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DNC Elects Tom Perez Chairman

Yesterday, at its meeting in Atlanta, the Democratic National Committee elected former Labor Secretary Tom Perez as its chairman. On the first ballot, Perez had 213.5 votes of the 214.5 votes needed (Democrats Abroad members each get half a vote), but close counts only in horseshoes, dancing, and hand grenades. By the second ballot, many of the minor candidates had dropped out and Perez beat Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) 235 to 200.

Immediately after winning, Perez named Ellison as his deputy, in an attempt to create party unity. Such unity may be needed, because Ellison was supported by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and many of their supporters saw the race as Sanders vs. Clinton, Part II. That is not really a fair take, though. The platforms of Perez and Ellison are nearly identical and Perez is just as progressive as Ellison, despite having been a member of Barack Obama's administration. It's not even an age issue, as Ellison is 53 and Perez is 55. While the "progressive vs. moderate" story gives the media something to talk about, it is somewhat irrelevant. The DNC chair has virtually no influence on the party's presidential platform—the candidate writes it. The chairman's main duties consist of:

  • Schmoozing with a lot of wealthy Democrats and getting them to cut checks to the DNC
  • Determining how to spend the money raised

Both of these are somewhat contentious, but not like the battle for a $15/hr minimum wage or other issues that separated Sanders and Clinton in the primaries. One issue that relates to the first point, and that will come up very soon, is whether the party should solicit or even accept corporate contributions. An issue related to the second one is how the party treats local parties in red states. When Howard Dean was DNC chairman from 2005-2009, he pushed for a 50-state strategy. In particular, he used DNC money to provide every state party with one paid staff member. This was very controversial. Dean argued that if Democrats simply vanished from, say, Texas, the party would not only forfeit it in the presidential elections forever, but also do poorly in state races. Other Democrats argued that putting money into, say, Oklahoma, was like putting it into a paper shredder.

Ultimately, many of the DNC members, all of whom are from "state" parties, voted based on who they thought would be best at raising money and providing some to the state parties. Ideology was not really the key issue for them. Nevertheless, as the new titular head of the Democratic Party, Perez is going to be on television a lot, so his vision for the party is going to be aired. To nudge him in the proper direction, Sanders issued a statement after Perez won, saying:

I congratulate Tom Perez on his election as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and look forward to working with him. At a time when Republicans control the White House, the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and two-thirds of all statehouses, it is imperative that Tom understands that the same-old same-old is not working and that we must open the doors of the party to working people and young people in a way that has never been done before. Now, more than ever, the Democratic Party must make it clear that it is prepared to stand up to the 1 percent and lead this country forward in the fight for social, racial, economic and environmental justice.

What no Democrat dares to talk about in public (and maybe not even in private) is the explosive question of whether under the current national circumstances the party should be led by a Latino or a Muslim. Trump doesn't particularly care for either group, but attacks on a Muslim Democrat probably aren't going to alienate many Muslim Republicans because there aren't a lot of them to start with. Attacking a Latino, by contrast, could cost him some support from conservative Latinos. (V)

Trump Administration Extremely Understaffed

As we have noted several times, Team Trump is filling open positions in the executive branch at a snail's pace. In fact, nearly 2,000 jobs remain to be filled, including 313 in the Executive Office of the President, 165 in the Dept. of Education, 120 in the Dept. of Agriculture, 81 in both the Dept. of the Treasury and the Dept. of Justice, and 63 in the Dept. of Defense. Trump, of course, blames Senate Democrats for all the vacancies, declaring that they are "setting records" for delays, and, "It's just a delay, delay, delay, it's really sad." There is some truth to this, but only a little, since the great majority of the openings do not require approval, and are in agencies that already have a secretary in place.

Far more important than the Senate are these four issues:

  • Qualifications: It is true that some of Trump's appointments—Ben Carson for HUD, for example, or Betsy DeVos for Education—are woefully unqualified for their jobs. In the end, however, someone has to know what they're doing. Like the old navy truism that the petty officers really run the ship, it's the undersecretaries and deputies that really run their respective departments. Consequently, and somewhat paradoxically, finding qualified people becomes more and more important as the lower ranks of the executive departments are filled. And, of course, it takes more time to find people who are qualified than it takes to find people who are unqualified.

  • Willingness to Serve: For a lot of people people who might hypothetically serve in the Trump administration, it's a difficult commitment to make. To start with, there are a lot of potential candidates who oppose the President and what he stands for. Already, there have been some high-profile resignations, including CIA lifer Edward Price and National Security Council adviser Rumana Ahmed, with the former appalled by Trump's disdain for the intelligence establishment, and the latter unable to abide by the Islamophobia and hostility of her new colleagues. Beyond such "conscientious objectors," there is also a significant political risk that comes with hitching one's wagon to the Trump Express. If he's successful, then that is great for the careers of his underlings. But if he goes down in flames, his staff could find themselves as toxic as Nixon staffers like H. R. Haldeman and G. Gordon Liddy were after Watergate.

  • Loyalty: Also complicating things is Trump's insistence, in most cases, that potential appointees have no disloyalty to the administration in their background. Already, Ben Carson and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have had their right-hand men vetoed because of past anti-Trump editorials. An unwillingness to recognize that politics is an adversarial process, and to let bygones be bygones, is rather unusual at this level. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all hired many former opponents, up to and including their vice presidents (in Reagan's and Clinton's cases) and their secretary of state (in Obama's case).

  • Inexperience: Finding people and—crucially—vetting them properly to make sure they have no skeletons in their closet is not an easy thing to do. Barack Obama, both George Bushes, Bill Clinton, etc. built rock-solid transition teams full of Washington veterans who knew how to hire people. Trump's transition team, by contrast, has been in a constant state of flux, and is largely populated by outsiders, few of whom have experience with this particular task.

Eventually, Trump will hire all the people he needs to hire, though it's anyone's guess how long that will take. Meanwhile, the issues listed above are likely to have two significant long-term implications: (1) It's unlikely that Trump will be getting large numbers of "the best people" that he promised, and (2) Less-than-stellar staffers are the type that make embarrassing and/or damaging mistakes. (Z)

The Retail Backlash Has Generated Its Own Backlash

Many Democrats who are upset with Donald Trump have boycotted stores that sell Ivanka or Donald Trump's merchandise. The Grab Your Wallet organization, founded by Shannon Coulter in her home, has compiled lists of retailers that sell Trump-branded merchandise, making it easy to figure out who to boycott.

But the sword is double-edged. The same list also provides supporters of the president with information about where to shop to show support for the Trumps. All this boycotting and counterboycotting is causing retailers massive headaches. If they sell Trump-branded merchandise, they alienate Democrats; if they drop Trump-branded merchandise, they alienate Republicans. It used to be that companies tried to avoid politics like the plague, but that is becoming increasingly impossible as everything is now political. (V)

Don't Like It? Bury It

The last month or so has not exactly been an object lesson in transparency. And so, it is not a surprise that news broke this weekend of two high-profile instances of the people in power trying to bury information they did not care for the public to see.

To start with, the Trump Administration last week asked the Department of Homeland Security to prepare a report justifying his choice of countries for the Muslim travel ban. DHS worked fast, and produced a three-page memo in which they concluded that there was simply no way to make a case that those seven countries are most likely to produce potential terrorists. This is not what Trump wanted to hear, so the Administration tried to bury the memo. Unfortunately for them, the White House leaks like a sieve, so the memo became public nonetheless.

Meanwhile, GOP Representatives didn't want to get left out of the fun. Democrats in the House have put together a resolution calling for Trump to disclose all possible ties with Russia and any conflicts-of-interest arising from his business interests. This would be embarrassing and divisive for the right, so House GOP leadership is going to use parliamentary maneuvers to kill the measure. It will be sent to the House Judiciary Committee, whose members will vote whether or not to present the resolution to the entire House of Representatives. The Republican majority on the committee will vote 'no,' and that will be it.

Under some circumstances, sweeping things under the rug like this might very well work. When both the media and the opposition party are sharpening their knives, however, maybe not so much. (Z)

Trump Won't Attend the White House Correspondents Dinner

Donald Trump has escalated his feud with the media another notch. He won't attend the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. Nearly all presidents have attended it since it was first held in 1921. The last president to decline was Ronald Reagan, and he had a pretty good reason: He had just been shot.

It is not clear whether Trump's decision is intended to (1) snub the media or (2) avoid being present when the arrows start coming in his direction. It might very well be both; in the past he's been lampooned as a mere guest at the WHCA dinner, and he clearly did not like it. In the end, however, boycotting could prove to be a miscalculation. By showing up, the president demonstrates that he's a good sport, and also blunts the attacks upon him a bit, since few journalists or comedians are willing to fire with both barrels when the president is sitting ten feet away (Stephen Colbert being the exception). If Trump is absent, not only does it make him look petulant and thin-skinned, but it will also be open season, and everyone will be tuning in to see what is said (April 29, on C-SPAN). (V & Z)

Kuwaiti Government to Spend Up to $60,000 for a Party at a Trump Hotel

The Kuwaiti embassy holds an annual party in D.C. to celebrate the country's National Day, which was yesterday. It commemorates the ascension to the throne of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah on Feb. 25, 1950. In the past, the party, which typically costs $40,000 to $60,000, was held at the Four Seasons Hotel. This year it has been moved to the Trump International Hotel, which charges about the same rates as the Four Seasons.

This is where it gets interesting. Trump has said he would turn over all profits earned from foreign governments at his properties to the treasury, but some ethics lawyers maintain that Trump would have to turn over all the revenue, not just the profit, to avoid violating the Constitution's emoluments clause. Trump's lawyers have said that a foreign government buying a service from the president's company at fair-market rates is not a gift and is thus perfectly constitutional. The Supreme Court has never ruled on an emoluments case, but may get the opportunity before too long. (V)

Arizona Senate Wants to Crack Down on Protests

GOP state senators in Arizona are embracing, without evidence, the notion that the recent spate of anti-Trump protests is being led by ringers. "You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder," says State Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), for example. So, they are pushing forward with SB1142, which would expand the state's anti-racketeering laws to include political protesters. One implication of this would be that if a protest turns violent, all participants would be criminally liable. Another would be that the government could also seize their assets.

This proposal is, of course, deeply problematic on many, many levels. To start, the first amendment quite clearly allows protests of all types, even those that turn violent. In the case of violence, those who perpetrate such acts may well be prosecuted, but the rest are constitutionally protected. Those who regard themselves as originalists, and wish for some guidance on this point, might want to read up on the Boston Massacre or the Boston Tea Party. Beyond this, seizing protesters' property is positively medieval—straight out of the playbook of Henry VIII, among others (admittedly, Henry didn't live in the medieval era, but "positively Elizabethan" doesn't sound as good). There is also a logistical problem—what if the person who commits an act of violence is themselves a plant? Hiring and coordinating a hundred or a thousand protesters is very difficult, which is why the GOP conspiracy theory is very hard to swallow. On the other hand, hiring a mole or two to show up and throw a brick through a window wouldn't be too tough.

It has often been said, and has been repeated here, that states are the laboratories of democracy. If Arizona actually moves forward with this, it's easy to see other red states following suit. It's also a slam dunk that the ACLU will be filing suit, and it's inconceivable that this could pass muster with the Supreme Court. So, in the end, this will surely prove to be much ado about nothing. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb25 Trump Receives a Hero's Welcome at CPAC
Feb25 White House Declares War on the Media
Feb25 Trump Attacks the FBI Again
Feb25 Trump Administration Building a Bubble
Feb25 Key Trump Donors Own Part of Breitbart News
Feb25 ACA Replacement Leaked
Feb25 Obamacare as Popular as It Has Ever Been
Feb25 Obama For President
Feb24 Trump-Russia Plot Thickens, Yet Again
Feb24 White House Raises Concerns Trying to Justify Travel Ban
Feb24 Richard Spencer Ejected from CPAC
Feb24 Bannon Partly Right About the Media
Feb24 Elections Are Closer than You Think
Feb24 Taxpayers Are Confused about the ACA Mandate
Feb24 Feds May Get Back in the Business of Busting Pot Smokers
Feb23 Cabinet Secretaries Are Battling Trump Aides over Appointments
Feb23 Pay-for-Play Remains Alive and Well with Trump Administration
Feb23 Trump Overturns Protections for Transgender Students
Feb23 CPAC Opens with an Identity Crisis
Feb23 Trump Continues to Sink in Polls
Feb23 Kellyanne Conway Benched
Feb23 Perez and Ellison Agree Not to Interfere in Primaries
Feb23 Democrats' Hopes to Retake the House Lie in Suburbia
Feb23 Travel Ban Hurting the Tourist Industry
Feb22 Trump Lays Out Plans for Mass Deportations
Feb22 Trump Denounces Anti-Semitism, Sort Of
Feb22 Trump and McMaster Don't See Eye to Eye on Key Issues
Feb22 McMaster Will Require Senate Confirmation
Feb22 Trump's Streak of Falsehoods Has Lasted 33 Days
Feb22 Town Halls Becoming a Real Hornet's Nest
Feb22 Yiannopoulos Resigns from Breitbart News
Feb22 Protest Trump by Withholding Taxes?
Feb21 Trump Picks Lt. Gen. McMaster as the new National Security Adviser
Feb21 New Travel Ban is Coming
Feb21 Milo Yiannopoulos Disinvited from CPAC Conference
Feb21 More on the Election Results
Feb21 Republicans Lose Some Top-Tier Senate Candidates
Feb21 Kansas State Legislature Rolls Back Income Tax Cuts
Feb21 Britons Don't Want Trump
Feb21 Trump Golfs, Tries to Hide It
Feb20 Trump Administration Plans to Speed Deportations
Feb20 Another Day, Another Non-Existent Terrorist Attack
Feb20 Trump Searching for New National Security Advisor
Feb20 Trump about to Discover that Dealing with China Isn't So Easy
Feb20 Could Trump Jail Reporters Who Publish Leaks?
Feb20 Why Should America Trust You?
Feb20 Impeach President Bannon Signs Appear around the Country
Feb19 Trump Continues to Ignore the Grown-Ups in His Cabinet
Feb19 Priebus Is All In on Trump
Feb19 Keep an Eye on Mike Pence