No Law Says a Senator Needs to Be Mentally Fit to Serve - The Wednesday AM Quickie 1/11/23

My cat refuses to accept that he's on a diet and that it's for his own good. Instead, he has decided to try to drive me crazy until I feed him as much as he wants, whenever he wants. Honestly it isn't a bad strategy. - Corey

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Katie Porter's Ambition Just Did the Public a Service

Some people criticized the timing of this announcement, what with the deadly storms and all, but I say there's never a bad time to take on the gerontocracy. California Democratic Rep. Katie Porter -- whose memorable performances in hearings won her a following among progressives as well as centrists -- yesterday launched her 2024 campaign for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by 89-year-old Dianne Feinstein. "California needs a warrior in Washington," Porter said. "It's time for new leadership in the U.S. Senate."

Feinstein's cognitive decline, long an open secret on Capitol Hill, became widely known last year after the San Francisco Chronicle reported the extent of her condition, including failures to recognize longtime Senate colleagues or comprehend new issues. Despite her rapidly deteriorating memory, Feinstein's staff have kept her office running and maintained their own powerful positions by engaging in what might be called elder abuse if the situation was happening to, say, an actor like Bruce Willis as opposed to a politician. Feinstein doesn't give many interviews these days because it's no longer possible to conceal her condition, but she and her staff have rejected all calls for her to retire. And they are still taking that line following Porter's announcement. Per Politico:

Staff for California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday following Porter's announcement that "everyone is of course welcome to throw their hat in the ring," and that she'll lay out her plans for 2024 "at the appropriate time."

Other California Democrats have been eyeing Feinstein's seat, including Rep. Barbara Lee, whom Gov. Gavin Newsom has suggested he would appoint in the event Feinstein steps down. Lee told the Washington Post following Porter's announcement that "California deserves a senator with a record of accomplishment and a progressive vision," emphasizing her bona fides while noting she (unlike Porter?) was "focused on helping Californians stay safe in this extreme weather." An anonymous somebody from Rep. Adam Schiff's camp made the point more sharply to a Los Angeles Times reporter, saying "It's f*cking crazy that [Porter] would announce in the middle of a natural disaster. There are 15 people dead." (Make that 16: story below.)

I think this is empty grandstanding and these people are just mad they didn't seize the first mover advantage. Porter may or may not be the best candidate to replace Feinstein, but she deserves kudos for being the first elected Democrat from America's most populous state to take action to end an intolerable situation: that is, 40 million people being represented by an essentially anonymous clique of operatives standing in for an octogenarian who no longer has the capacity to make important decisions. Like in a disaster. Three cheers for competitive primaries!

New Biden Student Loan Plan Seeks to Encourage Repayment

With his partial student debt cancellation policy tied up in the courts, President Joe Biden's Education Department is shifting its focus to lowering borrowers' monthly payments. A "student loan safety net" announced yesterday offers also includes a promise that unpaid interest will no longer be added to borrowers' outstanding balances. Per the Associated Press:

Under existing plans, monthly payments are capped at 10% of a borrower's discretionary income, and those earning less than $20,400 a year aren't required to make payments. The new proposal would cap payments for undergraduate loans at 5% of borrowers' discretionary pay, cutting their bills in half, and require payments only for those who earn more than about $30,000 a year.

There's a big difference between forgiving predatory debt and encouraging people to make payments they can't really afford -- and this plan will do nothing to bring down college tuition. That said, making the terms less punishing is a good thing.

Another New Year, Another Deadly Billion-Dollar Disaster

Yesterday climate scientists in Europe warned that the last eight years were the warmest on record, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 18 extreme weather events last year cost the U.S. at least $1 billion each, causing a total of $165 billion in damage, and killing at least 474 people. "Climate change is supercharging many of these extremes that can lead to billion-dollar disasters," NOAA climatologist Adam Smith told the Associated Press. Meanwhile in California, the confirmed death toll from the intense storms Jack told you about yesterday rose to 16 people, not counting a missing 5-year-old boy swept away by floodwaters. More than 200,000 people are without power, the Los Angeles Times reports. Another atmospheric river is forecast to hit northern California today, with rains continuing through the weekend.


  • Hospital Execs Raking in Millions as NYC Nurses Strike Over Patient Safety Mount Sinai more than doubled its CEO's pay in the past decade, bringing it up to $5.6 million. via the New York Times and The Lever.
  • Peru Protesters Massacred State security forces are being blamed for the deaths of at least 17 people in the southern city of Juliaca, where thousands of people fought with police and tried to seize the airport. via the Times and the Guardian.
  • House GOP Forms Committee to Interfere with Criminal Investigations "'Its mandate is whatever Jim Jordan wants to do,' said one congressional investigator." via the Washington Post.
  • Ukraine Troops Will Train at Fort Sill, Oklahoma Approximately 100 Ukrainian soldiers will learn how to operate the Patriot missile defense system on U.S. soil as early as next week. via CNN.
  • Trump Organization Fall Guy Gets 5 Months in Prison Allen Weisselberg, 75, the longtime chief financial officer of Trump's company, "is likely to serve about 100 days" of his sentence for tax fraud and conspiracy, assuming good behavior. via NBC News.


5 million

That's how many children around the world died before their fifth birthday in 2021, according to new figures from the United Nations. Most of the deaths were preventable, owing to a lack of healthcare as well as mothers enduring poverty, hunger, and homelessness.


1/11: Sam and Emma (in her triumphant return!) are joined by Matt Duss, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, to discuss his recent piece in The New Republic co-authored with Steven Wertheim, "A Better Biden Doctrine." Then, they're joined by Sarah Miller, executive director and founder of the American Economic Liberties Project, to discuss the Biden Administration's recent decision to limit corporations' abilities to use non-compete clauses on their workers.


Walker Staffer Described Details of CPAC Matt Schlapp Assault Hours After It Happened

I missed this when it broke last week but Sam will bring you up to speed.

Lula Vows Action Against Brazilian Fascists After Bolsonaro Supporters Storm Government Buildings

Crowds in Brazil are chanting "no amnesty!"


"Kevin McCarthy owns George Santos. If George Santos wasn't seated, what would the math have been for Speaker McCarthy?"

-- House Democratic caucus chair Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, speaking of the new Republican House Speaker's political debt to the fabulist freshman from New York. Democratic members of New York's Congressional delegation yesterday called for a House Ethics Committee investigation of Santos.

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