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Pence Breaks Tie to Confirm DeVos

No vice president had ever had to break a Senate tie on a cabinet confirmation. Well, until yesterday, when Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, cast the 51st vote in favor of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. All 48 Democrats plus Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted against her; the other 50 Republicans supported her. The last time a vice president broke a tie was in 2008, when then-Vice President Dick Cheney broke a tie on tax legislation.

It is extremely rare for any cabinet appointee to get more than a handful of "no" votes, let alone 50. Generally, the opposition concedes that the new president is entitled to his cabinet choices, but the combination of the least popular new president in decades and a nominee who both parties said flubbed her confirmation hearing badly, led to this cliff hanger. All of the remaining cabinet nominees are expected to pass the Senate without Pence's help. (V)

Things Get Snippy in the Senate

Tuesday evening, the Senate began debating the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as attorney general. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is opposed, to say the least, and took to the Senate floor to read an anti-Sessions letter written by Coretta Scott King in 1986. It is against Senate rules for one Senator to impugn another while speaking on the Senate floor (though one could argue that, at that moment, Sessions was a cabinet nominee and not a U.S. Senator, and so not protected by the rule). In any event, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) ordered Warren to cool it, and when she persisted, he initiated a vote that led to her being banished from the Senate floor. For the duration of the debates over Sessions, she may not speak. "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted," explained McConnell.

This sequence of events was a huge, and uncharacteristic, misstep by the Majority Leader. He could scarcely have done more to elevate Warren's stature among Democrats—ordering her to be silent at the very moment that she was reading the words of a civil rights icon, in support of an issue that progressives hold dear. Undoubtedly, Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) are wishing they had thought of it. By the end of the night on Tuesday, #LetLizSpeak was the #1 trending tag on Twitter (and #2 was #Coretta Scott King, while #3 was #ShePersisted). The footage of McConnell saying "she persisted" is surely being archived on countless DNC hard drives right now, to reappear in 2018, when Warren runs for re-election, and perhaps in 2020. (Z)

Judges Hear Travel Ban Injunction Arguments

On Tuesday, a panel of three judges from the Ninth Circuit heard arguments about whether President Trump's Muslim travel ban should remain suspended while the legal process plays out. The panel came out firing, putting lawyers on both sides of the argument on the defensive, questioning—among other things—the federal government's evidence connecting the seven targeted nations with terrorism, the broader implications of the order, and exactly how many citizens of Washington and Minnesota (the two states that filed suit) will really be harmed by the ban.

Overall, the questions asked of the federal government's lawyers seemed to be more pointed. That, coupled with the liberal tilt of the 9th Circuit, and the fact that 2/3 of the panel was appointed by Democrats, suggests that the injunction will remain in place. One way or another, we will learn soon, as the ruling is expected to come down later this week. (Z)

House Committee Votes to Kill Agency that Protects Voting Machines from Hacking

In the aftermath of the 2000 election in Florida, Congress created the Election Assistance Commission, which helps states run elections. It is the only federal agency whose charter includes making sure voting machines aren't hacked. Given the Russian interference with the recent election, one might think this is an important agency, one whose budget should be increased. Apparently, one would be wrong. Yesterday, the House Administration Committee voted along party lines to terminate the agency. While it was at it, the committee also voted to eliminate the public-financing system for presidential elections (McCain-Feingold) that goes back 40 years. Committee chairman Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) said: "It is my firm belief that the EAC has outlived its usefulness and purpose."

Actually, the commission is completely toothless and didn't even have a quorum from 2010-2014 because Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm new appointees to it. Last year, its executive director unilaterally approved proof-of-citizenship laws in three states (Kansas, Georgia, and Kentucky), which the federal courts later blocked.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School put out a memo in response to the vote yesterday, pointing out that the vast majority of the country's voting machines are outdated and badly in need of replacement. It also said that the EAC needed to be strengthened, not replaced. One of the effects of the Muslim travel ban is that important news like this tends to fly under the radar because the media are consumed with covering protests at airports, not what Congress is doing. (V)

Trump Lies About Murder Rates

As part of his apocalyptic vision of an Obama-led nation that is on the brink of destruction, Donald Trump consistently claimed that murder rates nationwide are at their highest level in nearly half a century. He's president now, but he nonetheless repeated the claim again on Tuesday, in a speech before law enforcement officers at the White House. This "fact" is definitely of the alternative sort. It's not true, and isn't even remotely close to being true. In fact, murders are being committed at the lowest rate in 45 years. Trump knows this, having had it pointed out to him several times, but he persists in repeating the talking point nonetheless.

How does he get away with it? Conservative former talk radio host Charles J. Sykes took a stab at that question in a Sunday op-ed for the New York Times entitled, "Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying." Sykes lays the blame squarely at the foot of his former colleagues in the right-wing media, writing:

For years, as a conservative radio talk show host, I played a role in that conditioning by hammering the mainstream media for its bias and double standards. But the price turned out to be far higher than I imagined. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the right's immunity to false information. We thought we were creating a savvier, more skeptical audience. Instead, we opened the door for President Trump, who found an audience that could be easily misled.

Sykes observes that Trump has masterfully taken advantage of this environment; that delegitimizing unfriendly media and unfriendly information allows him to dismiss all criticism as phony and to create his own narrative out of whole cloth, unfettered by the need for evidence.

Sykes' sobering conclusion is that the conservative media has to become part of the solution, and not part of the problem. He says:

Conservatism should be a reality-based philosophy, and the movement will be better off if it recognizes that facts really do matter. There may be short-term advantages to running headlines about millions of illegal immigrants voting or secret United Nations plots to steal your guns, but the longer the right enables such fabrications, the weaker it will be in the long run. As uncomfortable as it may be, it will fall to the conservative media to police its worst actors.

His assessment may be correct, but his proposed medicine is optimistic to the point of being quixotic. There's just way too much money and power in lies these days (see below). (Z)

Breitbart News Is More Popular than Many Mainstream News Outlets

According to Alexa, which tracks website popularity, the white nationalist and anti-Semitic Breitbart News is now getting more traffic than the Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, Fox News, Walmart, or Yelp. Its traffic is up 62% in the past three years. In addition,visitors stay longer at Breitbart (3.7 minutes per visit) than at the New York Times or Huffington Post (3.3 minutes each). (V)

Congress Has the Power to Demand and Release Trump's Tax Returns

A 1924 law gives certain congressional committees the authority to demand individual tax returns from the IRS and then release them when the committee feels this is in the public interest. The law was originally written in 1870, giving the president this authority, but in 1924 it was amended to grant the power to some committees in Congress as well. Congress understands that this power is better used sparingly, but it is there. It was invoked in 1973, when Richard Nixon claimed a very large tax deduction for giving his official papers (which he didn't own—the government did) to the National Archives. When it leaked that Nixon, who earned over $200,000/year, paid the same tax as someone making under $10,000/year, the Joint Committee on Taxation subpoenaed and released his tax returns. As a result of the committee's work, Nixon received a bill for $471,431 ($2.7 million in 2017 dollars), plus interest. Given Donald Trump's potential conflicts of interest and their effects on his policies, Congress would be well within its statutory authority to subpoena and release his tax returns. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb07 Democratic Politicians Are Listening to Their Furious Base
Feb07 Democrats Talked All Night To Stop DeVos
Feb07 All Protests, All The Time
Feb07 Price Could Eviscerate the ACA as Early as This Week
Feb07 Puzder Employed Undocumented Worker
Feb07 Author of "Torture is OK" Memos Thinks Trump Has Exceeded His Authority
Feb07 Conway Did Not Misspeak
Feb07 Politics Will Only Get Worse
Feb07 Taxpayers Pay Nearly $100,000 for Eric Trump's Business Trip
Feb06 The Senate Is Completely Broken
Feb06 Republicans Denounce Trump for Defending Putin
Feb06 McConnell: Congress Won't Get Involved with Trump Travel Ban
Feb06 Tech Companies Attack Travel Ban
Feb06 Trump Looms Large Over Super Bowl
Feb06 Republicans Are Already Undoing Obama's Legacy in Four Areas
Feb06 Bad News, Good News for Obamacare
Feb06 Pence Will Lead the Vote-fraud Commission
Feb06 Could Supreme Court Nominations Be Made Less Contentious?
Feb06 SNL Skewers Spicer
Feb05 Trump Attacks "So-called" Judge
Feb05 Ninth Circuit Court Upholds Robart's Order
Feb05 Trump Using Obama as a Crutch
Feb05 Is Trump More Popular than the Polls Show?
Feb05 CNN to Conway: Thanks, but no Thanks
Feb05 Congress Begins to Feel Left Out
Feb05 French Presidential Candidate Macron Welcomes Americans to France
Feb05 Stern Weighs in on Trump
Feb04 Trump Wins, then Loses in Court
Feb04 Trump Takes First Step to Eviscerate Dodd-Frank
Feb04 Trump and Congressional Republicans Differ on Tariffs
Feb04 Trump and Congressional Republicans Differ on the Wall
Feb04 Trump Appointees Still in Flux
Feb04 Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Scuttle LGBTQ Executive Order
Feb04 Kellyanne Conway Issues Forth with More "Alternative Facts"
Feb04 South Dakota GOP Repeals Anti-Corruption Law
Feb03 Trump Wants to Allow Churches to Engage in Politics
Feb03 Trump Considering How to Let People Ignore Federal Policies on Religious Grounds
Feb03 Republicans Taking Their Time with Sessions
Feb03 GOP Appears to Be Evolving on Obamacare
Feb03 Poll: 47% Think Trump Is Moving Too Fast
Feb03 The Ten Democratic Senators Least Likely to Support a Filibuster against Gorsuch
Feb03 Protests Are Having an Impact
Feb03 Potential Target for the Democrats: Educated Voters
Feb03 Trump Could Cost the Australian Prime Minister His Job
Feb03 Trump and Schwarzenegger in Spat
Feb02 Senate Finance Committee Changes Rules to Thwart Democrats
Feb02 Tillerson Confirmed as Secretary of State
Feb02 Foreign Relations off to a Rocky Start
Feb02 Collins and Murkowski Will Vote against Confirming Betsy DeVos
Feb02 House Republicans Kill Two Obama-era Regulations
Feb02 Biden Endorses Perez for DNC Chair
Feb02 Airline Stocks Lose $5 Billion
Feb02 Trump Celebrates Black History Month
Feb01 Trump Picks Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court
Feb01 Jeff Sessions' Committee Vote Postponed until Today
Feb01 Democrats Boycott Senate Finance Committee Votes on Mnuchin and Price
Feb01 Betsy DeVos Approved by Committee on Party-line Vote
Feb01 Another Campaign Promise Bites the Dust
Feb01 Four States Sue Trump Administration
Feb01 EU President Slams Trump
Feb01 Republicans Plan to Sell Off 3 Million Acres of Public Land
Feb01 Poll: Nation Sharply Divided on Muslim Ban
Feb01 Trump's Voter Fraud "Expert" Is Registered in Three States
Jan31 It's a Monday Night Massacre
Jan31 Congressional Staffers Helped Write the Muslim Ban
Jan31 Obama Speaks Out Against Immigration Ban
Jan31 Trump Supporters Feel Safer, Probably Aren't