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Oops! House Reverses Ethics Decision

Monday, House Republicans gutted the Office of Congressional Ethics, thinking nobody would notice. To make a long story short, everyone noticed. It was the biggest news story of the day. So yesterday, they ungutted it. It kind of sends a mixed message about ethics, party discipline, swamp management, and a few other things. Politico made a little list of what we have learned in the space of 24 hours:

  • Rank-and-file Republicans think it is fine to defy the GOP leadership, which didn't want to abolish the ethics office
  • Republicans think they have a huge mandate to do whatever they want to and are already overreaching
  • Donald Trump has other priorities than this kind of game, and may make members of Congress pay for it
  • Shortsightedness could become a big issue

The bottom line is that House Republicans feel they are not accountable to anyone and can do whatever they please. They will discover that when they do something outrageous, there will be blowback. (V)

Trump Blasts Intelligence Agencies

Another day, another Twitter soap opera. On New Year's Eve, Donald Trump said that he was scheduled to receive a briefing Tuesday about the Russian hacking. He didn't get it, and so—naturally—took to Twitter to complain:

The "Intelligence" briefing on so-called "Russian hacking" was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!

First of all, delays happen. Surely, Trump's lawyers have asked for—and received—more time on plenty of occasions. Beyond that, U.S. intelligence officials say that the briefing was not scheduled for Tuesday, pointing out that the President hasn't even been updated yet, much less the President-elect.

Trump's strategy is very clear at this point: de-legitimize, de-legitimize, de-legitimize. Note, for example, the insertion of "so-called" in the tweet above, or putting the word 'intelligence' in quotations. Not to mention, of course, the attempt to make the intelligence establishment look incompetent. This worked for him during the election, when most or all of the GOP was playing along, and the targets were Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the New York Times, and other conservative bugaboos. But will it work when high-profile Republicans senators and representatives (e.g., John McCain, Lindsey Graham) are speaking out against him, and when the target is the CIA, FBI, etc.? Those agencies are part of law enforcement and/or national defense, and conservatives tend to be big supporters of law enforcement and national defense. The guess here is that this goes badly for Trump. (Z)

Obama to Transfer Gitmo Detainees

Trump's hacking-related tantrum was not the only Twitter drama on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, The Donald picked up his phone and tweeted:

There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.

This did not have the desired impact, unless the desired impact was for President Obama to do the opposite. Because, just hours after the tweet, the administration confirmed that there would definitely be more transfers from Gitmo. White House press secretary Josh Earnest also advised that Trump would have, "an opportunity to implement the policy that he believes will be more effective when he takes office on January 20."

At this point, Barack Obama is pretty much doing whatever he can to stymie Trump, and he isn't even trying very hard to hide it. If The Donald wants to influence the administration, he should probably start using reverse psychology. Like, for example, he could tweet, "I hope Obama doesn't call his friends in Hollywood and ask them to perform at my inaugural," or "Obama better mention Russian hacking in his farewell address, or I'll be very angry." (Z)

McConnell Is the Dog that Caught the Car

There is an old story about a dog that chases cars but wouldn't know what to do if it ever caught one. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now that dog. Exhibit A: There is a display at the University of Louisville designed to celebrate McConnell (and his wife, Secretary of Transportation-designate Elaine Chao). It is entirely about all the elections he has won, from high school to his six elections as a U.S. senator.

However, something is missing from the exhibit. There is not a word about any bill that he wrote and which became law. There is no mention of any bills other senators sponsored that he cleverly maneuvered through the Senate. There is no video of important speeches that he made on the floor of the Senate. There are no letters from Kentucky coal miners or tobacco farmers whose lives he improved. There is nothing about any crises he averted through his mastery of the arcane Senate rules. In short, it is only about his pursuit of power. There is nothing about what he wanted to do with that power, which he now has. If Miami University in Oxford, OH, were to stage an exhibit about one of its most famous alumni, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), there would a tremendous amount of information about Ryan's budgets, plans to modernize Medicare, and many other policy issues. But for McConnell, his only goal his whole life has been about attaining power, which he has now achieved. Now what?

According to McConnell's biographer, Alec MacGillis, McConnell used to be a moderate-to-liberal politician in the mold of his idol, former Kentucky Republican senator John Sherman Cooper. In 1976, he supported Jerry Ford. In 1980, McConnell supported George H.W. Bush. Only after Ronald Reagan won did he become a fan of Reagan. That makes him more of an opportunist than a true zealot. MacGillis interviewed 100 of McConnell's colleagues and friends and no one really had an explanation of what McConnell wants, other than to achieve and hold power.

MacGillis asked people whether McConnell would ever stand up to Trump, and the consensus seems to be that McConnell's primary concern is keeping his job, not ideology. If Trump proposed something that McConnell thought would hurt the Republicans in 2018, he would likely tell Trump not to do it. If he thought it would help the Republicans in 2018, he'd be for it. The nature of the policy itself wouldn't matter to McConnell at all, only the likely political fallout in the midterms. He is definitely an unusual politician, in that he doesn't actually care much about policy. (V)

House Adopts Anti-Sit-in Rule

Though House Republicans backed off their plans to eviscerate the Office of Congressional Ethics, they didn't change their mind on all of the new rules they had planned. On Tuesday, they voted in a provision to levy fines on any House member who violates the decorum rules of the House. This is meant to forestall incidents like last year's Democratic-led anti-gun sit-in. Not everyone would want to be the one to tell civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) that he can't protest any more, but the House Republican Caucus is bold like that.

The punishment for "violating decorum" is a $500 fine on the first occasion, and a $2,500 fine on each subsequent occasion. This probably won't be much of a deterrent for, say, Rep. John Delaney (D-MD; net worth of $92 million) or Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO; $90 million). It might persuade some of the poorer members to express themselves differently, though it takes just one George Soros or Warren Buffett to cover everyone's "violating decorum" tabs. (Z)

Trump Is Already Working on His Second Supreme Court Appointment

Donald Trump is clearly going to name a rock-ribbed conservative to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. It would be hard to find someone more conservative than Scalia, so that appointment won't change the balance of the court much. However, the transition team is looking beyond the current vacant seat to a second vacancy, probably that of either Justice Anthony Kennedy (80) or Ruth Bader Ginsburg (83). By appointing a second rock-ribbed conservative to that position, he would change the composition of the court for decades.

To avoid an endless filibuster of the second nominee, the transition team is looking at people whom the Democrats would have a hard time of opposing. Ideal would be an ultra-right-wing handicapped black transgender woman, but they are in short supply. One name that has come up is Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, although that of William Pryor of the 11th Circuit has also been thrown out. Given the fear many conservatives have of getting another David Souter or Sandra Day O'Connor, the only potential candidates are judges with long track records on the appellate courts or the state supreme courts. The only problem with that strategy is that someone with a long track record probably also has a lot of baggage. Pryor, for example, once called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination of constitutional law."

All of this puts the Democrats in a bind. Do they go to the mat against the Scalia replacement, which merely prolongs the status quo, and then keep their powder dry for the second opening? Or, do they oppose the first one with everything they have and hope that (1) Ginsburg doesn't die, and (2) Kennedy doesn't resign? It is inconceivable that Ginsburg will resign unless her doctor tells her she has less than 3 months to live, and maybe not even then. Kennedy is a horse of a different color; he wouldn't mind so much being replaced by a true conservative. (V)

Bushes, Clintons to Attend Inauguration

The elder George Bush is in failing health, and so has a built-in excuse to skip Donald Trump's inauguration. The younger Bush and the Clintons would also prefer not to attend, due to the President-elect's treatment of Jeb Bush and Hillary, respectively. However, they don't have a good excuse for not going, and would look petulant if they tried to opt out. So, on Tuesday, the younger Bushes and the Clintons both confirmed they would be in attendance.

Meanwhile, the entertainment for that day remains a source of intrigue. The producers of the inaugural gala finally persuaded an actual celebrity to appear: singer Rebecca Ferguson. However, her agreement comes with a condition, namely that she be allowed to perform "Strange Fruit," an anti-lynching protest song and civil rights anthem. The Trump camp has yet to respond to Ferguson; if they decide that's not quite the right message for them, maybe they can just ask Bill to bring his saxophone. (Z)

Schumer Will Be Very Different from Reid as Senate Minority Leader

The Democrats' new leader in the Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), will be different from outgoing Democratic leader Harry Reid in a number of important ways. The most important one is that Schumer is more of a big-tent leader. He recently backed Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) when Manchin threatened to shut down the government over benefits for coal miners. Schumer also set up a 10-member leadership team and will meet with them every week to get input from all parts of the party. Reid, by contrast, talked to a handful of other senators at most and frequently made decisions on his own. Schumer is also very mindful that 10 Democrats in states that Trump won face reelection in 2018, so he will be much more accommodating to their needs than Reid would have been. Of course, doing that will anger Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who are in the leadership team along with the conservative Manchin. It will be quite a balancing act for Schumer to get the occupants of the big tent to not be at each others' throats all the time. (V)

Megyn Kelly Jumps to NBC

Fox News personality Megyn Kelly's future is clouded in mystery no more: On Tuesday she announced that after this week, she is jumping ship to NBC, where she will host a weekday talk show and a weekend news program. Terms were not disclosed, but it's fair to assume that NBC will pay Kelly something in the ballpark of the $20 million per year that Fox offered.

The move certainly adds some intrigue when it comes to the immediate future of both networks. Kelly may have more credibility than any other journalist in America when it comes to challenging Donald Trump. So, her hiring certainly suggests that NBC is locking and loading in preparation for the next four or eight years, even though Trump is on their payroll as executive producer of "The Apprentice." Meanwhile, among Fox News shows, Kelly's program was second in popularity only to that of Bill O'Reilly. He's 67, his average viewer is even older, and he's been making noises about retiring when his contract is up at the end of 2017 so he can devote himself fully to producing mediocre history books. In other words, the network will have a gaping hole in its schedule by next week that could get even bigger by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Roger Ailes is long gone, and Rupert Murdoch's sons are looking to take things in a new, younger-skewing direction. So, it looks like times will be a-changin' at Fox News. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan03 Pence Will Meet with House Republicans Today
Jan03 House Votes to Gut Office of Congressional Ethics
Jan03 No Hacking Revelations, After All
Jan03 What to Watch about Trade
Jan03 Trump Reportedly Picks Trade Representative
Jan03 Battle Over Sessions Has Begun
Jan03 Obama Will Give His Farewell Address on Jan. 10 in Chicago.
Jan03 Another Secretary Position May Need to Be Filled
Jan02 Trump Says He Will Reveal New Information about the Russian Hacking This Week
Jan02 Trump Likes Schumer Best?
Jan02 Trump Will Keep Tweeting
Jan02 Democrats Will Target Eight Cabinet Nominees
Jan02 Congress Will Start Repealing the Affordable Care Act Tomorrow
Jan02 House, Senate Likely to Butt Heads on Medicare
Jan02 Coal Miners Expect Trump to Deliver
Jan02 Top Wall Street Journal Editor Is Leery of Saying that Trump Lies
Jan01 Be Careful What You Wish For, You Might Get It
Jan01 Vermont Utility Hit By Same Hackers as DNC
Jan01 Trump Pooh-poohs Russian Hacking, Says Computers Can't Be Trusted
Jan01 Trump Just Can't Help Himself
Jan01 The Larger Meaning of the Inaugural Snubs
Jan01 Which Senators Will Throw in the Towel in 2018?
Jan01 How Will Democrats Handle Supreme Court Vacancy?
Dec31 Obama's Final Moves to Stymie Trump
Dec31 Obama Meeting with Congressional Democrats to Strategize on Obamacare
Dec31 McConnell Will Play a Key Role in 2017
Dec31 Trump Praises Putin
Dec31 Trump Planning to Keep Private Security Force
Dec31 Spend New Year's Eve With the Trumps for Under $600
Dec31 Inauguration Planning Keeps Leaving Egg on Trump's Face
Dec31 North Carolina Judge Temporarily Blocks New Republican Laws
Dec30 America Retaliates against Russia
Dec30 Trump May Be Bad News for Israel
Dec30 Deploraball Highlights Schism within the Alt-right Movement
Dec30 Should the Media Ignore Trump's Tweets?
Dec30 Republicans May Target Medicaid Rather than Medicare
Dec30 Heller to Run for Reelection to the Senate
Dec30 States with the Most, Least Electoral Integrity
Dec30 Electoral College Precedent Has Been Set
Dec29 Retaliation Against Russians Coming Soon
Dec29 Trump Looking Hard for a Secretary of Agriculture
Dec29 Trump Says He Will Write His Own Inaugural Address
Dec29 Trump Claims Credit for 8,000 More Jobs Saved
Dec29 Democrats Are Calling for Nationwide Rallies on Health Care Jan. 15
Dec29 Virginia May Afford Early Assessment of Trump Presidency
Dec29 Trump-Obama Relationship Deteriorates
Dec29 The Worst Predictions of 2016
Dec29 Whither the White Supremacists?
Dec28 Trump Rewards Donors Big Time
Dec28 Trump's Inexperience Is Going to Cause Him Trouble Settling Disputes