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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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GOP pickups vs. 2012: FL IA MI OH PA WI

Ninth Circuit Court Deals Setback to Trump

On Thursday, President Donald Trump suffered another reverse at the hands of the judiciary. A three-person panel from the Ninth Circuit unanimously decided that the injunction against his travel ban would remain in place until the courts can rule on the legality of the ban.

For those keeping score at home, Trump is 1-for-4 so far in court rulings on this matter. Thursday's defeat was particularly bad, however, for two reasons. First, because it was unanimous, a tally that includes the vote of one Republican appointee and two Democratic appointees. That makes it rather hard to argue that the ruling was the work of a rogue judge with a political ax to grind (not that Trump didn't try; see below). Second, because the ruling (which is available at the link above) was very thorough, addressing and refuting the various points of the government's argument in detail. It will become a template for future court rulings. As one legal analyst put it, "The government swung for the fences and struck out."

Trump, of course, was not happy. He promptly took to Twitter, as we've all come to expect, and issued this ALL CAPS denunciation:

Later, he spoke to reporters, and—true to form—lambasted the ruling as a "political decision." Trump's response, which is about as close to a temper tantrum as is possible on Twitter, promptly inspired much mockery and derision. The tweet most likely to get under Trump's skin, however, may have come from a New Yorker who used just three of her 140 characters:

That tweet had over 300,000 likes by midnight PST, nearly twice as many as Trump's original tweet.

So, where does the administration go from here? They would seem to have three basic options: (1) Let the process play out, and hope they prevail; (2) Re-issue the travel ban, correcting for the issues that landed Trump in court in the first place; or (3) Drop the ban, and try a different approach. Since this White House flies by the seat of its pants, there's just no knowing which of the three it will be until Steve Bannon makes a decision. (Z)

Price Approved as HHS Secretary

Late Thursday night, the Senate voted to confirm the appointment of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services. The final tally, which broke along party lines, was 52-47. By noon Friday, Price will be in a position to start taking a machete to Obamacare. At this point, the only Trump appointee that is in any danger at all is presumably Andrew Puzder, though if he doesn't become secretary of labor, it is more likely to be due to withdrawal rather than a Senate rejection. (Z)

Trump Talks to Xi

Donald Trump spoke to Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday night, their first conversation since The Donald took office. By all accounts, Trump was extremely deferential, most notably pledging to abide by the "One China" policy, and to take no further actions that recognize (or even imply) the legitimacy of Taiwan's claims of independence. Analysts suggest that the call laid the groundwork for cooperation on North Korea, trade, and other matters.

Needless to say, Thursday's news marks a dramatic change from Trump's anti-Chinese rhetoric on the campaign trail. In particular, he had promised to label China a currency manipulator on day one of his administration, a move that did not happen, and that appears likely to disappear into the ether. He also said he would impose big tariffs on Chinese imports, another promise that seems to be fading away. Whether Trump's change of heart is only temporary, or if it means that someone (Rex Tillerson?) has impressed upon him that irritating China is a bad idea, we can only speculate at this point. (Z)

Former Director of National Intelligence Opposes Travel Ban

In an interview on CNN, the Directory of National Intelligence in the Obama administration, James Clapper, said that the travel ban is helping undermine U.S. interests and giving terrorists a powerful recruiting tool. He doesn't know of any legitimate reason for the ban. This is the first time Clapper has spoken out since Trump has taken office.

Clapper was also upset about Trump comparing the intelligence community to Nazi Germany. In addition, he was "concerned" about Trump's remarks at the CIA's headquarters, when he stood in front of the memorial to fallen intelligence officers. For the entire intelligence community, that is hallowed ground and should not be used to score political points. (V)

Trump Attacks Blumenthal over Judge's Remarks

President Donald Trump doesn't seem to ever know when to stop. On Wednesday, Judge Neil Gorsuch, who Trump has nominated to the Supreme Court seat of the late Antonin Scalia, said that Trump's attacks on the judiciary are "disheartening" and "demoralizing." Gorsuch's campaign manager, Ron Bonjean, confirmed that Gorsuch was indeed quoted correctly and former senator Kelly Ayotte seconded that. Nevertheless, Trump has gone on the offense, attacking Blumenthal for Blumenthal's lying about his service in Vietnam (he said he served and didn't).

Of course, now that Bonjean and Ayotte have confirmed Gorsuch's remarks, Trump is effectively calling them liars as well. What Trump hasn't absorbed in the slightest is that if a news story is unpleasant, just letting it die off quietly is usually the best approach. By actively bringing it up again, all it does is keep the story in the news longer. (V)

Conway Violated Ethics Law When Telling People to Buy Ivanka's Stuff

When the luxury department store Nordstrom decided to drop Ivanka Trump's line of clothing and shoes, Donald Trump lashed out at it. While it is inappropriate for a president to attack a specific company for a business decision it made that primarily affects his family's bottom line, it is not illegal. Yesterday, Kellyanne Conway crossed the line when she said: "Go buy Ivanka's stuff" on Fox & Friends. A regulation from the Office of Government Ethics prohibits members of the executive branch from endorsing products or companies. It also prohibits using public office for private gain of oneself, one's friends, or one's relatives. In principle, the director can recommend discipline, including suspension or loss of pay, but on a first offense it could also just issue a warning. At today's daily briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Conway has been, "counseled on the subject, and that's it."

Or maybe not. the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), said that Conway's remark was "wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable." In principle, Chaffetz could open an investigation into the matter if he wants to, but the president probably would not be pleased by it. Quite a few people are apparently interested in the matter, so many that the OGE's Website has been inaccessible all day due to the massive amount of traffic it is getting from concerned citizens who want to know the rules. (V)

Chaffetz Faces Tough Crowd at Town Hall

Speaking of Jason Chaffetz, he held a town hall meeting in red, red Utah on Thursday night. And it was, from his point of view at least, a fiasco. The room was packed with anti-Trump voters, with hundreds more milling around outside. They asked pointed questions of their congressman, booed whenever Trump's name was mentioned, and ultimately caused Chaffetz to cut the event off early and to flee the stage.

Is it possible that a congressman from perhaps the reddest state in the Union, one who won election by 50 points, could start worrying about his job security if he holds Trump too close? Maybe. Left-leaning Salt Lake City went for Hillary Clinton, and Utahns in general are not fond of The Donald. Though he won the state, more people voted against Trump (51%; split primarily between Hillary Clinton and Evan McMullin) than voted for him (45%). Further, Chaffetz—himself a former Democrat—has consistently benefited from crossover votes from Utah Democrats. In short, it's a case study for how even the members of Congress from "safe" districts could be compelled to push back against Trump, or else could find their jobs at risk if his approval dips too low (more below). (Z)

Results of 2018 Election Could Depend on Trump's Approval Rating

In 2018, two opposing factors will be at work, which makes it hard to predict the outcome based on historical data. They are:

  • The president's party almost always loses seats in Congress in the midterm elections
  • Democratic turnout is normally way down in the midterms

In 2018, the first point above says the Democrats will do well; the second one says the Republicans will do well. Which one dominates may well depend on how popular the president is on Election Day. If the country is in good shape and Democrats are demoralized, the Republicans will pick up seats in the Senate and maybe even a couple in the House. If the country is in terrible shape and Trump is very unpopular, Democrats may show up in droves to vote and the party could make substantial gains in both chambers.

That's the "macro" view. What about the "micro" view? Larry Sabato has a nice article looking at House seats that are vulnerable to flipping. These are districts where a Democrat represents a district Donald Trump won or a Republican represents a district Hillary Clinton won. There are 35 such seats and we don't have the space to look at all of them here, but if you are interested in possible House outcomes in 2018, the article is worth reading. (V)

Judge James Robart Is in the News

Yes, that Judge Robart, but not for the reason you are thinking. Last week, District Court Judge James Robart issued a stay on the executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries last week, but that case has moved up to the Ninth Circuit and Robart is out of the loop on that one (for the time being, at least). So he had time to write another important decision that was released yesterday. Under current law, when the federal government requires an Internet provider to turn over records about what a customer is doing on the Internet, the Internet provider is forbidden from telling the customer that it is doing so. Microsoft doesn't like this gag order, saying it violates the First Amendment, and sued the government. Robart wrote a 47-page opinion allowing the case to proceed. This is not a definitive ruling by any means, but it does mean there will be a trial in the foreseeable future in which the government has a make a case that the gag order is not a violation of Internet providers' First Amendment rights. The government would have preferred to have the case dismissed out of hand, but that is not going to happen. If it keeps this up, Robart, who was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush, is not going to get invited to the White House Christmas Party. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb09 Trump Attacks Nordstrom for Dropping Ivanka's Clothing Line
Feb09 Gorsuch Says Trump's Attacks on Judiciary Are "Demoralizing"
Feb09 Senate Confirms Sessions
Feb09 Puzder: At One Time, 40% of My Employees Were Undocumented Immigrants
Feb09 An Early Look Inside the Trump White House
Feb09 Is Spicer in Trouble?
Feb09 Evangelical Leaders Slam Travel Ban
Feb09 Bobby Kennedy's Son Will Run for Governor of Illinois
Feb08 Pence Breaks Tie to Confirm DeVos
Feb08 Things Get Snippy in the Senate
Feb08 Judges Hear Travel Ban Injunction Arguments
Feb08 House Committee Votes to Kill Agency that Protects Voting Machines from Hacking
Feb08 Trump Lies About Murder Rates
Feb08 Breitbart News Is More Popular than Many Mainstream News Outlets
Feb08 Congress Has the Power to Demand and Release Trump's Tax Returns
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