• Democrats Want Tillerson's Tax Returns
• Drama Surrounds Trump's Last Few High-Profile Appointments
• Trump Probably Can't Sell D.C. Hotel Without Losing Money
• Ross Will Make Trade Policy
• Republicans' First Defeat Could Be Defunding Planned Parenthood
• Clinton Beat Trump By 2.864 Million Popular Votes
• Trump Sons Disclaim Involvement With Fundraiser
• O'Reilly Shows His True Color
Billionaire Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of education and a champion of charter schools, has contributed to the campaigns of 17 senators who will vote on her confirmation. Four of them sit on the Senate Education Committee, which will vet her. These are Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Tim Scott (R-SC). DeVos and her husband have also contributed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). When Trump talked about draining the swamp during his campaign, hiring people who have contributed to the campaigns of the people who will confirm or reject them was apparently not something he considered fishy. DeVos herself sees no problem here, although she once wrote: "We expect a return on our investment."
Some Democrats see her political donations as a problem, but not all. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said: "Penny Pritzker was a fantastic secretary of commerce, and she probably made a few donations to Democrats over the years. I don't worry about those donations." (V)
As part of the process for becoming secretary of state, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson filled out a questionnaire provided by the members of the Senate. One of the questions asked whether the would-be Secretary was willing to provide three years' worth of tax returns. This is voluntary for cabinet appointees (and for presidents, apparently), but Tillerson appeared to answer in the affirmative, writing, "If asked, I will make tax return information from the past three years available on a confidential basis for appropriate review." With this answer in hand, Senate Democrats asked for the returns, only to be told that they would not be made available, only "information" about them.
Needless to say, "information" about Tillerson's tax returns is likely to be about as instructive as the "information" we have about Donald Trump's health. Both Republicans and Democrats know that there's something in those documents that would be embarrassing to the nominee. It might just be garden-variety tax-avoidance trickery, or it could be something more specific that would illustrate the extent Tillerson is beholden to the Russians. In the end, though, the Exxon CEO is going to win this one, since he's not breaking any laws by keeping the returns to himself, and Senate Republicans do not appear like they are going to insist upon receiving the documents. (Z)
The key players for Team Trump are almost all in place, but that doesn't mean the drama is over, particularly since there are more loyalists left than there are important jobs to fill. Further, the establishment faction (led by Reince Priebus) and the outsider faction (led by Steve Bannon) are both eager to lay claim to as many bones as they can. So, the last few jobs are inspiring much more interest than would normally be the case.
The biggest question mark is Corey Lewandowski, who was loyal to Trump from the beginning, something that The Donald values very highly. In fact, he's the de facto leader of the so-called "Trump originals," the group of GOP operatives who were behind Trump when everyone else in the party was laughing at him. If that faction gets no representation in the administration, they will be very upset. However, Lewandowski also ran afoul of both the GOP establishment (particularly Priebus) and of Trump's family (particularly son-in-law Jared Kushner). So, whether Trump keeps him or kicks him, it's going to be painful. A possible resolution is that they find a job for him "someplace where he can't do too much damage," according to one insider. This is reminiscent of Andrew Jackson's appointment of James Buchanan as minister to Russia. Asked about the decision late in his life, Old Hickory said, "It was as far as I could send him out of my sight, and where he could do the least harm. I would have sent him to the North Pole if we had kept a minister there!" Perhaps Lewandowski should be investing in some very warm clothes right now.
There is also intrigue surrounding the post of press secretary. There, the favorite is Sean Spicer, a close friend of Priebus', and as much of an insider as it gets. Needless to say, this does not please Bannon, so he's pushing for a co-secretary arrangement, with the other slot to be filled by Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle. It's not clear, however, if Guilfoyle would even take the job, since it would be a huge pay cut for her.
Not all of the remaining jobs are tied up in drama, however. Political director (former Chris Christie aide Bill Stepien, an insider), communications director (communications adviser Jason Miller, an outsider), and advance director (campaign advance chief George Gigicos, an outsider) all appear to be set. In any event, it's likely that the final decisions will be announced sometime this week. (Z)
Donald Trump's flagship hotel is in a renovated D.C. post office, for which he has a 60-year lease (with renewal options). The lessor is the federal government, which he will be in charge of as of Jan. 20. Thus, in future negotiations over terms of the lease, Trump will be present at the negotiating table as the lessor and also as the lessee. Some people feel this could lead to a bit of a conflict of interest, since he will be setting his own rent and other conditions. The lease he signed requires him to give up his interest; assuming that provision is enforced, he may just try to transfer the property to his sons. That might fulfill the letter of the law, but of course the same conflict of interest problem would still be present.
However, selling the hotel to eliminate the conflict of interest won't be easy. Trump has put $212 million into the renovation for the 263-room hotel, or about $806,100 per room (80% of which was borrowed from Deutsche Bank AG). At that price, the hotel is very expensive, even by the standards of high-end luxury hotels. It could be difficult for him to find a buyer willing to pay so much, although it is not completely impossible. The D.C. Ritz-Carlton, not exactly a Motel 6 franchise, went for $581,400 per room, so Trump would need to get almost 40% more per room than the Ritz-Carlton just to break even. Since the hotel has been open for only 3 months, Trump can't even show prospective buyers uncommonly high annual occupancy rates that might justify an exceptionally high price.
If there were a bid of $806,100 or more, questions would immediately arise about whether the bidder was trying to curry favor with Trump for reasons unrelated to the hotel deal. This would be doubly suspicious if the bidder were a foreign company, especially one with close ties to some foreign government. Adding an extra complication is that most hotel chains prefer properties where the land and building are included in the purchase price, rather than ones in leased buildings. So even if Trump wanted to get rid of the conflict of interest, it might not be easy, short of taking a big loss. (V)
One of Donald Trump's most consistent promises, for over a year, has been to get tough on trade policy. He is now making that pledge more concrete by putting the new secretary of commerce, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, in charge of trade policy. In effect, this downgrades the not-yet-selected U.S. Trade Representative to a minor role. In the past the USTR was the point person on trade, not the commerce secretary.
Ross made his billions buying up distressed steel companies that benefited from steel tariffs imposed by George W. Bush, so he knows a thing or two about companies that are hurting and how tariffs can help them. Trump has threatened to impose a 35% tariff on imports from U.S. companies that move their factories abroad. Congress sets tariffs, but if the new one goes along with Trump's plan, Ross will be the one implementing them and making the key decisions here (e.g., Can a company move 100 jobs to an existing factory abroad and escape the tariff? What about 300?).
One of the consequences of handing all the real power on trade to Ross is that Trump may have trouble finding a competent and knowledgeable person to serve as the USTR, given that the position is going to be stripped of nearly all its power. In theory, Trump could try to merge the USTR into the commerce department to make the chain of command explicit (i.e., the USTR reports to the secretary of commerce), but Trump has said he doesn't plan to do that. (V)
For years, Republicans have been trying to defund Planned Parenthood to stop it from performing government-funded abortions. Up until now, President Obama has vetoed these bills. Starting Jan. 20, things might be different. But there are a couple of problems here. First, by law, no federal funding may be used to pay for abortions, so it will be tough for Congress to reduce federal abortion spending, which is currently at $0. Second, if Congress does cut Planned Parenthood's funding for routine health care, millions of women may suddenly discover that they have no health provider for cancer screening and other services. Some of them may remember this next time they vote. Third, public opinion supports Planned Parenthood by majorities around 55-65%, so there may be political blowback, even from people who don't get their medical care there. Fourth, Democrats will certainly filibuster any bill to defund Planned Parenthood, and even if the Senate parliamentarian rules that the budget reconciliation process can be used, the Republicans may not be able to round up 50 votes in the Senate. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are already on record opposing defunding, so all it would take is one more Republican to oppose it. An early defeat on a high-profile issue that the Republicans have fought hard for in the past won't look good. Finally, even if a bill passes, no one knows what the president will do with it, given that he has praised Planned Parenthood in the past.
More generally, Republicans may learn the hard way that when you pass unpopular bills that you know will be vetoed, you have a lot more freedom than when they might be signed and people negatively affected by them know whom to blame. (V)
With the final vote totals now certified in all 50 states plus D.C., Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2,864,974 votes, the largest margin for any losing candidate in history. By way of contrast, Al Gore beat George W. Bush in 2000 by only 543,895 votes. Clinton's margin over Donald Trump was 2.1%. Third-party candidates, primarily Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Evan McMullin took a surprisingly large 5.7% of the popular vote. (V)
Yesterday, we noted that Donald Trump's two adult sons seemed to be involved in a scheme to sell access to the President on Inauguration Day at $1 million a pop. This included a meet-and-greet on Inauguration Day plus a hunting/fishing trip with one of the Trumps. Now, they deny having anything to do with the plan whatsoever.
At this point, there seem to be two basic possibilities. The first is that the people organizing the "fundraiser" used the Trumps entirely without their knowledge or consent. This seems very unlikely. The second is that the Trumps were (and maybe still are) involved, but that the negative attention caused them to distance themselves. If so, it's a strong argument for persistent vigilance by the media, given the seeming potential for corruption within the incoming administration. (Z)
Fox News' most popular personality, Bill O'Reilly, has always been cantankerous and outspoken. In the last year, however, he's taken things to some...concerning extremes. There was, for example, his apologia for slavery. Or his rant about Black Lives Matter and how violent the black community is. On Tuesday, he added a racially-charged diatribe about efforts to abolish the Electoral College:
Very few commentators will tell you that the heart of liberalism in America is based on race. It permeates almost every issue—that white men have set up a system of oppression and that system must be destroyed. The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with. The left wants power taken away from the white establishment and they want a profound change in the way America is run.
It's interesting that O'Reilly sees this statement as a criticism, as well as some sort of secret insight that only he has. Most Democrats would argue that it is neither. In any event, this declaration (not to mention the ones about Black Lives Matter and slavery) would be right at home on Stormfront, or davidduke.com, or any other white nationalist website.
It's hard to say what has pushed O'Reilly to these new extremes. Is it because he's getting older? Or because he's nearing the end of his contract and/or retirement? Or is it the general milieu created by Donald Trump? Could be any or all of the above, but one wonders if Fox will be interested in continuing to give him a platform when his contract ends next year, given their desire to appeal to a younger (and presumably less race-focused) demographic. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec20 North Carolina's HB-2 Bites the Dust
Dec20 Vinnie Viola to be Secretary of the Army
Dec20 More Data on Why Clinton Lost
Dec20 Bill Clinton: Comey and the Russians Did Hillary In
Dec20 An Early Look at the 2020 Democratic Field
Dec20 Why Michelle Obama Won't Run for Office
Dec20 Why Republicans Suddenly Love Putin
Dec20 Are Trump's Sons Already on the Take?
Dec19 It's Election Day Today
Dec19 Trump to China: Keep the Drone
Dec19 Congress Could Demand Sanctions against Russia but Trump Could Refuse
Dec19 Conway Denies that Trump Had Contact with Russia
Dec19 Brazile Contradicts Obama, Says Russia Kept Hacking Until the Very End
Dec19 Fact-Check Trump's Tweets in Real Time
Dec19 Nate Silver: If Comey Had Kept Quiet, Clinton Would Have Won
Dec19 Comedian Says He Has Unreleased Apprentice Footage
Dec19 Trump Taps Mick Mulvaney for Budget Director
Dec19 Ghosts of Administrations Past Coalescing Behind Tillerson
Dec19 Trump May Not Take Action Against Russian Hackers
Dec19 Trump Reveals Some Details of His Plan for His Businesses
Dec19 Trump Grill Gets Fried
Dec19 North Carolina GOP Smacks New Governor
Dec19 Montana House Seat in Temporary Limbo
Dec18 Trump Taps Mick Mulvaney for Budget Director
Dec18 Ghosts of Administrations Past Coalescing Behind Tillerson
Dec18 Trump May Not Take Action Against Russian Hackers
Dec18 Trump Reveals Some Details of His Plan for His Businesses
Dec18 Trump Grill Gets Fried
Dec18 North Carolina GOP Smacks New Governor
Dec18 Montana House Seat in Temporary Limbo
Dec17 Trump Would Have Crushed Sanders
Dec17 Trump Tries to Calm His Supporters
Dec17 Clinton Said that She Was Beaten by Putin and Comey
Dec17 FBI Agrees with CIA that Russia Helped Trump Win
Dec17 No Briefing for Electors
Dec17 Trump Has Assembled a Team of Bosses
Dec17 Perez Throws His Hat into the Ring
Dec17 Americans Have No Idea How Many Muslims Live in the U.S.
Dec16 Democrats and Republicans Differ on How to Investigate the Russian Hacking
Dec16 Trump Thanks Black Voters for Not Voting
Dec16 Graham Explains How Tillerson Can Get His Vote
Dec16 Trump Cabinet a Wee Bit Top-Heavy
Dec16 Trump Picks Hardliner for Israel Ambassadorship
Dec16 Whither the Democrats?
Dec16 Could 2017 Be Worse than 2016?
Dec16 Net Neutrality in Jeopardy
Dec16 Bill Gates: Trump Could Be Like JFK
Dec15 Romney Gets the Job after All
Dec15 Fiorina Being Considered for Intelligence Director