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

Rosenstein: Mueller Can Investigate Any Crimes He Discovers

President Donald Trump has threatened to fire special counsel Robert Mueller if he starts digging into Trump's past business dealings. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein doesn't seem to be on the same page as his boss. Yesterday on Fox News, Rosenstein made it abundantly clear that Mueller can follow through investigating any possible crimes he comes across, even if they are not directly related to Russiagate. This sounds very much like advance notice that if he is ordered to fire Mueller for digging into Trump's past, he will refuse.

Kellyanne Conway also was on TV yesterday. She downplayed the importance of Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort's meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. She said: "If you're getting dirt on your political opponent, if you're getting the silver bullet and the secret sauce on how to win the election, you don't ask your aide to pull you out of the meeting." Her reference was to Jared Kushner sending an aide a message asking for a call so he could get out of the meeting quickly. A less charitable explanation is that Kushner didn't realize what the meeting was about in advance, and when he got there, he quickly realized that it was illegal and wanted to get as far away from it as possible to cover his own ass. And in any event, Conway's defense—if that's the best that Trump Jr., et al. have got—is not going to hold water in any court. Just as conspiring to commit murder is a no-no, even if nobody ends up dead, the mere act of conspiring to receive dirt from the Russians would be a crime, even if no actual information was received.(V)

Pence Issues Pro Forma Denial of Any Plans to Run in 2020

The New York Times had a story last week about Vice President Mike Pence's political activities, including traveling to talk to Republican leaders around the country, and intimate dinners at the Naval Observatory with major Republican donors. The clear implication was that he was positioning himself for a possible presidential run in 2020, either as vice president or as president (should Trump resign or get removed). Yesterday, Pence vigorously denied the story, calling it fake news. The Times stood by its story.

It would be political suicide for a sitting vice president only 6 months into his term to publicly announce he was planning to run for president in 3 years, possibly in a primary against his own president. Pence had to deny it, even if he knew it was completely true. If he wants to hold Trump's base in 2020, should it come to that, he must be seen as loyal to the president, and plotting his own campaign now would be seen as the height of disloyalty.

Nevertheless, Pence is an experienced politician. He served in the House for 12 years and was governor of Indiana for 4 years. He knows very well that most Republicans in Congress don't like Trump and are simply biding their time now, waiting to see if any more shoes drop or smoking guns are revealed. He realizes that Trump may be gone before 2020 or may become so unpopular that a primary run in 2020 might be successful. So naturally he is preparing for the possibility. Besides, unlike some recent vice presidents—Dick Cheney, for example—he has nothing to do all day, so why not travel around the country and meet Republican leaders and donors? It makes perfect sense, only he has to go through the motions of denying that he is up to anything. Few people in D.C. are going to be fooled by his protestations, however. (V)

What Has Trump Done?

Donald Trump was cranky on Sunday morning, particularly about one of his biggest bugaboos: That he's not getting enough credit for his bigly successes. He shared his views on this subject, naturally enough, on Twitter:

He also recently released what is, ostensibly, a campaign commercial celebrating the accomplishments of his first 100 days in office.

It is certainly possible that Trump has a point here. If he has accomplished important things, or if he does so in the future, the media and the commentariat might overlook it or downplay it. So, let's evaluate the list(s) of accomplishments that he himself has put forward, between the tweet and the commercial, and try to figure out if he's getting a fair shake:

  • Supreme Court Appointment: Trump did appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and he was confirmed. This had almost nothing to do with the President, however. If anything, it's a Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accomplishment. Obviously, this story was given extensive coverage, both when Gorsuch was nominated, and when he was confirmed.

  • Surging Economy/500,000+ Jobs Created: The stock market and jobs market are indeed doing well. Few economists would argue that Trump is responsible so early in his term, however. Presidents always get too much credit (or too much blame) for the economy, but to the extent that this is a presidential accomplishment, it's largely on Barack Obama's ledger. In about a year, Trump will be on firmer ground when he takes responsibility. It's also worth noting that the first six months of the Donald Trump stock market lag behind the first six months of the Bush market and the Obama market. And whatever the case may be, every major media outlet has run literally dozens of items on the state of the economy.

  • Job-killing Regulations Slashed: Trump has gotten rid of a lot of regulations. Whether those regulations are (or were) job-killing is hotly disputed, with very loud and very confident voices on both sides of the debate. In any event, this story has also been covered extensively by the media. For example, this Politico piece carries the headline "Inside Trump's war on regulations: The push to block, rewrite and delay scores of Obama-era rules may be the administration's biggest untold success." And of course, the problem with adding/erasing regulations, as Barack Obama is currently learning, is that the next guy or gal can just undo all the changes.

  • America Becoming More Energy Independent: This one is from the commercial, and the footage that plays seems to suggest that Trump is alluding to the Keystone Pipeline. Only two problems: Nothing has actually been built on that front since Trump took office (and that won't be changing anytime soon), and the petroleum companies for whom it was designed have decided that they're probably not interested any more.

  • Border Security/MS-13: There is zero evidence that the border has become more (or less) secure, or that MS-13 has become less (or more) dangerous since Trump took office. These things are amorphous enough that it will take years, and perhaps even decades, to make a proper assessment.

  • Military Security, ISIS: ISIS has indeed taken a beating in the last six months, and that has presumably made the U.S. more secure. How do we know ISIS is hurting badly? Because the story has been thoroughly reported by the mainstream media, including the Washington Post, New York Times, and Newsweek, among others. This is another area where the credit goes to many people, including Barack Obama and his team, America's military leadership, and Donald Trump and his team, with the latter likely entitled to the smallest share.

  • Biggest Tax Cut Plan in History: This one's also from the commercial. If there is anyone who does not understand the Grand Canyon-sized difference between a "tax cut" and a "tax cut plan," then we have a handsome art deco-style bridge in San Francisco available for purchase.

There is nothing here that is an unambiguous "win" for Trump, and that's working from his list. The thing he's probably most entitled to put on his resume is the list of regulations he's overturned. He should also get some credit for Gorsuch and ISIS, and maybe a little bit of credit for the economy. His claims about energy, tax cuts, border security, and MS-13 are all hot air, at least at the moment. And in any event, all of these things have been covered extensively by the media, including the outlets Trump does not like. So, when Trump complains about not being given enough credit, well, it just isn't true. He hasn't done all that much, and whenever he does do something, it's front page news. (Z)

August Could Be a Rough Month for Trump

Actually, "could" is too soft. August probably will be a rough month for Donald Trump, simply because he doesn't seem to have any other kind. But, as Ronald A. Klain points out in the Washington Post, this month may bring some new kinds of headaches and challenges.

To start, Congress has adjourned for the summer; they won't be back at work until after Labor Day. No matter how well they hide themselves, most of the members are going to hear from unhappy constituents, in one way or another, for weeks. Then they will come back to Washington in early September, and will have lots of bookkeeping tasks to do (like, say, passing a budget). And on top of that, every day that passes brings us closer to the next election cycle, which typically engenders a lot of skittishness among those who are trying to get re-elected. Add it all up, and whatever window of opportunity Trump has for getting his legislative program enacted is starting to close. There will be some work done on trying to change the tax code, but that's going to be an uphill battle, and if that doesn't get done, Trump could easily reach the one-year mark having achieved nothing of substance legislatively.

A second potential Achilles Heel for the President is the weather. August is primetime for hurricanes; four of the five worst hurricanes in U.S. history struck in late August, and nearly every August in the last decade has witnessed a significant hurricane of some sort. Further, August is the hottest month of the year, and heat often leads to various forms of unrest, whether police shootings and riots (Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Mo. on August 9) or outbreaks of violence in the Middle East (ISIS tends to be particularly active in August).

Meanwhile, in addition to the known unknowns, there are the unknown unknowns. Trump has yet to face any sort of serious crisis, whether hurricane, mass shooting, terrorist attack, outbreak of disease, or who knows what. If a true crisis does come, however, the administration will almost certainly be caught with its pants down. There's currently no Secretary of Homeland Security (as John Kelly has become White House Chief of Staff), and nearly half of the cabinet departments currently have no deputy available to take over in case their secretary is indisposed due to illness, vacation, or travel. Virtually all of America's embassies have no ambassador. And Congress' absence from Washington—excepting that the Democrats are going to gavel things to order every three days to stop recess appointments from being made—means that none of these positions will be filled anytime particularly soon. Indeed, if the Senate were to approve two of Trump's nominees per day once they are back in session—which would be a brisk pace indeed—then it would take Trump until mid-December to reach the staffing levels that Barack Obama had achieved by July of his first term.

Add it up, and as Trump vacations—er, works—in New Jersey for the next two weeks, he should not rest easy. If his approval rating is down in the mid-30s with a good economy and no major setbacks, one can only imagine what will happen if disaster strikes and The Donald mishandles it. Mike Pence might be able to start openly running for president by Labor Day. (Z)

Whither Anti-Environmentalism?

Last week, yet another EPA employee left the agency and slammed Donald Trump and his team on the way out the door. The employee in question is Elizabeth "Betsy" Southerland, a 30-year veteran who began her career under Ronald Reagan. Her exit memo has been widely-circulated, in particular the passage decrying the "temporary triumph of myth over truth."

That the Trump administration in general, and Trump's EPA appointments in particular—especially Administrator Scott Pruitt—are anti-global warming and anti-science is hardly news. Of greater interest, then, is the first word in Southerland's declaration: "temporary." Exactly how long is it viable for the GOP to be so staunchly anti-environment and anti-global warming? Years? Decades? Longer?

On some issues, conservatives have managed to remain firmly entrenched for generations. Consider, for example, the theory of evolution. Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, his ideas found their way into American school curricula by the end of the century, and John T. Scopes was sustained in his choice to teach those ideas nearly 100 years ago. And yet, today's conservatives are still fighting this fight, in the form of the "intelligent design" debate. And note that we have to use "conservatives" here, rather than "Republicans," because the fight over evolution has been going on so long that it started when the Democrats were the more conservative party (including Scopes' prosecutor, William Jennings Bryan).

On the other end of the spectrum, consider LGBT equality, which is (or was) both a civil rights issue and a scientific debate. Until 1973, medical professionals around the world regarded homosexuality as a form of dysfunction. Thereafter, the scientific consensus changed rapidly, which was followed by a great deal of social change and much higher visibility for gay people in America. Still, as late as 2004, gay marriage remained unpopular enough that it served as a powerful wedge issue that helped propel George W. Bush to re-election. Just two elections later, however, it was support for gay marriage that helped propel Barack Obama to the presidency. Put another way, conservatives suffered almost total defeat in about 10 years. Today, homophobic rhetoric—unless it happens to be semi-hidden in the guise of anti-transgender bathroom bills—is tantamount to political suicide in much of the country.

So, the real question is at which end of the spectrum global warming (and other anti-environmental political positions) belongs. Will conservatives still be in denial a century from now, sticking their heads in the sand of their beachfront property in Nevada? Or does the Trump EPA represent the last hurrah for anti-environmentalists? We would suggest the latter must be the case, for three reasons.

The first reason is young people. Poll after poll makes clear that the younger a voter is, the more likely they are to believe that global warming is real, is man-made, and is a serious threat. Roughly speaking, about 30% of senior citizens feel that way, compared to about 2/3 of people under the age of 30 and about 60% of people under the age of 50. There will come a time, very soon, when global warming denial will be a major loser, politically. If we're not there already, that is.

The second reason is Alaska. Well, not just Alaska, but states like Alaska. That is, red states that are already feeling the effects of global warming. Given its extreme location, Alaska is getting the worst of it, but Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and several other red states are already being affected by higher temperatures, changing migration patterns, higher tides, and the like. There are already at least 45 Democrats and Independents in the Senate who would like to do something about this issue (who knows about Joe Manchin, D-WV, or Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND). All it takes is for Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and a handful of other GOP senators to decide that the time has come for action.

The third reason is Europe (and, to some extent, the rest of the world). There are many issues where the United States is (or has been) out of step with much of the Western world—the death penalty, the morning after pill, socialized medicine, etc. Generally, they do things their way, and we do things ours, and that's how it is. If we look back more than a century and a half, however, there's one issue where the powers of Europe were not willing to let the U.S. go unchallenged: slavery. France and Britain took an active role in trying to undermine both the American and the world slave system, and they had a major impact through their financial support for the abolitionist movement, their aggressive action against the international slave trade, and—perhaps most importantly—their refusal to trade with the slave-holding Confederacy, which kept the South from truly being a viable nation.

European opposition to slavery was largely a moral issue. Global warming is as well, but it's also a serious threat to the economies, culture, and the very lives of people around the world. This week, the European press was abuzz with the news of a new study suggesting that global warming could kill 150,000 Europeans a year by the end of the century. If the U.S. actually tries to remain outside the Paris Accord, and refuses to work with her international partners on this issue, then there will unquestionably be serious consequences. It starts with things like trade sanctions and excise taxes, and just goes from there.

The conclusion, then, is this: Scott Pruitt & Co. should make sure to enjoy their time wrecking the EPA, because they are surely the last of a dying breed. The time will soon be upon us when anti-science, anti-environment, and anti-global warming politicians will be as unwelcome and unelectable as pro-slavery politicians. That time will likely arrive by 2024, and may get here as soon as 2020. (Z)

As Candidate, the President Colluded with a Foreign Power to Influence the Election

No, not that president. Nixon. Almost 50 years later, information has finally come out about the final weeks of the 1968 presidential campaign, based on notes then-chief of staff Bob Haldeman took. The main issue in the 1968 campaign between Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey and Republican Richard Nixon was the raging Vietnam War, which by then was wildly unpopular. President Lyndon B. Johnson knew that if he could show some sign that the war was nearing an end, it would help Humphrey and hurt Nixon. Johnson knew that the Russians hated long-time anti-Communist crusader Nixon, so he pressed them to force the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table just before the election, in hopes this would help Humphrey.

Nixon knew this and had no contacts in Moscow or Hanoi. But he did have Anna Chennault, a Chinese-American widow who had contacts with the South Vietnamese leadership. He got Chennault to tell the South Vietnamese to stall until after the election in order to foil Johnson's plan. Although it is a clear violation of the Logan Act for a private U.S. citizen to negotiate with a foreign government, Chennault followed Nixon's directions and it worked. The South Vietnamese dragged their feet and Nixon won the election.

Nixon knew that he would be toast if the truth about Chennault came out, so he lied and did everything he could to keep it secret for the rest of his life. The truth began to emerge only in 2007, when the Nixon library released Haldeman's notes, which clearly revealed Nixon's orders to keep Chennault working the South Vietnamese. So, the current discussion about a campaign colluding with a foreign power to influence an election isn't the first time this has come up. (V)

Mazie Hirono Flew Even Further than McCain to Vote Despite Her Cancer

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) got a lot of attention for flying in from Arizona to D.C. to vote against the Senate's health care bill, despite his brain cancer. Definitely under the radar is the fact that Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) flew in a lot further despite her stage 4 kidney cancer. She pointed out that she was born at home in rural Japan and her little sister died of pneumonia at 2 because her parents could not afford medical care for her. So the vote to oppose a bill that would take away health care for millions of people was important enough for her that she flew in from Hawaii to vote against it, despite her illness. She has said that she expects to recover and run for reelection in 2018. That may be overly optimistic, though. The two-year survival rate for that kind of cancer is about 30%, which is not a lot better than the diagnosis for McCain's glioblastoma (about 20%). (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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