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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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Protesters Around the Country Demand to See Trump's Tax Returns

Protesters around the country marched yesterday to demand that Donald Trump release his tax returns. Trump has said that no one cares about them and the march organizers are trying to make it clear that a lot of people do care. Polls have shown that about 80% of Americans want him to release his returns, as presidential candidates and presidents have done for 40 years. Marches took place in well over 100 cities, not only in the U.S., but also in Europe, Japan, and even as far away as New Zealand. The IRS has said there is no legal reason why Trump can't release his returns. It is simply his personal choice.

Trump's tax returns would likely give some indication about how rich he really is, and certainly how much income he has received each year. They would also show if he claims interest deductions and from whom. Of special interest is whether he has claimed interest deductions on loans from Russian banks. If it turns out he is deeply indebted to Russian banks, especially banks with close ties to Vladimir Putin, that might begin to explain why he is far more friendly to Russia than most Republicans and why so many people close to him seem to have a lot of business dealings with Russia. (V)

White House Sweeping Conflicts of Interest Under the Rug

Of all the campaign promises that Donald Trump made, few have been so thoroughly trampled upon as his vow to "drain the swamp." The lack of draining starts with the White House itself where, as we learned earlier this week, the list of people who visit will be kept secret. Now, the New York Times is also reporting that the executive branch is full of lobbyists and consultants who are now regulating the very industries they used to work for—as recently as a few months ago. There are very clear violations of the ethics rules announced by the Trump administration, but the problem is being "resolved" by granting those individuals secret waivers.

For example, there is Michael Catanzaro, who spent the last few years lobbying for Devon Energy of Oklahoma and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, among others. Now he is the White House's energy adviser. There's also Chad Wolf, who spent the better part of a decade pushing the Transportation Security Administration to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a new luggage-screening device. Now, Wolf is the head of the TSA. And then there is Scott Gottlieb, who collected $350,000 from nearly a dozen different pharmaceutical companies in 2014 and 2015. Now, he's been tapped to lead the Food and Drug Administration.

These are some of the most egregious examples; the raw numbers that the Times provides are equally concerning. Current White House officials have worked for over 300 corporate clients, including tech giants (Apple), hedge funds (Citadel), and insurers (Anthem). At least 40 of those officials worked specifically as lobbyists. And those totals reflect only the 90 or so senior White House staffers who have filled out disclosures; another 90 or so are still pending.

Every administration, of course, engages in behavior like this, to some extent. There are only so many potential appointees out there, and a large portion of them have some connection to the industries in which they have expertise. But Trump appears to be taking the tendency to extremes, which is particularly egregious given his supposed outsider status and his campaign promises. (Z)

Trump Actually Has Delivered on Some of His Promises

White his detractors say that Donald Trump hasn't done anything since being inaugurated, actually he has delivered on some of his campaign promises already, albeit sometimes by using executive orders rather than getting Congress to pass laws. Some of the most important ones:

  • He rescinded an Obama regulation requiring utilities to reduce CO2 emissions 30% by 2050
  • He ordered the EPA to change a rule giving it authority to regulate pollution of streams and ponds
  • He relieved companies of the duty to report labor law violations when bidding on federal contracts
  • He allowed states to make up their own rules for drug testing applicants for unemployment benefits
  • He made it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns
  • He signed a bill allowing Internet providers to sell data about their users' browsing habits
  • He killed a rule prohibiting coal mines from dumping wastes into streams
  • He has started the procedure for preventing 4 million workers from getting paid overtime

While not everyone may agree with all these changes, it is impossible to say that Trump has done nothing as president so far. (V)

The Kushner-Bannon Civil War Is Still Raging

Although Donald Trump told First Son-in-law Jared Kushner and chief strategist Steve Bannon to bury the hatchet, no hatchet burials have been recorded recently. In fact, according to a long piece in Vanity Fair, the war is still going full blast. What is especially interesting is that although Trump demands total loyalty from everyone around him, he discards people like used tissues when they are no longer useful to him. First to go after inauguration was Michael Flynn, then the National Security Adviser. Then his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was sidelined, even though she is still on the payroll. Next seems to be Bannon, who was kicked off the principals committee of the National Security Council and is fading into the background.

According to the piece, Bannon's real sin is indirectly attacking Kushner (and his wife, Ivanka) as liberal Democrats through leaked stories to the media. Bannon has tried to make it look like losing Bannon means losing his base. Trump knows this is not true. A second strike against Bannon is that when the healthcare bill was about to come up for a vote in the House, Bannon told Trump that he didn't have to worry about the Freedom Caucus, since Bannon had already taken care of them. It didn't turn out that way and Trump knows this, too. All in all, Kushner, who is working closely with power player Gary Cohn, holds most of the cards here and there is little Bannon can do to change that. (V)

Tillerson on the Rise

Being a White House insider must be like starring in a real-life telenovela; it takes a scorecard to keep track of who's "in" and who's "out" in any given week. At the start of April, Steve Bannon appeared to be king of the hill, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looked to be a short timer. Now Bannon in on the wane, and Tillerson has reportedly become Donald Trump's favorite cabinet secretary.

This conclusion is based on interviews that Politico conducted with administration insiders, as well as a review of the President's official schedule. They note that Tillerson has met with Trump more times than any other department head—his eight one-on-one meetings dwarf, for example, the three that Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin has had, despite being another favored son. When Tillerson is in Washington, he has a private dinner with The Donald at least once per week. The Secretary has reportedly had a major influence on Trump's approach to Syria, Russia and China.

With the obvious caveat that a week in politics is a lifetime (and in the Trump White House, it appears to be several lifetimes), this state of affairs makes a lot more sense than having Bannon as the President's right hand man. First of all, Tillerson and Trump are pretty similar to each other—businessmen who aren't ideologues. Surely they have an easier time seeing eye-to-eye than Trump and Bannon do. Further, Trump hates to be outshone, which is not a risk with the notoriously publicity-shy Tillerson. Finally, if there's one thing that everyone agrees on, it's that Jared Kushner isn't going anywhere. And Tillerson is vastly more likely to adapt to that reality than Bannon. (Z)

Bipartisan Group of Senators Pushing to Revive Glass-Steagall

A bipartisan group of senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ), are going to introduce a bill to reduce the systemic risks to the financial system by prohibiting what banks can do. Under the Depression-Era law known as the Glass-Steagall Act, financial companies could engage in retail banking, investment banking, or sell insurance, but only one of them. When that law was repealed in 1999, many of them entered all three fields and began taking risks in the investment banking area that endangered their retail clients. Warren and McCain want the law brought back. They claim that Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn support them, although they want to update the Act for the modern world. The banks are likely to oppose the bill, so it is far from a sure thing, even with some administration heavyweights supporting it. (V)

Nearly $500,000 of Trump's Campaign Funds Have Gone to His Companies

It is a violation of federal law for a candidate for office to transfer funds from his campaign to personal accounts, but campaigns are allowed to buy services from companies owned by the candidate. Donald Trump's 2020 reelection campaign has already bought almost $500,000 worth of services from companies he owns directly. In effect, he has made an end run around campaign finance laws in order to convert money from campaign donors to personal income.

Among other items, his 2020 campaign has spent $274,000 to rent office space at Trump Tower, $59,000 for lodging at his golf club in Florida, and $14,000 for services his hotel in Las Vegas. Tens of thousands of dollars also went to a company owned by Steve Bannon for secretarial services. While this is legal, it certainly violates the spirit of the campaign finance laws. So far, Trump's 2020 reelection campaign has raised $53 million for the campaign and for the RNC. Three-quarters of the money came in donations under $200, which means (1) some of his supporters are still on board with him, and (2) they are not maxed out and can be hit up again and again in the coming 4 years. Trump filed for reelection on the day he was inaugurated in order to keep the money rolling in. (V)

North Korean Bomb Bombs

It was Founder's Day in North Korea yesterday, and Kim Jong-Un is presently engaged in a muscle-flexing contest with Donald Trump. So, it was the perfect time to launch another test missile. It's unclear exactly what type of missile it was, however, because moments after launch, it blew up. This is not what was supposed to happen, regardless of what Kim is telling his people today.

This is a pretty embarrassing reverse for Kim, who may scramble to stage another test as soon as possible. Meanwhile, China appears to be playing both sides of the street with the North Koreans, reducing their purchases of North Korean coal, but increasing their overall trade with the country in Q1 2017. Perhaps incidents like this will help push the Chinese off the fence. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr15 Russia Intrigue Just Keeps Mounting
Apr15 North Korea Situation Seems To Be Deteriorating
Apr15 U.S. Will Not Name China as a Currency Manipulator
Apr15 Trump Keeps Badmouthing the Dollar
Apr15 White House Will Not Make Visitor Logs Public
Apr15 Re-election Bids Are Attracting Lots of Money
Apr15 Trump Says He Can't Be Sued
Apr15 Trump Gets Burned by Regulations
Apr14 U.S. Drops MOAB on Afghanistan
Apr14 Suburban Voters Have Had It with Trump
Apr14 Trump's Base Has Had it With Trump
Apr14 Virginia Governor's Race Turns Into a Referendum on Trump
Apr14 Business Leaders Trying to de-Bannonize Trump
Apr14 Maybe Rumors of Bannon's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
Apr14 Tax Reform May Not Follow the Ryan Blueprint
Apr14 Sanders: Trump Will Be a One-term President
Apr14 Prof. Who Called the Last Eight Presidential Elections Says Trump Will Be Impeached
Apr13 Tillerson Receives a Chilly Reception in Moscow
Apr13 Trump Now Wants to Do Healthcare Before Tax Reform
Apr13 Trump May Be Sick of Bannon
Apr13 Trump Now Likes NATO
Apr13 Trump Plays into Kim Jong-Un's Hands
Apr13 United Airlines, Wells Fargo, and the Democratic Party
Apr13 Coffman: Spicer "Needs To Go"
Apr12 Republican Estes Wins Special Election in Kansas
Apr12 Spicer Goose Steps in It
Apr12 Nunes Was Apparently Making Things Up
Apr12 The Infrastructure Bill Could Fail Just Like the Healthcare Bill
Apr12 Trump Falsely Claims He's Created 600,000 Jobs
Apr12 There Is An Easy Way to Get Trump's Tax Returns Released
Apr12 California May Move 2020 Primary to March
Apr12 Collins May Run for Governor of Maine
Apr12 Christie Calls for Government to Forbid Overbooking of Flights
Apr11 Neil Gorsuch Sworn in as Associate Supreme Court Justice
Apr11 Merrick Garland Could Get Revenge
Apr11 What Has Trump Done So Far?
Apr11 The Wall Is Going from Bad to Worse for Trump
Apr11 Federal Judge Overturns Texas Voter ID Law--Again
Apr11 Trump's Travel Expenditures Are Skyrocketing
Apr11 Trump Wins Pulitzer Prizes
Apr11 Democrats Are Already Working on 2018 House Races
Apr11 Cook Moves Two Special Elections towards the Democrats
Apr11 Alabama's "Luv Guv" Resigns
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