Sep. 19

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New Senate: DEM 49     Ties 1     GOP 50

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Judge Won't Testify before the Senate on Monday

No, not that judge. Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh's friend who was in the room when Kavanaugh allegedly tried to rape Christine Blasey Ford. Judge may have talked to a lawyer and discovered that there is no statute of limitations in Maryland for rape, attempted rape, and related crimes, so there is a big downside and little upside for him to testify. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) could subpoena him, but it is unlikely that he will do it, since he would prefer that the whole issue of Kavanaugh's behavior one night when he was about 17 would just go away.

In fact, it is not even certain that Ford herself will testify Monday. She said she was willing to take part in a fair proceeding, but her lawyer, Debra Katz, apparently has some conditions, such as the FBI completing its investigation first. So do some Democrats on the committee. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said yesterday that he also wants the FBI to finish its investigation. Coons also wants Kavanaugh, Ford, and Judge to appear before the Committee.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has a proposal to make the hearing fair. She wants Kavanaugh's lawyer to cross examine Ford and Ford's lawyer to cross examine Kavanaugh. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) suggested having an independent lawyer question all the witnesses, to prevent the senators from grandstanding.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was also unhappy with Grassley's proposed procedure. He wants just Kavanaugh and Ford to testify. Feinstein noted that when Anita Hill accused then-nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, there were 22 witnesses. Feinstein said that Grassley just wants to ram Kavanaugh through without a thorough vetting. The reality, of course, is that no senator wants a fair and impartial hearing. Every Republican wants to whitewash the whole affair and every Democrat wants to tar and feather Kavanaugh.

In short, exactly who will show up Monday and who will get to ask questions remains up in the air at the moment. It is also very possible that there will be no hearings on Monday at all. At this point, the GOP has a serious time problem on its hands. It is true that Grassley would like to get this done as rapidly as possible, but appearances matter a lot. If the Judiciary Committee does not seem to have given the allegations due consideration, and then the 11 Republican men on the Committee all vote to move the nomination forward, that could be very bad in terms of the suburban women voters the Party is desperately trying to hang on to. And if Ford is not willing to play along with Grassley's two-minute-drill, and instead is loudly making the point that the FBI hasn't even had a chance to look into all of this, it will be nearly impossible for the Republicans to move forward next week without risking serious blowback in November.

The alternative, if the Kavanaugh nomination is to be salvaged, is to keep the Judge on the back burner until everything has played out. However, this is also not a great option for the GOP. First of all, because the odds are good that Kavanaugh's position gets weaker and Ford's gets stronger as time passes. On Tuesday, for example, a friend of Ford's named Jim Gensheimer talked to the San Jose Mercury-News and said that Ford told him about the allegations back in July when Kavanaugh was first nominated, and that she wrestled mightily with the decision of whether to come forward or not, before ultimately deciding that, regardless of the personal costs, "she felt like somebody should know what this person was like and what he's done before." This gives further credibility to her version of events. In addition yesterday, denizens of the Internet managed to dredge up a clip of Kavanaugh being rather flippant about his adventures while a student:

Kavanaugh: “We had a good saying that we’ve held firm to to this day as the dean was reminding me before the talk, which is what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep. That’s been a good thing for all of us.”

— Evan Rosenfeld (@Evan_Rosenfeld) September 18, 2018

This is a riff on the old line about Las Vegas and/or New Orleans, and is generally meant to reference various sexual adventures. So, not the best joke to bubble to the surface at this time, if you're the Judge.

There is also the possibility that there is yet another woman with a story.

The problem with waiting on Kavanaugh is not merely that his position is likely to keep deteriorating vis-a-vis Ford's, however. It is also that the clock is ticking in terms of the midterm elections (November 6) and the installation of the new Congress (January 3). Every day that this lingers is another day that a pending Kavanaugh vote is likely to serve as an anchor around GOP candidates' necks. Further, every day this lingers is a day being wasted in terms of selecting, vetting, and voting on a replacement candidate, if that is how this ends up. It is already the case that a Kavanaugh replacement probably can't make it through the process by November 6, but if the Republicans drag their heels too much, they might not get it done before January 3, either. It's not impossible that by then there will be no GOP majority after that date (particularly if Democrats know that an open SCOTUS seat hangs in the balance on November 6). And if so, there goes Anthony Kennedy's seat, at least until 2021, and probably forever.

Add it all up, and many of the Republicans who are up this year fear Kavanaugh has become poisonous, and may not vote for him, regardless of what happens in the next round of hearings. Further, former RNC Chair Michael Steele went on Chris Matthews' show on Monday and said that because many Republicans think this is a "no-win" scenario, they are discussing ways to kill the nomination.

And finally, it is worth keeping in mind that the man who has more power here than anyone else, namely Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has been concerned since the beginning about getting Kavanaugh confirmed, has no particular investment in him as a candidate, and is unconcerned about embarrassing President Trump. What McConnell does care about is saving his majority, and making sure that some Republican ends up in the seat he pilfered from Barack Obama. So while McConnell is reportedly working hard behind the scenes to save the nomination, it would be very easy for him to conclude that his agenda is best served by Kavanaugh bowing out, post-haste. And if the Majority Leader tells a SCOTUS nominee, "I think you better withdraw your name from consideration," that's pretty much the end. Indeed, at this point, a "graceful" withdrawal is probably the likeliest outcome here, with "Kavanaugh confirmed" and "Kavanaugh rejected" following, in some order. (V & Z)

How to Tell the Strength of the Blue Wave

Axios has an article discussing ways to see how strong the predicted blue wave really is. It consists of looking at some races that are not on everyone's radar, but could be bellwethers of a strong blue wave if Democrats win them. Here is the list.

If either party wins all or most of these, it shows which way the wind is blowing. (V)

Why Are the Russians Visiting Mariia Butina in Prison So Much?

The gun-slinging Russian "student" Mariia Butina, who the U.S. government says is a Russian spy, has gotten no fewer than six consular visits since she was locked up. A former female U.S. spy, whose pen name is Alex Finley, found this intriguing, and wrote up a piece for Politico Magazine about it. She thinks there are three key reasons why the Russkies are so interested in her, none of them have anything to do with her well being.

In any event, the fact that the government caught a Russian spy who was trying to penetrate the conservative movement while being penetrated by the conservative movement is undoubtedly an important story, but which may never be told. (V)

National Debt Reaches post-WWII levels

As a predictable result of the GOP's tax bill, the national debt is ballooning at a rapid rate, and has now reached 78 percent of gross domestic product according to a new report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The last time that happened was right after World War II, when there was a pretty good reason for it, namely just having fought a massive war in which 16 million soldiers (and nearly as many civilians) were on the government payroll. The CBO further reports that if current laws stay in place, the debt will grow to 100 percent of GDP in 10 years, and 152 percent of GDP by 2048.

Needless to say, the Republicans who are running the country right now care little about all of this, despite their frequent campaign rhetoric to the contrary. And most voters don't appear to care either, which is why the politicians know they can get away with saying one thing and doing another. Still, a national debt that spirals out of control does have significant economic consequences. Some of those might even help trigger the recession that is inevitably coming, sooner or later. Meanwhile, if the upward trend in the debt is to be reversed, it will be left to the Democratic Party, which may be afforded some cover by how shocking the numbers really are. It's a strange time when the GOP is the party of "Hey, the Russians aren't so bad" and the Democrats are the party of "We really need to tighten our belts and stop spending so much money". Undoubtedly, LBJ and Barry Goldwater are both spinning in their graves. (Z)

Polish President Proposes "Fort Trump"

Most nations' leaders are pretty shrewd cookies. There is the occasional exception, of course, but any president or prime minister or monarch worth his or her salt is always looking for opportunities, and seizing upon them when they present themselves. Undoubtedly, many world leaders recognize that Donald Trump's #1 concern is his own glory, and that the needs of the United States are a runner-up, at best. And as a case in point, we learned on Tuesday that Polish President Andrzej Duda very much wants Trump to open a shiny new military base in Poland, which Duda suggests could be called Fort Trump.

Duda has reportedly offered to subsidize the base to the tune of $2 billion, which has Trump intrigued. Undoubtedly, the Polish president recognizes what his American counterpart does not, namely that Poland will get all that money back in the form of American money pumped into the local economy, and also in defense costs the Poles no longer have to bear because the U.S. is doing their job (mostly, keeping Russia at bay) for them. If this does somehow move forward, the comedians are going to have a field day, as the jokes practically write themselves:

How many walls does Fort Trump have?
None yet, but the President promises they will be built soon, and that Mexico will pay the bill.

How many Trump supporters does it take to build Fort Trump?
Only one. That's not actually enough to build anything, but it's ok, because it's Obama's fault.

Eric Trump got to decide which city in Poland would be home to Fort Trump. Which did he choose?

What the difference between Fort Trump and Pearl Harbor?
One commemorates the worst disaster in U.S. history, and the other is where WW II started.

What Fort was named after a president known for his ridiculous hair, his racism, and his 19th-century attitudes about women?
Fort Jackson.

Unfortunately for all those late-night talk show hosts with many minutes to fill, this is unlikely to happen, because while Trump may fall for Duda's chicanery, the folks in the Pentagon and Congress likely won't. (Z)

Stormy Daniels Hits Trump Where It Hurts

The Guardian has obtained a copy of Full Disclosure, the not-yet-released book by Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford), and it contains a few passages Donald Trump is not going to like. For example: "I lay there, annoyed that I was getting f**ked by a guy with Yeti pubes and a di*k like the mushroom character in Mario Kart." And it is small. Or this one: "It may have been the least impressive sex I'd ever had, but clearly, he didn't share that opinion."

She also noted that while she was with Trump, Hillary Clinton called and Trump chatted with her for a while about the race. And also that Trump told Daniels he really did not want to be president.

After the Guardian story appeared, Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, sent out this tweet:

The most important thing about @stormydaniels book is not the description of her sex with Mr. Trump. It is instead her description of her life and role as a modern woman unafraid to speak truth to power. I am proud to call her my client and my friend.

— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) September 18, 2018

Avenatti may believe that, but when the book comes out, the media is going to focus on Trump's anatomy, not Daniels' impoverished childhood in Louisiana. (V)

Ronan Farrow May Have the N-Word Tapes

There are two things about this story that are definitely true. The first is that the Emmy Awards ceremony was held on Sunday night. The second is that actor Tom Arnold, who has been searching for the "Apprentice" tapes in which Donald Trump allegedly uses the n-word and other offensive language, and "Apprentice" producer Mark Burnett got into a scuffle before the show. Thus ends the factual part of the story. And now, the rumor portion: Allegedly, the fight was caused because Arnold handed over incriminating Trump tapes to exposé master Ronan Farrow.

The story has not been picked up by most of the mainstream media, although a few reasonably legitimate sites, including Salon and The Root, have it. And there is just enough here for the story to be plausible. In any case, if Farrow does have the tapes, he won't sit on the story for long. The magazine that employs him, The New Yorker, releases new issues on Mondays, for what it is worth. (Z)

Democrat Tony Evers Is Leading Scott Walker in Wisconsin

Democrat Tony Evers is now ahead of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), 49% to 44%, according to a new poll from Marquette University Law School. Evers is up 3 points from last month's poll. Particularly noteworthy is that Evers has a 20-point lead among independents.

There are gubernatorial races all over the Midwest this year, including Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio, in addition to Wisconsin. Typically, related races tend to go the same way, so if Democrats are doing well in Wisconsin and Illinois (which they are), they could end up sweeping the lot of them. That would be a huge setback to the Republicans in both the 2020 races and in the matter of redistricting after the 2020 census is in. (V)

Today's Senate Polls

Now we have a poll of the Texas Senate race showing a wider gap than previous polls. In theory, any Republican ought to be able to win Texas, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is a surprisingly weak incumbent and Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) is a surprisingly strong challenger, so this race may see-saw until election day. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Maryland Ben Cardin* 56% Tony Campbell 17% Sep 11 Sep 16 Goucher College
Ohio Sherrod Brown* 49% Jim Renacci 32% Sep 05 Sep 15 Baldwin Wallace University
Texas Beto O`Rourke 45% Ted Cruz* 54% Sep 11 Sep 17 Quinnipiac U.
Virginia Tim Kaine* 52% Corey Stewart 36% Sep 04 Sep 09 SSRS
Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin* 53% Leah Vukmir 42% Sep 12 Sep 16 Marquette Law School

* Denotes incumbent

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