now senator, Kelly Loeffler from Georgia (who's only been there a couple of months), did better. Eventually. Stymied by the in-person question, she had her office follow up in an email. "Regardless of what the courts do or do not decide, there is no question Congress needs to address healthcare issues facing Americans," Loeffler's spokeswoman said, offering that the senator wants a bill that "lowers insurance costs" and "expands coverage options." Which the ACA does, of course, for most people. But she's new. How could she be expected to be prepared to speak intelligently about the one thing that has dominated electoral politics for 10 years?

Sen. Thom Tillis, a vulnerable Republican from North Carolina, also wouldn't defend the lawsuit or even give his position on it. "What I'm more focused on is how we get back to a rational discussion about protecting pre-existing conditions, the kinds of things that are potentially at risk that for the life of me I can't understand why anyone would be opposed to, providing some certainty by just voting those provisions into law independent of the lawsuit." None of us can understand why anyone would be opposed to protections for people with pre-existing conditions, so this legal challenge is kind of a mystery. Except for the part where Republican attorneys general and governors and the Republican president are saying they should be struck down by the court. That's something Tillis should have to answer for.

Steve Daines of Montana was nearly as bad as McSally. He just brushed the question off, saying, "We're going to be talking about a lot between now and next year." Which means nothing, considering they've been talking a lot about it for 10 years and have managed to do absolutely nothing. Well, not nothing, actually. Republicans held literally dozens of repeal votes in the House and also brought three lawsuits trying to destroy the law. Spoiler alert: They will not have a plan in 2021 if the Supreme Court invalidates the law. Perhaps the most pathetic of the lot is Colorado's Cory Gardner, who seems resigned to his losing fate and didn't even bother to respond to the question.

On the issue that flipped the House in 2018, and that is at the top of voters' minds in 2020, Senate Republicans still don't have any answers. But they've got several months to come up with something to say before the Supreme Court and the case are back in the news with the arguments in the case. Judging by past performance, they'll have nothing.

Here’s another poll for Susan Collins to be fretting over

Need a mood lightener today? Sen. Susan Collins is 4 points behind her leading potential general election opponent in the latest PPP poll, trailing Sara Gideon 47-43. A year ago when PPP polled a potential Collins-Gideon match up, "Collins led by 18 points at 51-33." Yes, that's a 22-point shift in a year's time. Why such a cratering of support? The PPP polling memo says "that in the wake of opposing impeachment, Collins has lost most of the crossover Democratic support she's relied on for her success over the years."

Her vote for Brett Kavanaugh didn't do her any favors, either. But the double whammy of Kavanaugh and impeachment pretty much seals that deal. In April of 2019, Collins had a 32% approval rating with Mainers who were Hillary Clinton voters, trailing Gideon with them 59-28. Now she has a 9% approval with them, trailing Gideon 81-10. Overall, Collins’ approbate rating is 33%, with a disapproval of 57%. That leaves an undecided or no-opinion of just 10%, not a good look for a four-term senator.

Let's make sure her time is up. Please give $1 to help Democrats in each of these crucial Senate races, but especially the one in Maine!

Collins' fall from electoral grace is the most stunning this cycle, but she's far from the only Republican incumbent who's going to be having some serious fret over PPP's polling. In polling over the last weeks, it has found Mark Kelly leading Martha McSally 47-42 in Arizona, Cal Cunningham leading Thom Tillis 46-41 in North Carolina, and in Colorado John Hickenlooper over Cory Gardner 51-38.

That's worth kicking in some dough, no?

A note on our fundraising for the Maine Senate seat and others on the slate: this is the escrow fund that will go to the winner of the primary in each state. We're not going to put the official Daily Kos thumb on the scale in primaries where there isn't a crappy incumbent. All the money raised in this effort will go to the Democratic challengers once they're official.

You want to make the Supreme Court a fight for 2020, Moscow Mitch? You got it

Moscow Mitch McConnell is clutching his phony pearls, shocked, shocked that Sen. Chuck Schumer would dare politicize the Supreme Court. Yes. Mitch McConnell. The McConnell who stole a Supreme Court seat from President Barack Obama and called it, "One of my proudest moments." The same McConnell who refused to allow an FBI investigation into credible allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee who had perjured himself, repeatedly, before a Senate committee.

In case you missed the brouhaha, Schumer spoke at an abortion rights rally at the Supreme Court Wednesday following the arguments in the latest abortion case, one that threatens the court’s integrity if it reverses a decision made just four years ago that protects access to abortion.

Enough of this. Please give $1 to our nominee fund to help Democrats and end McConnell's career as Senate majority leader.

Schumer riffed off of the threat Brett Kavanaugh made to Democratic senators during his confirmation hearing. "You sowed the wind," Kavanaugh snarled at the senators, and "the country will reap the whirlwind." He accused Democrats of "a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election," and even said that his hearing was "revenge on behalf of the Clintons," since he was on Kenneth Starr's team during the Clinton impeachment. So what Schumer said Wednesday echoed Kavanaugh's words back to him. "I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh," Schumer said, "You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions."

Was the last sentence impolitic? Sure. Schumer admitted as much. Was it threat to Gorsuch and Kavanaugh directly? No. Of course not. It was Schumer telling it like it is: These justices played politics and paid lip service to respecting precedent to get on the court, and they are political actors now. But cue McConnell and his plastic pearls. This was a "threat," McConnell said, a "Senate leader appearing to threaten or incite violence on the steps of the Supreme Court" and "astonishingly, astonishingly reckless and ... irresponsible."

Yeah, right. And what did McConnell say when the occupier of the Oval Office he is enabling attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel for his Mexican heritage? Or Judge James Robart as a "so-called judge." Or Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who he says should recuse themselves from "anything having to do with Trump or Trump related."

Where was McConnell's concern for the independent judiciary then? Yeah, invisible. McConnell did not say one word in defense of those judges, in defense of an independent judiciary, because he doesn't believe in it. He is more than happy to turn as much of the federal judiciary into Trump courts—TRUMP courts—as he possibly can. It doesn't matter if the judges he installs are unqualified or incompetent or raging extremists and white supremacists. All the better, in fact, for McConnell's vision for our republic.

McConnell is playing with fire here. If this court, now with Neil Gorsuch—the guy he installed by stealing a seat from President Obama—and Brett Kavanaugh—the accused sexual assaulter and perjurer—decides to overturn four-year-old precedent on abortion? If that happens, McConnell's majority is done. Which, by the way, was what Schumer was talking about at the Supreme Court Wednesday. It's what he said on the Senate floor Thursday morning: "The fact that my Republican colleagues have worked, systematically, over the course of decades, to install the judicial infrastructure to take down Roe v. Wade—and do very real damage to the country and the American way of life—that is the issue that will remain."

McConnell wants this fight? He's got it.

Senate Intelligence chair warns fellow Republicans that Biden probe is playing into Russia’s hands

Top Senate Republicans are moving ahead with an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, despite being warned by the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that they may be playing directly into Russia’s hands.

Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley, the heads of the Senate Homeland Security and Finance committees, are targeting Biden as a continuation of Donald Trump’s efforts to rig the 2020 elections. On December 5, Politico reports, Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr told them that such an investigation could boost Russia’s efforts to destabilize the U.S. political system.

No less a Trump sycophant than Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, echoes Burr’s concerns. “Any documents coming out of the Ukraine against any American, Republican or Democrat, need to be looked at by the intelligence services, who has expertise I don't because Russia is playing us all like a fiddle,” Graham said in early February. His committee is not joining the investigation into Biden.

Grassley, who refused to back impeachment trial witnesses, isn’t ruling out issuing subpoenas in this baseless and politically motivated investigation—an investigation Republicans didn’t launch when or anytime soon after Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma because they weren’t interested in damaging Joe Biden’s electoral prospects at that point. 

”We wait until we get all the information,” Grassley said. “I don’t want to threaten subpoenas until I know that they’re going to be used.” Presumably “all the information” includes whether Joe Biden looks like he could still become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Daily Kos Elections releases initial Senate race ratings for 2020

Daily Kos Elections is pleased to announce our first set of Senate race ratings for the 2020 election cycle. Republicans currently hold the Senate by a 53-47 margin, meaning Democrats would need to pick up a net of three seats to gain control of the chamber if they also retake the White House (since a Democratic vice president could break ties in the party’s favor), or four if they do not.

In total, voters will cast ballots in 35 Senate races across the country this fall, including in special elections in Arizona and Georgia. Thanks in part to their strong performance the last time this Senate class was up for election in 2014, Republicans are defending 23 seats, while Democrats are defending just 12. A further 35 seats held by Democrats and 30 seats held by Republicans are not up for election in 2020.

For Democrats, the most plausible path back to the Senate majority starts with winning the presidency. Given how closely outcomes at the top of the ticket are tied to those farther down the ballot in today’s politics—a phenomenon known as polarization, and a theme you’ll see come up often in our write-ups below—it’s unlikely Democratic Senate candidates can win races in swing states if the party’s presidential nominee isn’t also carrying those same states, or at least coming very close.

With Alabama likely to revert to Republicans, Democrats would then need to flip four Republican-held seats to throw the Senate into a 50-50 tie. At the moment, their top pickup opportunities are in Colorado, Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina, with Georgia’s two seats just behind those in competitiveness. Beyond Alabama, Republicans have few realistic targets, with only Michigan standing out.

Our full chart rating the competitiveness of each contest is below (with Democratic seats in blue and Republican seats in red), along with a description of our ratings categories and an explanation of why we've rated each race the way we have. These ratings are also visualized in the map at the top of this post. To learn how we come up with these ratings, we invite you to explore our detailed statement of our methodology.

Embedded Content

These ratings represent our attempt to forecast the outcomes of this November’s elections, using the best information we have available. As circumstances warrant, we’ll issue changes in these ratings from time to time. To keep up with any changes, please subscribe to our free newsletter, the Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest, which we send out each weekday.

In brief, here’s how we define each of our ratings categories:

Tossup: Both (or all) parties have a strong, though not necessarily perfectly equal, chance of winning. Lean Democrat or Lean Republican: One party has an identifiable advantage, but a win is possible for the other party. Likely Democrat or Likely Republican: One party has a strong advantage and is likely to win, though the race has the potential to become more competitive, and an upset cannot be ruled out. Safe Democrat or Safe Republican: Barring unforeseeable developments, one party is certain to win.

Below are brief explanations of our initial ratings, grouped by category of competitiveness and ranging from most competitive to least competitive. Note, however, that even within each category, not all races are equally competitive: One race in the Lean Republican grouping, for instance, might be on the border of being a Tossup, while another could be closer to Likely Republican.


Arizona (Special) – Martha McSally (R): Arizona is likely to be one of the most fiercely contested states in the Electoral College, and its Senate race to fill the final two years of the late John McCain's term has already seen a deluge of money flood in on both sides. Republican Sen. Martha McSally was appointed to the post after losing a Senate race just last cycle, while Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, a former astronaut with nonpartisan appeal, has significantly outraised her so far. With McSally binding herself to Trump as tightly possible, it's likely this race will go whichever way the presidential contest does in Arizona.

Lean Democratic

Colorado – Cory Gardner (R): As one of the best-educated states in the country, Colorado has transitioned from purple to blue over the past 15 years, a shift that's accelerated during the Trump era. That makes Sen. Cory Gardner the most vulnerable Republican senator seeking re-election this year, and he'll have to do so while sharing a ticket with Trump.

Limited polling has shown Gardner with a poor approval rating and losing by double digits to former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is the favorite of national Democrats and scared off nearly every other notable contender when he entered the primary.

Gardner has maintained his ultraconservative voting record since Trump's victory, even though the threat of an intraparty primary has long since passed. That's a possible sign that he's pessimistic about his chances of re-election either way: Why abandon your beliefs if doing so won't even help? With Trump on track to lose Colorado again, Gardner is the underdog in his bid for a second term.

Michigan – Gary Peters (D): Democratic Sen. Gary Peters easily won his first term over a credible opponent despite the 2014 Republican wave, but Michigan has shifted to the right in the Trump era, and it will likely be one of the most fiercely fought-over states in the Electoral College. Businessman and Army veteran John James is the likely Republican nominee, and he has been a strong fundraiser after losing by an unexpectedly close 52-46 margin to Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018.

With New Hampshire a faded opportunity for the GOP and Alabama apt to take care of itself, Peters is likely to find himself the target of hefty outside spending by Republicans eager to score a pickup. However, his incumbency, along with the realistic prospect that Democrats will retake Michigan at the presidential level, help make him a modest favorite.

Lean Republican

Georgia – David Perdue (R): Georgia's blue trend became readily apparent after Trump's soft 2016 performance there, and Democrat Stacey Abrams' narrow defeat in the 2018 governor's race gave Democrats a glimpse at their path to victory by running up the score in the highly educated and rapidly diversifying Atlanta metro area. However, Georgia remains a red-leaning state, and while it could be winnable for Democrats in the race for the White House, it's an open question as to whether the party will compete at the top of the ticket in the Peach State.

Republican Sen. David Perdue, meanwhile, has largely stayed out of the limelight and avoided controversy during his first term. Democrats failed to land Abrams, who was their top pick, leaving them with a less well-known field that includes former Columbus Mayor Theresa Tomlinson, 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico, and investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff, who came close to an upset in the famous 2017 special election in the 6th Congressional District. Perdue has the edge for now.

Georgia (Special) – Kelly Loeffler (R): Like Perdue, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler starts off with the advantage of representing a state that isn't quite a swing state yet, and her personal wealth gives her the resources to run a serious campaign. (She's reportedly said she'll spend $20 million and is worth far more.) However, several factors make her race quite different from Perdue's

In the special election, in which Loeffler will be running to fill the final two years of former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson's term, all candidates from all parties are running on a single November ballot. The top two vote-getters—regardless of party—will advance to a Jan. 5 runoff if no one takes a majority in the first round.

With multiple Democrats running, including DSCC-backed pastor Raphael Warnock, businessman Matt Lieberman, and former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver, there's virtually no chance any Democrat can avoid a runoff, for which turnout would likely be lower and more conservative. However, Loeffler also has little hope of averting a second round, because she's facing a major challenge from the right in the form of Rep. Doug Collins, whom Trump had wanted for this seat (though he's since stayed out of the fray).

Polling has been very limited here, so it's hard to get a good sense of just how winnable this race is for Team Blue. With a tenure of months rather than years in D.C., Loeffler carries less baggage than Perdue, but at the same time, Collins will drive her far to the right. Given Georgia's residual GOP strength and the likelihood of a runoff, though, Republicans maintain a modest edge.

Maine – Susan Collins (R): Republican Sen. Susan Collins has repeatedly won lopsided victories thanks to her once-strong support among Democrats and independents, but that era may finally be coming to an end this year thanks to the backlash Collins incurred by supporting the Trump agenda at every turn, most notably her decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

National Democrats are supporting state House Speaker Sara Gideon, who has raised considerable money from Democrats across the country outraged at Collins' Kavanaugh vote, and she'll have ample resources to get her message out. Polling has been infrequent, however, so we don't fully know the extent to which Collins has damaged her reputation with swing voters. Maine also moved sharply to the right in 2016 thanks to its large population of white voters without college degrees.

Collins has a modest edge at the moment, but the key here, as elsewhere, is partisan polarization. If Mainers vote a straight ticket in 2020, Collins will find herself in the most competitive race of her life.

North Carolina – Thom Tillis (R): North Carolina's Senate race could very well be 2020's "tipping-point" contest, as the party that wins it stands a good chance of winning control of the entire chamber. Even in the 2014 GOP wave, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis only managed a narrow victory, and his approval ratings have been middling over the course of his term. However, North Carolina is still a slightly red-leaning state at the presidential level, and if Trump carries it again, Tillis will benefit.

National Democrats were unsuccessful in their efforts to convince their first choices to run, but former state senator and Army veteran Cal Cunningham has earned the DSCC's backing and proven himself a capable fundraiser, and polls show him poised to earn the party's nomination. Tillis retains a slight edge for now, but both sides are all but certain to fight over North Carolina's electoral votes once again, so the landscape could shift very easily.

Likely Democratic

Minnesota – Tina Smith (D): Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, who was appointed to fill Al Franken's seat, won her first election in 2018 by a convincing margin, and she's running for a full term this year. Her likely Republican challenger is former Rep. Jason Lewis, who lost a suburban House seat at the same time that Smith secured the final two years of Franken's term and has a long history of offensive, racist, and misogynist statements from his days as a conservative radio shock jock.

Trump lost Minnesota by an unexpectedly small margin of 1.5 points, but he's not likely to come anywhere near as close this year, thanks in part to the state's relatively high levels of education and affluence compared to its neighboring states. Smith is therefore favored.

New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen (D): New Hampshire's last Senate race was exceptionally close, with Democrat Maggie Hassan unseating Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte by just 0.1% of the vote in 2016, but this year's contest has shaped up very differently for Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen.

Republicans failed to land a top-tier challenger when popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu declined to run, and the current GOP field consists of untested candidates, including retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, attorney Corky Messner, and former hard-line state House Speaker BIll O'Brien, all of whom have raised little money.

Limited polling has shown Shaheen with a dominant edge, and her financial advantage is just as daunting. New Hampshire should have been one of the GOP's few offensive targets this year, but it looks like Republicans aren't going to make a serious play here.

Likely Republican

Alabama – Doug Jones (D): It took multiple miracles for Democratic Sen. Doug Jones to pull off one of the greatest upsets in decades when he defeated Republican Roy Moore in the special election to replace Jeff Sessions three years ago, not least the revelation that Moore had been accused of preying on teenage girls. With Donald Trump atop the ballot in deep-red Alabama this year, however, it would take several more miracles for Jones to survive and be re-elected, and it doesn't look like any are in the offing.

Unlike in 2017, Jones is almost certain to face a more mainstream GOP opponent, with polls showing Sessions (who is seeking a comeback), Rep. Bradley Byrne, and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville all waging credible campaigns. Moore is running again and could give Jones an opening, but polling shows him far behind the pack.

Trump carried Alabama by 28 points in 2016, and he's certain to win by a large margin again. Jones, who has generally aligned himself with mainstream Democrats and voted to remove Trump from office in the impeachment trial, would need to convince hundreds of thousands of Trump voters to split their tickets for him—an almost impossible prospect in this deeply polarized era. It's exceedingly rare that we'd rate an incumbent as vulnerable as we have Jones, but then again, Jones' win was just as rare a phenomenon.

Iowa – Joni Ernst (R): Iowa took a sharp turn to the right in 2016 thanks to Trump's historic performance with white voters without college degrees, but Democrats rebounded in 2018, suggesting that the Hawkeye State isn't out of reach for Team Blue. With Trump's trade wars hurting farmers, he could struggle to rack up the same margin he did in 2016. A more competitive presidential race in the state would give Democrats an opening for the Senate, where the national party is supporting businesswoman Theresa Greenfield. Republican Sen. Joni Ernst has done little to distinguish herself from Trump one way or the other, and her fate is likely tied closely to the presidential contest.

Kansas – OPEN (R): Kansas has, by many decades, the longest streak of any state when it comes to electing Republicans to the Senate: It last sent a Democrat to the upper chamber in 1932. However, thanks in part to above-average educational attainment, Democrats made gains here in 2018, and they have an outside shot at pulling off a historic upset if their stars align. But whether state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a former moderate Republican who left her party last year and is now the likely Democratic nominee, has a chance depends on whether former Secretary of State Kris Kobach wins the Republican primary.

A leading architect of voter suppression schemes who earned a reputation for relishing the national spotlight rather than attending to his duties at home, Kobach was the Republican nominee for governor in 2018 and lost to Democrat Laura Kelly after running a campaign that GOP operatives excoriated for its incompetence.

National Republicans reportedly fear a Kobach redux so much that they've lobbied Trump to support his likely main rival, Rep. Roger Marshall. If Marshall or another Republican prevails, Kansas would revert to form and slip out of reach for Democrats. But if Kobach can sneak past his divided opposition—which polls suggest is eminently possible—he could help Republicans snatch defeat from the jaws of victory once more.

Texas – John Cornyn (R): Former Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke's narrow loss in 2018 to progressive bête noire Ted Cruz gave Team Blue a much-needed shot of optimism that Texas is progressing toward swing state status, but it isn't quite there yet. Republican Sen. John Cornyn doesn't have Cruz's baggage, and he's always been a strong fundraiser in what is a very expensive state. Polling, however, has found Cornyn relatively unknown to a large slice of the electorate, giving Democrats a chance to shape voters' perceptions.

The field of challengers, though, will start with far lower name recognition and fundraising capacity. Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who nearly won a historically red suburban House seat in 2018, has been endorsed by the DSCC and has raised the most money. Several other credible candidates are running, though, including state Sen. Royce West, activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, and former Houston City Councilor Amanda Edwards, making a primary runoff likely.

Whether this race will be viable for Senate Democrats will depend heavily on whether the Democrats' presidential nominee can significantly improve on Hillary Clinton's 52-43 loss. Cornyn therefore starts out as the favorite to win another term.

Safe Democratic

Delaware – Chris Coons (D): Republicans last won Delaware at the presidential level in 1988 and haven't won a Senate seat there since 1994. Neither streak is about to end this year. Coons won convincingly even in the 2014 GOP wave, and he so far faces no noteworthy Republican opponent.

Illinois – Dick Durbin (D): Longtime Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin faces no noteworthy Republican challenger, and he should have little trouble prevailing again in a state where Trump is on track to lose by another double-digit blowout.

Massachusetts – Ed Markey (D): Massachusetts has long been one of the most Democratic states in the country, and that trend has continued in the Trump era. While Democratic Sen. Ed Markey faces a serious primary challenge from Rep. Joe Kennedy III (which early polls suggest is a tossup), either candidate will be a dominant favorite over whichever unheralded Republican wins the GOP nomination.

New Jersey – Cory Booker (D): New Jersey hasn't elected a Republican senator since 1972, the second-longest such streak for Democrats in the nation after Hawaii, which last did so in 1970. With Democratic Sen. Cory Booker seeking re-election to a second full term, that long run will not come to an end.

New Mexico – OPEN (D): New Mexico isn't an overwhelmingly blue state, but Republicans lack any heavyweight candidates and have failed to capitalize on any potential opening from Democratic Sen. Tom Udall's retirement. Democrats have unified behind Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a powerful and well-connected member of the House who already represents one-third of the state. With the eventual Democratic presidential nominee poised to win New Mexico by a comfortable margin, Luján should have little to worry about.

Oregon – Jeff Merkley (D): Trump lost Oregon by double digits in 2016, and there's no indication that his standing has improved there since. Republicans haven't won a Senate race here since 2002, and with no prominent candidate to speak of in the race against Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, that's not going to change in 2020.

Rhode Island – Jack Reed (D): Although Rhode Island saw one of the largest shifts to the right at the presidential level in 2016, it remains a solidly blue state. Longtime Democratic Sen. Jack Reed has never won by less than a 20-point margin and is safe for re-election.

Virginia – Mark Warner (D): Democratic Sen. Mark Warner had a shockingly close call in 2014, but his standing couldn't be more different heading into the 2020 election cycle. Virginia transformed into a decidedly blue-leaning state in the Trump era, thanks in large part to its diverse and highly educated population. Warner’s only noteworthy GOP challenger, former Rep. Scott Taylor, dropped out of the race late last year to launch a comeback bid for the House.

Safe Republican

Alaska – Dan Sullivan (R): Alaska has backed every Republican presidential nominee by double digits since 1996, and there's little to indicate that it could be competitive for the Democratic nominee against Trump in 2020. Several of the state's Senate races within that time frame have been closer affairs, but Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan doesn't have any obvious vulnerabilities. Although Democrats are supporting a well-funded challenge waged by orthopedic surgeon Al Gross, an independent who is running for the Democratic nomination, ticket-splitting (or a lack thereof) is the central issue. That makes this Sullivan's race to lose.

Arkansas – Tom Cotton (R): Republican Sen. Tom Cotton has nothing to fear in a state that has stampeded from safely Democratic to safely Republican at the downballot level in the span of just a decade, quite literally: The lone Democrat running dropped out just hours after the filing deadline under murky circumstances.

Idaho – Jim Risch (R): Idaho was one of Trump's very best states four years ago and will be near the top of the list again this fall. Republican Sen. Jim Risch has done little to alienate typical Republican voters and is a lock for another term.

Kentucky – Mitch McConnell (R): Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is one of the most reviled officeholders in the country at the national level, but he holds a huge advantage by representing a heavily white working-class state that backed Trump by a 63-33 landslide in 2016 and shows no sign of wavering.

While Marine veteran Amy McGrath, the likely Democratic nominee who ran a competitive House race in a red district two years ago, could very well raise tens of millions of dollars from progressives angry at McConnell, money alone can't overcome partisanship. And while in years past implacable conservatives despised McConnell as a corrupt insider, they've grown to love him for protecting Trump from the consequences of impeachment and ramming his judicial confirmations through a divided chamber. That leaves McGrath with almost no way to wedge an opening.

Louisiana – Bill Cassidy (R): Louisiana has become implacably red at the federal level over the last decade, and Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, who lacks any notable opponents, has little to fear.

Mississippi – Cindy Hyde-Smith (R): Even in our polarized age, Mississippi stands out for its particularly small proportion of swing voters, meaning Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith should have no problem winning re-election with Trump heavily favored to carry the state by a comfortable margin once again. Hyde-Smith faces a rematch with former Democratic Rep. Mike Espy, but although her 54-46 margin was the worst showing by a Mississippi Republican in a Senate race in decades, it's exceedingly hard to see how Espy can achieve a different result this time.

Montana – Steve Daines (R): Democrats had hoped to give Republican Sen. Steve Daines a strong challenge, but they failed to land the one candidate who could probably put this race in play, term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock (though Chuck Schumer is reportedly taking one last run at Bullock before the March 9 filing deadline). That leaves Democrats fielding a group of lesser-known alternatives, with nonprofit founder Cora Neumann by far the best-funded among them. Daines has avoided alienating Republican voters, and with Trump on track to comfortably win Montana once more, this seat should stay red.

Nebraska – Ben Sasse (R): Nebraska has become solidly Republican up and down the ballot over the last decade, and Republican Sen. Ben Sasse is the runaway favorite to win a second term.

Oklahoma – Jim Inhofe (R): Oklahoma is in contention for the reddest state in the nation, and Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe lacks any notable Democratic challenger.

South Carolina – Lindsey Graham (R): In an eye-blink, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has swiveled from castigating Trump as an unfit threat to the republic during the 2016 election to becoming one of Trump's most sycophantic and zealous backers. That 180-degree turnaround has made him nationally infamous and in turn driven millions in donations to former state Democratic Party chair and likely 2020 nominee Jaime Harrison.

Harrison, however, will still be running against the reality of seeking office in a state that backed Trump by double digits four years ago. He's giving Graham the most vigorous re-election challenge of his career, but Republican voters will be strongly inclined to stick with one of Trump's staunchest allies.

South Dakota – Mike Rounds (R): South Dakota has stampeded to the right during the past decade, making it one of Trump's best states nationally. Republican Sen. Mike Rounds will cruise to a second term.

Tennessee – OPEN (R): Democrats had their best shot to win a Senate race in many years in last cycle's blue wave when popular former Gov. Phil Bredesen was Team Blue's nominee for an open seat against hard-line conservative Republican Marsha Blackburn, but after Blackburn trounced Bredesen by 11%, it's exceedingly difficult to see how Democrats could do any better in 2020. Democrats have a credible candidate in DSCC-backed Army veteran James Mackler, but former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, who has Trump's backing, is all but assured of winning both the Republican nomination and the general election.

West Virginia – Shelley Moore Capito (R): West Virginia was one of Trump's best states in 2016, and it's shaping up to repeat that performance in 2020. Although Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin narrowly won re-election in 2018 over a flawed Republican challenger, Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito will be a far more formidable foe for Democrats, who this cycle will lack the benefit of incumbency and the luxury of running without Trump atop the ticket.

Former state Sen. Richard Ojeda, who ran an aggressive campaign for the House in 2018, gives Democrats a credible name if he wins the nomination. However, that prior bid, for an open seat with political leanings similar to the state as a whole, shows just how tough the Senate race will be, seeing as Ojeda lost that race 56-44. When Trump could again win the state by a more than 2-1 margin, there's just no realistic path to victory.

Wyoming – OPEN (R): Wyoming was Trump's best state in 2016 and will either repeat that performance or come close to it. With Rep. Liz Cheney taking a surprising pass on the race, former Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis is the heavy favorite for the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Mike Enzi and to win the general in November.