Dec. 06

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Trump Picks Dr. Ben Carson to Be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Once again, President-elect Donald Trump demonstrated that what is most important to him for top positions in his administration is unswerving loyalty. Expertise and competence in the material the appointee will have to handle don't matter. Yesterday, he showed this by nominating Ben Carson to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson is a famous doctor and knows a lot about brain surgery, but knows nothing about running a sprawling government bureaucracy. His department has an annual budget of $50 billion and manages mortgages worth $1.6 trillion. The department's mission is to help low- and middle-income people find affordable housing.

The department is also a terrific place for corruption, which is no doubt part of the reason Trump wants a loyalist there. The department issues many contracts to build affordable housing. Why give the contracts to complete strangers when you can give them to your (or the president's) friends? Since Carson is in way over his head, the situation could be ripe for scandals related to building contracts, mortgages, and other real estate issues, something Trump understands well and cares about a lot.

Carson, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the nominee for Attorney General, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), the nominee for the Department of Health and Human Services, and Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education, are all going to have rough confirmations. While Democrats don't have enough votes to defeat any of them, and they can't be filibustered, the Democrats do have some weapons. They can force the Senate to hold many procedural votes on each nominee and can force up to 30 hours of debate on each one. Confirming the entire cabinet could take weeks, maybe even months.

One nominee who will sail through with no opposition at all is Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation. Not only does she have an MBA from Harvard, but she served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation in George H.W. Bush's cabinet and Secretary of Labor in George W. Bush's cabinet. She also happens to be married to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. As a final added attraction, she was born in Taiwan and can no doubt defend the island when the subject of Taiwan-China relations comes up in cabinet meetings. (V)

53 Organizations Urge Trump to Dump Flynn

53 progressive organizations, including Americans for Peace Now, J Street, MoveOn, and Veterans For Peace have sent a joint letter to President-elect Trump pleading with him to reconsider his plans to appoint Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor. "While deserving respect for the time he has served our country in uniform," they write, "we feel General Flynn is unfit for serving in this critical post. His appointment will damage America's standing in the world and pose a threat to our national security." They are particularly concerned about his various foreign entanglements, and his history of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

MoveOn, et. al., are to be commended for their efforts, but they surely know that Trump values their opinion about as much as he values that of "Saturday Night Live." If he takes notice of their letter at all, it will be to hang it in the Oval Office for laughs. Well, he might also put it in the bathroom, to be used for a different purpose. If the progressives had been smart, they would have told Trump that they absolutely insist that he appoint Flynn immediately, or else. Because the best way to get Donald Trump to do something, of course, is to order him to do the opposite. (Z)

Trump's 35% Tariff on Products Made by American Companies Abroad is Dead on Arrival

One of the few policy points that Donald Trump consistently made through his campaign is his promise to institute a 35% tariff on goods manufactured abroad by American companies that have moved their factories to other countries. Sounds easy, right? Yes, but Congress is the body that sets tariffs, not the president, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said yesterday that he was not in favor of such a tariff. In his words: "I don't want to get into some type of trade war." McCarthy wouldn't even commit to bringing Trump's tariff proposal to the floor of the House for a vote. Conservatives are very much against tariffs as government interference in the free market, so McCarthy will get plenty of support for his position. What McCarthy sees as top priority for saving jobs is to cut the corporate income tax from 35% to 15%. He said with such a low tax rate, companies will prefer to stay in the U.S. That is extremely unlikely to happen. The reason they move to Mexico is not for better tax treatment, but because labor costs $3/hour there. That will remain the case no matter what the corporate tax rate is.

What we are starting to see is that while Trump has ideas of what he wants, more or less, Congress often has different ideas. In the end, Congress often wins. Furthermore, modern legislation is extremely complex, with many bills weighing in at hundreds of pages. Congressional committees have the expertise to put in all the details they want. Trump is never going to read a 500-page bill that Congress sends him and with cabinet officials like Carson, who know nothing about the departments they are running, Congress may run roughshod over Trump in areas where where he knows little and neither do his close associates. (V)

Electors Are Pushing for John Kasich

A movement is developing among people who feel that Donald Trump is unsuited to lead the country and its goal is to get as many presidential electors as possible to defy their state laws and cast their votes for Gov. John Kasich (R-OH). The argument is that Trump is extremely divisive but Kasich would be able to unite the country behind him. In order to derail Trump, 37 Republican electors would have to defect from Trump to Kasich (or someone else). If Trump gets fewer than 270 electoral votes, the new House picks the president from the top three electoral-vote getters, with each state having one vote.

This project is unlikely to be successful in getting 37 electors to be unfaithful, but a more intriguing possibility exists in the states Hillary Clinton won. Suppose a substantial number of electors vote for someone other Clinton, say Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Vice President Joe Biden. That would not affect the election results at all, but it would generate a lot of discussion about whether the Electoral College has outlived its usefulness when the electors can blithely ignore the voters and vote for anyone they want to. Although some states have laws saying electors must vote for the person who won their state, no one has even been prosecuted for being a faithless elector.

One last-ditch effort by Democrats is also being talked about. It is to get Hillary Clinton to formally release all of her electors and ask them to vote for Mitt Romney (or maybe John Kasich) for president. While it would be difficult for Democratic electors to vote for any Republican for president, by voting for Romney they would be conceding that the Republican Party won the election and that the president should be a Republican. Just not Trump. If the 232 Democratic electors all voted for Romney, it might not be hard to find 38 Republican electors to do likewise. As a concession to conservatives (who hate Romney), the electors could vote for Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) for vice president. It is an unlikely scenario, but in this crazy year, never rule out anything. (V)

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Are Moving to D.C.

Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, are moving to D.C. with their three children. Anti-nepotism laws make it impossible for Trump to appoint Ivanka to any government post. The situation around Kushner is less clear. But since Ivanka and Jared are multimillionaires, the absence of an official title and salary won't prevent them from meeting with the president frequently and giving him informal advice.

Where things get sticky is that The Donald wants his adult children—including Ivanka—to run his company. If she is both running part of his company and also giving him policy and political advice, the possibility for conflicts of interest is enormous. Oh, and by the way, she is also likely to be something close to the acting First Lady.

Trump's youngest child, Barron, is staying in New York with his mother, Melania Trump. School could be an issue here. The school of choice for high-ranking government officials is the Quaker Sidwell Friends School. It is probably the only school in D.C. to have the security needed for the offspring of high-profile government figures. For Ivanka, this is unlikely to be a problem since she is a sophisticated young Manhattanite with many liberal friends, including Chelsea Clinton and the daughter of Michael Bloomberg. Her oldest child, Arabella Rose, is 5 and will need school immediately. The other two, Joseph Frederick and Theodore James, are of preschool age. For Donald Trump, having Barron go to a liberal Quaker school could be a real problem. (V)

Trump Meets with Gore

Donald Trump met with Al Gore on Monday. With that under his belt, now all Trump needs to do is visit the graves of Andrew Jackson, Samuel B. Tilden, and Stephen Grover Cleveland, and he'll have the complete set of Democrats who won the popular vote and yet lost the election.

The subject of the meeting, of course, was global warming. Given Trump's stated intention to tear up the Paris Accords, it's certainly interesting that he took time to hear what Gore has to say. Since Gore is a very good advocate for his position, and since Ivanka Trump was at the meeting and is a believer in what Gore has to say, and since Trump tends to listen to whoever was the last person he talked to, it could be that The Donald may not end up as a denier after all. If so, it is going to make a large portion of his base, not to mention a large number of his GOP colleagues, very angry. (Z)

Michigan Recount Commences

The Pennsylvania recount is in limbo, while the Wisconsin recount is already happening. On Monday at noon, Michigan joined the Badger State, following an order from U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith. This means that Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette was stymied in his effort to stop the recount. Clinton trails Donald Trump in the Wolverine State by fewer than 10,000 votes. It's very unlikely that a recount will flip that many votes, though stranger things have happened. (Z)

Democrats Try to Cajole Heitkamp and Manchin to Stay in the Senate

Top Senate Democrats, like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), are worried that Donald Trump will offer Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) the position of secretary of agriculture and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) the position of secretary of coal (formerly energy). If he does and they accept, the Democrats would almost certainly lose two Senate seats in 2018 since their bench is extremely thin in both states and their only hope to hold the seats is to have a sitting senator run. In addition, if Trump got two Democrats to serve in his cabinet, he could brag about how bipartisan he is. While Senate Democrats can badger Heitkamp and Manchin, in the end it is up to Trump to make the offers and for the senators to decide if they will accept or not.

In policy terms, both are clearly acceptable to Trump. To start with, he is a city boy and has no interest in farms or farmers, so whatever Heitkamp did would be fine with him. Manchin is even better. He is from a state whose only industry is coal mining and would undoubtedly set about eliminating any restrictions on coal usage that fall in his domain and well as taking measures to stimulate the use of coal as a national policy. This would fit it very well with Trump's promises to blue-collar men in general and coal miners in particular. (V)

Susan Collins Has Reservations about Repealing the ACA and Medicare

Assuming that the Republicans win the Senate runoff in Louisiana a week from today, they will have only 52 seats in the Senate. To formally repeal the ACA and Medicare, which are high on the agenda of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), they will need 60 votes in the Senate. But to cripple the laws so they don't actually function, they can use the budget reconciliation process, which can't be filibustered. Yesterday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) made it less likely that the Republicans could achieve even a de facto repeal using reconciliation, when she she said that she had "reservations" about upending these programs (English translation: Don't count on my vote). If two more Republican senators also develop "reservations," Republicans may not be able to muster even a simple majority in the Senate. Other Republican senators whose positions on these matters will be crucial are Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who is a moderate, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who is unpredicatble. (V)

Biden Hints at 2020 Run

Before 2016, it was generally understood that there were such things as "too inexperienced" and "too old" to be the President of the United States. Now that the former has gone out the window, the latter may be headed that way, too. Joe Biden spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday, and was asked—apparently tongue-in-cheek—about a 2020 run for president. He replied—again, apparently tongue-in-cheek—that, "I'm going to run in 2020...What the hell, man." Not long thereafter, and in a considerably more serious tone, the Veep said, "I'm not committing not to run. I'm not committing to anything. I learned a long time ago, fate has a strange way of intervening."

There's no doubt that Biden still has the taste of the Oval Office still in his mouth, and that he would absolutely love to be the conquering hero who rides into town to knock off Donald Trump in four years. He certainly has some great selling-points, not the least of which are his blue-collar roots and folksy persona. However, he is 74 years old right now, and so would be 78 on Election Day in 2020. Since every modern candidate aspires to be a two-termer, his target would be to leave office at the age of 86. That might work for a U.S. Senator, who can be wheeled into the Senate chamber and propped up when a vote is taken (see Thurmond, Strom), but the presidency is a much more rigorous job. In case he needs a reminder of how much the responsibilities age a man, he might want to take a look at this photo of a 63-years-old-going-on-103 Franklin D. Roosevelt. And even if Biden is willing to take his chances, the voting public presumably is not. So, put this in the "highly unlikely" file. (Z)

McCrory Concedes in North Carolina Gubernatorial Race

Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) thought it would be a good idea politically to force transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, so he signed a bill, HB 2, mandating that. Oops. Bad call. He was defeated for reelection by about 10,000 votes. Until yesterday, he was fighting for his political life, but yesterday he gave up and conceded defeat to state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D). However, Cooper's elevation to the governor's mansion doesn't mean that there won't be more bills like this, because the Republicans in the state legislature have enough seats to override gubernatorial vetoes. (V)


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