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Your All-Purpose Wonk’s Guide to Why D.C. Statehood Is So Hard

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D.C. Guy going into the cavern

But as the New York Times reported Thursday, the Biden White House is now looking at S. 51 much as a parent, working to put a holiday toy together, who discovers that there are missing nuts, screws that don’t fit the holes and pieces of the gift that simply do no align with each other.

If you want to know why statehood for the District of Columbia isn’t going to happen anytime soon, think of an old children’s board game called “Chutes and Ladders”—except the board is only chutes. Because of its peculiar status, turning D.C. into a state is technically much harder than admitting the previous 37—and each problem solved presents a new obstacle, either legal or political.

What do those obstacles look like? To understand, follow me down the path to a brick wall.

The federal district was established in 1790 in accordance with the constitutional imperative that the seat of the federal government be under the control of the Congress, rather than any other entity. (It’s right there in Article I, Section 8.) The reason, as James Madison explained in Federalist 43, was that the federal government had to be independent of any one state’s supervision. The district—to be no more than 10 square miles—was situated on its spot on the Potomac River as a compromise between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, with George Washington himself surveying the territory.

Over the years, D.C. has been given dollops of political power in the form of its own mayor and City Council. Most significantly, in 1961, the ratification of the 23rd Amendment granted the district votes in the Electoral College, equal to the number accorded the least populous state. But the idea of simply turning the District of Columbia into a state by statute, the way every other new state joined, has often been seen as a constitutional impossibility. Attorneys general ranging ideologically from Robert F. Kennedy to Ed Meese have weighed in on the same side of this argument: Because the federal district was created by the Constitution, only an amendment to the Constitution could turn it into a state; and only an amendment could grant D.C. votes in the House and Senate. (That latter idea was proposed in 1978 but fell short of state ratification.)

“Aha!” proponents said. “We’ve figured out how to remove this obstacle.” The idea, which seems to have emerged around 1980, was to create a new “federal enclave” by carving out a tiny portion of the city—Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court, the National Mall, the White House—to remain as the constitutional capital. There have long been arguments to make the federal district smaller, dating as far back as 1803, through “retrocession,” the returning of parts of Washington to Virginia (which happened in 1847) and to Maryland (which Sen. Mitt Romney is currently proposing as an alternative to statehood). But rather than be absorbed by a neighboring state, the rest of D.C., the residential and commercial swaths of a big and vibrant city, would become a new state, renamed “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth,” keeping its acronym but replacing the name of a European explorer with that of a famed abolitionist whose house still sits within the city limits.

That’s what the House of Representative approved on a party-line vote last month.

As this nifty solution was moving through the House, a number of people began to notice a pesky complication. The 23rd Amendment says “the district constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint” presidential electors in a manner requiring ultimate congressional approval. Under the statehood bill just passed, the new city of “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth” would get three electors, just like the other low-population states—but according to the 23rd Amendment, that tiny strip of land designated as the new “federal district” would also have three electoral votes. And depending on how specifically the lines of this remnant are drawn, it’s possible that the only residents of that zone would be the First Family. By tradition, the presidential family votes back home, so these electors would either be chosen personally by the president, or perhaps the homeless people claiming this zone as their residence, or perhaps by opportunistic partisans camping on the mall simply to pull the electors one way or the other.

Depending how the lines were drawn, it’s possible that a few current Washingtonians would find themselves living in this new district, in which case three electors would be chosen by the residents of a handful of apartment buildings. But the essential point is that these electoral votes would be cast by more or less nobody. It would turn the federal district into a modern-day equivalent of the old “rotten boroughs” of British Parliamentary infamy, with so few voters that the seat was effectively filled at the pleasure of the local lord.

For Democrats who have long fumed at the way the Constitution gives outsize power to smaller states, this would be the ultimate irony: They’d be creating the single most outrageous case in the country. It’s one thing to point out that Wyoming has one elector for every 150,000 voters, while California has one for every 540,000. But the idea that three people, or 20, or a few hundred, would control three electoral votes is absurd.

It also raises one of the many political friction points around D.C. statehood. Small-state Republicans already hate the idea of giving any electoral power to such a Democratic-leaning city. Would you like to be, say, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, facing a difficult reelection, defending a vote that would grant a new state of Washington, Douglas Commonwealth, plus the new sliver of a federal district a total of six electoral votes—twice the number of his own state?

“No problem!” say proponents like Eleanor Holmes Norton, who serves as D.C.’s nonvoting representative in the House. All you need to do is repeal the 23rd Amendment; state legislatures will be eager to eliminate those three (likely Democratic) electoral votes. A provision in the statehood bill includes “fast-tracking” repeal.

Let’s come back to planet Earth. Is it likely that three-fourths of the state legislatures—more than half of which are controlled by Republicans—would be eager to ease the way to statehood for the District of Columbia, with its virtually automatic two new Democratic senators? Or would Republicans be more likely to point to the 23rd Amendment as a powerful case against moving forward on the House-passed bill? (It’s a lot better argument than the spurious notions that D.C. can’t be a state because it doesn’t have farms or factories.)

As for the ideas floating around the White House—automatically delivering the new seat of government’s three votes to the national popular vote winner, or to the Electoral College winner—the courts might have something to say about constitutionally stripping even a handful of voters of the power to direct their electoral votes to the candidate of their choice.

Indeed, when I asked one strong advocates of statehood if there were serious constitutional roadblocks, he said, “Yes—but don’t tell anybody!”

It’s too late for that, of course. People know. And what it looks like is that any “solution” to D.C. statehood, like other progressive wishes (passing voting rights by killing the filibuster) requires the same kind of solution that economists use to fix a leak: “First, assume a wrench.”

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Politics

How Republicans Became the ‘Barstool’ Party

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How Republicans Became the ‘Barstool’ Party

A half-decade ago, the originally Boston-based site and its rabid fan community wouldn’t have scanned as “political” at all. But now, its proudly Neanderthal, reactionary ethos aligns perfectly with the side of our political binary that Trump reconfigured: the one whose common denominator is a tooth-and-nail, middle-finger unwillingness to accept liberal social norms.

If you looked at Portnoy circa 2010 — a budding bro-entrepreneur, popping champagne with models in cheesy photo shoots — you’d have to squint pretty hard to see a potential Republican standard-bearer. If you look now, it’s hard not to. It’s commonplace by now to observe that the Trump presidency “changed everything” for Republicans, from conventional wisdom on policy to how their internal politics are conducted. But first and foremost, it changed the face the party presented to the world. Where onetime nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain tried and failed to subordinate cultural grievance to a more professionalized, inclusive style of politics, Trump succeeded by placing it right on the front of the tin. And when he casually dismantled that old fusion of free-market economic fervor and country-club traditionalism, Barstool was ready.

The rise of the “Barstool Republican,” to coin a phenotype, doesn’t necessarily explain Trump. It is, however, a useful way to understand what’s happened to American politics without constantly invoking the former president’s name. Portnoy’s devotees aren’t MAGA fanatics or Q fans who live to torment liberals, and they’re certainly not part of the GOP’s evangelical base. (One could imagine the last thing they’d want is a Supreme Court that strikes down Roe.) But the Barstool Republican now largely defines the Republican coalition because of his willingness to dispense with his party’s conventional policy wisdom on anything — the social safety net, drug laws, abortion access — as long as it means one thing: he doesn’t have to vote for some snooty Democrat, and, by proxy, the caste of lousy deans that props up the left’s politically-correct cultural regime.

The backlash to liberal domination of pop culture and the past decade’s transformation of speech norms created the Barstool Republican long before Portnoy’s name was bandied about in jest as a political candidate. And if you’ve been paying attention, their cultural revolution dates back to a time when such antics were more likely to get you kicked out of Mar-a-Lago than installed as its lifelong “El Presidente.”

***

Lost in the annals of a time when culture wars weren’t quite as central to our national politics is a nomenclature that now seems almost quaint: the so-called “South Park Republican.”

As far back as 2001, the gadfly conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan was using the term to describe members of his political tribe who shared the anti-P.C., socially libertarian views of “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Stone and Parker, true to form, loudly protested their hatred of both major parties. Still, the label stuck, inspiring sparring New York Times columns and even a book-length exploration of the concept by conservative writer Brian C. Anderson.

In the political climate of the mid-2000s, the concept’s appeal was obvious: As Gen X-ers and younger Baby Boomers entered the ranks of the political elite, it made sense that they would dispense with the blue-blooded stuffiness and social conservatism of the Reagan-Bush imperium in favor of a vaguely countercultural, post-Sixties tolerance. W traded his father’s country-club affect for a pair of cowboy boots, but he wasn’t fooling anyone: The cultural energy in the Republican Party, to the extent that it had any, was in its feather-ruffling libertarian wing, whose influence would soon reach its zenith with the self-proclaimed Ron Paul Revolution. But like so many would-be revolutions, this one was denied — or at least delayed and mutated.

Paul’s 2012 bid to become the Republican Party’s presidential standard-bearer fizzled out in spectacular fashion, failing to convert internet hype into any meaningful primary support. Romney won the nomination and invited the youthful Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan along for the ride (whose rad workout gear and politically inscrutable love of Rage Against the Machine, alas, failed to inspire a Romney-Ryan youth movement).

Crashing on the rocks of both Barack Obama’s megawatt cultural celebrity and the looming coronation of Jeb Bush as the post-“autopsy” face of the GOP, the Rude Republican cohort was at loose ends — until an unlikely salvation came in the form of a 6’3” reality show host and frequent Howard Stern guest descending his golden escalator into the first paragraph of 21st-century American history.

Trump was at first an uneasy fit for both the more culturally-sophisticated, libertarian-leaning members of the Republican coalition as well as their staid religious counterparts. But at the same time he was hotwiring Republican culture and pushing it to the limits of street-legality, anti-P.C. critics saw another revolution happening within liberal politics — and, by the transitive property, pop culture writ large. In their eyes, Hillary Clinton’s campaign represented the triumph of a pro-establishment cultural nanny state that rejected Obama’s attempted de-escalation of the culture wars in favor of a rigid new etiquette of social justice: A rainbow flag hoisted, in effect, over the Bushes’ Kennebunkport compound.

One of Trump’s early adopters articulated the mindset perfectly in August 2015, back when Jeb! was still his closest primary threat: “I am voting for Donald Trump. I don’t care if he’s a joke. I don’t care if he’s racist. I don’t care if he’s sexist. I don’t care about any of it. I hope he stays in the race and I hope he wins. Why? Because I love the fact that he is making other politicians squirm. I love the fact he says shit nobody else will say, regardless of how ridiculous it is.”

No points for guessing the author: Dave Portnoy, birthing the Barstool Republican with a single 200-word blog post. Trump transformed the political landscape by tapping into a powerful desire for freedom from criticism or censure — a desire that Portnoy shared, and which has only grown more intense and widespread as the panopticon of social media becomes the primary stage for not just national politics, but civic life at every level.

In a column this February for The Week, the Catholic social conservative writer Matthew Walther referred to “Barstool conservatives” as primarily sharing a “disdain for the language of liberal improvement, the hectoring, schoolmarmish attitude of Democratic politicians and their allies in the media, and, above all, the elevation of risk-aversion to the level of a first-order principle by our professional classes.” In other words: culture-war issues.

Oddly enough, despite the inherent thirst for conflict that it brings, the ascent of Barstool-ism within the Republican Party can be chalked up to ideological diversity within the GOP. What could unite free-market libertarians, revanchist Catholics, Southern evangelicals, and working-class Reagan Democrats but their shared hatred of… actual Democrats?

With that as the party’s guiding principle, and no clear policy agenda to speak of — the 2020 RNC literally did not have a new policy platform — those willing to trash the Democratic cultural regime most loudly and consistently are firmly in command, with more staid Republicans forced to at least provide cover, if not actively follow their cues.

They’re forced to defend freshman North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the face of his attention-seeking tweets and allegations of sexual harassment from his (very recent) college days, while he ranks in the top 10 members of Congress in missed votes. They’re forced to defend Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as he faces his own allegations of sexual impropriety — not to mention his frat-boy antics, like showing up to Congress in a gas mask in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic. They’re forced to defend Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert as she fends off complaints from constituents about her “embarrassing” freshman term in Congress, after winning a primary and general election largely on the strength of her, well, bar ownership.

So just as anti-P.C., vaguely amoral Barstool-ism can be a strength, it can also be a weakness. In a media environment built to reinforce and intensify one’s ideological beliefs, being on the attack all the time can leave you in an exhausting state of constant defense. Yes, it can galvanize — nearly 75 million people voted to re-elect Donald Trump, the Stoolie-in-chief — but it can also exasperate and infuriate in turn — a record 81 million Americans voted for Trump’s purposely less-pugilistic opponent, Joe Biden. It also runs the risk of all novelty: that people might just bore of it. Yesterday’s provocation becomes today’s status quo, and in turn tomorrow’s epic cringe.

When Republican voters made Trump their presidential nominee in 2016, they chose gloves-off culture war over either Jeb Bush’s earnest compromise or the imitations of a careerist provocateur like Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump tapped into a very real dissatisfaction in the American electorate with the liberal status quo around speech and culture, and reaped both the attendant rewards and backlash. Someone like Dave Portnoy is, if not a viable presidential candidate, at least a credible successor to the role of the office’s last Republican occupant: Trump, Gaetz, Boebert, Cawthorn and their ilk all share Portnoy’s single-minded obsession with scoring headlines and affirming their constituents’ cultural identities at any cost.

In a media-obsessed world, it’s a powerful, intoxicating skill. And now that it’s proven a viable pathway to electoral success, Republicans are — perhaps wisely — clinging to it for dear life. As a creation of Judd Apatow, the 21st century’s great dorm-room comedy auteur, once said: “Pandora doesn’t go back in the box, he only comes out.”

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Driver crashes into Florida Pride parade; mayor says 1 dead

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Driver crashes into Florida Pride parade; mayor says 1 dead

News outlets reported that the driver of the pickup truck was taken into custody. Authorities did not immediately give details about the victims or say whether they believe the crash was intentional.

“This is a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” Trantalis told reporters. “This is exactly what it is. Hardly an accident.”

Photos and video from the scene showed Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in tears while in a convertible at the parade. A spokesperson for Wasserman Schultz did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Spectator Christina Currie told the South Florida SunSentinel that she was with her family at the start of the parade.

“All of a sudden there was a loud revving of a truck and a crash through a fence,” Currie said. “It was definitely an intentional act right across the lanes of traffic.”

Wilton Manors police tweeted Saturday night that the public is not in danger.

“A tragic incident occurred at today’s Stonewall event,” Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton said in a statement, according to WPLG-TV. “Out of respect for everyone involved, the parade has been canceled and a thorough investigation is being conducted.”

June is Pride Month, commemorating the June 1969 police raid targeting gay patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York that led to an uprising of LGBTQ Americans and served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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