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

Trump Condemns Sanctions Bill but Signs It Anyway

Politics often leads to odd behavior (such as senators demanding that a bill they are voting for not become law if it passes). Another example was on exhibit yesterday. President Donald Trump condemned the bill on his desk sanctioning Russia, claiming it was unconstitutional, then he signed it anyway. He also said it represented congressional overreach, and that if anybody is good at negotiating with the Russians, it is he.

The reason for his odd behavior is obvious. The bill passed both chambers of Congress almost unanimously and both of them would have overridden his veto in a flash had he decided to exercise it. That would been a double loss for him. The law would have been enacted anyway and he would have suffered a political defeat. By signing the bill, he can claim it as a victory, although he is unlikely to tweet "I signed a bill that prevents an unscrupulous president from lifting sanctions on Russia," even though that is only 88 characters. Privately, he is no doubt fuming, but signing was the lesser of two evils for him. (V)

Trump Wants to Reinvent Immigration

Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), with a major assist from White House adviser Stephen Miller, have a plan for overhauling America's immigration system, and Donald Trump has thrown his weight behind it. No, it's not Muslim ban v3.0. At least, not exactly. It's a plan to severely curtail the ability of immigrants within America to bring their family members into the country (sometimes called chain migration), and to limit legal immigration primarily to people with valuable skills and English fluency.

Presumably, this will play well with the "Make America Great Again" crowd. However, it is a total nonstarter that has essentially zero chance of making it through Congress. To start, no Democrats are going to support it. That ends the discussion right there, since they will simply filibuster a law that cannot be passed through reconciliation (and so needs 60 votes). If that were not enough, however, an immigration plan that shut down the supply of unskilled labor would be catastrophic for the economies of at least a dozen states. Think about states in which poorly paid immigrants harvest crops and do other farm work, or are the backbone of the restaurant industry. Some of those states are red, and all of them are home to businesses that would not like to see their supply of cheap labor dwindle, and that are more than willing to spend their money to defeat politicians who don't see things their way. Consequently, the measure would struggle to attract the votes of some of the most reliably conservative Senators, like a John Cornyn (R-TX) or a Ted Cruz (R-TX). And it would never get the votes of Dean Heller (R-NV) or Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who are both fighting for their political lives in 2018 in states full of immigrant voters.

Trump may or may not know that the bill has no chance of becoming law, but he almost certainly doesn't care. He will rant about it at rallies, blame the meanies in Congress for not passing it, and that will be that. Then he will hire some more immigrant workers at Mar-a-Lago. (Z)

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

That's the question in the Washington Post, as regards Donald Trump's relations with Senate Republicans. It's not just the Russia sanctions bill (see above), although when Congress passes a bill almost unanimously to reduce the president's power, that is generally not a sign of good White House-congressional relations. Another cloud on the horizon is Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, who is about to open hearings on how to save the ACA. Trump wants it killed, not saved. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said: "We work for the American people. We don't work for the president." Trump wants the Senate to end the filibuster. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) responded that if that were done, "it would be the end of the Republican Party." Trump is apparently unaware why the repeal of "Obamacare" failed (hint: it wasn't the filibuster), even though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) explained it in five words: "We don't have fifty votes."

Probably most troubling for Trump is that at least one Republican senator has basically declared war on the President. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has just released a book that could easily have been written by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). It wipes the floor with Trump. He goes after Trump's affection for strongmen and authoritarians. It takes apart his views on immigration and NAFTA. It makes mincemeat of his love of populism and his xenophobia.

Flake is facing a primary challenge from the right—by Trump supporter Kelli Ward—but Flake's calculation is that by Nov. 2018 Trump will be so toxic that an anti-Trump stance will get him through the primary and might pick up some Democratic votes in the general election. Other senators are going to be watching Flake's polling numbers in both the primary and general election closely. If it looks like he can dispatch Ward easily and then get reelected, it is going to make other senators much less afraid to start beating on Trump loudly and in public. Flake is the canary in the coal mine. (V)

Trump's Potential Six Crises

Richard Nixon once wrote a book called "Six Crises." According to Axios' Mike Allen, Donald Trump may face any one (or more) of six potential crises in the future, all with highly unpredictable results. His list:

  • North Korea may demonstrate that it can fire a missile with a nuclear warhead that can reach most of America
  • Since China won't help on North Korea, Trump may start a trade war with China to retaliate
  • Russia could launch a major cyber attack on the U.S. (e.g., taking out electric power plants) and then deny it
  • Republican senators might desert Trump and turn him into a raging and impotent lame duck
  • A major terrorist attack could take place on U.S. soil
  • Robert Mueller's investigation could spell disaster for Trump, especially if Mueller issues an interim report

Trump's normal reaction to almost any bad news is to call it fake news and issue some tweets, but none of these problems could be tweeted away. For example, if deteriorating relations with Russia and China made one or both of them take some serious action, Trump would have to deal with it and would likely be completely unprepared. The results would be unpredictable and possibly disastrous.

The list above consists of the known unknowns. But the world is full of surprises, and there may be unknown unknowns that appear out of the blue and force Trump to take actions that his advisers are badly split on. Then the decision is solely his. What if China and Russia enter into a formal treaty whose purpose is curtailing American power in the world? What if someone hacks one of the big banks and runs 100,000 transactions moving money from account to account at random, and the bank fails? What if an unknown and extremely contagious disease hits the country (possibly introduced intentionally by an adversary) and millions of people die in the first month? A major unknown unknown would tax even the most competent, prepared, organized, and fully staffed administration. If a real crisis that cannot be tweeted away strikes, Trump (and the country) will be in deep doodoo (V)

Two Phone Calls, Two Lies

Last week, Donald Trump shared the details of two phone calls that he claimed he had received. The first ostensibly followed the President's controversial speech to the Boy Scouts. "I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful," claimed Trump. The second call supposedly came from Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. After the appointment of John Kelly as the new chief of staff, Trump declared that, "Even the president of Mexico called me. Their southern border, they said very few people are coming because they know they're not going to get to our border, which is the ultimate compliment."

It's hard to imagine what benefit Trump hoped to get out of such obvious lies. Inasmuch as the leader of the Boy Scouts wrote a public letter apologizing to his members for the speech, there is zero chance we would have made such a call. And even if he did, only Trump says things like, "the greatest speech that was ever made." As to Nieto, the odds of his making a complimentary phone call, particularly on the subject of immigration, are even closer to nil. He can't stand Trump, nor can his voters. So, neither story is remotely plausible. And, beyond that, both of these people are alive, and read the newspapers. They know they didn't call, and they are both willing and able to make a statement to that effect, which they have done.

On Wednesday, in view of the two denials, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to clean up her boss's mess. "The conversations took place," Sanders told reporters. "They just simply didn't take place over a phone call ... He had them in person." Later in the conversation, she added: "I wouldn't say it was a lie." This, of course, resolves nothing. The last time Trump was face-to-face with Nieto was a month ago, when the appointment of John Kelly was still in the distant future, and not something the Mexican President could have commented on. And there's been no face-to-face with the leader of the Boy Scouts since the speech. Meanwhile, "I wouldn't say it was a lie" is hardly a vigorous defense. It's barely a defense at all.

Again, it's hard to know what to make of all this. Maybe Trump was having a bad day (actually, two bad days) when he told the original falsehoods. Maybe his faculties are failing him. Maybe he's tired of watching his words, even occasionally, and is just going to say whatever he wants from here on in. Whatever the case may be, Sanders' job just keeps getting harder. (Z)

Beware the "Race Traders"

Sam Clovis is Donald Trump's nominee to be the Department of Agriculture's chief scientist. However, he has a few liabilities that—under normal circumstances—would be disqualifying. For example, he's lacking certain relevant experience, such as he's not an actual scientist. He's an economics professor with a Ph.D. in public administration and an MBA. In fact, he's not only not a scientist, he's anti-science, particularly on the subject of global warming.

In the Trump administration, of course, a lack of qualifications is not fatal (see Carson, Ben; DeVos, Betsy; Mooch; etc.). However, Clovis also has a long history, dug up by CNN, of problematic statements online. He has accused progressives of "enslaving" minorities. He's called Barack Obama a "Maoist," an "anti-American," and a "race baiter." He's also accused many Democrats, and some prominent black folks—like W.E.B. DuBois—of being "liars, race traders and race traitors." The latter charge is generally used by people like Ku Klux Klansmen, while "race traders"...well, who knows what that means.

These statements probably don't bother Trump, except that he may be wishing he'd thought of some of them first. However, they may bother a few of the GOP senators whose assent would be needed to approve Clovis to his post. Meanwhile, an appointment like this certainly makes it seem like the President is really being forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel. It's no wonder that he's having such trouble staffing the administration. (Z)

Mueller Hires a Specialist in Fraud and Bribery

Special counsel Robert Mueller just hired his 16th lawyer, Greg Andres. From 2010 to 2012 Andres was deputy assistant attorney general, in which capacity he oversaw the fraud unit and went after illegal foreign bribery. Before that he was a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn for a decade.

Mueller's charter starts with investigating Russia's influence on the 2016 elections, but specifically states that Mueller can follow any leads he uncovers related to other crimes. He has now taken on multiple prosecutors with extensive experience in money laundering cases and now has one who has a background in fraud and bribery. It is obvious from Mueller's choice of personnel that the leak of John Podesta's email is not the main item on the menu. It is very likely that he is looking at Trump's financial past—connections with people like two-time felon Felix Sater, who has relationships with some unsavory Russians—and a lot more than things that happened in late 2016. Trump understands this, which is why he is hell-bent on getting rid of Mueller. There clearly are things in his past that he does not want to be investigated.

It is often said that "personnel is policy" and that probably applies to Mueller's investigation as well. Per Wikipedia, here is Mueller's team of 16 lawyers as of today:

Name Notes and Specialty
Zainab Ahmad Terrorism
Greg Andres Fraud, bribery
Rush Atkinson Fraud
Peter Care Public relations and the team spokesman
Michael Dreeben Criminal law
Andrew Goldstein Public corruption
Adam Jed Attorney in DoJ Civil Division
Robert Mueller Team leader and former FBI director with vast experience
Lisa Page Organized crime
Elizabeth Prelogar Russian-speaking former clerk to Justices Ginsberg and Kagan
James Quarles Former Watergate prosecutor
Jeannie Rhee White-collar crime
Brandon Van Grack National security
Andrew Weissmann Fraud, money laundering
Aaron Zebley Mueller's former chief of staff at the FBI
Aaron Zelinsky Organized crime, civil procedure

This may well be one of the most high-powered team of prosecutors ever assembled. What is noteworthy is the emphasis on fraud, bribery, money laundering, public corruption, and white collar crime. Not a single lawyer on the list is an expert on cyber crime, which suggests that Mueller has cast his net much wider than some leaked emails, and has some suspicions about what kinds of "thank you" gifts the Russians may have provided to The Donald. Presumably he expects there will be big fish in it when he hauls it in. (V)

Democrats Lead on Generic Congressional Ballot

It is hard to handicap control of the House, since it depends on 435 separate races, but one way to get a bit of a handle on it is a poll that asks "Will you vote for the Democrat or the Republican for the House of Representatives?" Politico hired Morning Consult to run such a poll last week and a generic Democrat is leading a generic Republican 44% to 37%. That said, it was an Internet poll and the election is more than a year away. Still, it is a small data point that should make Republican strategists nervous. (V)

McGrath Declares With Quite the Commercial

Lt. Col. Amy McGrath (Ret.) is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and a former Marine Corps fighter pilot. She's now running to unseat Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) in the Bluegrass State's sixth district. Earlier this week, she released an ad throwing her hat into the ring, and it's a doozy. Over the course of two minutes, she makes four main arguments:

  • Republicans are sexist
  • Republicans tried to take your health care away
  • Mitch McConnell is a jerk
  • Democrats can win in Kentucky

If there were any doubts that the Republicans' health care fiasco was going to be the centerpiece of the Democrats' campaigns, those doubts should be laid to rest by literally every commercial that's been released by members of the blue team in the last month. Meanwhile, Republicans have been running against Nancy Pelosi for years. It would appear that McConnell's infamy, not to mention his worst-in-the-Senate approval rating, means that he will now be used in the same way by Democrats. (Z)

New Air Force Ones Likely to Be Repurposed Russian Planes

Donald Trump does not want to spend $4 billion on replacements for the two planes that serve as Air Force One, and so he ordered the Pentagon to look into cost-saving options. They think they've found an answer: Two 747-8 planes that were originally commissioned by a Russian airline, but then were not delivered when the airline went bankrupt. Adapting an already-built plane, as opposed to building a new plane from the ground up, will result in considerable savings.

The plan is quite logical and very reasonable, but if ever there was an example of bad optics, this is it. The planes have never been in Russia, so it's not like they could be bugged or something like that, but it's nonetheless a bad look for a president—particularly this president—to be riding in what could plausibly by described as "Russian planes." On top of that, there's the problem that this whole transaction looks like the U.S. government is buying used planes, like maybe there was a sign in the window that said "low mileage" or "barely flown in." By all indications, the sale is going to be finalized next week, so presumably the administration is hoping the planes' origin will be a distant memory by the time they are ready to fly. They'll have to make sure to remove the vodka dispenser, borscht refrigerator, and picture of Vlad Putin in the cockpit. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug02 Is Kelly the Next Haig?
Aug02 Kelly's Real Tests Are Ahead
Aug02 Kelly Worked With Mattis to Make Sure a Grown-Up Was Always Near Trump
Aug02 Wray Confirmed as FBI Director
Aug02 White House Responds to Two Different Accusations
Aug02 Democrats Offer to Work with Republicans on Tax Reform
Aug02 Trump Administration to Sue Over Affirmative Action
Aug02 Spicer Still Leaving
Aug02 Democrats Aren't Doing So Badly in Special Elections
Aug02 Tester Gets a Strong Opponent
Aug02 Poll: Heller is Cratering
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