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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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Trump Taps Perdue for Agriculture; Cabinet Is Now Complete

Finding the right person to run the Department of Agriculture has been surprisingly difficult for Donald Trump, with name after name mentioned and then dropped over the course of the last several weeks. Now, however, the President-elect has his man: Sonny Perdue. Perdue is a former governor of Georgia, and is cousin to Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

Besides being the son of a veterinarian, and coming from a state with a lot of farms, Perdue's resume does not seem to have a lot of experience relevant to running Agriculture. However, it was not his background that raised eyebrows on Wednesday. It is the fact that, with the selection of Perdue, Trump's cabinet will have no Latinos. Indeed, it's the least diverse cabinet in recent history, with 13 of the 16 slots filled by white men (plus a white woman in Betsy DeVos, an Asian woman in Elaine Chao, and a black man in Ben Carson). If Trump's goal really is to return America to the way it was in the 1950s, he's off to a good start. (Z)

Pruitt Faces Withering Fire; Admits Climate Change is Man-made

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt went before the Senate on Wednesday, seeking confirmation as administrator of the EPA. Pruitt has, in the past, been skeptical that climate change is real, and/or that it is man-made. This made it fortuitous, perhaps, that the World Meteorological Organization released its annual report on Earth's climate just hours before Pruitt's hearing began. It revealed that 2016 was the hottest year on record. This broke the record set in...2015. Which broke the record set in...2014.

Presented with this evidence, and under aggressive cross-examination from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Pruitt broke with his boss-to-be Donald Trump, saying, "I do not believe climate change is a hoax. Science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity, in some manner, impacts that change."

Despite the Senator's prodding, Pruitt would not go further, and pointedly refused to say that man is the primary cause of global warming. Nonetheless, for those who are concerned about this issue, it's a start. Indeed, there's a case to be made that only a Republican administration has the capacity to build a consensus on climate change action, since they have credibility with deniers that Democrats do not. Just as only Nixon could go to China, maybe only Trump (or Pruitt) can cool the planet. (Z)

Price Says Stock Purchases Were Legitimate

On Tuesday, news broke that HHS Secretary-designate Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) acquired stocks whose price could be affected by non-public knowledge that he had about bills pending before Congress. This comes dangerously close to the textbook definition of insider trading. In fact, it explicitly violates the STOCK Act, which prohibits members of Congress from profiting from information they have gained from their official duties. On Wednesday, Price was questioned about his stock portfolio by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Al Franken (D-MN). The Congressman declared that, "everything that we have done has been above-board, transparent, ethical and legal." He also noted that the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) had reviewed the situation and signed off on his dossier.

Ironically, Price's invocation of the OGE was itself dishonest, as department officials took to Twitter to point out—while the hearings were still underway. They noted that their job is to evaluate executive branch employees, and to make judgments on fitness to serve going forward, not to consider the past behavior of appointees while they served in another branch of government. Consequently, as Price certainly knows, they have offered no opinion on the propriety of his stock trades. Someone might also point out to him that referring to oneself in the third person (e. g., "everything that we have done") is a common sign of deception. So, overall, Price is not doing a great job of selling us on the idea that he's blameless here. (Z)

More Questions Arise About DeVos

Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos has had a rough time getting confirmed. She faced uncomfortable questions about her family's donations to the Republican Party (acknowledging that $200 million is well within the realm of possibility), about her understanding of standardized tests (she has no real understanding), and about guns in the classroom (which she suggested are essential for protecting students against grizzly bears). She was also asked about her role as vice president of the Focus on the Family foundation, a stridently anti-LGBT organization that—among other goals—promotes "gay conversion" therapy. DeVos said that she had nothing to do with the family-run foundation, and that if she was listed as an officer, it was a "clerical error."

On Wednesday, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)—who is getting her Senate career off to a very fast start, and leading the charge against DeVos—got her hands on 17 years' worth of tax returns for Focus on the Family, and found that DeVos was listed as vice president on all of them. The Senator observed that it's "concerning" to blame a clerical error for 17 straight years. Thus far, DeVos and the Trump camp have refused to comment, though this matter will undoubtedly come up very quickly when DeVos faces the Senate again. (Z)

Dozens of Democratic Representatives Now Boycotting Inauguration

Following the lead and the encouragement of Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a large number of Democratic members of the House of Representatives are going to skip Friday's inauguration. A partial list, along with their stated reasons:

  • Al Green (TX): "I will not attend the inauguration because conscience says it is the right thing to do."

  • Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA): "I thought long and hard about attending the Inauguration because I value our democracy and respect the office of the presidency, regardless of party. However, the disparaging remarks the President-elect has made about many groups, including women, Mexicans, and Muslims, are deeply contrary to my values. As a result, I will not be attending the Inauguration."

  • Keith Ellison (MN): "I will not celebrate a man who preaches a politics of division and hate."

  • Yvette Clarke (NY): "When you insult John Lewis, you insult America."

  • Ted Lieu (CA): "For me, the personal decision not to attend Inauguration is quite simple: Do I stand with Donald Trump, or do I stand with John Lewis? I am standing with John Lewis."

  • Kurt Schrader (OR): "I'm just not a big Trump fan. I've met the guy and never been impressed with him. I'll do my best to work with him when I think he's doing the right thing for the country. But he hasn't proved himself to me at all yet, so I respectfully decline to freeze my ass out there in the cold for this particular ceremony."

  • Barbara Lee (CA): "Donald Trump has proven that his administration will normalize the most extreme fringes of the Republican Party. On Inauguration Day, I will not be celebrating. I will be organizing and preparing for resistance."

  • Earl Blumenauer (OR): "There is unprecedented concern by my constituents about the many threats posed by a Trump administration seeking to implement the President-elect's policies on health, environment, nuclear weapons and immigration, to name but a few."

  • Maxine Waters (CA): "I wouldn't waste my time."

  • Zoe Lofgren (CA): "I acknowledge the fact that he is the incoming president, but I'm not in the mood to celebrate that fact."

  • Lloyd Doggett (TX): "We are sending a message to Mr. Trump. Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street."

In total, more than one in three Democratic representatives will be sitting this one out. This kind of mass abstention is unprecedented; generally speaking, the whole Congress is present (excepting those who miss the ceremony due to illness and/or other mitigating factors).

The question that many are asking is whether or not this is appropriate behavior. That is to say, do these individuals owe at least token respect to Trump on Friday, simply due to the office he will be assuming? The media are dealing with a similar kind of question right now: Do they owe it to Trump (and his subordinates) to try and cover their side of whatever story or issue may arise? Or is there a point that Trump & Co. yield that privilege as a consequence of dishonest, disrespectful, or discriminatory behavior? Consider some historical examples: At what point is red-hunting Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy no longer entitled to respectful treatment from his colleagues, or "we must cover both sides" stories from the media? What about segregationist governor George Wallace, or felonious congressman Jim Traficant? These are not easy questions, but there's certainly a case to be made that Trump—though not even inaugurated yet—has already passed the point where he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. (Z)

Five Areas Where Democrats Could Make a Deal with Trump

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said that on subjects where the Democrats agree with Donald Trump, they will work with him, rather than opposing everything he does. The Hill has compiled a list of five areas in which cooperation between Trump and the Democrats is possible, as follows:

  • Trade: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is already dead, and few Democrats are mourning its demise. Trump can single-handedly give notice to leave the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico, but will need to get the Senate to approve any replacement he negotiates. If the new agreement includes many restrictions and tariffs, quite a few Republicans, who generally oppose government interference in trade matters, will oppose it. So Trump may need Democratic votes to get a new treaty confirmed. This gives the Democrats some bargaining power for things they want, such as an increase in the minimum wage.

  • Minimum wage: Democrats have long wanted to raise the minimum wage, currently at $7.25/hour. Bernie Sanders dueled with Hillary Clinton during the primaries over whether it should be raised to $12 or $15/hour. Trump has at various times said he wants to raise it to $10/hour, but also said he doesn't want to raise it. If he finally decides he wants to raise it, virtually all Democrats will support him and many Republicans will oppose him.

  • Infrastructure: In principle, Democrats should be willing to back Trump's call for spending a trillion dollars on fixing America's crumbling infrastructure, but the devil is in the details. If Trump wants to spend federal money to improve roads, tunnels, bridges, harbors, and airports, many Republicans will automatically oppose it, so Trump will need many Democratic votes to pass such a bill. However, if Trump's preferred method of improving infrastructure is selling roads to private companies for pennies on the dollar in return for vague promises to improve them (followed by their being converted into toll roads), that is not going to get much help from Democrats. Similarly, if the deal is to give private companies big tax breaks for fixing infrastructure, Democrats won't sign on. Nevertheless, there is some potential for cooperation here.

  • Medicare drug-price negotiations: Trump has said he wants Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies, something the Democrats love and the drug companies hate. Current law forbids such negotiations, and few Republicans will be willing to help repeal it, so Trump will need to do it largely with Democratic votes. If Trump pushes hard on this, Republicans from states and districts with many seniors will get a lot of pressure to vote for repeal, so this is a fruitful area where Trump could work with the Democrats.

  • Social Security: During his campaign, Trump promised to keep Social Security intact, despite Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-WI) opposition. Again here, Trump's postion is closer to what the Democrats want than what the Republicans want, so Trump could use Democratic votes to thwart Ryan.

There are a lot of maybes here, but there's almost no question that on occasion it will be (the former Democrat) Trump and the blue team vs. the red team. (V)

Why Not Al?

Back when he was merely a comedian and pundit, Al Franken wrote a book entitled, Why Not Me?: The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency. The volume imagined, with much humor, what it would look like if Franken ran for and won the White House.

Since then, of course, there have been some interesting developments in Franken's career. He became a U.S. Senator, and one with a reputation for hard work and being able to reach across the aisle. He earned kudos for the reasoned discussion he had with anti-Obamacare activists at the Minnesota State Fair. He's taken a leading role in asking tough questions of Donald Trump's cabinet picks. He's an excellent public speaker, witty, intellectually gifted, comes from a Midwestern state, and has the potential to unify the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic Party. Oh, and the main criticism lodged against him when he began his political career—that his background is in television and not in governance—is kind of a dead issue these days. The point is that Franken should be viewed as, at very least, a dark horse for the Democratic nomination in 2020—and maybe even more than that. It's possible that, one day, that book he wrote will prove to be quite prescient, and that he'll be America's first Jewish president. (Z)

Canada Gets Its Own Trump

Speaking of television stars, Canadians are going to have an opportunity to follow America's lead and put their government in the hands of a wealthy businessman best known for starring on a reality TV show. Specifically, entrepreneur Kevin O'Leary, from the venture capital-based show "Shark Tank." Like Trump, O'Leary plays something of a villain on the show, where he goes by the ironic nickname "Mr. Wonderful."

Like Trump, O'Leary has no political experience. Nonetheless, he will stand for the leadership of Canada's Conservative Party, dueling for the honor with at least a dozen other challengers. Though the Conservatives are right-leaning, O'Leary has already made a point of outlining how his vision is different from Trump's—no walls, pro-choice, pro-legalization of drugs, etc. He's smart, well-heeled, and well-connected, so his candidacy is being taken very seriously by the Canadian media and political establishment (who may have learned a lesson from what happened with Trump, who was consistently underestimated). It is worth noting, however, that O'Leary would only become Canada's leader if (a) he takes over the Conservative Party, and (b) the Conservatives take over parliament. Since the next parliamentary election is not scheduled until October 21, 2019, it would take a while for Mr. Wonderful to become Mr. Prime Minister, even if everything goes as planned. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan18 At Least 18 Million Would Lose Health Insurance If the ACA is Repealed
Jan18 GOP Representatives Getting an Earful about Obamacare
Jan18 DeVos Has a Rough Day
Jan18 Trump Unready for a National Security Crisis
Jan18 New Poll: Trump's Approval is Deep Under Water
Jan18 Woman Sues Trump for Defamation
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Jan17 Trouble for Trump Appointees
Jan17 Trump Has Been Trying to Do Business in Russia for Decades
Jan17 Trump's Opinions on Russia Have Shifted
Jan17 Trump, Price, and Hatch Don't Agree on What the ACA Replacement Should Look Like
Jan17 White Supremacists No Longer Hailing Trump
Jan17 Poll: Trump Can Keep Businesses but Should Release Tax Returns
Jan17 Obama Leaves Office with a 58% Approval Rating
Jan17 Trump Reaches 20M Twitter Followers
Jan16 CIA Director Brennan Rips into Trump
Jan16 Feinstein Says Russia Altered the Election Outcome
Jan16 Trump Calls NATO Obsolete
Jan16 Trump Won't Visit African-American Museum After All
Jan16 Thousands Rally to Resist Repeal of the ACA
Jan16 Constituents Ask ACA Questions, Their Congressman Flees
Jan16 Inauguration Gets Some Performers
Jan16 Mr. Trump: Please Attack Me Next
Jan14 Trump's Cabinet Is Not on the Same Page as Trump
Jan14 What Will Trump Do? We Should Know February 6
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Jan14 Mexico Will Respond Immediately to a Border Tax
Jan14 Lee May Propose Tariff Bill
Jan14 For Liberal Media, Trump is Good For Business
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Jan13 FBI, DOJ to Be Investigated
Jan13 Russia Could Now Focus on Hacking Members of Congress
Jan13 Trump Gets Pushback on Plan to Move Israel Embassy
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Jan13 Both Parties Have Unstable Coalitions
Jan13 Why Trump Can't Let Go
Jan13 Majority of Americans Want Trump to Quit Twitter
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Jan12 Senate Takes First Step Toward Repealing Obamacare
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Jan12 Booker and Lewis Testify Against Sessions
Jan12 Chao Sails Through Easily
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