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Gianforte Wins Montana Special Election

Republican Greg Gianforte has cruised to a comfortable victory in the election to succeed Ryan Zinke as Montana's only member of the House of Representatives, taking 50.8% of the vote to 43.4% for Democrat Rob Quist, and 5.7% for Libertarian Mark Wicks.

Gianforte's last-minute meltdown does not appear to have affected him too much. Polls had him up roughly 6-7 points, and he won by a little more than 7. Further, his percentage of the mail-in vote (cast before he tussled with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs) was similar to his percentage of in-person votes. In his victory speech, Gianforte apologized to Jacobs, telling the crowd: "When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That's the Montana way." This would seem to be reflect a recent change in philosophy, since 24 hours earlier, he was blaming Jacobs for everything.

In terms of reading the tea leaves nationally, we now have a third Congressional election that was closer than it should have been, but that still went to a Republican. While that still bodes well for the Democrats' chances of taking the house next year, the base wants a win, not a closer-than-it-should-have-been loss. Their next, and probably best, chance comes in GA-04, where polls currently give Democrat Jon Ossoff a 7-point lead over Republican Karen Handel. That election will be held on June 20. (Z)

Appeals Court Upholds Muslim Ban v2.0 Injunction

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, VA, yesterday upheld the injunction on the second version of President Donald Trump's ban on people entering the U.S. from a group of Muslim countries. The Trump administration tried to sell it as an anti-terrorist measure rather than an anti-Muslim measure, but it turns out judges read newspapers and watch TV. Who knew? In the majority opinion, Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote:

From the highest elected office in the nation has come an Executive Order steeped in animus and directed at a single religious group. The Government's asserted national security interest in enforcing [the six-country visa ban] appears to be a post hoc, secondary justification for an executive action rooted in religious animus and intended to bar Muslims from this country.

The Chief Judge pointed out the many arguments that Trump made about banning Muslims, specifically on account of their religion. That the word "Muslim" doesn't literally appear in the text of the executive order doesn't change the intent, which he found to violate the Constitution. The decision was 10 to 3, falling largely along partisan lines.

This is the not the last word, however, as the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit is also looking at the ban. The administration can wait for that decision or appeal to the Supreme Court right now. (V)

The "Mystery" Person of Interest in the White House? Jared Kushner

Last week, news leaked that the FBI's inquiries into Russia had become focused on a "White House adviser" who is "close to President Trump." Democrats were hoping and praying that meant Steve Bannon, though the more likely candidates were son-in-law Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And now, it turns out that it is indeed Kushner.

At this point, the FBI is explaining that they merely think that Kushner has significant information relevant to their investigation, and that they do not think he is personally guilty of a crime, nor do they have plans to charge him with anything. That may well be true, but it's also worth noting that the FBI says this about everyone they are investigating, right up until the point that they decide the person is guilty of a crime, and will be charged. Kushner's biggest area of exposure is likely in relation to his post-election meetings with Sergey Gorkov, friend of Vladimir Putin, and chairman of Putin-controlled VneshEconomBank. Of course, the FBI is not revealing exactly what it is they are looking at. (Z)

Trump Excoriates Allies for Not Paying Enough to NATO

A meeting of NATO allies in Brussels yesterday, Donald Trump scolded the member nations for not paying enough for their defense. Trump claimed that American taxpayers have had enough paying for Europe's defense and that Europe should pay for its own defense. At one point, Trump tried to make a joke about NATO's brand-new headquarters building: "I never once asked what the new NATO headquarters cost." It was met by stony silence. As a candidate, Trump suggested that if a country was not spending 2% of its GDP on military spending by 2024, as required by NATO guidelines, then if that country were attacked the U.S. might not come to its rescue. Many military and diplomatic experts were shocked by that statement, particularly since nearly every NATO nation appears to be on pace to meet the target. (V)

World Leaders Seem Unimpressed with Trump

It's a rare world leader who would deliberately show up the President of the United States (though Enrique Peña Nieto has surely given it a thought or two). However, you don't generally get into a position of power like that without having a strong grasp of some basic communicative strategies, like how to use body language and how to be passive-aggressive. And judging on that basis, Donald Trump is not wowing his peers on his first foreign trip.

To start, there's the NATO speech (see above). Most of the crowd greeted Trump with stony silence during his address. However, as Fox News reports, a few prominent members took it quite a bit further, with Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and France's Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron exchanging glances, and seeming to roll their eyes and snicker at the President. Montenegro's Prime Minister is presumably none too impressed, either, since Trump appeared to shove him out of the way while walking through NATO headquarters:

They're already calling it "the shove heard 'round the world."

The NATO speech came with Trump fresh off his visit with the Pope. And Francis, judging by many different photos and videos captured during the visit, was also underwhelmed. He appeared noticeably glum throughout his interactions with The Donald, and pointedly kept their interactions brief. Particularly telling was this bit of video, in which the Pope interacts with the First Lady, turns around with a big smile on his face, sees the President, and promptly shifts to a frown.

Oh well, at least Trump still has his medal from the Saudi king. (Z)

Spicer Snubbed During Papal Visit

Speaking of the President's visit with the Pope, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer really, really wanted to be there. He is a lifelong Catholic, and one of his "bucket list" items is to meet the Holy Father. Once it became clear that Trump had a Vatican Trump on the docket, Spicer assumed that his day had finally come (not unlike the Catholic higher-ups in the Obama administration, who #44 made a point of accommodating.) As it turns out, Spicer assumed wrong. Trump took his family, and Rex Tillerson, and NSA Herbert McMaster, and the President's bodyguard Keith Schiller. He also took a pair of staffers of similar rank to Spicer, namely his communications adviser Hope Hicks and his social media guy Dan Scavino.

There are really only two ways to interpret this. The first possibility is that Trump is the worst manager of people that the White House has seen in a long time. When there is an opportunity to reward a devoted staffer and ensure near-undying loyalty until the end of time, and to do so at minimum cost, you take it. Obama understood this, as did the Bushes, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter. It is very hard to believe that Trump could run his businesses for nearly 50 years without picking up a few rudimentary human resources management skills. That means that explanation number two, that he deliberately snubbed Spicer, is the more probable one. If so, only Trump knows what the reason is, but whatever it might be, it does not bode well for Spicer's long term prospects with the administration. (Z)

Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration as FBI Director

To the great relief of many Democrats, former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman has formally withdrawn his name as a candidate for FBI director. He is the second temporary favorite to withdraw, following in the footsteps of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). The reason he gave for withdrawing is that now that Trump has hired Marc Kasowitz as his personal attorney to defend him over the "Russia thing," Lieberman saw a conflict of interest because he works for Kasowitz' firm. He probably also saw that being FBI director at a time when the FBI is investigating Trump would be a thankless job.

The most recent candidate du jour is former TSA Administrator John Pistole. Having a director with a background in law enforcement, rather than in politics, will make confirmation by the Senate much easier. (V)

Mueller Investigation Interferes with House Investigation

With so many different entities investigating the Russia-Trump connection, it was unavoidable that there would be some conflicts. And now, it's happened. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) requested that the FBI provide memos and other materials related to former director James Comey's meetings with Donald Trump. On Thursday, the FBI politely told him to cool his jets while they undertake, "appropriate consultation to ensure all relevant interests implicated by your request are properly evaluated." Chaffetz has given them a new deadline of June 8.

There is some small chance that the delay reveals chicanery on some level, and that the Bureau is delaying because they don't have the documents Chaffetz wants. After all, nobody outside the FBI has actually seen the memos yet. However, it's much more probable that they're telling the truth, and exercising extreme caution, as the Bureau is wont to do. Likely, the biggest implication of the delay is that Chaffetz won't make much headway before he departs Congress, having announced his intention to resign on June 30. (Z)

Romney Won't Run for Hatch's Senate Seat

Some sources have speculated that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who is 83 now, won't run for reelection in 2018 and Mitt Romney, who is a mere 70, would run for his seat. Romney is a Mormon and currently lives in Utah, so he would have a good chance to win. However, yesterday Hatch refused to say whether he would run, but made it clear that he had spoken to Romney and Romney is not running under any circumstances.

Hatch is under no pressure to make a decision soon. After seven terms in the Senate, everyone over the age of about 10 in Utah knows who he is. He doesn't have to raise money or even campaign to win. All his has to do is inform the Utah secretary of state to put his name on the ballot. Even if he is planning to retire, it would be better for him not to announce it until next year because, as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he will have a big say in healthcare and tax reform. If he were to announce that he is a lame duck, his clout would be greatly reduced in the committee, with other members jockeying to replace him. (V)

Mnuchin: Border Tax Is Dead

According to two members of the House Ways and Means Committee, Treasury Secretary pronounced the border-adjustment tax favored by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) "dead." He said he doesn't support it and neither does the president. If this is true—and there is no reason to believe Mnuchin is hiding something—it will cause major problems with the tax reform bill. The tax would have generated a trillion dollars over 10 years, which could have paid for a trillion dollars' worth of income tax cuts without increasing the federal deficit by a penny. Without it, Republicans are forced to either (1) find an alternative source of revenue, (2) scale back their plans for tax cuts enormously, or (3) blow a gigantic hole in the federal budget. Any one of these choices will meet strong opposition in Congress. The border-adjustment tax would have eliminated the need to make tough choices, but if it is really dead, making those choices will now be inevitable, jeopardizing the tax reform legislation. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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