• More Russian Headaches for Trump
• Perez Claims to Have 180 of the 224 Votes Needed to Be Elected DNC Chairman
• Hillary 2020?
• House Freedom Caucus Throws Up a Roadblock to Repealing the ACA
• Puzder Told Ex-Wife: "I Will See You in the Gutter"
• More Protests Are Coming
• Trump Will Have Huge Power to Reshape the Courts
• Ethics Office Recommends Punishing Conway
Sound familiar? That was the big question during the Watergate affair. It's come back with a vengeance. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after it came out that he had discussed lifting the sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and then lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence. Now people are wondering whether Flynn's call to the ambassador was a rogue deed the president didn't know about, or it was something else entirely. In fact, the Washington Post has a list of 10 questions about Flynngate:
- What, if anything, did Trump authorize Flynn to tell the Russians before his inauguration?
- Why was Trump planning to stand by Flynn before the Washington Post forced his hand?
- What did the White House Counsel do after he learned about the call a month ago?
- What is the status of the FBI investigation into contacts between Trump associates and Russia?
- Will Sean Spicer and Mike Pence apologize for making false statements to the American people?
- Will Flynn face prosecution under the Logan Act, which forbids private citizens from conducting diplomacy?
- What will the Senate Intelligence Committee uncover about all this?
- Who will replace Flynn permanently?
- Who else will leave the White House because Flynn is gone?
- Who exactly is in charge at the White House?
The Republicans in Congress would like this whole matter to be forgotten as quickly as possible, but reporters and Democrats are not going to give up so fast. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who is privy to information not yet public, yesterday said that more information will surface in the next few days. (V)
Some of the additional information that Adam Schiff was talking about may have already come to light. Late Tuesday, the New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence agencies are aware of "constant" contact between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence officers during the election. Though such discussions are not unusual, according to those individuals who spoke to the Times, a red flag was raised by the frequency of the contacts and the high rank of those doing the talking, particularly Mike Flynn and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Thus far, there is no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the election. However, the FBI is still sifting through all the data that it collected. And the appearances here are so bad, that the Trump administration is going to need to come up with some excellent answers to the questions listed above, even if the worst-case scenario proves not to be the case. At the same time, someone might make a call to James Comey and ask why he saw fit to share every detail about Hillary Clinton's e-mails, but kept this matter to himself.
If that were not enough, Russia appears to be testing the limits of what they can and cannot get away with right now. They have deployed a cruise missile, in apparent violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, have conducted aerial training exercises near a U.S. Navy ship, and have positioned a spy ship off the coast of Delaware, all in the last few days. The cruise missile is particularly worrying, and Congressional Republicans are calling for a clear and strong response. If Trump is trying to make nice with Putin, then he's in quite the pickle. An aggressive response will anger Vlad, but anything less will play into the narrative that The Donald is in the bag for the Russians. Trump is learning the hard way that it's not so easy when you're the one that the buck stops with. (Z)
The battle for the chairmanship of the DNC is heating up, with the vote in about two weeks. The former secretary of labor, Tom Perez, claims he has 180 votes needed to win the job of being the leader of the Democratic Party. If no candidate gets 224 votes on the first round, there are more rounds, with the candidates getting the fewest votes typically dropping out as the balloting continues. About 10 people are running for the job, but the only other one besides Perez who has a chance (unless there is a complete deadlock and the DNC turns to a dark horse) is Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the preferred choice of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Perez has high-profile supporters as well, including Joe Biden and Eric Holder, not to mention Barack Obama. (V)
Matt Latimer is a former staffer in the George W. Bush White House, so he's hardly a Democratic insider, and he may have an agenda. Nonetheless, he has written a pretty compelling piece for Politico in which he suggests that Hillary Clinton will be back for a third go-round in 2020. His evidence is as follows:
- She shut down the Clinton Global Initiative, a move with only political benefits.
- She has not quashed rumors of a run for mayor of New York City.
- She's writing a seventh book and going out on a book tour.
- She's consistently used Twitter to criticize Donald Trump.
- Her concession speech did not definitively declare she was not running again.
Latimer points out that her age in 2020 (73) should be a non-issue against a 74-year-old Trump, and that she would be far from the only person to take three bites at the apple (for example, Ronald Reagan made runs in 1968, 1976, and 1980).
Latimer also offers some tactical advice, which certainly seems sound. Clinton should remain engaged enough to stay visible, but not too engaged. She should avoid taking sides in Democratic squabbles (like the DNC chair). She should stay back, and allow herself to be drafted, instead of spending over a year as the frontrunner (and, thus, #1 target). And, she should remain humble.
The thesis here is certainly plausible. And if Clinton were to run the kind of campaign Latimer suggests, while also correcting for other errors she made in 2016, she could certainly be a winner, particularly if Trump remains as unpopular as he is now. So, it's fair to say that we probably can't close the book on the Clintons quite yet.
On the other hand, she is no shoo-in. Quite a few other Democrats, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are also doing the things that candidates do this early and if Trump is very unpopular in 2019, many other Democrats are going to be saying: "Why not me?" (Z)
The conservative House Freedom Caucus, which has about 35 members, has voted to block any bill to repeal the ACA unless it goes as far as the 2015 repeal bill. If all of them vote against a repeal bill, the Republicans will be about 5 or 6 votes shy of a majority and the bill will fail.
The rift in the House is largely about timing and whether a replacement bill should be voted on just after the repeal bill is passed. Freedom Caucus members want to get rid of the ACA as fast as possible, but if major elements of it are repealed with no replacement, the health insurance industry may collapse and moderate Republicans know very well who will get blamed for that. The Freedom Caucus is also impatient and wants the repeal right now, whereas moderate Republicans are trying to come up with an alternative they can all agree on. So far, the alternative has proved elusive, although some elements of the replacement are clear, including tax credits to buy insurance, health savings accounts, a high-risk pool, and block grants to the states to use as they please. Nevertheless, all of these are complicated and most of them cost money—lots of it—either in outright spending or in lost tax revenues. This is where the Republicans aren't all on the same page. (V)
Politico has now obtained and published the tape of the ex-wife of labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder being interviewed on Oprah Winfrey's program. Lisa Fierstein, as she is now known, said Puzder told her: "I will see you in the gutter. This will never be over. You will pay for this." Eight months after appearing on television, Fierstein retracted her comments. Whether she did that voluntarily or under some kind of threat is not known. The producers of the show made the tape available to members of the Senate HELP Committee.
One thing in Puzder's favor is that Fierstein has been inconsistent on one point: whether Puzder physically attacked her. In the interview, she said Puzder is a lawyer and too smart to do anything that leaves a mark that could serve as evidence when she went to the police, which she did. However, court records show that she filed petitions alleging that in May 1985 Puzder, "assaulted and battered me by striking me violently about the face, chest, back, shoulders and neck, without provocation or cause, leaving bruises and contusions to the chest, back, shoulders and neck." Puzder's confirmation hearing is tomorrow. Every Democrat in the Senate is expected to vote against Puzder, and four Republicans are undecided. They could determine his fate. (V)
The tea party was pushed to the margins of the GOP, in part due to their high-profile failures, and in part due to their message being co-opted by Donald Trump (and others). But now, the leaders of the movement are planning a comeback. In particular, they are bothered that left-leaning protesters have controlled the narrative since Inauguration Day, and they want to start pushing back and counter-protesting. They are waiting until mid-March or so, to give time to get their ducks in order.
If the new tea party really is ready to go by March, then it will be just in time for the next big anti-Trump event. Following on the heels of the very successful women's marches, the opposition is now focusing their energies on the April 15 Tax March, in which thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of people will take to the street to demand that Donald Trump release his tax returns. Between this and a potential tea party response, then April 15 could get really unpleasant for reasons other than the usual one. (Z)
Donald Trump has insulted judges and the courts for months, and now he may be able to reshape them more to his liking, because he will have more judicial vacancies than any first-term president in decades. Currently, 112 of the 870 authorized judge positions are vacant. This is double what Obama had to fill when he took office. Furthermore, the median age of sitting judges is 63, two years older than when Obama took over. Much of the reason that so many positions are vacant is that the Republican Senate during Obama's tenure stalled as much as possible confirming his appointees. In contrast, with a Republican president, it is likely to move very quickly to confirm all nominations. Since 2013, it has not been possible for the minority party to filibuster judges. A straight up-or-down vote is taken on each one. (V)
When Kellyanne Conway urged people to buy Ivanka Trump's fashion products, she violated government ethics rules, as well as the law. Yesterday, the head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, Jr., said that he has reason to believe disciplinary action be taken against Conway. There is nothing Shaub can do to punish Conway other than to ask the White House to do so, which is very unlikely. Punishment could range from a fine to firing her. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb14 Mnuchin, Shulkin Confirmed by Senate
Feb14 Four GOP Senators Undecided about Puzder
Feb14 What Does Trump Really Believe?
Feb14 Trump's Approval Rating Hits New Low in Gallup Poll
Feb14 Strange New Senator
Feb13 Cornyn: A Physical Wall on the U.S.-Mexico Border Would Not Rate High among Texans
Feb13 Trump Beats Voter Fraud Drum Again, and Again
Feb13 Trump's Good Friend Says Priebus Has to Go
Feb13 Conway Knows Exactly What She is Doing
Feb13 Impeach Trump!
Feb13 Thus Far, the Presidency Has Been Bad for Business
Feb13 Former NSA Analyst: Spies Don't Trust Trump
Feb13 The New Tea Party?
Feb13 Wait, That's Not Donald Trump
Feb12 North Korea Fires a Missile
Feb12 Trump Vetoes Tillerson's Choice for Deputy
Feb12 Steve Miller Is Almost as Powerful as Steve Bannon
Feb12 New White House Press Secretary?
Feb12 Trump Says He Will Negotiate the Price of the Border Wall Way Down
Feb12 The Obamacare Purge Is Underway
Feb11 Trump Caves to China
Feb11 Flynn Looks to Be in Hot Water
Feb11 Russia May Hand Snowden over to Trump
Feb11 Some Details of Trump Dossier Confirmed
Feb11 See You in Court
Feb11 Trump Administration Won't Take Ban to SCOTUS Right Now...Or Maybe They Will
Feb11 What Might TrumpCare Look Like?
Feb11 DeVos off to a Rough Start
Feb10 Ninth Circuit Court Deals Setback to Trump
Feb10 Price Approved as HHS Secretary
Feb10 Trump Talks to Xi
Feb10 Former Director of National Intelligence Opposes Travel Ban
Feb10 Trump Attacks Blumenthal over Judge's Remarks
Feb10 Conway Violated Ethics Law When Telling People to Buy Ivanka's Stuff
Feb10 Chaffetz Faces Tough Crowd at Town Hall
Feb10 Results of 2018 Election Could Depend on Trump's Approval Rating
Feb10 Judge James Robart Is in the News
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