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Bannon Removed from National Security Council

Yesterday, President Donald Trump reorganized the National Security Council and removed chief strategist Steve Bannon from it. In addition, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford (USMC) and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats have been made regular members of the principals committee. Earlier in the year, when Trump announced that his political adviser, Bannon, who knows zero about national security, was a regular member and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the DNI were not regular members, many people were worried about what would happen if national security was completely politicized. To a considerable extent, that fear has been eliminated now.

The idea of a political strategist at NSC meetings has come up before. George W. Bush explicitly forbade his political guru, Karl Rove, from attending them. Barack Obama allowed his strategist, David Axelrod, to attend them, but he was not a member and was forbidden from speaking.

Trump did not give an explanation, but most likely his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Herbert McMaster, who knows a great deal about national security and who is known to speak truth to power, played a big role in the shakeup. McMaster is not the kind of guy who would tolerate someone he considers completely inappropriate (Bannon) to be on the NSC, while the top military officer in the country (Dunford) was given a junior role.

In addition, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, UN Representative Nikki Haley, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry were also added to the council. (V)

Whither Steve Bannon?

It is clear what Wednesday's news means for the NSC. A little less clear is what the news means for Steve Bannon, though his prospects certainly aren't looking up right now.

To start, Bannon's demotion certainly suggests his power within the White House is waning. So too does the rising responsibility and prominence of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both of whom are hostile to Bannon personally and politically. Not to mention Bannon's continued inability to get rid of Reince Priebus and his allies. And, according to reporting from Politico, things may well be even worse than they seem. Bannon is apparently aggravated enough with Kushner, et al., that he tried to resign last weekend, and had to be talked off the ledge by mega-donor (and Bannon superfan) Rebekah Mercer.

With the obvious caveat that Donald Trump is mercurial, and so the relative status of White House insiders can change at a moment's notice, it is hard to see how Bannon can last much longer. He's a committed ideologue, while Trump has very few political principles at all. The Bannon-Trump relationship is only six or so months old, a mere blip compared to the depth of the President's relationship with his family members. And it is clear that The Donald is displeased with at least a few of Bannon's shenanigans, such as (essentially) sneaking himself onto the NSC, and his missteps on the AHCA. At some point, Trump will decide he doesn't really need Mercer, or Mercer will decide she doesn't really need Bannon, or Bannon will decide he doesn't really need either of them, and he will exit stage right. (Z)

Senate Is Considering Rules Changes to Silence the Minority

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and other Republican senators are frustrated at how well the Democrats are slowing down the process of approving subcabinet nominees. Under current Senate rules, when the Democrats try to filibuster a subcabinet nominee, it takes only 51 votes (or 50 votes plus the veep) to invoke cloture. However, after cloture has been invoked, debate may continue for another 30 hours, which the Democrats have used in nearly all cases to simply slow down the process of getting nominees approved. Cornyn wants to change this to 8 hours since there are 500 key nominations yet to be confirmed and a total of 1,200 in all. If the Democrats use all 30 hours on 500 nominees, that is 15,000 hours of debate on nominees. If done back to back, that is 625 days, which is almost 21 months. For all 1,200 nominees it is more than 4 years.

In 2013, when the Democrats were in charge of the Senate, they passed a similar rule, but it wasn't permanent and it expired at the end of the 113th congress. Cornyn wants to reinstitute it.

Cornyn may not get his wish, however. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said: "I do not agree, but it is part of the slippery slope that we're on. I don't believe we ought to keep changing the rules just because we're in the majority." Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is also opposed to reducing the time for debate after cloture. All it takes is one more Republican to oppose the change and it won't happen. (V)

Xi Jinping Will Meet Trump Today

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive at Mar-a-Lago today to meet Donald Trump. They will have a lot to talk about. How about these items for starters?

  • North Korea's nuclear power
  • The trade relationship between the U.S. and China
  • China's presence in the South China Sea

Trump claims to be a great negotiator. That will be put to the test starting today as the U.S. position on all three of the above is very different from the Chinese position. On North Korea, the U.S. wants China to use its economic power (and position as North Korea's only oil supplier) to force North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program. China has clearly said it doesn't want to do that. It wants the U.S. to engage in direct talks with North Korea. Trump doesn't want to do that. This is Trump's chance to get Xi to change his mind.

Trump has said he wants to slap a 45% tariff on goods imported from China. Not only would China take this as a huge insult, but it would hurt the country's export-driven economy badly. Were Trump to do this, China would probably respond in kind, leading to a trade war. No doubt Xi will ask Trump if he still plans to impose a tariff.

China is building a number of artificial islands in the South China Sea and putting military bases on them, thus extending Chinese territory as well as its economic zone well into the ocean. The U.S. strongly opposes this, as do America's allies in Asia. It would take some pretty fancy negotiating for Trump to convince China to drop its plans.

We may know in a few days what, if anything, the two leaders agreed on. If the answer is "nothing," China wins, because the U.S. wants China to pressure North Korea, revalue its currency, and stop expanding its territory. If it agrees to none of those, Trump will have gotten none of the things he wanted. China, in contrast, just wants to maintain the status quo. It is not asking the U.S. to do anything. It is happy with how things are now, so just continuing along the same path means Trump got nothing from Xi.

Although he claims to be a great negotiator, Trump's team will be outgunned by the Chinese team, which is full of experts on trade and other issues. In contrast, most of the key China-related positions in Trump's administration are not filled yet. These include the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, the assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, and the China specialist at the U.S. Trade Representative's office. Instead, he is bringing son-in-law Jared Kushner, who knows little about China, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has been involved in foreign policy for less than 3 months, and the 93-year-old Henry Kissinger, who has been out of the loop for 40 years. If great deals are to be negotiated this week, Trump is going to have to do that personally.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) increased the pressure on Trump yesterday by saying: "One of the few hopes we had with President Trump is that he'd finally stand up to China. But up to now, when it comes to China, he looks like a 98-pound weakling." If Trump gets nothing out of the meeting, expect Schumer and other Democrats to throw the Chinese term "paper tiger" in Trump's face and use it in the 2018 elections. The Democrats' pitch will be that Trump promised to put the screws on China with respect to trade and jobs and when push came to shove, he chickened out. (V)

Border Wall Runs into Another Problem

The problems with Donald Trump's border wall have been covered at great length: the exorbitant cost, opposition from both Republicans and Democrats, the difficult (and privately-owned) terrain the wall would have to traverse in West Texas, the fact that it wouldn't be very effective, etc. Now, a new issue has presented itself: Nobody wants to build it.

Well, ok, not nobody. There are many dozens of smaller construction firms that would be happy to tackle the job. But the mega-sized firms, the ones with the wherewithal to actually handle such a project—Bechtel, Fluor Corp., and Turner Corp., for example—don't want to touch the project with a ten-foot pole. The problem is that such firms, pretty much by definition, do business in many different states and many different countries. They fear that involvement with the wall could cost them hundreds of millions in business, if localities hostile to Trump cancel their contracts. California and New York have already threatened to do just that with any company that participates in the project, and it's conceivable that many European countries would do the same, to say nothing of Mexico and Canada. And so, the prospects for the wall just got a little more remote. (Z)

Tone Deafness, Thy Name Is Trump

During his less than three months in office, Donald Trump has given himself more than one self-inflicted wound. And on Wednesday, he added a couple more, showing a tin ear that is truly remarkable for someone of his high station.

The first involves former NSA Susan Rice, Trump's latest bugaboo in his ongoing quest to prove that the Obama Administration plotted against him. He has no evidence for his charges against Rice (that she illegally requested the names of Trump campaign officials being investigated by the FBI). That did not stop him from declaring that, "I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it's a massive, massive story ... I think it's going to be the biggest story." Given the chemical weapons attack in Syria, many found his remarks to be rather insensitive.

Trump didn't stop there, however. Though nobody particularly needs to know what he thinks about Bill O'Reilly, Trump waded into the controversy nonetheless, opining that, "I think he shouldn't have settled; personally I think he shouldn't have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don't think Bill did anything wrong." Again, this may not have been the best thing to say for the perpetrator of pu**ygate, and the person who literally just declared April to be "National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month."

There have been presidents in the past that were nearly bulletproof when it came to screw-ups—Ronald Reagan leaps to mind. However, even Ronnie had limits to what he could get away with, which he began to bump into around year six. At this rate, Trump may start to bump into his around month six. (Z)

Ossoff Pulls in Over $8 Million for Special Election in Georgia

A previously unknown congressional aide, Democrat Jon Ossoff, filed his most recent fundraising report yesterday and revealed that he has raised $8.3 million in his campaign to fill the House seat vacated by Tom Price when he became secretary of HHS. This is a phenomenal amount of money for a House race. If this were a normal 2016 House race, Ossoff would have ranked #4 among all 435 House candidates. Only Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), David Trone, and Randy Perkins outraised him, and Trone and Perkins just used their own money. So the only person who raised more money from actual supporters than Ossoff is the sitting speaker of the House. Ossoff's primary opponent is former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

Of course, although money means a lot in politics, it isn't everything. Just ask Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. What Ossoff is desperately trying to do is get 50% in the election in 2 weeks to avoid a June runoff. In a runoff, there will be only one Republican running, instead of over a dozen, and the GOP will go all out to avoid the embarrassment of losing a seat that Price won by over 20 points in November. (V)

Ladbrokes: 56% Chance Trump Will Not Finish First Term

Betting on political outcomes is illegal in the U.S. but it is legal in the U.K. The British bookie Ladbrokes is now offering 4/5 odds on Donald Trump's leaving office via impeachment or resignation during his first term. This translates to a 56% chance that he will be impeached and convicted, or that he will resign. The firm has raised the probability from 52% just before he was inaugurated. If you are interested in the phenomenon of political betting, you can view this video that shows interviews with political bettors and bookies. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr05 McConnell Says He Has the Votes to End the Filibuster for SCOTUS Nominations
Apr05 How Congress Used to Work
Apr05 Gorsuch Could Ensure Republican Control for a Generation
Apr05 Spicer Blames Horrendous Poison Gas Attack in Syria on Obama
Apr05 Americans Happy that the AHCA Didn't Pass
Apr05 NAFTA Could be the Next AHCA for Trump
Apr05 Two Democrats Win California Congressional Primary
Apr05 National Archives Advises Trump to Save All His Tweets
Apr05 Trump Stumbles in Public Appearance
Apr05 O'Reilly Could Be in Trouble, After All
Apr04 At Least 41 Democrats Will Vote Against Cloture on Gorsuch
Apr04 White House Is Trying to Revive the Healthcare Bill
Apr04 Trump Officially Kills Internet Privacy
Apr04 Blackwater Founder Tried to Create Secret Trump-Putin Connection
Apr04 Former Trump Adviser Met with Russian Spy in 2013
Apr04 Bannon Keeping an Eye on Georgia Election
Apr04 Bidding Closes Today on the Border Wall
Apr04 Trump Donates His First-Quarter Salary to the National Park Service
Apr04 Trump Can Draw Money from Trust at Any Time
Apr04 Science Doesn't Unite Liberals, Conservatives
Apr03 Donnelly Backs Gorsuch
Apr03 Trump Says U.S. Can Handle North Korea Alone
Apr03 Kasich Is Acting Like a Candidate While Claiming He Is Not
Apr03 Rooting for Failure
Apr03 Why Can't Republicans Find Massive Voter Fraud?
Apr03 Far-Right Sharks Are Circling the White House
Apr03 How Much Does Trump's Security Cost?
Apr02 Republicans Are Split on Tax Reform
Apr02 Uniqlo Threatens Trump
Apr02 Chinese Acquisition of U.S. Financial Company Raises Questions
Apr02 Poll: Americans Want an Independent Commission to Investigate Russia Ties
Apr02 Trump Blasts Chuck Todd
Apr02 Mark Cuban: Trump Isn't Smart Enough to Have Colluded with the Russians
Apr02 Fox Stands With O'Reilly
Apr02 The Kushner Chronicles, Volume III
Apr02 Russians Celebrate April Fools' Day
Apr01 Top Cabinet Officials Openly Disagree with Trump on Russia
Apr01 How Trump Could Get a Big Win Easily and Tear the Democrats Apart
Apr01 McCaskill Will Oppose Gorsuch
Apr01 Trump's Motto: Screw Them 10x Harder
Apr01 Top Government Officials Release Income and Net Worth
Apr01 Cornyn Might Be OK with a Temporary Tax Cut
Apr01 Democrats Will Try to Knock off Cruz
Apr01 Can A Sanders-Style Democrat Be Elected to the House in Montana?
Apr01 Travel Ban Is Operating Smoothly
Apr01 Former Kushner Employee: He's Not the Man for the Job
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