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Neil Gorsuch Sworn in as Associate Supreme Court Justice

With President Donald Trump watching, Justice Anthony Kennedy yesterday swore in one of his former clerks, Neil Gorsuch, as the newest member of the Supreme Court. Gorsuch's confirmation by the Senate, after that body abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court appointments, is by far Donald Trump's biggest achievement so far, and could affect U.S. politics for 30 or 40 years. Gorsuch is a conservative, very much in the mold of Antonin Scalia, whom he replaces 14 months after Scalia's death.

This is the first time that a sitting justice and one of his former clerks have served on the court at the same time. That is not just an interesting coincidence; the conservative groups that pushed for Gorsuch, like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, specifically wanted him because they hope it will make Kennedy more comfortable with the idea of leaving the Court. Couple that with the little speech Trump gave on Monday praising Kennedy, while at the same time emphasizing how important the next justice to be appointed will be, and it's clear that the administration and the GOP badly want that seat to be vacated, and they'll do whatever they can to make that happen by 2020. (V & Z)

Merrick Garland Could Get Revenge

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) probably thinks he will never hear the name "Merrick Garland" again, but he may be in for a surprise or two. While Garland is not going to get a seat on the Supreme Court, he is still chief judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals. This is the court that handles cases in which the federal government has been sued concerning some regulation. The vast majority of these cases are not taken up by the Supreme Court, so the D.C. court's judgment is final.

What is interesting is an article Garland wrote three decades ago about the Reagan administration's attempt to rescind large numbers of federal regulations it didn't like. Garland wrote that when regulators kill a rule, they must have at least as strong an argument for getting rid of it as the regulators had for writing it in the first place. "We don't like this rule" doesn't quite cut it with Garland. In particular, when the revocation of a rule is challenged, the courts need to take into consideration the evidence cited when the rule was first promulgated. If circumstances have changed, the rules can be changed, but in a court case, the government has to show that circumstances have changed. In particular, Trump's rule that two regulations have to be revoked for every new one is going to come up repeatedly. Arguing that regulations A and B had to be withdrawn so regulation C could be enacted is not going to be a winning argument with Garland unless the government can show that there is something wrong with A and B. In short, we haven't heard the last of old Merrick yet. (V)

What Has Trump Done So Far?

On Feb. 26, Donald Trump said: "I can say that after four weeks we've accomplished almost everything we've started out to accomplish." Now let's look a bit more closely at what he has actually done as of yesterday. He has signed 19 pieces of legislation and issued 23 executive orders, 18 proclamations, and 20 presidential memoranda. Some of these are what might be considered small ball, though, such as naming the outpatient facility at the Faleomavaega Eni Fa'aua'a Hunkin VA Clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

Most of the laws Trump has signed undo actions that Barack Obama did in the final months of his term. Under a 1996 law, Congress can hit the undo button on recent regulations and that is what these laws do. They affect regulations at the FCC, Social Security Administration, and the Labor, Education, and Education departments.

Among other things, it is now easier for hunters to shoot hibernating bears, for mentally ill people to buy guns, for coal companies to dump waste into rivers, and for Internet providers to sell data about customers' browsing habits. Notably, Trump has staged no photo-ops of him signing bills into law, which suggests that he knows that these are not necessarily the most...admirable accomplishments.

The executive orders weaken fuel efficiency standards, allow banks and brokers to put their interests ahead of their customers', ban people from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S., and direct all federal agencies to repeal two regulations for each new one enacted. (V)

The Wall Is Going from Bad to Worse for Trump

Whatever Donald Trump has accomplished, he hasn't made too much progress on his core campaign promises, particularly the one that he trumpeted the most loudly and frequently of them all: His promise to build a wall along the Mexican border. As The Hill's Rafael Bernal and Mike Lillis point out, Trump is losing ground on the issue, and quickly. The Democrats aren't going to vote for funding, of course, and are willing to shut the government down to stop the project from coming to fruition. There's also enormous opposition from GOP budget hawks, who don't really like spending money on anything, and from Republicans who represent border districts that would be negatively affected by the project. Add it all up, and it is difficult to see how the votes will ever be there to get funding for even $1 billion worth of wall (a symbolic start), much less $20-$45 billion worth (an actual, complete wall).

Meanwhile there has been time to examine the proposals submitted by various bidders, and many are...remarkable. The Trump administration encouraged interested companies to be creative and to propose aesthetically pleasing and functional designs. There are also a number of protest designs. These things being the case, it can be hard to separate the real proposals from the fakes. Among the ideas the government received:

  • A castle-like wall with parapets and a running trail on top, so it could be used by joggers
  • A wall decorated with recycled glass on each side
  • A 1,200-mile chain of trees and hammocks
  • An aqueduct-wall
  • A 100-foot-deep trench, where nuclear waste could be dumped
  • A wall with blank space, to be sold to local communities for memorials, or murals, or family trees
  • A concrete wall with a high-speed monorail running along the top
  • A plexiglas wall that would be transparent on the American side (so Mexico would be visible), but opaque on the Mexican side (so the United States would not be).

Needless to say, all of these proposals are about as likely to happen as any wall proposal, which is to say they have a near-zero chance of coming to fruition. (Z)

Federal Judge Overturns Texas Voter ID Law--Again

In a 10-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has again written that the Texas state legislature passed a voter-ID law (SB 14) in 2011 with the clear intention to discriminate against minority voters. The decision has a complicated history. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Texas very quickly enacted a law requiring people to show an approved government-issued photo ID card to vote. The law listed specific documents that were acceptable. For example, a gun permit was valid, but a student photo ID card issued by a Texas state university was not.

The Texas NAACP sued the state. Ramos got the case and ruled that the legislature was intentionally trying to disenfranchise minorities and others (e.g., students) who tend to vote for Democrats. The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which sent it back to Ramos, who ruled the same way the second time. It is certain to be appealed back to the 5th Circuit again. If the appeals court sends it back to her again, we will have a legal version of ping pong here. Sooner or later, the case is likely to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, which now includes Justice Neil Gorsuch. Ramos was appointed to the federal bench by Barack Obama, but the appointment was approved by Texas' two Republican senators, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Part of Ramos' argument both times was based on the procedure the state legislature used to pass the law. It was deemed emergency legislation, debate was cut short, and the bill was not even examined by the relevant committees in both chambers of the state legislature. The idea was clearly to steamroll it through very fast, without any public examination, and hopefully under the radar. That last part clearly didn't work so we are set for epic court battles in the months ahead. (V)

Trump's Travel Expenditures Are Skyrocketing

As we have noted previously, Donald Trump is spending money on travel like he's a drunken sailor. In just 80 days as president, he's broken the $20 million dollar barrier (and that's just his own bill, and does not include costs of transporting his wife or children). A fair portion of this has been expended on his numerous trips to play golf, particularly at Mar-a-Lago. He has played 16 rounds since being sworn in on January 20. While the Mar-a-Lago trips will likely end once Florida heats up in June, the golf will not—Trump is expected to just shift to Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. The Donald actually prefers that property, so much so that he wants to be buried there whenever he shuffles off this mortal coil. At his current pace, Trump will spend just shy of $100 million in travel in his first year of office. By way of comparison, Obama spent $97 million...during his entire 8 years in office (and, at this point, had played one round of golf).

Nobody denies, of course, that travel is part of the president's job. And similarly, any reasonable person would agree that someone doing one of the most stressful jobs in the world is entitled to a little leisure time. The problem here is that Trump is behaving very hypocritically, first of all because he repeatedly slammed Obama for his travel budget and his golfing. Just a few examples:

Perhaps even worse, however, is that Trump is preaching austerity across the federal government, and slashing budgets and programs, while burning through cash like there's no tomorrow. On some level it's reminiscent of when George Washington declined his $5,000 salary as commander of the Continental Army, instead asking only that Congress cover his expenses (mostly food and wine bills), which ended up totaling $160,074 (2017: $4.4 million) over the course of the Revolutionary War. In any event, it is clear that reporters are not in a position to put Trump on the spot for his "do as I say, not as I do" approach; one wonders if his opponent in 2020 (if he makes it that long) will be able to do so. (Z)

Trump Wins Pulitzer Prizes

No, not for himself, for other people. The 2016 Pulitzers were announced on Monday, and several went to journalists for their coverage of Trump. That includes the Washington Post's David Fahrenthold, who won for his coverage of Trump's charitable giving (or, more accurately, the lack thereof); Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan for her commentary on the campaign; and Miami Herald political cartoonist Jim Morin, who regularly made Trump his subject.

Also winning a Pulitzer was ProPublica. Though their prize was not for Trump-related coverage, the victory will nonetheless ruffle some feathers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, since just last week Press Secretary Sean Spicer slurred them as a "left-wing blog." In any event, since Trump is the story of the day, the month, and the year, we can safely predict that next year's awards will also feature the president extensively. (Z)

Democrats Are Already Working on 2018 House Races

The 2018 House races are already underway, in some cases without the candidates yet. The DCCC is aiming at suburban districts in the West in which Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump, especially in California's Orange County (once a Republican bastion). The DCCC has set up an office in Irvine, CA, to fight for districts that have long been out of reach, but are now in play since well-off, well-educated suburban districts are becoming friendlier to the Democrats. For example, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), whose district includes several coastal cities in Orange County, is already under attack. Another target is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who represents coastal areas in Orange County and San Diego County. Issa won in 2016 with just 50.3% of the vote against a newcomer in 2016. The Irvine office will have the job of recruiting and helping good candidates. (V)

Cook Moves Two Special Elections towards the Democrats

Veteran political guru Charlie Cook has changed his rating on two special House elections coming up. Both changes are favorable to the Democrats. The KS-04 special election today is to replace Mike Pompeo, who resigned his seat to become director of the CIA. The old rating was "likely Republican." The new one is "leans Republican." KS-04 is an R+15 district, but both parties (as well as Cook) expect it to be much closer this time, in part due to Democrats turning out in large numbers to send Donald Trump a message.

The second change is in GA-06, which Cook now has as a toss-up. Democrat Jon Ossoff has raised an incredible $8.3 million for next week's special election to replace Sec. of HHS Tom Price. All the polls show that Ossoff will come in first by a large margin, but if he fails to hit 50%, there will be a runoff on June 20. (V)

Alabama's "Luv Guv" Resigns

While the vice presidency may not be worth a bucket of warm piss, lieutenant governorships are worth much more because governors sometimes run for higher office, and occasionally are impeached and convicted, or else resign because they are about to be impeached and convicted. The latter is especially relevant in Alabama, since Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) had an affair with a former staffer, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, that has now come out in gory detail, including audio recordings of him talking lovey-dovey to her. Now having an affair is not a crime, even in Alabama, but using campaign money to carry it out and state money to try to hide it certainly are. Late Monday, it was announced that Bentley had reached a plea deal in which he pled guilty to a pair of misdemeanors, and agreed to resign the governorship and not seek public office ever again.

Following Bentley's resignation, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) was sworn in as governor. She is Alabama's second female chief executive. The first one was Lurleen Wallace, wife of arch-segregationist George Wallace. Under state law at the time, Alabama governors could not succeed themselves, so in 1966, then-governor Wallace, got his wife, who was fighting for her life against cancer, to run to succeed him. He promised to "advise" her on how to govern. She was elected, but died in office.

Ivey, the former state treasurer, will no doubt be happy to get the promotion, but it hardly matters. Alabama has one of the weakest governorships in the country. The legislature has all the real power and that will not change when Ivey takes over. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr10 Another Flynn Appointee to the NSC Is Sent Packing
Apr10 Will Trump Ask Congress for Authority to Wage War in Syria?
Apr10 Assad: Should He Stay or Should He Go?
Apr10 Slight Majority Supports Bombing of Syria
Apr10 State Department Staff Preparing for Cutbacks
Apr10 Trump Is Threatening the 2020 Census
Apr10 Trump Reportedly Planning Pivot to Center
Apr10 Democrats May Use Trump's Own Taxes to Fight Him on Taxes
Apr10 McConnell Recruiting Romney for Possible Senate Run
Apr10 What Does Georgia Election Mean for GOP?
Apr10 Bannon's Bible
Apr09 Trump and Xi Met, Talked, and Accomplished Nothing
Apr09 U.S. Carrier Group Headed to North Korea
Apr09 Bannon and Kushner Are Forced to Promise to Be Nice to Each Other
Apr09 Tillerson Is Kushner's Understudy
Apr09 Gerrymandering Isn't the Only Problem with the House
Apr09 Burned Out on Coal
Apr09 Anti-Trump Bar Opens in New York
Apr08 McConnell's Daring Plan Worked
Apr08 Syria Strike Raises Many Questions
Apr08 Trump's Strike in Syria Helps Putin
Apr08 He Who Lives By the Conspiracy Theory...
Apr08 It's Civil War in the Trump Administration
Apr08 Study: Obamacare Not in a Death Spiral
Apr08 Democratic Turnout Might Improve in 2018
Apr08 Governor Trump, Jr.?
Apr07 U.S. Attacks Syria
Apr07 Nuclear Option Is Triggered
Apr07 R.I.P U.S. Senate, 1789-2017
Apr07 Former Ambassador to China Warns Trump about Negotiating with China
Apr07 Nunes Temporarily Steps Down from Role in Trump-Russia Probe
Apr07 Trump Is Looking at Combining Infrastructure with Healthcare or Tax Reform
Apr07 Border Wall Is Making America Smaller
Apr07 Texas Would Be Negatively Affected by a Border Adjustment Tax
Apr06 Bannon Removed from National Security Council
Apr06 Whither Steve Bannon?
Apr06 Senate Is Considering Rules Changes to Silence the Minority
Apr06 Xi Jinping Will Meet Trump Today
Apr06 Border Wall Runs into Another Problem
Apr06 Tone Deafness, Thy Name Is Trump
Apr06 Ossoff Pulls in Over $8 Million for Special Election in Georgia
Apr06 Ladbrokes: 56% Chance Trump Will Not Finish First Term
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