Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Is Kelly the Next Haig?

When things get rough, presidents often think that bringing in a new chief of staff will solve the problem. Ronald Reagan brought in Howard Baker in 1987, Bill Clinton hired Leon Panetta in 1994, and George W. Bush tried to reboot with Josh Bolten in 2006. None of these situations are similar to the current White House situation, though. The closest analogy is Richard Nixon's decision to bring in Al Haig after H.R. Haldeman resigned on Apr. 30, 1973. The 47-year-old career military officer was supposed to bring order to a White House in chaos as Watergate was consuming it.

Haig was able to draw a new organization chart and bark at underlings, but the one person he couldn't control was the president. He was loyal to a fault and carried out Nixon's order to instruct acting Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Like Haig, Donald Trump's new Chief of Staff John Kelly is a military man with no experience in the White House or in dealing with Congress. He also has to contend with a president who is basically a loose cannon. One problem Kelly won't have, though, is a drunken president. Nixon drank heavily toward the end; Trump is a teetotaler. On the other hand, although he didn't sleep much near the end, Nixon also didn't awaken at 6 a.m. to send off tweets that took days to explain.

Some people think that you can run the government like a company. Trump is showing that that doesn't work so well. Kelly, like Haig, may soon discover that running the government like a military organization, where everyone obeys orders, isn't going to work well either. (V)

Kelly's Real Tests Are Ahead

In retrospect, it is easy to predict who would win a contest between a four-star Marine Corps general and a vulgar bloviator with no qualifications at all for his job. Now comes the hard part for John Kelly. Mike Allen of Axios lists five things that really determine whether Kelly is up to the job.

  • Can he attract and keep high quality talent to work in the executive branch?
  • Can he engineer a big legislative win?
  • Can he protect Trump from Robert Mueller?
  • Can he handle a real crisis, such as one with Russia or North Korea?
  • Can he rein Trump in and get him to stop damaging himself?

Pulling off any of these will be difficult. Pulling off most or all of them will be well nigh impossible. (V)

Kelly Worked With Mattis to Make Sure a Grown-Up Was Always Near Trump

Continuing with the John Kelly theme, Newsweek reports some very interesting news about the new chief of staff. It would seem that, while he was serving as Secretary of Homeland Security, he and Secretary of Defense James Mattis coordinated their schedules, such that one or the other would always be near Donald Trump. That way, should the President ever be tempted to launch a military or nuclear strike, there would be an experienced, high-ranking military officer available to discuss it with him (and, ideally, to talk him out of it). Presumably the arrangement will continue, and will be even easier to execute, now that Kelly is in his new job.

On one level, this news is reassuring, as it means there will be an added layer of protection in between Trump's potentially-itchy trigger finger, and America's immense arsenal. On the other hand, it's also rather frightening that two men who know the President well concluded that such an arrangement was advisable. Clearly, concerns that The Donald could go off half-cocked are not just in our imaginations. (Z)

Wray Confirmed as FBI Director

Donald Trump's designate to lead the FBI told the members of the Senate enough of what they wanted to hear, including that he would not be taking any loyalty oaths to the President, that he does not approve of torture, and that he will conduct investigations as he sees fit without interference from the White House. He was approved easily, 92-5.

Interestingly, although the vote was lopsided, Wray nonetheless generated more opposition than every other FBI Director in history, combined. Since the post was created in 1924, nine men (including Wray) have held it. The other eight got a grand total of one "no" vote among them (Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, voted against James Comey because of his support for drone surveillance). The five no votes this time were all from Democrats, namely Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Ed Markey (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR), Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Ron Wyden (OR). Inasmuch as four of those five are at least pondering a 2020 presidential run (Markey's the exception), and all of them come from very blue states where Donald Trump is loathed, we can be pretty safe in assuming that their noes were not really about Wray, and were much more about Donald Trump, and signaling to their bases that they will not be working with the President on anything, no how, no way. (Z)

White House Responds to Two Different Accusations

Since the start of the week, Donald Trump has been hit with two potentially damaging Russiagate-related accusations. The first was a report that the President personally dictated his son's statement that the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya was about the adoption of Russian children. The statement was misleading at best, and a lie at worst, and if the story is true it adds substantially to the obstruction case against the President. The second accusation, meanwhile, came in the form of a lawsuit against Fox News, which claims that the cable channel and the White House conspired to promote the story that DNC staffer Sean Rich had been murdered for leaking DNC emails. The ostensible purpose of the scheme was to deflect attention from the Russia story.

The White House, in the person of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responded to both accusations on Tuesday. As to the former, she said that, "There's no inaccuracy in the statement. The President weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had." As to the latter, she strongly denied the charge, declaring that, "The president had no knowledge of the story, and it's completely untrue that he or the White House had involvement in the story."

So, what's the truth? You can never tell with this White House, of course, though the two accusations and denials are pretty different from each other. With the Rich story, the alleged scheme is a bit complex by Trumpian standards. If he wants to create a distraction, he's on Twitter two minutes later, not plotting a multi-week strategy with people he doesn't particularly know or trust. Further, the denial is clear and unequivocal, and gives the administration very little wiggle room should new revelations come out. By contrast, the story about Trump Jr.'s statement follows the standard Trump Sr. playbook, with him, his family, and his closest allies plotting to craft a half-truth without much consideration for the consequences. And the denial is weaselly; not so much a denial as a softening of the facts. And so, in the absence of any further information, the Trump-Fox conspiracy story doesn't quite pass the smell test, while the story that Trump personally wrote his son's misleading statement rings very true, regardless of the White House's spin. (Z)

Democrats Offer to Work with Republicans on Tax Reform

Senate Democrats have graciously offered to work with Republicans on reforming the tax code. As part of their offer, the Democrats said that any reform must meet three basic principles:

  • No tax cuts for the rich, only for the middle class
  • The regular process, complete with committee meetings, should be used
  • Tax reform should be revenue neutral

It sounds like a nice gesture, but the reality is that there is virtually nothing in the area of tax reform that the two parties agree on. For Republicans, tax cuts for the rich ("the job creators") are the reason for tackling the problem in the first place. A deal in which they are left out from any cuts is not going to fly in GOP circles.

Using the regular order means there will be committee meetings and hearings and opposing views will be aired. Besides, any bill going through the regular order needs 60 votes to pass the Senate. Republicans were thinking of drawing up a secret bill and then passing it using budget reconciliation, which requires only 50 senators to approve.

Revenue neutrality is something the Republicans may be stuck with, since the reconciliation rules require it. But there are already voices within the Republican caucus saying the rules should be changed so tax bills don't have to be revenue neutral.

All in all, it was a nice PR stunt by the Democrats, but a bipartisan bill is something that will happen only if the Republicans fail to come up with their own bill that can get 50 senators to vote for it, and maybe not even then since the parties are so far apart on tax policy. (V)

Trump Administration to Sue Over Affirmative Action

The Democrats aren't the only ones who know about publicity stunts, of course. As it becomes more and more unlikely that Donald Trump will deliver on any of his major campaign promises, he has to find some way to show the base that he's making "progress." Ideally, such plans need to be based on executive orders, the court system, Twitter, or anything else that does not involve Congress. This is how we get, for example, poorly-considered and hastily-announced plans to ban transgender soldiers from the military.

In any event, the administration thinks it may have another winner: Affirmative Action. According to reporting from the New York Times, the Justice Dept.'s civil rights division is planning lawsuits against universities whose admissions policies discriminate on the basis of race. Since the only race that is "discriminated" against is whites, that necessarily means that Attorney General Jeff Sessions & Co. will be suing on behalf of white applicants. Probably not the group that the civil rights division was created to protect, but this is the kind of thing that sometimes happens when you put the Justice Dept. in the charge of an Alabamian who greatly admires the leaders of the Confederacy.

Actually, the civil rights division has been at the epicenter of the Democratic-Republican culture war since the G. W. Bush years, when the Justice Dept. was in the charge of a Missourian who greatly admired the leaders of the Confederacy. So, this sort of maneuvering isn't a new development. There's a pretty good chance that the administration could prevail on this one if they decide to move forward; the SCOTUS, as currently constituted, is pretty unfriendly to Affirmative Action, by about a 5 to 4 margin. (Z)

Spicer Still Leaving

Last week, we learned two things about Sean Spicer. The first was that he's leaving the White House at the end of August. The second was that his departure was prompted by the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci. Well, "Mooch" is out, now, and Spicer hasn't actually left yet. So, could he change his mind, and give Melissa McCarthy more material to work with? The answer, according to all involved, is "No."

Spicer, according to a White House source, is "fielding lucrative offers" that he finds too appealing to turn down. In other words, getting a six- or seven-figure advance to write a book, or a handsome salary to sit in a nice air-conditioned studio at Fox News and bloviate, or both, sounds a lot better than getting paid $179,700 to be the whipping boy of both the White House press corps and the President of the United States. And even if Spicey wanted to rescind his resignation, the odds are good that either Donald Trump or new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly or both don't want him around anymore. At least he won't be escorted off the grounds of the White House by armed guards, as Mooch was, though. Only close personal friends of the President get treated that badly. (Z)

Democrats Aren't Doing So Badly in Special Elections

Republicans won four special House elections earlier this year, despite the Democrats raising lots of money and having a lot of energy. Republicans proclaimed that there is no "Trump effect" and they will be safe next year. That may not be entirely on target, though. The four House races were all in deep red districts that Republicans normally win in landslides. This time they got much smaller victories than they usually do, with the Democrat running an average of 8 points ahead of the Democrat in the 2016 general election. Still, a win is a win and the Republicans won them all.

Under the radar, the situation is not the same at all. There have been six special elections for vacant seats in the state legislatures since January, and there the picture is very different. Democrats won five of them, in some cases in unexpected places. Here is the list:

  • On July 25th, a Democrat and union official flipped a traditionally GOP senate seat in New Hampshire
  • On July 11th, Democrats flipped both a state senate and state house seat in deep red Oklahoma districts
  • On May 23rd, a Democrat flipped a New Hampshire state house seat by a vote of 811 to 755
  • On Feb. 25th, a Democrat won a landslide victory in Delaware, holding a Democratic state senate seat

The only state race a Republican won was in Hillsborough County, NH, where the Republican won 657 votes to 536. These were all low-turnout elections, but there is a clear trend here. In deep red U.S. House races, Democrats did much better in 2017 than they did in Nov. 2016, and in state legislative races in 2017, they actually won all but one of the seats. (V)

Tester Gets a Strong Opponent

Ten Democratic senators are up for reelection in 2018 in states that Donald Trump won. One of these is Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Tester dodged one bullet when Donald Trump appointed Montana's only representative, Ryan Zinke, to be secretary of the interior. However, the next bullet comes in the form of Matt Rosendale, Montana's state auditor. He can't be dodged so easily, as he just announced that he will challenge Tester in 2018. Rosendale is an economic conservative but he also has some liabilities. Most obviously, he moved to Montana (from Maryland) only in the early 2000s. In contrast, Tester was born in Montana, grew up there, and went to college in the state. His family has been farming in Montana for over 100 years.

Although Rosendale is the GOP's current favorite candidate, he is not the only Republican running. State senator Al Olszewski and wealthy businessman Troy Downing are also in the race and others are thinking of joining. It could be a messy and expensive primary. Also, Tester is actually a farmer, which helps him in the Big Sky state and his approval/disapproval rating is a healthy 57%/32%. All things considered, Tester has a better than even chance of surviving next year. (V)

Poll: Heller is Cratering

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the Democrats' top target in 2018, just got some bad news. His approval/disapproval is 22%/55%, more than 30 points under water, according to a PPP poll released yesterday. Heller's vote to repeal the ACA is a factor with many voters, and the Democrats aren't going to let anyone forget his vote.

Other questions in the poll make it clear that the Republicans' plans for health care do not resonate in Nevada. As to allowing insurance companies to reject people with pre-existing conditions, 62% oppose it. As to the taxes on dividends and interest in the ACA that the Republicans want to kill, 65% oppose the idea. What about gutting Medicaid? "Nope," say 59%. Heller has his work cut out for him. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug01 How Mooch is Too Mooch?
Aug01 Kelly Was Furious about Comey Firing
Aug01 Trump Dictated Junior's Misleading Statement
Aug01 Does Trump Ever Think About Implications?
Aug01 First Democrat Declares for 2020
Aug01 Democrats Will Fund Pro-Life Candidates in 2018
Aug01 Strange Activity in Alabama Senate Race
Aug01 ACLU To Spend $5 Million to Restore Felons' Voting Rights in Florida
Aug01 Arpaio Guilty of Contempt
Jul31 Trump Wants to Starve the ACA but the Courts May Say No
Jul31 Trump Should Pay Attention to The Ratio
Jul31 U.S. Escalates the Confrontation with North Korea
Jul31 Biden 2020?
Jul31 Hackers Broke into Voting Machines in 90 Minutes
Jul31 Flake Sets His Strategy
Jul31 Secret Donations from Outside Groups Are Boosting Trump's Agenda
Jul31 Christie Barks at Cubs Fan
Jul30 Fall Out from the Health-Care Debacle May Hurt Republicans Next Year
Jul30 Tax Breaks May Break Tax Reform
Jul30 Police Unhappy With Trump
Jul30 Trump Unleashed?
Jul30 McMaster May Be a Short Timer, Too
Jul30 Sandoval May Campaign against Heller
Jul30 How Did Mooch Make His Money?
Jul29 Score: Mooch 1, Reince 0
Jul29 Trump's Staffing Woes Can Only Get Worse
Jul29 Republican Blame Game Begins
Jul29 Takeaways from the Health-Care Fiasco
Jul29 LePage: Collins Is Running for Governor
Jul29 Can a Pardon Be Questioned?
Jul29 Congress Passes Bill to Sanction Russia; Trump Will Sign It
Jul29 Pentagon Is Not Enforcing Anti-Transgender Directive
Jul28 The War Is Over, 51-49
Jul28 Tax Reform Just Got Harder
Jul28 Paul Ryan Has Another New Problem: Moderates
Jul28 What Is Going on with Anthony Scaramucci?
Jul28 Lewinsky Prosecutor Tells Trump to Cut it Out
Jul28 Attorney General Cruz?
Jul28 Murkowski Fights Back
Jul28 Record Number of Democrats Challenging Republican Incumbents in the House
Jul27 Senate Votes Down a Repeal-Only Bill
Jul27 Trump Bans Transgender People from the Military for Partisan Reasons
Jul27 Trump Attacks Sessions for the Third Consecutive Day
Jul27 Breitbart Defends Sessions
Jul27 Scaramucci Appears to Attack Priebus
Jul27 Russia Sanctions Bill Moves Forward
Jul27 What Is "Fake News," Exactly?
Jul26 Senate Votes to Begin Debate on Health Care
Jul26 Boehner Says Republicans Will Never Repeal Obamacare
Jul26 Trump Continues to Bash Sessions