Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Trump Tuesday: Give up on Health Care, Trump Wednesday: Finish Health Care

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump conceded that the health-care bill was dead and it was time to move on. Yesterday, he unconceded that and told the Senate to finish the job. He indicated that he was serious by threatening the most vulnerable Republican senator up in 2018, Dean Heller (R-NV). If he were to help knock Heller off, the Democrats would finally cheer him on for one of his actions. However, he seems unaware that three female senators are not happy with any of the health-care bills so far, and none of them are up in 2018. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is up in 2022, and Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Shelley Moore Capito (W-WV) are up in 2020. They won't be cowed by him and without their votes, no bill will pass the Senate.

In effect, Trump is already pretty close to a lame duck. A president's power comes from being able to either cajole or browbeat senators and representatives into doing his bidding. Trump has no ability to do either, so he is dependent on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to get 50 votes in the Senate and McConnell has been unable to do that, despite multiple tries. Trump's announcement yesterday changes nothing. If McConnell changes the bill to please the three women, conservatives will bolt. Straight repeal of the ACA isn't going to happen. There doesn't appear to be any way forward legislatively, despite Trump's demand for action.

Angry conservatives are threatening to primary opponents of the health-care bill, but they have the same problem Trump does: None of the three women are up in 2018. They could primary two senators who are up in 2018, Heller and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), but an unsuccessful primary campaign will only convince the senator that he doesn't need the conservatives and a successful one will create an open seat in the general election race, thereby giving up the Republicans' biggest advantage: incumbency. Besides, both Heller and Flake know very well that moving to the right will only make their general election efforts much more difficult. (V)

Last-Ditch Effort Being Made to Save Health-Care Bill

Many Republican senators met last night as part of a final effort to revive their health-care bill. The problem is that some of the senators want to cover more people and others want provisions that will make it cover fewer people. Those two are hard to reconcile.

The meeting lasted almost four hours and, according to those listening outside the door, sometimes got heated. Attendees generally agreed that it was productive, with some even calling it therapeutic. However, there is zero indication that any actual progress was made. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and legislative director Marc Short were waiting outside the room, so that they would be available for nuts-and-bolts negotiations, and possible arm-twisting. Things never got close to that point, and so eventually Mitch McConnell sent them home. Perhaps even more concerning for the GOP is that their two most intransigent senators—Susan Collins and Rand Paul (KY)—didn't even attend the meeting. In fact, more GOP senators were not present (32) than were (20).

It would appear that McConnell's current strategy, barring a change, is to move forward without actually telling his colleagues what they are voting on. He knows that he can't get to 50 on his replacement bill, and he can't get to 50 on a repeal bill, but thinks maybe he can get to 50 if he just asks the senators to open debate without clarifying exactly what bill will be debated. This approach definitely falls into the "Hail Mary" category. And if this is really what McConnell's hanging his hat on now, then he had better hope that large numbers of his fellow Republican senators fall off the turnip truck in the next week. (Z)

McCain Has Brain Cancer

As is usual with medical reports on important people, the initial public diagnosis greatly understates the real problem. In the case of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the public announcement attributed his absence from the Senate to a "blood clot." Now it has changed to "brain cancer." And not just any old brain cancer, but gliobastoma, an extremely deadly and aggressive form of brain cancer. This disease is what killed former senator Ted Kennedy.

McCain is a tough old bird and has survived aggressive cancers before, but he is 80 now. It is unlikely he will return to the Senate any time soon, greatly complicating Mitch McConnell's life, since without McCain's vote, it would take only two "no" votes to kill any bill McConnell brings up. Susan Collins and Rand Paul are probably "no" votes on just about anything, so the obituary may read: "Senate health-care bill dies of brain cancer."

If McCain should die or resign this year, Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) would name a temporary replacement. Under state law, the replacement must be of the same party as the departing senator, but since Ducey is himself a Republican, there is no danger of him picking a Democrat. If McCain's seat becomes vacant before the November 2018 election, the people of Arizona will get to choose the permanent replacement, who would serve until the end of McCain's term in January 2023.

McCain's death or resignation would create chaos in 2018, since two seats would be up for grabs in Arizona, McCain's and that of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). If the people of Arizona decided to pick two Democrats, it would give the blue team a shot at controlling the Senate, since all they need is a net pickup of three seats. Winning the two Arizona seats plus that of Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) would do the job. In the event of two Senate elections in Arizona in 2018, the candidates wouldn't even matter. It would be the national Republican Party against the national Democratic Party. The amount of money spent in the state would probably be the most in any state in history.

Observers don't expect Ducey to appoint himself, although that is legal. More likely he will appoint a placeholder who would not run in 2018. Senate vacancies are very rare in Arizona, so most likely many of Arizona's representatives would run in their respective parties' primaries.

Fortunately for the Republicans, as a senator, McCain has excellent health insurance, so repealing the ACA won't hasten his death. His wife is also extremely wealthy, so much so that in 2008 McCain wasn't able to answer a reporter's question about how many houses he owns. It subsequently turned out that his family owns eight properties, so it is understandable that he couldn't keep track of all of them. (V)

Repealing the ACA Would Leave 32 Million More People Uninsured

One of the options floating around the Senate now is to repeal the ACA and maybe replace it some time in the future, if Republicans can overcome their differences and agree to a new plan (with eight Democrats also getting on board). That is very unlikely and a new report from the Congressional Budget Office isn't going to improve the odds. The report says that a straight repeal of the ACA will cause 32 million people to lose health insurance. As if that weren't bad enough, the report also said that a clean repeal would leave half the country with no individual insurance options by 2020. This is not a situation that many Republicans would be proud to defend on the campaign trail next year. (V)

Trump Gives Rambling Interview, Slams Sessions

Donald Trump sat for a lengthy and far-ranging interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, and it was...something. It started as a discussion about health care, and went from there. The portion that is making all the headlines came about two-thirds of the way through, when he threw Attorney General Jeff Sessions right under the bus:

So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have—which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, "Thanks, Jeff, but I can't, you know, I'm not going to take you." It's extremely unfair, and that's a mild word, to the president. So he recuses himself. I then end up with a second man, who's a deputy. Who is he? And Jeff hardly knew. He's from Baltimore. Yeah, what Jeff Sessions did was he recused himself right after, right after he became attorney general. And I said, "Why didn't you tell me this before?" I would have—then I said, "Who's your deputy?" So his deputy he hardly knew, and that's Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.

Sessions has been unfailingly loyal to Trump, starting way back when most other Republicans saw The Donald as a joke. He must be delighted to learn that the President is so unhappy with his service that he's willing to tell the world he wishes he had hired someone else. Yet another reminder that Donald Trump demands loyalty, but he doesn't give it.

Thanks to the Sessions-related material, there are many other parts of the interview that won't get as much attention as they probably should. On a number of occasions, as is his tendency, Trump seemed to be seriously divorced from reality. For example, discussing his recent European trip, he said, "So I go to Poland and make a speech. Enemies of mine in the media, enemies of mine are saying it was the greatest speech ever made on foreign soil by a president." While some people who are very friendly to Trump liked the speech (i.e. Newt Gingrich), there is no way that anyone—much less his enemies—judged it to be the greatest presidential speech on foreign soil. That's a fairly small subset of presidential speeches, since presidents don't normally speak on foreign soil, but surely Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" or Reagan's "Tear down this wall" is still champion, depending on one's political predilections.

The interview additionally touched on Trump's recently-disclosed second meeting with Vladimir Putin. For the first time, The Donald revealed the subject of their conversation: adoption. Of course, we've previously had a Trump tell us that was the subject of an undisclosed meeting with Russians, and it turned out to be untrue. So, that information should probably be taken with several grains of salt.

The President also veered off on some very strange tangents. He talked, for example, about visiting Napoleon's tomb last week, which segued into a discussion of the French general's failed attack on Russia in 1812, which then led, naturally enough, to Adolf Hitler. "Hitler wanted to consolidate," Trump said. "He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army." This is a terribly garbled account of Operation Barbarossa, with the president conveying a couple of correct bits of information, but in a manner that's wildly incomplete, rather misleading, and almost incomprehensible. And while it doesn't matter too terribly much if the President of the United States is well versed in the finer points of Axis strategy during World War II, one has to wonder if he processes information this badly when it involves, say, present-day U.S. strategy in Syria.

The unhappy news is that, if this interview is any indication, the answer to that question is "yes." Much has been written, including by us, about the President's mental acuity. While he once spoke like the Ivy-league graduate that he is, he now speaks at a sixth-grade level, according to those who study such matters. And reading what he had to say on Wednesday, that assessment seems far too generous. Consider, in addition to the quotes already given above, this bit from the discussion of health care:

As they get something, it gets tougher. Because politically, you can't give it away. So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you're 21 years old, you start working and you're paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you're 70, you get a nice plan. Here's something where you walk up and say, "I want my insurance." It's a very tough deal, but it is something that we're doing a good job of.

"Sixth-grade level" suggests someone who speaks clearly, but a bit simply. This is not simple, however, it's incomprehensible. It's nearly impossible to discern exactly what point Trump was trying to make. And this isn't cherry-picked; the whole interview is full of things like this, where the reader is left to guess what the heck it was the President was trying to say. That should probably be the real story; it certainly was when John McCain rambled on in this same fashion just over a month ago. But because the media is skittish about accusations of bias, and because "Trump attacks Sessions" makes for a more salacious headline, it won't be. (Z)

Supreme Court Rules that Muslim Grandparents and Cousins Are Welcome in the U.S.

When the Founding Parents wrote the Constitution, a top priority was clearly allowing Muslim grandparents to visit their grandchildren in the United States. At least, that is the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation. In the current system, the Supreme Court gets to try to figure out what James Madison had in mind on issues he obviously never spent a second thinking about. The most recent example came yesterday, when the Supreme Court kind of, sort of, upheld part of Donald Trump's Muslim ban v2.0, but made it a bit less restrictive by ruling that some relatives (like grandparents and cousins of people already in the U.S.) could visit the U.S., even if they came from six majority-Muslim countries banned by Donald Trump's executive order. The ruling was an attempt at some sort of compromise between admitting no one from the target countries and admitting everyone. Opponents of the ban cheered, but the idea of the Supreme Court micromanaging immigration policy does seem somewhat strange as this is typically the sort of thing the executive and legislative branches handle. In recent decades, however, virtually every public policy issue ends up in the Supreme Court, so here we are.

Trump did get a partial victory, as the Court overruled the judge in Hawaii on the question of admitting refugees assigned to a U.S. resettlement organization. These are all temporary rulings; the justices also announced that they would hear arguments on October 10 with an eye toward making a final ruling on the travel ban. Those who read the SCOTUS tea leaves suggest that Trump is headed for a 6-3 defeat if he presses forward with this. Ergo, his wisest course of action would probably be to take the two half-victories he's already been given by the Court, declare that he has triumphed, and announce around October 1 that stricter vetting procedures are now in place, making a ban no longer necessary. (V & Z)

Trump Jr., Manafort, Kushner to Testify Before Senate Judiciary Committee

There are lots of people who want to talk to have a chat with Donald Trump Jr. and his friends about their meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and her many colleagues. It turns out the Senate Judiciary Committee will get the first crack. Junior and onetime Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will testify publicly next Wednesday, while first son-in-law Jared Kushner will testify on Monday. Unlike the other two, Kushner will talk to the senators behind closed doors, which should keep whatever he says secret for at least an additional 10 minutes.

Presumably, the trio will spend the rest of this week making sure they all tell the same story. They are also very unlikely to reveal much of anything that we haven't already heard. After all, every time Trump Jr. presents a new version of his story, the New York Times comes out with an item six hours later proving that he lied. So, probably best to stick with the story that's already out there, as opposed to trying to concoct a new one. (Z)

Rohrabacher's Support for Putin May Hurt Him

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has long been a friend of Russia. But next year, his friendship with Vladimir Putin may come back to haunt him. Since he represents an Orange County, CA, district that Hillary Clinton won, he will be one of the Democrats' top targets. Up until now, Rohrabacher's love of Russia hasn't been much of an issue, but now with Russiagate going full blast, it is likely to become a major one. If special counsel Robert Mueller concludes that Trump or his associates have had shady dealings with Russians, Democrats are going to have a field day hitting Rohrabacher for being pro-Russia.

Up until now, Rohrabacher has won reelection easily each time. However, Orange County is becoming less conservative each year. Democrats may have a strong candidate in Hans Keirstead, a stem cell researcher who formed a company to treat spinal-cord injuries and sold it for a reported $100 million. His background in the medical field as well as his success as a businessman could make him a popular candidate in the affluent well-educated CA-48 district that runs along the coast and includes Costa Mesa, Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach, and Newport Beach. Newport Beach is the wealthiest city in Southern California, with a median home value of $1.5 million.

Rohrabacher isn't the only California House Republican in a district Clinton won in 2016. Four others represent Southern California districts: Ed Royce, Mimi Walters, Darrell Issa, and Steve Knight. Two others represent the Central Valley: Jeff Denham and David Valadao. All but Denham's district will be top Democratic targets in outward-looking, globally-oriented California next year. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul19 Health-Care Plan F: Do Nothing
Jul19 Another Attendee at the Trump Jr. Meeting with Russian Lawyer is Named
Jul19 Trump Had Second Meeting with Putin at G20
Jul19 Collapse of GOP Health Care Effort May Be Bad News for Russia
Jul19 Trump's Presidency Is in Deep Trouble
Jul19 More Polls, More Bad News for Trump and the GOP
Jul19 Electoral Integrity Commission to Hold its First Meeting Today
Jul19 What's Made in America? Not Trump Products
Jul18 Four Senators Oppose Motion to Proceed on Health-Care Bill
Jul18 Trump Is the Least Popular President Since World War II
Jul18 More Americans Want Trump Impeached than Wanted Nixon Impeached
Jul18 Investigators Are Probing Trump's Digital Operation for Collusion with Russia
Jul18 Flake Is between a Rock and a Hard Place
Jul18 Democrats Are Looking to the Blue Dogs to Win Back the House
Jul18 Urbanization of the West Is Becoming a GOP Nightmare
Jul18 Twitter Users Sue Trump
Jul17 More Setbacks for Health-Care Bill
Jul17 Trump Jr. Excuses, Part I: Blame the Secret Service
Jul17 Trump Jr. Excuses, Part II: Hillary Is Shady, Too
Jul17 Trump Jr. Excuses, Part III: Hillary Is Shady, Too (Alternate Version)
Jul17 Conway Says She is Criticized Because of Her Gender
Jul17 South Carolina Attacked 150,000 Times by Hackers on Election Day
Jul17 No Shortage of Democratic Candidates for Congress
Jul17 Jenner for Senate?
Jul16 More Setbacks for Heath-Care Bill; Vote Delayed
Jul16 Campaign Paid Donald Jr.'s Attorney $50K Shortly Before Meeting Was Revealed
Jul16 White House Tries to Move the Goalposts
Jul16 Trump's Approval Rating Remains Dismal
Jul16 Trump May Be Reaching His Tipping Point
Jul16 How Much Did Gerrymandering Help the GOP in 2016?
Jul15 Russian American Lobbyist Attended Meeting
Jul15 Kushner Hires a New Lawyer
Jul15 How Did the Trumps Get Here?
Jul15 Trump Lauds Transparency
Jul15 Another Trump Conflict of Interest Comes to Light
Jul15 Social Security Fund May Have 17 Years Left
Jul15 Two Papal Advisers Slam Trump Voters
Jul14 Meet the New Health-Care Bill, a Lot Like the Old Health-Care Bill
Jul14 Five Takeaways from the new Health-Care Bill
Jul14 Another Defeat for Muslim Travel Ban v2.0
Jul14 Kushner Wants White House to Forcefully Defend Meeting with Russian Lawyer
Jul14 Does Anyone in the Trump Orbit Know How to Behave?
Jul14 Will Mueller Run His Enron Playbook?
Jul14 Tim Kaine Has a 2018 Challenger
Jul14 Sessions Criticized for Speaking to Hate Group
Jul14 GOP Operative Committed Suicide
Jul13 White House Goes into Full Damage-Control Mode
Jul13 California Democrat Files Article of Impeachment
Jul13 Is Collusion with a Foreign Adversary a Crime?
Jul13 Trump Talked to Goldstone in Las Vegas in 2013