• Trump Mocks Schumer for Eating Donuts with Putin
• Evidence Against Sessions Mounts
• Pence: "No Comparison" Between My E-mails and Hillary's
• So Far, Tillerson Is an Invisible Secretary of State
• Trump Working to Raise Money for 2020
• How Midterms Differ from Presidential Elections
Another day, another leak (or 10). The newest version of the House Republicans' plan to replace the Affordable Care Act has been leaked. The new plan isn't all that different from the old plan, actually. It still contains tax credits based on age (not income). There are differences, however. One of them is a (yet-to-be-determined) income cutoff above which people would not qualify for tax credits. Another difference is that existing plans would be allowed to continue into the indefinite future, so Republicans could say: "If you like your plan, you can keep it."
Several issues are unresolved, though. First is what to do about Medicaid, an issue complicated by the fact that some states expanded it and others didn't, so any change is going to have different impacts on different people, depending on where they live. Another problem is how to finance the plan. Republicans want to eliminate all the current ACA taxes, but the money has to come from somewhere. Finally, a very contentious issue is whether the government's assistance should be in the form of a tax deduction (which helps rich people more than poor people), or a tax credit (which affects all taxpayers equally). And if it is a tax credit, should it be refundable, meaning that if a person getting a $3,000 credit owes only $1,000 in tax, does the person get a government check for the other $2,000? Many House Republicans see this as welfare and are wildly against it, but without refundability, millions of people who pay little or no federal income tax will lose their insurance. (V)
Yesterday, Donald Trump mocked the call from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for an investigation into the administration's ties with Russia by sending out a 2003 photo of Schumer having coffee and donuts with Vladimir Putin in New York. Schumer replied that he would be happy to talk all about his contact with Putin, which was 14 years ago and in public, surrounded by the press. Schumer's call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign is clearly getting under Trump's skin, or he wouldn't have brought the subject up again. What he doesn't want to talk about is the difference between a very public meeting between Schumer and Putin vs. a secret meeting between Sessions and the Russian ambassador about which Sessions lied under oath. But as a political strategy, it might work with his base, as many of them probably don't care about the difference between eating donuts in public, where nothing important could possibly have been discussed, and a secret meeting behind closed doors, where everything could have been discussed.
Some Democrats have a fantasy of putting Sessions on trial for perjury, but he could probably defend himself on constitutional grounds. At the time of his confirmation hearing, Sessions was a sitting senator and Art. 1, Sec. 6 of the Constitution reads:
The Senators and Representatives shall be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.
That is probably enough to protect Sessions from perjury charges, especially since the Supreme Court ruled in 1972 in Gravel v. United States that the clause also applies to testimony before congressional committees. (V)
The key to Jeff Sessions' defense, when it comes to his meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, is that he was acting in his capacity as a U.S. Senator and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and not as a representative of Donald Trump's campaign. This story—or alibi, if you will—is a hard one to disprove, since the only two people who know for sure are Sessions and Kislyak, and neither of them is going to say otherwise.
That said, there is some evidence that Sessions is lying. To start, as has been noted many times in the past 48 hours, none of the 25 other members of Sessions' committee felt a need to meet with Kislyak. That means that, at best, the Senator was doing some very unusual freelancing. And on Friday, additional troublesome evidence came to light. Sessions' first meeting with Kislyak came during the Republican National Convention. And to pay his travel costs during that trip, Sessions used his campaign account rather than Senate Armed Services Committee funds. This, of course, is exactly what someone would do if they were on campaign business, as opposed to Senate business.
Still, as noted above, Sessions is in an excellent position to avoid any serious repercussions for his actions. The fact that he was a sitting Senator at the time of his hearings will likely allow him to avoid perjury charges on what is effectively a technicality. It also helps that many of the Senators who would have to vote to charge him are his personal friends, and that his party controls both houses of Congress. Already, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has announced that he has no intention of calling Sessions to testify. So, it's nice to have connections, it would seem. (Z)
We have, on occasion, found it useful to reference the Sherlock Holmes stories. That includes "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," wherein the evidence makes the main suspect look very guilty. He tells the police that he understands why they think the evidence points to him, but then insists upon his innocence. To the erstwhile-but-not-too-sharp Dr. Watson, this is proof of the man's guilt. Holmes, however, correctly guesses that the man is telling the truth. His reasoning is that only a guilty person would try to deny the evidence, instead of acknowledging it.
This brings us to Mike Pence, who responded on Friday to the news that he used an AOL account to conduct private business while governor of Indiana. "There's no comparison whatsoever," Pence declared, in reference to the charges that dogged Hillary Clinton throughout her presidential campaign. In fact, as we pointed out yesterday, there are absolutely some substantive comparisons. Both individuals made careless, ill-informed decisions that potentially exposed privileged information to hackers. There are also important differences—in Pence's favor, he was a governor and not Secretary of State, while in Clinton's favor, her e-mail wasn't nearly as insecure as Pence's was (which is why he is the one who got hacked). If Pence's response to the whole situation, like the accused in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," was to acknowledge that he could understand why some people might see things one way, and then to explain why he they should actually see them in a different way, his defense would actually be more compelling. But to pretend that there's no comparison whatsoever, well, makes it seems like he's a guilty man. (Z)
Normally, the Secretary of State is one of the highest profile members of the administration, regardless of where they keep their email or what happens in Benghazi. However, as the Los Angeles Times' Tracy Wilkinson points out, newly-minted secretary Rex Tillerson has been all-but-invisible in his first month on the job.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, he's held no press conferences and given no interviews. In fact, his total public pronouncements total less than 50 words. In terms of press releases, most have been congratulations to other countries on the occasion of their various independence days. He has no deputy (his first choice having been blocked by the White House) and has very few senior staffers. He's made only two brief trips abroad, and both were conducted in a manner designed to deflect attention. Tillerson meets with President Trump only occasionally, and has not generally been present at high-profile meetings with foreign leaders.
It is unclear if Tillerson is keeping a low profile by choice, or on orders from his boss(es) in the White House. Prior to his confirmation, The Economist suggested that he would act as a check on some of the more troublesome impulses of the President. That certainly does not seem to be happening, and between Tillerson's invisibility and the budgetary priorities already laid out by Trump, it all points to a foreign policy that is primarily in the hands of inexperienced amateurs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and not in those of the pros at 2201 C Street, NW. (Z)
One of Donald Trump's selling points during the campaign was that he was going to finance the campaign himself, so he wouldn't be beholden to donors. To a large extent, he did that, putting about $65 million of his own money into the race. But it is already clear that he has no intention of doing that in 2020. In fact, instead of attacking big Republican donors, as he has done in the past, he has a new tactic for dealing with them: make nice to them.
Megadonor Betsy DeVos, for example, got a plum job as secretary of education. Megadonor Linda McMahon got to run the small business administration. Paul Singer, a former backer of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), got a one-on-one meeting with Trump in the Oval Office. Wall Street tycoon Maurice "Hank" Greenberg invested $15 million in an attempt to defeat Trump in the primaries, but now he's got an invitation to the White House. Supermegadonor Sheldon Adelson got prime seats at Trump's inauguration and a meeting with Mike Pence. Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman, who gave $4 million to GOP SuperPACs, became chair of a council of business leaders that will advise Trump on job creation. And while all these people, and many more, got something of value for the financial efforts to help the GOP, the biggest winner of all is Rebekah Mercer, who got her buddy Steve Bannon installed in the White House as a kind of assistant president. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), who knows a thing or two about money in politics, summed up Trump's new-found love for big donors as: "Drain the swamp? He's filling the swamp." (V)
Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball has an interesting piece on how midterm elections do and do not differ from presidential elections. With the midterms only 20 months away, this is very timely.Differences between midterm and presidential elections
- Voter turnout is far, far lower in midterms
- The midterm electorate is better educated
- The midterm electorate is not as racially diverse
- There is always a gender gap (women are more Democratic, men are more Republican) in all elections
- Younger voters are more Democratic, older voters are more Republican in all elections
- Nonwhites are more Democratic than whites in all elections
The low turnout hurts the Democrats very badly as a rule, since the missing voters are mostly minorities and younger voters. The fact that the electorate is better educated in the midterms helps the Democrats somewhat now, since college-educated voters are turning away from the Republicans, but it is not a large effect. However, a factor that could help the Democrats in 2018 is that historically, the president's party takes a beating in the midterms. In 16 of the past 20 midterm elections, the president's party has lost seats in the Senate (with two of the remaining four being a wash), and in 18 of them his party has lost seats in the House. But yet another factor that works the other way is that the Senate map is terrible for the Democrats in 2018, with 25 seats up (vs. 9 for the Republicans), and 10 of those 25 are in states Trump won. In short, there are a lot of competing factors that are contradictory and a lot depends on how fired up each party's base is. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar03 Pence Used Private E-Mail Account
Mar03 The Fight for Trump's Brain
Mar03 Supreme Court Weighs In on Gerrymandering
Mar03 Yemen Raid Yielded No Intelligence
Mar03 Ohio Secretary of State Said that 82 People Voted Illegally
Mar03 McMaster Was Rebuked by the Army in 2015
Mar02 Sessions Looks to Be in Deep Trouble
Mar02 Handicapping Trump's Promises
Mar02 NYT: Five Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 CNN: Six Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 The Hill: Five Takeaways
Mar02 USA Today: Six Takeways
Mar02 Response to Trump Speech is Largely Positive
Mar02 Graham Wants a Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Their Tax Returns
Mar02 Conway Looks Likely to Get Off Scott Free
Mar01 Trump Addresses a Joint Session of Congress
Mar01 Trump Signals Openness to Amnesty
Mar01 Betsy DeVos Steps in it Again
Mar01 Banning Reporters from a Press Conference May Be Illegal
Mar01 FBI Was Going to Hire Christopher Steele
Mar01 Trump's Management Style Is Unchanged
Feb28 Trump to Address Congress Tonight
Feb28 Trump and Ryan Are on a Collision Course
Feb28 Does the U.S. Really Need More Military Spending?
Feb28 Trump in Prime Form on Monday
Feb28 Wilbur Ross Confirmed for Commerce
Feb28 Spicer Says There Is Nothing Further to Investigate about Trump-Russia Ties
Feb28 Bush Calls Media "Indispensable to Democracy"
Feb27 Dewey Defeats Truman at Academy Awards
Feb27 Governors Don't Agree on ACA Replacement
Feb27 Leaked Report Says Millions Will Lose Health Care under GOP Plan
Feb27 Democrat Wins First Post-Trump Election in a Landslide
Feb27 More Embarrassments for Spicer
Feb27 Democratic 2020 Candidates Compete To Be Most Anti-Trump
Feb27 Navy SEAL's Father Wants an Investigation
Feb27 Donald Trump May Appear at White House Correspondents' Dinner, After All
Feb26 DNC Elects Tom Perez Chairman
Feb26 Trump Administration Extremely Understaffed
Feb26 The Retail Backlash Has Generated Its Own Backlash
Feb26 Don't Like It? Bury It
Feb26 Trump Won't Attend the White House Correspondents Dinner
Feb26 Kuwaiti Government to Spend Up to $60,000 for a Party at a Trump Hotel
Feb26 Arizona Senate Wants to Crack Down on Protests
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