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GOP 52
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  • Strongly Dem (182)
  • Likely Dem (18)
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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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GOP pickups vs. 2012: FL IA MI OH PA WI
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump To Inherit over 100 Judicial Vacancies
      •  Stephen Miller to Pen Trump Inaugural
      •  Obama: I Could Have Won a Third Term
      •  Four Cabinet Nominations that Could Fail
      •  Falwell: Tillerson's Social Views Are Not Relevant
      •  Israel Remains Front and Center
      •  Tom Arnold Also Remains Front and Center

Trump To Inherit over 100 Judicial Vacancies

When Barack Obama took over from George W. Bush, he inherited 54 openings for federal judges. When Donald Trump takes over from Barack Obama on Jan. 20, he will have 103 vacancies to fill, close to double what Obama had. The reason is simple: Senate Republicans have blocked most of Obama's appointments. Trump has promised to fill all the slots with conservatives in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Activists on the right are giddy at the prospect.

Nevertheless, it is not as though Obama has had no impact on the courts. He has had 329 of his nominations confirmed, compared to 326 for George W. Bush. Unlike House and Senate terms, which end at predictable moments, federal judges serve until they retire or die, so it is hard to predict how many new vacancies will occur during the next 4 or 8 years. Also, the judges most likely to leave in the next 4 years are more likely to be Bush appointees than Obama appointees.

Finally, there is Senate tradition to contend with. As a courtesy to senators, judges are generally not confirmed if any senator from the state where the judge would have jurisdiction opposes the nomination. Currently 28 states have at least one Democratic senator and they are not likely to approve of extreme picks. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a traditionalist and is not likely to break with this custom. Thus, if Trump comes with extreme candidates, in some cases a Democratic senator could have a de facto veto over the candidate. (V)

Stephen Miller to Pen Trump Inaugural

Donald Trump has asked Stephen Miller, his incoming senior White House adviser for policy, to write his inaugural speech. This puts an end to speculation that the President-elect would improvise his remarks, as he often does at rallies. Otherwise, the choice is not a surprise, as Miller has penned most of Trump's pre-written speeches, including his coolly-received convention address.

The speech is expected to touch upon some of the major themes of Trump's campaign, including jobs, infrastructure, border security, and jobs and outsourcing. Trump expects to give substantial input, and wants the address to be more nationalistic than ideological. There is no truth, however, to rumors that the event will be filmed by Leni Riefenstahl. (Z)

Obama: I Could Have Won a Third Term

In an interview published yesterday, President Obama said that had he been allowed to run for a third term, he would have won it. He said that his vision of "one America" would have mobilized a majority of Americans to vote for him again. He pointed out that the younger generation is smarter, more tolerant, more innovative, more creative, and more entrepreneurial than ever. His approval rating is currently 56%, so his statement is probably true. He also said all the Republicans—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in particular—can do is throw sand in the gears. (V)

Four Cabinet Nominations that Could Fail

It is unusual for a Senate controlled by the president's party to shoot down any of his cabinet nominations, but this is an unusual year, some of the candidates are highly controversial, and the Republican majority in the Senate is only 52-48, meaning it would take just three defectors to kill a nomination. Here is a quick rundown of four candidates who could meet some resistance:

  • Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State: Tillerson was an unusual pick to start with, since he has no government experience at all. Furthermore, it is very rare of a secretary of state to have deep ties to a foreign country, and certainly not to an adversary like Russia. In addition, Tillerson ran a joint U.S.-Russian oil firm in the Bahamas, a notorious tax haven. For foreign policy hawks, Russia is not a friend and if Tillerson is a friend of Russia, that is a big problem. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) all are potential "no" votes and all are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will vet Tillerson. A single defecting Republican there could kill the nomination.

  • Jeff Sessions, Attorney General: As a sitting senator, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) should be able to zip through the confirmation process easily, but that is not going to happen. In 1986, Ronald Reagan nominated him to be a district judge but the Republican-controlled Senate committee examining his record voted him down. This was only the second time in 50 years that the Senate killed a federal judge nomination. So far, no Republican in the Senate has openly said he opposes Sessions, but some of them might just be keeping their powder dry. Keep an eye on Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for indications that there is trouble a-brewin'.

  • Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury: Mnuchin is a former Goldman Sachs banker who has no experience in government. What he has a lot of experience in is foreclosing on 36,000 California homeowners during the 2008 housing bust. He bought a bank called IndyMac and then did everything possible to force as many people as possible out of their homes, including a 90-year-old woman who misread a mortgage bill and paid 27 cents too little. Trump said he wanted to corral the big banks, but putting a big banker in the treasury position, which includes overseeing the banks, is a strange way to do it. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have set up a website where people can tell their stories about "Foreclosure King Mnuchin." Count on them to read a number of them during the hearings. Even if Mnuchin is confirmed, the hearings could damage him and Trump.

  • James Mattis, Secretary of Defense: Mad dog Mattis is a legend but legally, Mattis is ineligible to be defense secretary. A 65-year-old law says that anyone who has been on active duty in the military in the past 7 years cannot serve. He retired from the Marine Corps in 2013. To become eligible, both chambers of Congress would have to give him a waiver. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), for one, has said the one of the basic principles of American democracy is civilian control of the military, so she will fight against a waiver. Whether she gets enough other members of Congress to agree with her remains to be seen.

Again, presidents generally get their appointments through, but when it takes only one or two Republican defections in the committee and only three on the floor to scuttle a nomination, any of these might go down in flames.

Trump's transition team knows this is coming, so it has set up teams of "sherpas" to guide the nominees through the process. This includes crash courses about how the nominee's department works, what it does, and what the flash points are. It will also instruct them on how to be polite to senators, even when they think the senators are stupid and grandstanding. In fact there will be "murder boards" (mock confirmation hearings) to give the nominees some practice and dealing with harsh questions. In addition, many public relations officials will be out there praising the nominees and telling the country how terrific they are. (V)

Falwell: Tillerson's Social Views Are Not Relevant

Evangelicals are amazingly flexible. Donald Trump, a gay-friendly, twice-divorced serial philanderer who once owned casinos and almost never goes to church got a larger percentage of the evangelical vote than Mitt Romney, a deeply religious man. Now, Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, has demonstrated his flexibility (or what some would call hypocrisy) by defending Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. Tillerson's sin is opposing a ban that kept young gay boys out of the Boy Scouts. Normally, Falwell is strongly anti-gay, but he made an exception for Tillerson because he doesn't believe the former ExxonMobil CEO will ever have to weigh in on such issues. Needless to say, the secretary of state constantly deals with countries that have draconian laws about homosexuality and can very much weigh in on them, especially when those countries want something from the U.S. (V)

Israel Remains Front and Center

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, perhaps emboldened by the prospect of the upcoming Trump presidency, has continued to flex his muscles. On Monday, the Israelis suspended "working ties" with 12 of the 14 nations that voted in favor of the U.N. Security Council Resolution condemning continued settlement of the West Bank. The 12 are Britain, France, Russia, China, Japan, Ukraine, Angola, Egypt, Uruguay, Spain, Senegal, and New Zealand. Beyond the United States, the only nations spared from Netanyahu's wrath were Malaysia and Venezuela, who don't actually have diplomatic missions to Israel.

As we noted yesterday, Netanyahu is playing a pretty risky game of poker here. First of all, it's not generally a good thing to stand in opposition to a wide segment of the international community, including 80% of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Beyond that, his actions could encourage (previously?) close allies to take the plunge and formally recognize Palestine as a nation. That includes the UK, France, and possibly even the United States. In fact, former President Jimmy Carter penned an editorial on Monday pushing for Barack Obama to do that very thing before leaving office. And once that particular bell is rung, it is virtually unheard of for it to be unrung. (Z)

Tom Arnold Also Remains Front and Center

It is rare that a C-list celebrity makes as many headlines as Tom Arnold has recently. Last week, he declared that he has access to the rumored "Apprentice" footage of Donald Trump, wherein the President-elect is documented saying all manner of impolitic things, including liberal use of racial slurs. On Christmas, Arnold was back at it, with a lengthy and hard-to-parse series of tweets. In them, Arnold seems to imply that the footage will soon see the light of day; he concluded his tweet storm with the declaration that, "Watergate-level journalists are on top of this."

Ostensibly, the reason that the footage has not already been released is that it could harm the lives and careers of the producers/editors who put it together on a lark long before Trump was a politician. However, in his tweets, Arnold provided a justification for releasing the footage that could give him (or anyone else who has it) cover: The fear that a foreign government might acquire the clip(s) and use them to blackmail The Donald. Trump is clearly a bit nervous; his team reportedly already contacted Arnold and threatened a lawsuit. By all evidences, Trump has good reason to feel that way. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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