Trump issues 74 pardons, 70 commutations on last day of term

On January 20, 2021, President Donald Trump (R) issued 74 pardons and 70 commutations. Among those pardoned included former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, former U.S. Reps. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), and the rappers Lil’ Wayne and Kodak Black.

These final pardons and commutations bring the total for Trump’s term to 143 pardons and 94 commutations. Trump issued the fewest pardons of any president since George H.W. Bush (R) (the most recent one-term president) but issued more per year than either Barack Obama (D) or George W. Bush (R).

Since fiscal year 1902, when Teddy Roosevelt (R) was in office, presidents have issued a total of 14,333 pardons and 6,641 commutations. Of those, Democratic presidents issued 8,393 pardons and 4,103 commutations, while Republican presidents issued 5,940 pardons and 2,538 commutations.

Between fiscal years 1902 and 2021, Franklin Roosevelt (D) issued, on average, more pardons than any other president, averaging 234.9 pardons per year. Between fiscal years 1902 and 2021, Lyndon Johnson (D) was the only president to issue no pardons or commutations during his final fiscal year in office.

How many times has the U.S. Senate been split evenly between Democrats and Republicans?

After the winners of the Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs were sworn in on Jan. 20, the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the U.S. Senate were split 50-50. Vice President Kamala Harris (D) has the tie-breaking vote in the chamber. 

This is the fourth time in U.S. history the Senate has been split evenly. 

As a result of the general election in 2000, the Senate was split 50-50 for a five-month period. During the final weeks of Bill Clinton’s (D) presidency in 2001, Vice President Al Gore (D) had tie-breaking votes in the Senate, giving Democrats an effective majority. After President George W. Bush (R) and Vice President Dick Cheney (R) were sworn in on Jan. 20, Republicans had an effective majority. That held until June 6, when Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont changed his affiliation from Republican to independent and began caucusing with Democrats, giving them the majority.

The Republican and Democratic caucuses were split 48-48 for part of 1954, when Vice President Richard Nixon (R) had the tie-breaking vote. The partisan breakdown of the Senate between 1953 and 1955 changed frequently as nine senators died and one resigned. In July 1953, Republican Sen. Robert Taft (Ohio) died. Democrat Thomas Burke replaced him when the Senate reconvened in 1954. Independent Sen. Wayne Morse (Ore.) caucused with Republicans (until he became a Democrat in 1955), splitting the caucuses 48-48 for a time. The Senate grew to 100 members after Alaska and Hawaii became U.S. states in 1959.

Finally, in 1881, Democrats and Republicans each had 37 seats, in addition to one independent who caucused with Democrats and one who caucused with Republicans. Vice President Chester Arthur (R) had the tie-breaking vote.

Georgia’s 2021 runoff winners, Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D), were sworn into office on Jan. 20. Harris’ Senate replacement, Alex Padilla (D), was sworn in the same day.


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Decade-low 227 state legislative incumbents defeated on Nov. 3

In the November 2020 general election, 227 state legislative incumbents were defeated, the lowest number in any even-numbered year in the past decade. By party, those defeated incumbents include 165 Democrats, 52 Republicans, and 10 independents and members of a third party.

The 227 incumbents defeated marked a 29.5% decrease from the 322 defeated in 2018 and was 54.8% lower than the decade-high 502 incumbents defeated in the 2010 general election.

By party, a larger number of Democrats were defeated in the 2020 general election compared to Republicans. This was the fourth cycle since 2010 where the number of incumbent Democrats defeated exceeded that of Republicans. The number of incumbent Republicans defeated in general elections exceeded Democrats’ in the 2012 and 2018 state legislative elections.

The chart below shows the number of incumbents defeated in general elections since 2010 broken down by party affiliation.

Incumbents defeated in the general election represent one part of Ballotpedia’s calculation of total incumbent turnover, which measures the number of seats that will be held by newcomers in 2021. The other components of the calculation are incumbents defeated in primaries and incumbents who retired.

Incumbent turnover in 2020 reached a decade-low 1,247, meaning, overall, state legislatures will see the lowest number of newcomers since before 2010.

By party, incumbent turnover was 621 for Democrats and 626 for Republicans, the smallest gap between the two parties over the preceding decade. A greater number of Republicans were defeated in primaries than Democrats. Both Democrats and Republicans saw their lowest numbers of retirement since at least 2010 at 396 and 480, respectively.

The table below shows turnover figures from 2010 to 2020. The rightmost column shows the decade average for each metric.

For additional analyses and a full list of defeated incumbents, click here.

Trump administration’s 2-for-1 regulatory policy in review

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) issued a 2020 update on the Trump administration’s 2-for-1 regulatory policy as part of the Fall 2020 edition of the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. The 2-for-1 policy applies to economically significant rules—those with an anticipated economic impact of $100 million or more. The update featured the following highlights:

• Agencies eliminated $198.6 billion in overall regulatory costs across the federal government in fiscal year 2020.

• Agencies eliminated 5.5 regulations for every new significant regulation added.

• Agencies issued 538 deregulatory actions overall.

From 2017 to 2019, agencies eliminated a cumulative $50.9 billion in regulatory costs.

The Trump administration as of January 15, 2021, had yet to publish a formal update on the 2-for-1 regulatory policy. An analysis by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, however, concluded that the administration issued 101 completed deregulatory actions and 31 completed regulatory actions in fiscal year 2020 for a 3-to-1 ratio. OIRA reported a 1.7-to-1 ratio in 2019, a 4-to-1 ratio in 2018, and a 22-to-1 ratio in 2017.

President Donald Trump (R) enacted the 2-for-1 regulatory policy via Executive Order 13771 in January 2017. The order instituted annual regulatory budgets for federal agencies and required agencies to eliminate two old regulations for each new regulation issued. The future of the 2-for-1 regulatory policy under the incoming Biden administration remains unclear.

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Ballotpedia’s analysis of California’s 2020 local ballot measures

California voters decided 719 local ballot measures across seven different election dates in 2020. 

Here are some highlights from Ballotpedia’s annual report on local ballot measures in California:

• Voters approved 62.4% percent of California’s local measures in 2020, which was 14 and 15 percentage points lower than their approval rates in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

• Bond and tax measures made up 70% of the local measures on the ballot in California.

• There were local ballot measures in every California county in 2020 but one. Los Angeles County had the most measures at 109. The median number of measures per county was nine.

• There were 191 local bond issues on ballots across California in 2020. Of that total, 182 (95.8%) were school bond issues.

• The approval rate for school bond measures in 2020 of 50.5% was the lowest in any even-numbered year since at least 2008. The average approval rate for school bond measures in even-numbered years from 2008 through 2018 was 83%.

• Local school bond measures proposed $30.7 billion in new debt. Voters approved $18.7 billion and rejected $12.0 billion.

• Voters in two cities in California approved measures to enact ranked-choice voting for city elections.

• There were eight local measures concerning law enforcement policies, police oversight, police practices, or law enforcement budgeting, not including tax measures designed to provide funding for law enforcement services. All eight measures were approved.

• Voters approved 46 (44.66%) and rejected 57 (55.34%) of the 103 parcel tax measures on the ballot. In 2018, voters approved 65% of parcel tax measures. In 2016, voters approved 64% of parcel tax measures.

• Voters approved 93 sales tax measures (71.5%) in 2020 and rejected 37 (28.5%). In 2018, voters approved 84% of sales tax measures. In 2016, voters approved 69% of sales tax measures.

California voters also decided 13 statewide ballot measures. Click here to read more about the 2020 statewide measures.

Ballotpedia covers all statewide ballot measures, all local ballot measures in the 100 largest cities in the U.S., all local ballot measures in California, and a selection of other notable measures. In 2021, Ballotpedia will also cover all state capitals outside of the nation’s 100 largest cities.

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States publish coronavirus vaccine distribution plans

All 50 states have released plans for distributing a coronavirus vaccine once one or more have been made available. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set an October 16 deadline for states to submit first drafts of the plans.

The CDC asked states to respond to a set of planning assumptions in a document released to states on September 16 titled “COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations.” The playbook identified 15 broad categories, including critical populations, vaccine storage and handling, and vaccine safety monitoring, that states were asked to consider in their plans.

As of December 3, 2020, the CDC’s website said, “The federal government will oversee a centralized system to order, distribute, and track COVID-19 vaccines. All vaccines will be ordered through CDC. Vaccine providers will receive vaccines from CDC’s centralized distributor or directly from a vaccine manufacturer.”

The federal government will work with state, territorial, and tribal governments, which will have final authority over distribution priorities. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said governors are “going to tell us which hospital, which pharmacies, where they would like it [the vaccine] to go. … And they will be determining which groups to be prioritized.” The CDC voted on December 1 to recommend health care workers and long-term care residents receive vaccines in the first phase of distribution before the general population, but the decision was not binding on governors.

Ballotpedia has compiled links to all 50 distribution plans. To read your state’s plan and learn about the federal government’s role in distributing vaccines, click the button below.

Donald Trump wins 20 states with trifectas, Joe Biden wins 18

After the 2020 elections, Republicans had 23 trifectas, Democrats had 15 trifectas, and 11 states had divided governments. Trifecta status in Alaska is pending. A trifecta occurs when one political party holds the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

Two divided government states gained Republican trifecta status following the 2020 elections. Joe Biden (D) won New Hampshire, which gained a Republican trifecta when Republicans won majorities in the state legislature. Donald Trump (R) won Montana, which gained a Republican trifecta when Greg Gianforte (R) won the governorship.

Besides New Hampshire, Biden also carried the Republican trifecta states of Arizona and Georgia. Republicans have had a trifecta in Arizona since 2009 and in Georgia since 2005.

In total, Trump won 20 Republican trifectas and Biden won three. Biden won the statewide vote in all 15 Democratic trifecta states.

Biden won three states Donald Trump (R) won in 2016 that now have divided governments. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania all went to Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. All three states previously had Republican trifectas; Michigan’s and Wisconsin’s were broken in the 2018 elections, while Pennsylvania’s was broken in the 2014 election.

Biden also won the presidential vote in four other divided government states: Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont. Hillary Clinton (D) won these states in 2016. 

Trump won four divided government states that he also won in 2016: Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina. These states all gained divided trifecta status after electing Democratic governors. Louisiana elected a Democratic governor in 2015, followed by North Carolina in 2016, Kansas in 2018, and Kentucky in 2019.

Seventy-five U.S. congressional elections were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer

Seventy-five congressional races in 2020 were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer, including eight for U.S. Senate and 67 for U.S. House. Thirty-five races were decided by fewer than five percentage points; three of those were U.S. Senate races and 32 were U.S. House races.

Democratic candidates won 40 of these elections and Republican candidates won 35. Out of the races decided by fewer than five percentage points, Democrats won 22 and Republicans won 13.

Fourteen U.S. House races remained uncalled as of Nov. 18, and eight seemed likely to be decided by fewer than 10 percentage points.

In comparison, 102 races were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer in 2018. Of these, 12 were elections for the U.S. Senate and 90 were elections for the U.S. House. Democratic candidates won 49 of these elections and Republican candidates won 53.

Fifty races in 2018 were decided by fewer than five percentage points: five elections for the U.S. Senate and 45 elections for the U.S. House. Democratic candidates won 24 of these elections and Republican candidates won 26.

There were 42 and 56 congressional races decided by 10 percentage points or fewer in 2016 and 2014, respectively. In 2016, nine were elections for the U.S. Senate and 33 were elections for the U.S. House, with candidates from each major party winning 21 of the elections. In 2014, seven were elections for the U.S. Senate and 49 were elections for the U.S. House. Democratic candidates won 32 of these elections and Republican candidates won 24.

For races decided by fewer than five percentage points, there were 22 in 2016 and 31 in 2014. In 2016, five elections were for the U.S. Senate and 17 were for the U.S. House seats, with Democratic candidates winning 14 of these elections and Republicans winning eight. In 2014, five were elections for the U.S. Senate and 26 were for the U.S. House, with Democratic candidates winning 17 of these elections and Republican candidates winning 14.

10 percent of open Congressional seats changed party hands in 2020

Forty Congressional incumbents—four in the Senate and 36 in the House—did not run for re-election in 2020. Of these 40 open seats, four (10 percent) changed party hands as a result of the 2020 elections, and an additional three races were still too close to call as of Nov. 18. All four changes occurred in the House, where Democrats picked up three seats held by Republicans and Republicans picked up one seat held by a Libertarian.

The group of 40 incumbents who did not run for re-election included 10 Democrats, 29 Republicans, and one Libertarian. They represented 8.5 percent of all 470 Congressional offices up for election.

Across all 2020 Congressional elections, 16 seats changed hands. Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate while Republicans picked up one. In the House, Democrats picked up three seats while Republicans picked up 10 seats.

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Number of Republican-majority federal circuit courts has doubled in Trump administration

Image of the south facade of the White House.

Since Donald Trump (R) took office in January 2017, he has appointed 52 judges to the 13 federal circuit courts. At the time of his inauguration, a majority of members on four of those courts were appointed by Republican presidents. Before the 2020 election, a majority of members on eight of those courts were appointed by Republican presidents.

In January 2017, there were 90 circuit court judges appointed by Democrats, 74 appointed by Republicans, and 14 vacancies. In November 2020, there were 80 circuit court judges appointed by Democrats, 97 appointed by Republicans, and one vacancy.

Five circuit courts did not flip from majority Democratic-appointed to majority Republican-appointed, all but one kept the same partisan balance. The Ninth Circuit went from an 18-9 Democratic-appointed majority before Trump took office to a 16-13 Democratic-appointed majority split (with no vacancies). The other four are the First, Tenth, D.C, and Federal Circuits.

The Republican-appointed majority in the four circuit courts that were majority Republican-appointed when Trump took office all increased those majorities. The Fifth Circuit moved from R+5 to R+7, the Sixth Circuit from R+5 to R+6, the Seventh Circuit from R+2 to R+6, and the Eighth Circuit from R+6 to R+9.

Trump has made the most appointments (10) to the Ninth Circuit. He has six appointments each to the Fifth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits. The only circuits without a Trump appointee as of November 2020 were the First Circuit and the Federal Circuit.