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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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Democrats and Republicans Differ on How to Investigate the Russian Hacking

"The devil is in the details" was never more true than the matter of investigating the Russian interference in the U.S. elections. The Democrats want a special bipartisan committee, similar to the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks. They want it to be independent of politics and to have subpoena power. The Republicans, by contrast, want the investigation to be run by a standing Senate committee. The Democrats are also in a hurry, while the Republicans are in no hurry at all. The Democrats want three questions answered:

  • Who hacked the DNC?
  • Did the hackers have a preferred candidate they were trying to help?
  • Was the preferred candidate helping the hackers?

The Republicans want to slow walk the whole process because if it turns out that the Russians did the hacking in order to help Donald Trump and the Trump campaign helped out, that could mean the de facto end of his presidency and maybe the actual end, via an impeachment. The fact that NBC is now reporting that Vladimir Putin was personally involved with the whole operation for the purpose of defeating Hillary Clinton, whom he dislikes, and helping Trump, who he thinks will be a pushover, doesn't make the Republicans more likely to conduct a full-scale, no-holds-barred, investigation.

Assuming the Republicans refuse to have outsiders do the investigating, the next question is "OK, it will be a Senate committee, but which one?" That also matters. If this is cyberwar, one possibility is the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is about as anti-Russian as they come. Furthermore, he once had a reputation as a maverick, and at 80 and in what is likely to be his last term in the Senate, might decide to conduct an honest investigation and let the chips fall where they may. Of course, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) knows this very well and can't control McCain, so he may prefer a different committee. Finally, there is the issue of whether Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be satisfied if the Senate does all the work. This is clearly a hot potato, so he might prefer that it lands in McConnell's lap. (V)

Trump Thanks Black Voters for Not Voting

For at least a week, President-elect Donald Trump has been referring to his electoral victory as a "landslide" and a "mandate," even though the math does not support those positions. It would seem that he believes it, though, because he's been getting more and more cocky during his victory tour. Appearing at a rally in Pennsylvania, he got the nearly all-white crowd cheering when he declared that black voters were "smart" to embrace his message, and so "didn't come out to vote" for Hillary Clinton. "That was the big thing," Trump concluded, "so thank you to the African-American community,"

It was really a remarkable performance. There is a fair bit of truth in what he said, but to present it in that way is tantamount to mocking black voters. If the DNC's researchers are smart, they are now saving many, many copies of that footage—on-site, off-site, digital, videotape, the works. A commercial comprised of Trump's remarks, shots of the cheering, white crowd, and a voiceover that says something like, "Vote...It's too important not to," would be powerful stuff, indeed. (Z)

Graham Explains How Tillerson Can Get His Vote

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has said he might vote against confirmation of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, but gave Tillerson directions on how to get his vote. First, when asked if he believes the Russians interfered with the election, the correct answer is: "Yes." Second, when asked if he supports additional sanctions on Russia as a result of the hacking, the correct answer is again: "Yes." If Tillerson passes this simple test, he might get Graham's vote when his confirmation comes to the floor of the Senate. Graham is not on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so he won't be able to ask the questions himself, but no doubt one of the other members, possibly a Democrat, would be willing to ask them for him.

Yesterday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he is open to supporting Tillerson. If he does, that makes the confirmation process easier, since then four Republicans would have to defect to defeat Tillerson. (V)

Trump Cabinet a Wee Bit Top-Heavy

Donald Trump has now made his picks for 17 cabinet-level positions in his administration. Though there are still six slots left to be filled, it's already far and away the wealthiest cabinet in history. In fact, as Quartz's Dan Kopf points out, their combined net worth of $9.5 billion means that they have more money than the 43 million poorest American households combined. That's 126 million people, or a little more than 33% of the population. In other words, this administration does not look likely to be in touch with the concerns of the working-class people who elected it. Maybe the cabinet members can talk to their housekeepers and gardeners.

There aren't many historical analogues to this situation, since most cabinet officers tend to come from the public sector. The closest may be the cabinet of Warren Harding, which included industrialist Andrew W. Mellon, mining engineer Herbert Hoover, and lawyers Edwin Denby and Will Hays, all of them multimillionaires. The bad news for Trump is that several of Harding's cabinet officers were on the take, resulting in one of the great political scandals in American history. Harding only avoided being destroyed by the scandal through the clever maneuver of dying of a massive heart attack in 1923. (Z)

Trump Picks Hardliner for Israel Ambassadorship

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has expressed conflicting views on how he would approach the decades-long conflicts in which Israel is enmeshed. He's been getting advice on the subject from Orthodox Jewish lawyer David Friedman, however, and—as expected—has now chosen Friedman to be ambassador to Israel.

Friedman's views are further to the right than those of conservative Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and are out of step with the majority of American Jews and with the U.S. government's longstanding positions (under both Democratic and Republican administrations). He wants to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would be a clear shot across the bow of the Palestinians, who also claim Jerusalem as their capital. He opposes a two-state solution, arguing that there are not enough Palestinians to make a separate state worthwhile. Friedman also wants to open up the West Bank and East Jerusalem to new construction, which would be another shot across the bow. If Trump takes his cues from Friedman, then we will be entering into a new era of U.S.-Israeli relations, one that will likely please Netanyahu, but could fuel anti-American sentiment in the Arab world. (Z)

Whither the Democrats?

The Democratic Party is at a crossroads now and doesn't know which way to go. Some voices in the party are saying it should turn to the left and go after young people and minorities. Others are saying it should turn to the right and pursue conservative, white, blue-collar men in the Midwest. Each side has a good case. The leftists say that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes, so what is needed is to find a candidate next time who generates enthusiasm among the people who voted for Barack Obama twice. The other side points out that the five Midwestern states Hillary Clinton lost that Obama won (Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) are whiter, older, and more conservative than the country at large, so moving left is going to make them permanently Republican. The rejoinder here is, "You want us to campaign like it is 1980?" While there are some issues, like the economy, on which both sides agree, there are many other issues, like guns and policing, on which they don't. This battle is going to rage for years to come. (V)

Could 2017 Be Worse than 2016?

Many people think that for various reasons, 2016 was not a good year. Could 2017 be worse? The professional pessimists at Bloomberg News think it could, and give some scenarios that are less than rosy:

  • Waves of protests rise as Trump reverses Obama's executive orders
  • Pro- and anti-Trump Republicans in Congress are soon at each others' throats
  • Angela Merkel has to choose between leading a military buildup in Europe or giving Putin his way
  • U.S. and China go to economic war after Trump calls China a currency manipulator and imposes a big tariff
  • Trump suspends the U.S. membership in NATO, causing instability worldwide
  • ISIS radicalizes Central Asia
  • Saudi Arabia and Japan start developing nuclear weapons
  • North Korea proves it can deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S. West Coast
  • Trump switches course and begs China to rein in North Korea
  • Populist politicians win all over Europe and the Euro and European Union disintegrate
  • Greece blows up again and this time there is no bailout
  • Amazon, Apple, and Google reveal that smartphones snoop on their owners
  • State-sponsored hackers create panic by shutting down power plants and self-driving cars
  • After being rebuffed by Trump, Cuba lets Russia build a military base on the island
  • Trump pulls out of NAFTA and taxes remittances to Mexico to pay for his wall
  • Mexico goes into depression
  • Mexican leftist André López Obrador runs for president on a platform of nationalizing private companies
  • Yemen becomes Saudi Arabia's Vietnam, forcing unpopular taxes to pay for the war
  • The balance of power in the Middle East shifts towards Iran
  • Iran and Saudi Arabia get into an all-out shooting war
  • Oil shipments are disrupted by the Saudi-Iran war
  • Oil prices spike as a result of the disruption, leading to worldwide economic instability

These are not predictions, just some suggestions of what could happen next year. (V)

Net Neutrality in Jeopardy

Generally speaking, Democrats tend to favor net neutrality, which is the proposition that all Internet traffic should be treated equally by the companies that provide Internet service. Republicans, by contrast, tend to favor the approach known as "rent seeking" or "traffic prioritization," wherein content providers can pay money to have their traffic prioritized. In a world without neutrality, an Amazon or a Google or an ESPN could theoretically set it up so that their content is delivered 10 or 50 or 100 times more quickly than that of their competitors, effectively giving them a monopoly.

This issue falls squarely within the domain of the Federal Communications Commission, where chairman Tom Wheeler has been an impassioned and effective advocate of neutrality since taking office in 2013. Now, as is customary when a new president takes office, he has tendered his resignation. That leaves two empty seats on the five-person FCC board, with rules requiring one seat to be filled by a Republican and the other by a Democrat. The two Republicans currently on the board, Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly, are both outspoken opponents of neutrality; just last week Pai declared that, "We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation," while O'Rielly said that, "President-elect Trump has repeatedly noted the detrimental impact of the current stifling regulatory environment on the American economy overall, and he has promised fast relief." So, as long as the newly chosen chair shares their views, then net neutrality looks to be headed the way of the dodo. (Z)

Bill Gates: Trump Could Be Like JFK

Donald Trump is connecting with many of America's movers and shakers, and so he recently called Bill Gates, marking the first time the two men had ever had a conversation. Gates came away impressed, telling MSNBC:

A lot of his message has been about ... where he sees things not as good as he'd like. But in the same way President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that. I think whether it's education or stopping epidemics ... [or] in this energy space, there can be a very upbeat message that [Trump's] administration [is] going to organize things, get rid of regulatory barriers, and have American leadership through innovation.

Presumably, Gates is trying to be optimistic and/or diplomatic, and he is also doing what many Americans do, namely using "JFK" as shorthand for "good president." That said, the Microsoft tycoon is clearly a bit rusty on his U.S. history, because the flimsy argument he makes here does not stand up to even mild scrutiny. Indeed, as we have already pointed out, it would be tough to come up with a recent president who is less like Trump than JFK.

To start with, there are the differences in personality. Kennedy was the youngest person ever elected president, was unusually even-tempered and very suave. Trump is the oldest person ever elected president, is unusually prone to emotional swings and very brash. Whether one set of characteristics is better than the other is open to debate, but there can be no question that they are very disparate.

Meanwhile, if Bill Gates thinks that the theme of JFK's time in office was "deregulation," he hasn't done much reading about the 35th president. Yes, Kennedy did cut taxes, but many of his signature accomplishments involved expanding government power, and/or vigorously enforcing existing rules and regulations. In the former category are such moves as the founding of the Peace Corps and the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which called for women to be paid the same wages as men for the same work. Hard to imagine Donald Trump doing either of those things. In the latter category are his executive orders banning segregation in government housing and by government-employed contractors, and his insistence that the Supreme Court's decisions in Morgan v. Virginia and Boynton v. Virginia (which barred segregated transportation) be enforced.

Further, although Gates seems to suggest that Kennedy rebelled against convention/precedent, the truth is that JFK's successes were almost invariably rooted in continuity between his moderate Democratic administration and his predecessor Dwight D. Eisenhower's moderate Republican administration. For example, the quote makes specific note of Kennedy's role in promoting space exploration. He did do that, but it was hardly a one-president job. The U.S. Space Program really got underway in the mid-1950s, as the nation desperately played catchup with the Russians. By the time JFK took his seat in the Oval Office, the U.S. had already put satellites into orbit, and work was well underway on putting a human being there, too. The recently deceased John Glenn had already been recruited, and construction was underway on Friendship 7, the ship that would take him into space. In other words, Ike got the ball rolling on space exploration, and Kennedy gave it another good push, as did LBJ and Richard Nixon, culminating in the moon landing on Nixon's watch in July of 1969.

Finally, early indications are that Trump intends to pursue an aggressive foreign policy rooted in brinkmanship. By contrast, after taking the blame for the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy preferred to take a cooperative approach to both America's allies and to her foes. Most famously, he de-escalated the Cuban Missile Crisis through skilled diplomacy. He partnered with the nations of Latin America with the NAFTA-like Alliance for Progress. He also pursued nuclear disarmament and nuclear test bans. There's even evidence that he planned to back out of Vietnam, which would have avoided that quagmire for America.

In short, Gates should probably leave the history to the historians. And if he insists on looking for optimistic precedents for Trump, he should probably search for one that's a little less tenuous, like maybe Ronald Reagan or first-term Richard Nixon or even Harry S. Truman. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec15 Romney Gets the Job after All
Dec15 Fiorina Being Considered for Intelligence Director
Dec15 What Went Wrong in Michigan for Clinton
Dec15 Bolton May Be Harder to Confirm than Tillerson
Dec15 D.C. Hotel Turning Into a Headache for Trump
Dec15 Another Day, Another Conflict of Interest
Dec15 Russians Also Intervened in House Races
Dec15 Twitter CEO Not Invited to Tech Summit
Dec15 Gates, Rice and Baker Have Ties to Exxon and Russia
Dec15 Culture Wars Meet Star Wars
Dec14 Trump Picks Perry to Lead the Er, Uh, Whatever Department.
Dec14 Zinke Tapped for Interior
Dec14 McCain Could Be a Real Problem for Trump
Dec14 Why Tillerson?
Dec14 Tillerson Undermined U.S. Foreign Policy in 2011
Dec14 Manchin Will Stay in the Senate
Dec14 Roger Stone: Trump Interviewed Romney Just to Torture Him
Dec14 Trump Humiliates Ryan
Dec14 Fed May Block Trump's Promised Economic Boom
Dec14 Clinton's Popular Vote Lead Approaches 3 Million
Dec13 Trump Wins Wisconsin
Dec13 Electors' Lawsuit Fails
Dec13 Trump's Conflicts of Interest May Already Be Showing in Turkey
Dec13 Trump Postpones News Conference
Dec13 Senate Committee to Investigate Russian Influence on the Election
Dec13 A Battle Is Brewing in the Senate over Tillerson
Dec13 Democrats Not Ready for Trump's First 100 Days
Dec13 Trump to Hang Nixon Letter in Oval Office
Dec13 Plotting, Planning, and Scheming Against Trump
Dec13 Democrats Rediscover Federalism
Dec13 New York Times Gets Out the Big Guns
Dec12 Comey Likely Decided the Election
Dec12 Trump Says He Doesn't Believe CIA Report of Putin Helping Him
Dec12 What Would the Democratic Version of Trump's Team Look Like?
Dec12 Five Things We Know about President Trump and Five We Don't Know
Dec12 Bernstein Slams Trump
Dec12 Christie Turned Down Trump's Job Offers
Dec11 NBC: Rex Tillerson Will be Secretary of State
Dec11 Kennedy Wins Louisiana Senate Seat
Dec11 Intelligence Officials Don't Know How to Deal with Trump
Dec11 A Tale of Two Revelations
Dec11 Heitkamp Is Leading Candidate for Secretary of Agriculture
Dec11 Americans Skeptical over Trump's Agenda and Transition
Dec11 Kander Offers Postmortem for Democrats
Dec11 Gingrich Slams Trump
Dec10 Russians Were Trying to Help Trump; Obama Orders Investigation
Dec10 Trump Picks Cathy McMorris-Rodgers for Interior
Dec10 McDaniel Likely to lead RNC
Dec10 McConnell Meets with North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer
Dec10 Giuliani Withdraws from Consideration for any Cabinet Post