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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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Top Cabinet Officials Openly Disagree with Trump on Russia

Although Donald Trump seems to think Vladimir Putin is a cuddly Russian teddy bear, his top cabinet appointees think otherwise. Yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. sanctions on Russia would remain in place until Russia uninvades the Crimean Peninsula. Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tillerson declared: "We do not, and will not, accept Russian efforts to change the borders of territory of Ukraine." Also yesterday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis called Russia "a strategic competitor" and also said that Moscow was "mucking around" in foreign elections.

Together, Tillerson and Mattis have directly refuted their boss, who has suggested that the U.S. could accept Russia's annexation of the Crimea under certain conditions. So far, there is little indication that either of these top cabinet officials intends to back down. Of course, Trump could fire them, but that would no doubt cause a political scandal that he doesn't need right now. (V)

How Trump Could Get a Big Win Easily and Tear the Democrats Apart

By all accounts, Donald Trump is going to go for tax reform next. He thinks it will be easy, though he will soon learn that while all Republicans love to cut taxes, they don't agree on which taxes to cut. However, there is actually something else he could go after, that would be much easier and would force Democrats to make a gut-wrenching decision: prescription drug prices. As a candidate, he promised a new law to allow Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices for seniors and also to allow importation of drugs from Canada and other countries at prices far below what Americans pay.

If he were to pursue this project next, it would split the Democrats badly. The "Just say no to Trump" Democrats would be pitted against those Democrats who see lowering drug prices as a huge policy achievement. While most Republicans don't like the idea of the government meddling in health care, any Republican who supported Trump on this would be showered with kisses (and more important, money) from the AARP. There might well be enough combined Democratic and Republican votes to pass a bill and if he got it, it would be a huge win for him. And he likes winning. (V)

McCaskill Will Oppose Gorsuch

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would like to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed without killing the filibuster. That means he needs 60 votes, which in turn means he needs 8 Democrats. As a practical matter, he is far and away most likely to find those 8 among the 10 Democrats who will be running for re-election in 2018 in states Donald Trump won. On Friday, McConnell got some bad news on that front: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) will support the filibuster and will not vote for cloture.

McCaskill issued a carefully-worded statement, in which she tried her best to have it both ways, lamenting obstructionism as a tactic, but also declaring that, "I cannot support Judge Gorsuch because a study of his opinions reveal a rigid ideology that always puts the little guy under the boot of corporations." She also said Gorsuch, "has shown a stunning lack of humanity."

This means that, assuming he can't dig up a surprise Democratic defector somewhere, McConnell now has very little margin of error. Not making his task any easier is the fact that progressive groups are pushing hard for the DSCC to de-fund any 2018 candidate who votes for Gorsuch. Democratic leadership may or may not agree to that (they probably won't), but even if they refuse the request, activists will still have some ability to stanch the flow of money into the coffers of "apostate" candidates. So, the odds are pretty good that at least two more endangered Democrats are going to see the light in the same way McCaskill has. Which means that McConnell is probably going to have to decide whether he wants to keep Gorsuch, or he wants to keep the filibuster, because he likely can't have both. (Z)

Trump's Motto: Screw Them 10x Harder

Donald Trump doesn't have a lot of guiding principles that he sticks to no matter what, but he does have one: "If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard." This philosophy of life is something he picked up from the notorious Roy Cohn, who once was chief counsel for Joe McCarthy's witch hunts in the 1950s, and was later a New York lawyer with some dubious clients. Trump is still mad as hell at the Freedom Caucus for handing him a loss in the House on the AHCA bill and is likely to spend a fair amount of energy now trying to get back at the members who refused to support him. He certainly knows who the leaders are, including Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). The only question now is how Trump goes after them, and what the consequences are. If his driving passion for the next four years is to hurt them all in the worst possible way, is this going to win their votes on upcoming bills? And if not, is he going to be forced to deal with the Democrats, assuming they even want to deal? (V)

Top Government Officials Release Income and Net Worth

Late last night the White House released a report detailing the income and net worth of 180 top administration officials. Heading the list are Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who still own businesses worth as much as $740 million, Chairman of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn is worth between $253 million and $661 million. His income last year might have been as much as $77 million. Exact figures were not released because government ethics reports asks the official in which of several broad bands his or her income and assets fall, not the exact number.

Senior adviser Steve Bannon earned $191,000, $62,000, and $125,000 last year from companies backed by Republican megadonors Robert and Rebekah Mercer. His bank accounts were worth $2 million and his real estate holdings may have been worth up to $11 million. Kellyanne Conway earned over $800,000 last year and her assets are worth between $11 million and $44 million. Together with the cabinet, which has a number of billionaires and many millionaire, this is undoubtedly the richest administration in history. President Donald Trump campaigned on being the voice of the forgotten man but his personnel choices point in a different direction. (V)

Cornyn Might Be OK with a Temporary Tax Cut

One of the reasons the Republicans' tax-cut plan is not going to have smooth sailing is that few Democrats are expected to vote for it. This means the Republicans have a choice: Either go for a permanent tax cut, which would require getting eight Democrats to sign up for it, or go for a temporary tax cut using the budget reconciliation procedure. The latter would automatically expire after 10 years, but doesn't have to be revenue neutral. Yesterday, the #2 Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn (R-TX), said that he is open to a temporary tax cut so there won't be a big fight about where to raise new revenue to make the bill not add to the deficit. Going this route is easier, except that in 2027, the tax cuts will spontaneously expire unless Congress votes to extend them. Up until now, most Republicans have been focusing on permanent tax cuts, but the problem of raising enough revenue was made especially difficult by the failure to repeal the ACA taxes when the AHCA bill wasn't passed. (V)

Democrats Will Try to Knock off Cruz

The Democrats face a terrible map when it comes to their dream of retaking the Senate in 2018, which means they need to gamble a bit. At the same time, Donald Trump—and by extension, his political party—is rather unpopular. Consequently, the blue team is planning to make a serious play for Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) seat in 2018.

There is some good news on this front for the Democrats. To start, they've managed to find a strong candidate—Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a three-term congressman and former rock musician and Internet entrepreneur who threw his hat into the ring on Friday. He's got a "regular guy" persona and he speaks fluent Spanish, so he should be able to connect with voters effectively. In addition, Texas is trending purple, a fact that will catch up with the state GOP one of these days. Finally, Cruz's approval rating—55%—is fairly pedestrian, and Republican voters can't be thrilled about his continual presidential dalliances, or his flip-flopping on Donald Trump.

The Democrats still face an uphill battle, of course. Cruz may have liabilities, but he also has universal name recognition and about $4 million in the bank. Further, incumbent senators have a 90% success rate when it comes to getting re-elected. It will likely take a massive anti-Trump tidal wave (or a huge screw-up) to bring an end to his senate career. (Z)

Can A Sanders-Style Democrat Be Elected to the House in Montana?

When former representative Ryan Zinke of Montana was confirmed to be secretary of the interior, he left an open House seat behind. There will be a special election to fill the seat on May 25. The Democrats have nominated a big fan of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rob Quist, to run against Republican businessman Greg Gianforte. You might think Gianforte is a slam dunk, but not so fast. Although Trump won Montana by 20 points, the state has a long populist tradition and two of its top politicians are Democrats, namely Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester.

The thing that makes some people think Quist has a good shot at winning is not so much his local popularity as a banjo-playing musician, but his style. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who is as bad a cultural fit to Montana as Donald Trump would be at a Mensa event, Quist was born in Cut Bank, Montana, led the Cut Bank Wolves to a state basketball championship in high school, and played basketball at the University of Montana. He prefers farm clothes and cowboy hats to suits, and is an economic populist, which tends to play well in Big Sky Country. In a number of ways, he fits the model of Tester and Bullock as well as Brian Schweitzer (D), who governed the state before Bullock. If Quist wins in May, it will show Democrats that they can win in red states if they have a candidate who is a good cultural fit to the state. (V)

Travel Ban Is Operating Smoothly

Donald Trump's executive order banning people from six majority-Muslim countries is tied up in the courts, but that is just political theater to show Trump's supporters that he is trying to ban Muslims. The real work of banning Muslims is operating under the radar like a finely tuned machine. To visit the U.S., everyone except for people from visa-waiver countries (most of which are in Europe), needs a visa. These are granted—or nowadays, more likely denied—by U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. Consular officials can pretty much approve or deny anyone a visa for any reason or no reason at all. U.S. courts have ruled that foreign nationals have no right to a U.S. visa, so whatever the secretary of state orders State Dept. officials to do is what they do.

While officials certainly look for potential terrorists, under Trump there is more emphasis on trying to determine if the person has a real need to be in the U.S. and whether the person, once they arrive, will apply for asylum. When in doubt, the answer is "no." For example, at the 2017 African Global Economic & Development Summit held at the University of Southern California, no one from Africa attended—because all 100 people who applied for visa to attend were denied. In February, everyone on the women's national soccer team of Tibet was denied a visa to travel to a soccer event in the U.S. The stated reason: "YOU HAVE NO GOOD REASON TO TRAVEL TO THE USA." Profiling of visa applicants is rampant. A few years ago, the policy of the U.S. consulate in the Philippines was to deny visas to any single woman under 40 (on the presumption that they she is a mail-order bride).

A key question in the visa application process is: "Do you have children?" If the answer is no, probably the visa will be denied since the person has too great a chance of staying permanently. People with verified children at home are less likely to abandon them and ask for asylum, but even that is no guarantee. In short, the Trump administration's main weapon in keeping Muslims and other people deemed undesirable out of the country is not the executive order, which may or may not stand up in the courts, but the simple policy of denying visas to anyone who doesn't have a compelling reason to visit the U.S. and clear ties to the home country (e.g., family, job, a business) that make it less likely that they will overstay their visas. (V)

Former Kushner Employee: He's Not the Man for the Job

Elizabeth Spiers has first-hand experience with Jared Kushner: As editor-in-chief of the newspaper he owned, the New York Observer, she was one of his highest-ranking employees, and had regular interactions with him, learning much about him as a manager and a businessman. Now, she has written an op-ed for the Washington Post in which she declares, in no uncertain terms, that he is not the right guy to lead the new Office of American Innovation (whose goal is to make government more efficient and business-like).

Spiers makes many observations, but these are the main ones:

  • Kushner's experience is in real estate, a particularly idiosyncratic area of business.

  • He may not even be all that good at that; nearly everything he has was handed to him by his father, and he's made some big mistakes.

  • Even if he was a brilliant businessman, which is unclear, lessons from the private sector often don't translate to the public sector.

  • By all indications, Kushner does not grasp the previous point. In particular, he does not understand that not all problems are solved by cutting staff.

  • The vast majority of jobs in the Trump administration are still unfilled. Those that are filled are occupied by people with no experience in governing. This is not a good way to get things done in Washington.

  • Kushner has a big ego, and is not likely to call for help on issues where he has no knowledge or experience.

  • Some of his projects, like the Observer, seemed to be about vanity more than anything else.

These observations, particularly the last one, set up Spiers' extremely pointed conclusion:

I worry that this new office will be more of the same: a vanity project, one that exists primarily to put Kushner in the same room with people he admires whom he wouldn't have had access to before, glossing government agencies in the process with a thin veneer of what appears to be capitalism but is really just nihilistic cost-cutting designed to project the optics of efficiency. If the outside experts have good advice, it will be heeded only where it reinforces what the administration would do anyway. And anyone who volunteers to carry out the administration's agenda may be handed wholesale control of an area of government where their domain expertise isn't just low, but nonexistent.

Yesterday, we had a piece about how Kushner's friends are turning on him, today it's his employees. Perhaps he is beginning to learn the same lesson that his father-in-law is: Politics and governance are really, really hard. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar31 Republicans Are at Each Others' Throats
Mar31 Trump to Issue Two Executive Orders on Trade Today
Mar31 Flynn Has "Story to Tell," Wants Immunity
Mar31 Heitkamp and Manchin Will Vote for Gorsuch
Mar31 North Carolina Repeals "Bathroom Law"
Mar31 Pence Worked Yesterday
Mar31 Pence Won't Dine With Women Who Aren't His Wife
Mar31 Jared Kushner's Friends Are Cutting Him Loose
Mar31 Some Trump Voters Already Have Buyer's Remorse
Mar30 Travel Ban Suspended Indefinitely
Mar30 Can Trump Make a Deal with the Democrats on Infrastructure?
Mar30 NRA Is Running Ads Against Democratic Senators
Mar30 Privacy Vote Not Going over Well
Mar30 Majority of Americans Believe Traditional Media Outlets Publish Fake News
Mar30 Large Majority of Republicans Think Trump Was Wiretapped
Mar30 How Long Can Spicer Last?
Mar29 Trump Signs Executive Order to Repeal Much of Obama's Work on Climate Change
Mar29 Border Wall Funding Will Be Put on Hold
Mar29 Nelson Will Filibuster Gorsuch
Mar29 "Trump Bump" Turning into "Trump Slump"
Mar29 Manafort May Have Laundered Money in New York Real Estate
Mar29 Congress Wipes Out Internet Privacy
Mar29 Perez Cleans House at DNC
Mar29 Cohn: Clinton Did Not Lose Due to Poor Turnout
Mar29 Trump Won't Throw Out First Pitch of MLB Season
Mar28 Republicans May Be Forced to Scrap Tax Reform and Just Cut Rates
Mar28 Trump Wants to Do Tax Reform and Infrastructure at the Same Time
Mar28 Executive Order on Environment Coming Today
Mar28 Sessions Will Withhold Grants from Sanctuary Cities
Mar28 Trump Requests $1 Billion for Wall
Mar28 Republicans Have an Easy Way to Kill the Affordable Care Act
Mar28 Jon Ossoff Has Raised $3 Million for Georgia Special Election
Mar28 Kushner to Lead "American Innovation" Office
Mar28 Kushner Met with Executives of Russian Bank in December
Mar28 Trump Hits New Low in Gallup Poll
Mar27 Republicans Are Turning on Each Other
Mar27 Victory Has a Thousand Fathers but Defeat Is an Orphan
Mar27 Roger Stone Denies Colluding with the Russians
Mar27 Majority of Americans Want Independent Trump-Russia Investigation
Mar27 Trump Sons Will Give Him Financial Reports
Mar27 Trump Opponents Don't Know What to Do With All Their Money
Mar27 Trump Approves Keystone XL Pipeline
Mar27 Netanyahu-Trump Bromance is Over
Mar27 Kasich Says He's "Out" in 2020
Mar27 Mister Rogers Haunts Trump from Beyond the Grave
Mar26 AHCA Fallout Continues
Mar26 Ryan Is Badly Damaged
Mar26 Path Forward for Trump Will Be Strewn with Big Rocks
Mar26 Will the Affordable Care Act Explode?
Mar26 Flynn May Have Turned Against Trump