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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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Comey to Testify before House Committee Today

FBI Director James Comey will testify in public today before the House Intelligence Committee. The Committee members want to know what the FBI is doing to investigate Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. The FBI has already said that the Russians hacked the DNC email server and released the emails through WikiLeaks, but the committee members want to know other things as well. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), wants to know if there were U.S. persons who helped the Russians in any way. He also wants to know if there was any collusion. Comey was burned last October when he released information about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server before the investigation was complete. He is unlikely to take many chances today and probably won't divulge much.

However, the hearing won't be for naught. The committee members are certain to press him on the subject of whether Barack Obama had Donald Trump wiretapped during the campaign. That testimony could be explosive either way. If he says there was absolutely no wiretapping, he is calling President Trump a liar. If he says there was wiretapping, he is calling former President Obama a liar. Of course, he could cop out and say the investigation is ongoing. (V)

Rand Paul Predicts the AHCA Will Fail to Pass Congress

Yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said that he doesn't believe the votes are there in the Senate to pass the AHCA, which he calls "ObamaCare Lite." His objection is the tax credits, which he sees as another entitlement program that he and other conservative senators oppose. He said that when he ran for the Senate in 2010, it was not on a platform of making the entitlement subsidies permanent. If the House approves the bill on Thursday, it will move to the Senate and we will soon see if Paul is right. (V)

Ryan Is Betting the Farm on the AHCA Vote

The stakes are huge for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Donald Trump when the House votes on the AHCA bill on Thursday. During Ryan's entire 16-month speakership, priority #1 has been repealing the ACA. On Thursday we will find out if he has done his part. Donald Trump also has a lot of skin in the game, but his position is different from Ryan's. If the bill passes the House but is killed in the Senate, Ryan can say he did his job and the failure belongs to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). For Trump, that excuse won't work. His supporters think that he should be using his great negotiating skills to get the bill through both chambers of Congress.

If the bill fails in the House, Ryan will be badly wounded. He probably won't lose his job because the Republicans really don't have a backup speaker waiting in the wings, but his credibility will be shattered and he will lose effective control of his caucus. It will be questionable if he can go from a loss Thursday to success on a tax bill, so he has a tremendous amount riding on the vote.

To some extent, Ryan is fighting with one hand tied behind his back. He knows that the bill has to meet the Senate's requirements for a budget reconciliation bill, which gives him far less freedom in crafting something that could sail through the House. So Thursday is a crucial day for Ryan. If the bill passes, his prestige and power is increased (also with respect to Trump) but if it fails, he may become something of a lame duck. (V)

Joni Ernst Is Not Sure If She Will Vote for the AHCA

Two senators have said they will definitely not vote the the AHCA bill in its current form, Rand Paul and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). However, several others are having second thoughts about it. That group got a new member yesterday when Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said: "I am legitimately undecided on this." That's not an unequivocal "no" like Paul, but it isn't a "yes" either. Ernst said her state of mind is "deliberative" as a result of talking to her constituents, many of whom are not too keen on the new plan. About 150,000 Iowans benefited from Medicare expansion and another 50,000 got subsidies to buy healthcare insurance on the ACA exchanges. At one of her town meetings, a constituent held up a sign reading: "Sen. Ernst please don't castrate Obamacare," a reference to her 2014 political ad about cutting pork. (V)

Trump Has "Eyes and Ears" Installed at Every Cabinet Agency

It is now well known that Donald Trump is well behind schedule when it comes to filling all of the various jobs he needs to fill. A Washington Post report helps to explain at least part of the problem: hiring priorities. At the behest of Trump, or of one of his underlings (Steve Bannon?), every cabinet department is required to have one or more "White House Senior Advisers," whose job is to keep an eye on the various secretaries and to monitor their loyalty. These advisers either share office space with the secretary they are shadowing, or else are next door, and report on a weekly basis (or more frequently) to the the Office of Cabinet Affairs, which is overseen by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn. While many high-ranking government positions go unfilled (including two cabinet seats), all of the senior advisers are firmly in place.

This way of organizing things is exceedingly...Russian. So much so that Brett Byers, the senior adviser assigned to keep an eye on Sec. of Defense James Mattis, is already derisively referred to around the Pentagon as the "commissar" (the title given to Soviets who performed the same task for the Politburo). This approach certainly says something about the administration's priorities, and its openness to having its ideas examined. It's also shocking that anyone thinks this can work long-term. The people who rise to the point of being cabinet secretaries are not used to being supervised as if they were children, and it is unlikely that they will all be willing to tolerate this for four years (or even one year). Already, for example, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is pushing back, banning senior adviser Don Benton from many meetings. Further, this arrangement is absolutely guaranteed to breed distrust, suspicion, backbiting, and, most of all, leaks. For an administration that has already shown concern about the sieve-like nature of the Trump White House, this is not the way to fix the problem. (Z)

It's Not the Economy, Stupid

Democrats who think the way to win over Trump supporters is to offer economic policies that will help them might want to read the results of a focus group Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg held in Macomb County, MI. Here are some of the conclusions:

  • Trump's base is extraordinarily loyal: Not one of the 35 people surveyed had any regrets about voting for Trump. They still believe that Trump gives them hope. They also accept his "alternative facts." They like the fact that he is blunt and outspoken.

  • It's the culture, stupid: Greenberg believes that offering Trump voters some version of the economic plan proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the primaries won't work. The economy isn't their top concern. What they worry about is the changing American culture, immigrants, and terrorists. Race relations were also a major concern. You can't buy off someone who hates minorities by offering to raise his pay a bit.

  • ObamaCare is widely disliked even among people who benefit from it: Among people who voted for Obama and then Trump, the ACA was relatively popular. However, among others, there were plenty of horror stories about the law. People complained about premiums, co-pays, and the cost of medications. In fact, what they really want is cheap insurance that covers everything. If Santa Claus were to run for president in 2020, he would win in a landslide.

  • No one was interested in supporting the Democrats: Despite having policy preferences that often align with what the Democrats want, many members of the focus group were not open to supporting Democrats. Greenberg found that when he provided two profiles, one a populist economic one and one aimed at helping businesses be more competitive, people preferred the populist one. Yet there was no enthusiasm for Democrats such as senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Given findings like these—and Greenberg is not the first one to come to these conclusions—Democrats are going to have a very hard time winning back Trump supporters by offering them economic policies that help them. (V)

Secretary of State Cannot Operate in Secrecy

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has worked hard to fly under the radar since his confirmation, avoiding public statements, declining interviews, and issuing press releases infrequently. On those occasions where he does allow the media to cover his activities, Tillerson tries to limit the coverage to friendly outlets only, such as when he granted Fox News the exclusive privilege of covering his visit to the DMZ in Korea. This approach to foreign policy mirrors the style the Secretary preferred during his tenure at ExxonMobil, negotiating deals in secret, and presenting them to his Board of Directors as a fait accompli.

In a perceptive analysis for the New York Times, David E. Sanger argues that this approach cannot work, long-term. First of all, because nature abhors a vacuum. If Tillerson and the State Department do not provide a narrative for what's going on in China, or North Korea, or the Middle East, then someone else—someone less friendly to American interests—will step in and do it instead. Beyond that, we no longer live in a world where the United States can speak softly and carry a big stick. Nearly every important diplomatic question requires multinational cooperation, which means building a consensus while negotiations are ongoing. If Tillerson gets out too far ahead of international opinion, things could blow up in his face, somewhat akin to how so many Americans felt blindsided by Obama's TPP. So, if the Secretary wants to be effective, he's surely going to have to change his style, whether he likes it or not. (Z)

Trump Approval Rating Hits a New Low

A new Gallup poll shows that 37% of Americans approve of Donald Trump and 58% disapprove. This is Trump's lowest rating in the Gallup poll so far. In a Fox News poll earlier this month, Trump did slightly better, with a 43%/51% rating. (V)

Meetup Wants to Organize Anti-Trump Resistance

Meetup is a website and app that facilitates meetings between like-minded people. This includes games, hiking, movie trips, political discussions, Alcoholics Anonymous meet-ups, dates, and so forth. Now, the site's founders have told their 30 million members that they want to be a hub for anti-Trump protests. They have hired Clinton's former digital organizing director, Jess Morales Rocketto, to oversee the initiative, and will also work with a group called the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

As a political matter, this is certainly unhappy news for the Trump administration, which hates protesters. Past experience, particularly the case of the Arab Spring, indicates how effective social media can be as a vehicle for mobilizing resistance. As a business matter, Meetup's decision is being called "risky," but that's open to debate. Undoubtedly, Meetup's users skew young, educated, wealthy, and urban. In other words, blue state/anti-Trump. This could easily drum up more business than it costs. And if Meetup manages to monetize anti-Trump sentiment, other entrepreneurs could well take notice. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar19 Goodbye RyanCare, Hello TrumpCare
Mar19 Muslim Ban Will Have Unintended Consequences
Mar19 Russian Company that Paid Flynn Was Deemed "Unsuitable" by the Pentagon
Mar19 Russians Have Invested $100 Million in Trump Buildings
Mar19 DHS Is Soliciting Proposals for a 30-Foot High Aesthetically Pleasing Wall
Mar19 Kellyane Conway's Husband Will Run the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division
Mar19 Gorsuch Is Not a Slam Dunk
Mar19 West Virginia Newspaper Slams Trump
Mar18 Collins Will Vote Against Healthcare Bill
Mar18 Trump and House Conservatives Agree on Key New Provisions to Healthcare Bill
Mar18 Healthcare Nomenclature Keeps Changing
Mar18 Freedom Caucus Looks to Bannon for Support
Mar18 What Has Trump Accomplished So Far?
Mar18 Trump Voters Among the Biggest Losers in the Trump Budget
Mar18 U.S. To Appeal Judge's Order on Muslim Ban v2.0
Mar17 Trump's Budget Hits Headwinds before the Ink Is Dry
Mar17 House Budget Committee Approves ACA Replacement
Mar17 Senate Intelligence Committee Also Finds No Evidence of Wiretapping
Mar17 Trump Sidelines the Grown-Ups
Mar17 Congressman Wants to Know if Trump Knew Flynn Took Russian Money
Mar16 Federal Judges Block Muslim Ban V2.0
Mar16 Lessons from the ACA Battles that Republicans Haven't Learned
Mar16 Healthcare Bill Is Needed to Make Tax-cut Bill Work
Mar16 Graham to Start Investigating Trump
Mar16 Nunes Says There is Zero Evidence that Trump's Phone Was Tapped
Mar16 List of Trump-Russia Connections Fills Up 118 Pages
Mar16 Paranoia Runs Rampant in the White House
Mar16 Dutch Voters: Populism? No Thanks
Mar15 Fifty Republicans Skeptical of Ryan's Healthcare Bill
Mar15 White House Analysis of Ryan's Healthcare Plan Foresees 26 Million Newly Uninsured
Mar15 Two More Pages of Trump Taxes Leak
Mar15 Sessions' Purge of the U.S. Attorneys Could Come Back to Haunt the Republicans
Mar15 Democrats' Unity in the Senate is Holding
Mar15 Is Trumpism an Export Product?
Mar15 "There's No Global Warming" May Soon Become Official U.S. Government Policy
Mar15 Justice Department to Go After Russians...For Hacking Yahoo
Mar14 CBO Concludes that 24 Million Fewer People Will Have Insurance Under Ryan's Plan
Mar14 Can GOP Win on Healthcare Bill?
Mar14 Trump Drops Obama Wiretap Claim...Or Maybe Not
Mar14 Economic Populism May Not Help the Democrats
Mar14 Steve King Goes Full White Supremacist
Mar14 Schumer Threatens a Government Shutdown in April
Mar14 Congressional Democrats to Propose Bill Banning LGBT Discrimination
Mar14 Kushners Get $400 Million from Chinese Firm
Mar14 Top Science Jobs in the Administration Are Nearly All Unfilled
Mar13 Republicans Are Brawling in Public over the New Health Care Bill
Mar13 CMS May Issue Report in Addition to CBO Report
Mar13 Merkel To Visit Trump Tomorrow with Some Bad News
Mar13 Trump Turns Out to Be No Pacifist
Mar13 ACLU Has Raised $80 Million Since the Election