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  • Strongly Dem (182)
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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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GOP pickups vs. 2012: FL IA MI OH PA WI
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Comey Asked Justice Dept. to Reject Trump's Wiretap Claim
      •  New Travel Ban Coming Soon
      •  Reince Priebus' Time May Be Short
      •  About the Economy, Mr. President...
      •  The Battle of the Wall Is Starting
      •  2020 Is the End of the Line for Boomer Dominance
      •  Politics Meets Geometry
      •  Oprah 2020?

Comey Asked Justice Dept. to Reject Trump's Wiretap Claim

FBI Director James Comey is still working on changing his epitaph from "He helped Trump Win" to "He dispensed Justice evenhandedly." He has asked the Justice Dept. to publicly reject President Donald Trump's claim that Barack Obama tapped Trump's phone. Such a tap would have gone through the FBI, so Comey would have known about it and it would have been completely illegal. In effect, Comey is asking the head of Justice Dept. to publicly call the president a liar. One problem, however, is figuring out who's in charge. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from matters relating to Trump and Russia, so he might not be the one to do this (not that he would do it under any conditions). Comey is going to have trouble finding anyone at the top willing to do this.

Comey or no Comey, other Obama administration officials who would have known about any wiretaps of Trump have vigorously stated there were no such wiretaps. Yesterday, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, Jr., stated bluntly: "There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time as a candidate or against his campaign." Republican members of Congress are being cautious about the claim. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), for example, said that he was not aware of any evidence to back up the president's assertions.

The president's declaration, for which he provided zero evidence, was the talk of the town on all the Sunday talk shows. In addition to Rubio and Clapper (see above), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) appeared and called the claim "nonsense." So did Obama's press secretary, Josh Earnest. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said that Trump doesn't even understand how you get a wiretap. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said that he hasn't seen any evidence to substantiate Trump's tweet, but he wasn't troubled by the lack of evidence. (V)

New Travel Ban Coming Soon

Donald Trump has not gotten what he wants when it comes to his travel ban. The first one was blocked by the courts, and in a manner that essentially left the administration with no real path forward. Then, the DHS report commissioned by Trump came back negative: There's simply no basis for targeting the countries he wants to target. Still, like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill, Team Trump is nothing if not persistent. And so—despite previous setbacks—a new travel ban is coming soon, possibly as early as today. The exact contents of the new ban are not yet known, of course, though certain hints have been leaked. Iraq may well be removed from the list, leaving the number of countries affected at six. Green card holders will probably be exempted. And, despite Sean Spicer's repeated insistence otherwise, it is probable that the new order will explicitly revoke the old order.

As we have noted previously, this is more about political theater than it is about making Americans safe. Barring an unexpected change, the travel ban does not target the countries that have produced actual terrorists that attacked the United States (e. g., Saudi Arabia). In fact, it doesn't target any country where Trump does business and which might retaliate against such an order. Nor does it address, in any way, the fact—emphasized the the DHS' report—that the greatest threat to American lives comes from citizens or permanent residents who become radicalized (as was the case in San Bernardino, Orlando, etc.) And if there was any doubt that the order is being issued primarily for PR reasons, White House insiders advise that the document is actually already complete and was set to be issued last Wednesday, but that holding off until this week (that is, after the Sessions controversy has died down) will allow the new order to capture a greater share of the headlines. (Z)

Reince Priebus' Time May Be Short

Let us make a few observations:

  • The first six weeks of the Trump administration have been something of a mess.
  • In particular, the White House has not exactly run like a well-oiled machine.
  • When things go poorly, Donald Trump looks for someone to blame.
  • Trump is not terribly likely to point the finger at himself or his family members.
  • He's only slightly more likely to point the finger at the Steves.

If these suppositions are correct, then it means someone needs to take a fall and, by process of elimination, the only ultra-high-profile member of the White House team that is left is Reince Priebus. So, it is not much of a surprise to learn that the White House Chief of Staff is increasingly under fire. To some extent, he's a convenient scapegoat, though he's also done much to bring this on himself. After talking to a dozen White House staffers, Politico reports that:

[He is perceived as] a micro-manager who sprints from one West Wing meeting to another, inserting himself into conversations big and small and leaving many staffers feeling as if he's trying to block their access to Trump. They vented about his determination to fill the administration with his political allies. And they expressed alarm at what they say are directionless morning staff meetings Priebus oversees that could otherwise be used to rigorously set the day's agenda and counterbalance the president's own unpredictability.

Those White House insiders who have spoken on the record—Jared Kushner, for example—insist that Priebus still has the President's full confidence. That doesn't mean too much, however, given how often this administration says one thing and does another, sometimes within the same hour. And the content of this story, not to mention its very existence, has Steve Bannon's fingerprints all over it. If we have reached a point where Bannon and Priebus cannot coexist, well, that would appear to be a fight that Priebus cannot win. (Z)

About the Economy, Mr. President...

The United States economy has boomed since Donald Trump's election, with the stock market in particular performing very well, indeed. Though he pooh-poohed such data while Barack Obama was in office (while also declaring the country was an "economic "mess), Trump is now taking credit for the boom. Here is his tweet the morning after the Dow Jones broke 21,000 for the first time:

In the short term, Trump definitely has something to crow about (whether or not he deserves the actual credit). In the long term, however, things get more sticky, for a number of reasons:

  • Specifics: Right now, investors are envisioning all of their dreams coming true when it comes to economic growth, reduced regulation, and the like. However, the devil, as they say, is in the details. As Trump and Congressional Republicans get together and try to hammer out some actual legislation, the ideal world will be replaced by the real world. And the odds are that not all investors, brokers, and bankers will like what they see.

  • Consumer Spending: To a large extent, a booming stock market only matters if it encourages people to spend their money. For the month of January, consumption was down 0.3%, the biggest single-month drop in three years. That may be an aberration (people tend to spend less in winter, particularly right after Christmas) or it might not be.

  • The Fed: Given the United States' economic woes, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates down for a long time. That's not going to last forever, though. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has suggested that there might be three increases in 2017 alone, and more recently declared that a rate increase in March would be "appropriate" (the governors meet March 14-15).

  • Jobs: This is almost certainly the biggest obstacle for Trump when it comes to his campaign promises. The Rust Belt voters who put The Donald in the White House want jobs; to them, the stock market, and consumer confidence, and interest rates mean little. None of these things necessarily translate into more jobs. And the problem is that they (and Trump, at least in his rhetoric) are clinging onto a world that doesn't exist any more. It is easy to make trade agreements, or bad negotiation, or evil corporations who export jobs into bugaboos, but none of these are the real problem. The real problem, as we have pointed out many times, is automation. Those who have studied the matter, as in this report, conclude that roughly 85% of the no-longer-extant manufacturing jobs were lost to automation, while only 10% or so were shipped overseas. A comparison to farming is instructive; there was a time that 90% of Americans were farmers, now that number if 3%. If Trump were to promise that he'll bring back all those farming jobs; people would stare at him like he had two heads. Bringing back manufacturing jobs is not much more realistic.

There is still the possibility that Trump can create the hyper-charged economic utopia he has promised; rolling back regulations tends to stimulate the economy (at a long-term cost in public health and environmental damage), and his party does control both houses of Congress. However, the smart money says that he falls way short on most of his economic program. (Z)

The Battle of the Wall Is Starting

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is working out a plan to hand Donald Trump a sensitive defeat in his first year: Blocking the funding to build a wall on the Mexican border. Unlike some other measures, a bill to fund the wall cannot be passed using budget reconciliation. It has to go through the normal procedures and can be filibustered, which is what Schumer is planning to do. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), could abolish the filibuster once and for all, but Schumer is betting that McConnell won't do that since he knows the Republican majority in the Senate is tenuous and some day the Republicans will be in the minority.

Alternatively, McConnell needs to get eight Democrats to defect in order to invoke cloture and shut down the expected filibuster. One way to maximize the chances of getting red-state Democrats to defect is to attach the funding for the wall to a bill funding the military. Then, any Democrat voting against cloture will be attacked viciously in television ads for not supporting the troops. However, Schumer is good at counting. He knows that if he gives permission to the seven most endangered Democrats to vote for cloture the cloture vote will still fail, 59 to 41. While there are technically 10 Democratic senators up in states Trump won, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) probably aren't in much danger since their states are fundamentally blue and Trump carried each of them by under 1%. If the other seven vote for cloture, the motion will still fail and the wall won't be funded. That will be a huge embarrassment for Trump. (V)

2020 Is the End of the Line for Boomer Dominance

The 2020 election will be the first election in 40 years in which the Baby Boomers will not be the largest voting bloc. They will represent 28% of the voting eligible population. The millennials will be the largest bloc, at 34%, and they don't like Republicans in general or Donald Trump in particular. In one survey in the battleground states, 75% said Trump is a racist, an equal number said he was anti-woman, and almost 70% are ashamed of him. However, there are a couple of catches for the Democrats. First, the millennials have a miserable turnout record. Second, Hillary Clinton did appreciably worse with them than Barack Obama did, with the missing millennials voting for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or not voting at all. To get them back and get them to vote, the Democrats are going to have to find an exciting, progressive candidate. More of the same won't cut it with them. (V)

Politics Meets Geometry

Last week, the Supreme Court struck a (small) blow against gerrymandering by ruling that just because a district has smooth boundaries does not ipso facto mean there was no racial gerrymandering. Districts with jagged edges that sprawl out in all directions are nearly always gerrymanders, but with the help of modern gerrymandering software, state legislatures can now draw districts that are compact and have smooth edges but still have the desired effect of letting the folks drawing the map win more districts than they could with a neutral map. Now a math professor at Tufts, Moon Duchin, is giving a course to mathematicians about how to recognize gerrymandered districts and how to testify in court about them well enough to convince a judge and jury, who may have only minimal math skills. Demand for the course has been enormous, so Prof. Duchin will hold additional sessions in California, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin later this year.

In brief, the idea is to determine how efficient the districts are. The key to a successful gerrymander by party x is to create as many districts as possible in which about 55% of the voters have previously voted for party x. All the excess voters who voted for the other party are crammed into a small number of districts that the other party can win easily, while party x probably wins all the 55% districts. What the algorithm does is count how many votes are wasted in the sense of being more than needed to win. From these data, it can derive how artificial the districts are.

While this may seem abstruse, it is important. The Supreme Court has made it clear that racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional. When a party sues a state claiming that its map is a racial gerrymander, the courts need a clear test they can apply to see if the claim is true. A drawing of the map tells them very little, especially if the borders of the districts are smooth. Consequently, both sides call witnesses who are expert about both math and politics to testify in court. What this course does is train more people who already understand the math in the politics and procedures for testifying in court so there will be a bigger supply of them when needed. Sam Wang has also done good work in the area of algorithms to detect gerrymandering. (V)

Oprah 2020?

Unhappy about the political world they now inhabit, and looking longingly toward 2020, Democratic voters are spending a lot of times these days thinking about their dream candidates. With Michelle Obama unequivocally out of the mix, the scuttlebutt has now settled on Oprah Winfrey. It's easy to see Winfrey's appeal. She's a polished public speaker who knows how to use television to her benefit. She may be more able to rebuild the Obama coalition than anyone whose last name is not Obama. She can self-fund, if she so chooses. She's beloved by Americans on both sides of the political aisle. She is a great rags-to-riches success story. And while she has virtually no political experience, that ceased to be a problem in American politics roughly three months ago.

When she was first asked about this possibility, on Stephen Colbert's program, Winfrey was insistent that she was not interested. More recently, however, she has left the door open just a bit. It's still a bit of a longshot, though far from an impossibility. PaddyPower, for example, has the odds of Winfrey being nominated at 33-to-1, which puts her even with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and not too far behind Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA; 20-to-1), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ; 16-to-1), and Hillary Clinton (14-to-1). Certainly, stranger things have happened. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar05 Trump Was Furious about Sessions Recusing Himself from Russia Probe
Mar05 Trump Accuses Obama of Ordering Wiretaps
Mar05 Russia Problem Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon
Mar05 Obama's First Address Watched by More People than Trump's
Mar05 Trump is Already Doing Fundraising for 2018
Mar05 Democrats Are Using a New Tactic to Get Trump to Release His Tax Returns in 2020
Mar05 White House Considering Use of Military Force Against North Korea
Mar04 New Version of ACA Replacement Leaked
Mar04 Trump Mocks Schumer for Eating Donuts with Putin
Mar04 Evidence Against Sessions Mounts
Mar04 Pence: "No Comparison" Between My E-mails and Hillary's
Mar04 So Far, Tillerson Is an Invisible Secretary of State
Mar04 Trump Working to Raise Money for 2020
Mar04 How Midterms Differ from Presidential Elections
Mar03 Sessions Recuses Himself from Investigating Sessions
Mar03 Pence Used Private E-Mail Account
Mar03 The Fight for Trump's Brain
Mar03 Supreme Court Weighs In on Gerrymandering
Mar03 Yemen Raid Yielded No Intelligence
Mar03 Ohio Secretary of State Said that 82 People Voted Illegally
Mar03 McMaster Was Rebuked by the Army in 2015
Mar02 Sessions Looks to Be in Deep Trouble
Mar02 Handicapping Trump's Promises
Mar02 NYT: Five Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 CNN: Six Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 The Hill: Five Takeaways
Mar02 USA Today: Six Takeways
Mar02 Response to Trump Speech is Largely Positive
Mar02 Graham Wants a Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Their Tax Returns
Mar02 Conway Looks Likely to Get Off Scott Free
Mar01 Trump Addresses a Joint Session of Congress
Mar01 Trump Signals Openness to Amnesty
Mar01 Betsy DeVos Steps in it Again
Mar01 Banning Reporters from a Press Conference May Be Illegal
Mar01 FBI Was Going to Hire Christopher Steele
Mar01 Trump's Management Style Is Unchanged
Feb28 Trump to Address Congress Tonight
Feb28 Trump and Ryan Are on a Collision Course
Feb28 Does the U.S. Really Need More Military Spending?
Feb28 Trump in Prime Form on Monday
Feb28 Wilbur Ross Confirmed for Commerce
Feb28 Spicer Says There Is Nothing Further to Investigate about Trump-Russia Ties
Feb28 Bush Calls Media "Indispensable to Democracy"
Feb27 Dewey Defeats Truman at Academy Awards
Feb27 Governors Don't Agree on ACA Replacement
Feb27 Leaked Report Says Millions Will Lose Health Care under GOP Plan
Feb27 Democrat Wins First Post-Trump Election in a Landslide
Feb27 More Embarrassments for Spicer
Feb27 Democratic 2020 Candidates Compete To Be Most Anti-Trump
Feb27 Navy SEAL's Father Wants an Investigation