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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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Trouble for Trump Appointees

Generally speaking, staffing a new presidential administration is a fairly low-drama process. Presidents-elect don't want to embarrass themselves or get off on the wrong foot, so they tend to choose highly-qualified, well-vetted nominees. The Senate, even if controlled by the opposition party, generally wants to respect tradition and avoid antagonizing someone they're going to have to work with for 4-8 years. Donald Trump is not like other presidents, however, and so for him the process has been a real soap opera. On Monday, problems of various sorts emerged with a trio of his high-profile appointees.

First up is Secretary of HHS-designate Rep. Tom Price (R-GA). He will theoretically be the hatchet man that chops Obamacare up into tiny pieces for the administration. On Monday, however, news broke that just last March, Price purchased thousands of dollars in shares in pharmaceutical company Zimmer Biomet, and then promptly introduced legislation that would help the company (and its stock price). And this is not the first time that Price has done this (though it's among the more egregious); while in office he has bought and sold more than $300,000 worth of shares in biomedical companies who were likely to be affected by legislation that he was pursuing. At best, this looks very bad. At worst, it's pure corruption, and possibly even insider trading.

Then there is Secretary of Labor-designate Andrew Puzder. As a corporate bigwig, he's rather accustomed to fawning and flattery, and not so much to criticism and condemnation. He's gotten plenty of the latter in the past few weeks, and he does not care for it. He's also not thrilled that the vetting process is turning his life into an open book. Consequently, Puzder is reportedly having second thoughts about his appointment. "He may be bailing," said a Team Trump insider on Monday. "He is not into the pounding he is taking, and the paperwork." Puzder and the Trump staff both deny this, but that is what we would expect them to do right up until the point that he pushes the eject button.

Finally, there's Monica Crowley, who apparently plagiarized everything she's written in the last 25 years. This means her dissertation (and resulting Ph.D.), her bestselling books, and her lengthy list of op-eds are all a sham; among writers of all stripes there is no greater offense. She was set to serve as a key member of President-elect Trump's national security team. And given that the position does not require Senate approval, along with the likelihood that The Donald does not care about egghead crimes like plagiarism, she might have weathered the storm. On the other hand, she would have faced uncomfortable questions for months or years, and she likely would have struggled to maintain the respect of her NSA colleagues, especially since her job was supposed to be...speechwriting. So, on Monday, she dropped out.

For most presidents-elect, all of these developments would be pretty embarrassing. For Donald Trump, on the other hand, who knows? Monday's news probably bothers him less than the latest Trump sketch on "Saturday Night Live". (Z)

Trump Has Been Trying to Do Business in Russia for Decades

Many people are wondering why President-elect Donald Trump is so friendly to Vladimir Putin, especially since most Republicans are not big fans of Communist (quasi-)dictators. One theory that is widely circulated, but for which there is no public evidence, is that after his four bankruptcies, U.S. banks wouldn't lend money to Trump any more so he borrowed it from Russia. However, the New York Times just published an article that suggests an alternative explanation (although the two are not mutually exclusive). Trump has been trying to pull off real-estate deals in Russia for decades, with no success. He and his children have visited Moscow over and over to talk to developers and government officials, trying to make deals. But so far to no avail. He would love for there to be a Trump Tower in Moscow, but up until now that has eluded him, albeit not for lack for trying.

At his news conference last week, Trump said: "I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we've stayed away." That is flatly untrue. He applied for a Russian trademark in 1996. In 2006, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Felix Sater, a Russian immigrant to the U.S., developer, and Trump business partner, stayed at a hotel across from the Kremlin for several days, talking to potential partners. In 2013, Trump himself visited Moscow to look for deals, tweeting: "TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next." It didn't happen, but he certainly tried to make it happen. Maybe this is the moment that he could make it happen. (V)

Trump's Opinions on Russia Have Shifted

At the moment, Donald Trump feels very warmly towards Russia, by all evidences. There was a time, however, when he was not such a big fan. In fact, he once described the nation as America's "biggest problem" and greatest enemy. Those declarations, made in a Fox News interview that was brought back to light on Monday, came all the way back in...2014.

Every American is surely aware, by this point, that Trump makes no effort whatsoever to be consistent on anything, and that his positions on issues can literally shift by the hour. So, the fact that his thinking on Russia has taken a 180-degree turn is par for the course. Undoubtedly, he was still smarting from his then-recent lack of success in Russia (see above). There's also a good chance he was parroting Mitt Romney and others as a means of obscuring his shallow understanding of foreign affairs—it's far easier to agree with others' declarations (which is what he was doing at the time) than it is to disagree, because if you disagree you generally have to come up with specific reasons. If you agree, you can just say: "Mitt expressed it better than I ever could." In any case, it's clear that the President-Elect is not terribly invested in his current pro-Russia stance, and that if the screws are turned, he could easily turn into a Reagan-style Russophobe at any time. (Z)

Trump, Price, and Hatch Don't Agree on What the ACA Replacement Should Look Like

Donald Trump picked Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) for secretary of HHS so he could uproot the Affordable Care Act. He may soon notice that his idea of a replacement is not the same as Price's, and both of them are different from what Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) wants. Trump wants insurance for everybody. Price has written bills in the House, but universal coverage was never a goal in any of them. Hatch said that one shouldn't put too much stock in Price's bills. Ultimately, it is Congress that writes the bills, and the chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee and HELP Committee, chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), are two of the biggest players.

Hatch and many Republicans in Congress are focused on making insurance affordable, even if it doesn't cover very much. The idea is that if it is cheap enough, healthy people will buy it, thus having the pool of insured people contain enough healthy people that the system doesn't collapse, even in the absence of a mandate to buy insurance. In short, the ingredients aren't even ready to go into the sausage making machine called Congress, so it is far to early to guess what the sausage will look like, if and when it is finally produced. (V)

White Supremacists No Longer Hailing Trump

In a development that should surprise nobody, the white supremacists who rallied behind Donald Trump are already growing disenchanted with him. They're upset about nearly all of his cabinet nominations, his waffling on the pledge to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, his remarks on Russia, and a host of other things.

After an election, each part of the victorious coalition generally gets a few bones thrown their way. In the case of the white supremacists, they got an AG in Jeff Sessions whose views on race are about as non-progressive as is possible for someone who has actually won elections. They got Steve Bannon, who will have the ear of the president and an office just down the hall. The Mexico wall is still being bandied about, as are mass deportations (just not 11 million of them) and a Muslim registry. These are wins, and big ones, for a movement that is at the very fringes of American society. If the white supremacists thought they were going to get more, they were absolutely delusional, especially because they can't even agree among themselves as to exactly what their priorities are. Of course, they are called extremists for a reason, and it's not because they are good at compromise or at bowing to the realities of life in 21st century America. In any case, the breakdown of the relationship between Team Trump and the white nationalists is the most predictable divorce since the last time a Kardashian got married. (Z)

Poll: Trump Can Keep Businesses but Should Release Tax Returns

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 52% of Americans think that President-elect Donald Trump's decision to turn his businesses over to his adult sons is enough to separate his presidential duties from his business interests, while 42% don't think it is enough. However, on another front, the public is not with Trump. Fully 74% of Americans think he should make his tax returns public, including 53% of Republicans. Last week Trump said that only reporters care about his tax returns. This poll shows that a large majority of Americans care about them. In fact, 40% said they "care a lot" about knowing what is in them. (V)

Obama Leaves Office with a 58% Approval Rating

As President Obama prepares to leave office, a lot of people will miss him. His approval rating, according to a new Gallup poll, is 58%. When George W. Bush left office, his approval rating was 40%. Bill Clinton's was 57%. Only George H.W. Bush had a higher approval rating among recent presidents at 62%. Gallup didn't ask the question about presidents before Bush 41. Michelle Obama is even more popular than her husband, with an approval rating of 68%. Joe Biden is at 61%.

In contrast, Trump's approval rating is 40%, a historical low compared to incoming presidents Barack Obama (78% approval), George W. Bush (62% approval), and Bill Clinton (66% approval). (V)

Trump Reaches 20M Twitter Followers

Just days before his inauguration, Donald Trump reached a milestone that he and his aides have been eagerly anticipating: 20 million Twitter followers. Some people might aspire to something loftier, say a Nobel Prize, or a visit from the Pope, or an approval rating above 50%, but different strokes for different folks, as they say.

The nice, round mega-number is the good news for Team Trump. Now, the bad news. As with anyone who has that many followers, many of the 20 million are not real, live users. Either the accounts are automated bots, or are defunct, or are otherwise empty shells. In Trump's case, about 13.6 million of his followers are real, while about 6.4 million are fake. Beyond that, 20 million does not even break him into the Top 50 on Twitter. He's roughly as popular Kardashian scion Kylie Jenner, country music star Blake Shelton, rapper Eminem, NASA, talk show host Conan O'Brien, and The Economist. Meanwhile, he lags well behind actress Emma Watson, soccer star Neymar, singer Miley Cyrus, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, the New York Times, and CNN, among others. Those last two surely get under Trump's skin, but not as much as the fact that #4 @BarackObama has 80.5 million followers (64 million of whom are real). Given the different demographics the two presidents appeal to, there is no chance that Trump will reach Obama's stratosphere. Unless, of course, he reaches an agreement to purchase the account of #1 Katy Perry, with her 95 million followers. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan16 CIA Director Brennan Rips into Trump
Jan16 Feinstein Says Russia Altered the Election Outcome
Jan16 Trump Calls NATO Obsolete
Jan16 Trump Won't Visit African-American Museum After All
Jan16 Thousands Rally to Resist Repeal of the ACA
Jan16 Constituents Ask ACA Questions, Their Congressman Flees
Jan16 Inauguration Gets Some Performers
Jan16 Mr. Trump: Please Attack Me Next
Jan14 Trump's Cabinet Is Not on the Same Page as Trump
Jan14 What Will Trump Do? We Should Know February 6
Jan14 Senate Committee Will Investigate Russian Interference
Jan14 Inauguration Day Will Be Tense in D.C.
Jan14 Mexico Will Respond Immediately to a Border Tax
Jan14 Lee May Propose Tariff Bill
Jan14 For Liberal Media, Trump is Good For Business
Jan13 Senate Committee Approves Waiver for Mattis
Jan13 FBI, DOJ to Be Investigated
Jan13 Russia Could Now Focus on Hacking Members of Congress
Jan13 Trump Gets Pushback on Plan to Move Israel Embassy
Jan13 Obama Ends Automatic Residency for Cuban Refugees
Jan13 Both Parties Have Unstable Coalitions
Jan13 Why Trump Can't Let Go
Jan13 Majority of Americans Want Trump to Quit Twitter
Jan13 Bush Daughters Write Letter to Obama Daughters
Jan12 Trump's Presidency Will Be Like No Other
Jan12 Senate Takes First Step Toward Repealing Obamacare
Jan12 Tillerson Evades Senators' Questions
Jan12 Booker and Lewis Testify Against Sessions
Jan12 Chao Sails Through Easily
Jan12 Mattis Aggravates House Democrats
Jan12 Cubs to Visit Obama on Monday
Jan11 Russia May Have Dirt on Trump
Jan11 Sessions Denies Racism Charges
Jan11 Is McConnell Pulling a Fast One?
Jan11 Clinton's Cabinet Shortlist Leaks
Jan11 Trump Wants the ACA to Be Replaced Quickly
Jan11 Trump Meets With RFK, Jr.
Jan11 Obama Bids Farewell, but Is Not Leaving on Jan. 20
Jan11 Majority of Voters Don't Like Trump's Transition
Jan11 Bad News Just Keeps Coming for Crowley
Jan10 Booker to Testify Against Sessions
Jan10 Jared Kushner to Be Named Senior Adviser to the President
Jan10 Kushner: Trump Didn't Really Believe Conspiracy Theories
Jan10 What Can Trump Do on His First Day in Office?
Jan10 McConnell: Trump's Hopes on Russia "Will Be Dashed Pretty Quickly"
Jan10 Anti-Trump Movement Will Operate in California and New York
Jan10 Trump Fires Back at Streep
Jan09 Cabinet Confirmation Hearings Will Start This Week
Jan09 Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Jan09 Unpaid Trump Advisors May Also Have Conflicts of Interest