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

McConnell and Trump Are Taking Potshots at Each Other

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have been exchanging comments about each other the past few days, and the picture isn't very pretty. Trump started by attacking McConnell for not repealing "Obamacare." McConnell, who is extremely buttoned down and very cautious, made a rare response, basically saying the President's expectations were too high and he doesn't know how Congress works. Yesterday, Trump suggested that maybe McConnell should quit. Almost immediately, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and other Republican senators went public with support for McConnell, who remains very popular with his caucus. There is zero chance of his giving up the leadership position he has worked his entire life to get.

McConnell explained multiple times why he couldn't repeal Obamacare: He didn't have 50 votes. If you want to get down in the weeds, there is one strategic decision McConnell made that was ultimately disastrous, and he probably should have known better. The bill that got shot down in the end defunded Planned Parenthood. That idea is popular in his caucus, but has little to do with repealing Obamacare. If he had left that out, he would have had a shot at getting the vote of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). That would have been enough to pass the bill. But he got greedy and aimed too high (sort of like Hillary Clinton campaigning in Arizona and Georgia but not in Wisconsin). Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was never a gettable vote and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) once in a while puts on his mavericky hat, but McConnell should have gone to Murkowski and said: "Whatever you want, you can have it."

Of course, Trump played a role here, too. His secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, called up Murkowski and threatened her, an extremely stupid move. Trump should have asked her what she wanted from him and just given her all of it. He didn't use his inner Lyndon Johnson because he has no inner Lyndon Johnson. So part of the blame is his as well as McConnell's.

Putting aside whose fault it was, it is not a smart move to get into a fight with the Majority Leader when a lot of crucial legislation is going to come up in September. McConnell isn't going to skip tax reform or other bills the Republican leadership wants to spite Trump, but there may be things that Trump wants badly (like funding for a wall on the Mexican border) that McConnell just ignores. (V)

Kim and Trump Are Also Taking Potshots at Each Other

Kim Jong-Un has shown no indication that he's cowed by Donald Trump's "fire and fury" threat, and has continued to signal that he's planning for an attack on Guam. Trump, who has never heard about turning the other cheek, because that is in the Bible, is happy to keep escalating things. Speaking of his previous threat on Thursday, he told the press, "Maybe it wasn't tough enough," and also declared that it was time a U.S. president "stuck up for the country." Because if there is one problem that Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, and Reagan had, it was their lack of backbone.

It hardly needs saying at this point that a hot war with North Korea—a desperate nation led by an unstable government that doesn't have much to lose—is almost universally regarded as a bad idea. Former NSA Susan Rice says so. Professional military analysts say so. Secretary of Defense James Mattis says so, too, declaring that, "Right now, the tragedy of war is well enough known it doesn't need another characterization beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic." At the moment, however, Trump is apparently not on board with the experts. Some are asking whether or not Congress could step in and override a presidential order to bomb North Korea. Generally speaking, however, the answer is "no." So, we're just left to hope that Trump doesn't make a bigly mistake. (Z)

Trump Thanks Putin for Expelling Diplomats

Donald Trump was in fine form on Thursday, so much so that CNN's Chris Cillizza compiled a list of his 39 most eyebrow-raising quotes. Note that's not 39 eyebrow-raising quotes, but 39 most eyebrow-raising quotes. Meaning that one, or two, or maybe a dozen or more additional quotes didn't even make the cut.

Among the most choice remarks were the attacks on Mitch McConnell and North Korea, of course (see above). But Trump also took time to express appreciation for his—um...adversary? friend? partner? nemesis?—Vladimir Putin, thanking the Russian President for announcing the expulsion of several hundred American diplomats last week. "As far as I'm concerned I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll," the President said. "We'll save a lot of money."

Was this a joke? A ham-fisted attempt at spin? A serious statement of The Donald's views? Certainly, he has made clear his intention to slash the State Department to the bone, so it's entirely possible he means it. In any case, Trump was quite predictably slammed from all parts of the political spectrum over his casual disregard for the career diplomats who have spent years or decades serving their country. Perhaps even more interesting, however, was the response of the clearly-demoralized State Dept. employees who spoke to ABC News. "I'm not even angry, it's just saddening," said one, who also noted that his colleagues don't feel the President supports them. Another observed that, "For reasons we do not yet know, the President cannot bring himself to criticize Putin." There is certainly an irony in the fact that Trump is clearly willing to duke it out with any American who irks him, from handicapped reporters to female news anchors to the Senate Majority Leader, but he won't say an unkind word about the man who is arguably the United States' foremost adversary. (Z)

Trump's Legal Team is Completely Outmatched by Mueller's Team

Special counsel Robert Mueller has assembled a prosecutor's dream team, including numerous experts on money laundering and other financial crimes. All of them are prosecutors with years of experience in dealing with white-collar crime and organized crime. In contrast, Trump's legal team was put together haphazardly and has nowhere near the experience of Mueller's team.

Initially, Trump had his long-time attorney Marc Kasowitz lead the team, but it didn't take long for Kasowitz to be demoted. That's just as well since he is a civil litigator and not a defense lawyer. If you want to sue someone, Kasowitz is your man, but that's not what Trump needs right now. John Dowd is the new lead attorney. He used to work for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, but left two years ago and brings none of their resources to the fight. Also on the team is Jay Sekulow, a Christian-rights lawyer who looks good on television, but may not be the right person in terms of strategic advice. Finally, there is Ty Cobb (not the famous baseball player who died in 1961), who actually is a star criminal defense lawyer, but given the size of Mueller's team, it is basically 16 to 1. (V)

Mercer Donates $300,000 to Take Down Flake

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has had the temerity to be an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, almost from the minute Trump announced his candidacy. He recently wrote a book wiping the floor with Trump. Clearly, he is more worried about the 2018 general election and getting some Democratic votes than about the primary. Billionaire Republican megadonor Robert Mercer is working to change Flake's mind. He has just announced that he is donating $300,000 to Kelli Ward, one of Flake's primary opponents. Mercer's daughter, Rebekah, is very close with Trump's adviser Steve Bannon, and presumably would love to see Flake taken down.

The only problem with the Mercers' strategy is that if Ward, a former state senator who served three-quarters of one term before being crushed by John McCain in the 2016 senatorial primary, does manage to beat Flake with the help of the Mercers' money, it creates an open seat in Arizona. Incumbent senators, even unpopular ones like Flake, have a big advantage in reelection campaigns. If the Democrats can come up with a strong candidate, possibly one of the four Arizona Democrats in the House, they have a much better chance against the unknown Ward than against Flake. But the Mercers probably don't care. They want to send a message to all Republicans everywhere: "You oppose Trump? Then we'll oppose you." (V)

Indiana Made it Easier for White Voters, Harder for Black Voters, to Cast Ballots Early

Republican-controlled legislatures across the nation have undertaken a pretty brazen campaign to stop minorities, students, and poor people (in other words, a lot of Democrats) from voting. Voter ID laws are one way to do it. Reduced polling hours are another. Purges of voter rolls are yet another.

Following Barack Obama's victory in Indiana in 2008, the Republicans who run that particular state were apoplectic. And, according to a report from the Indianapolis Star, they developed a particularly audacious way to deal with the problem. In Marion County, where there are many black voters, the number of early voting stations was reduced from three to one. The number of early ballots there declined 26% in 2016 as a result. In Hamilton County, where the voters are overwhelmingly white, two early voting stations were added. There, early ballots increased by 63%. As things now stand, the early voting stations in Marion now cover seven times as many voters as in Hamilton.

A lawsuit has already been filed by Common Cause Indiana and the NAACP's Indianapolis branch; it argues that the change in policy disproportionately burdens black citizens' right to vote, and so is a violation of the 14th Amendment. Given the facts of the case, the argument would appear to be a slam dunk. But with a conservative SCOTUS majority, who knows? Ball's in your Court, Neil. (Z)

Poll: Half of Republicans are OK with Postponing 2020 Election

Two academics have gone where no pollsters has gone before: asking people if they are OK with postponing (canceling?) the 2020 election. In their poll of 1,325 Americans, they asked if they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election until it could be certain that only eligible voters could vote. An astounding 52% of Republicans would be all right with this. Perhaps that is not surprising since 47% of them believe Trump won the popular vote. Actually, he lost it by almost 3 million votes.

The two academics noted that if Trump actually proposed this, there would be a torrent of opposition to it, probably including most Republicans in Congress. And there is no way such a proposal would square with the Constitution, which calls for a presidential election every 4 years, come hell or high water. The only time in American history that this idea was proposed seriously was during the Civil War, and it triggered a strongly-worded response from Abraham Lincoln: "We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us." Still, the fact that so many Republicans would even consider the idea makes it clear that democracy is a lot more fragile than anyone had thought. Maybe a couple of academics are now thinking about the next poll: "Would you support making Donald Trump president for life?" Perhaps they could see if Robert Mugabe could finance the poll. (V)

Poll: Trump's Finances Are Fair Game

In a slightly more down-to-earth poll, conducted for CNN by SSRS, 70% of Americans believe that Robert Mueller's investigation should look into Donald Trump's finances. The breakdown is 91% of Democrats want to see Trump's finances investigated, along with 72% of independents and even 41% of Republicans. Trump has said that if Mueller does that, he will have crossed a red line and is subject to being fired. Clearly the American people do not agree with the President on that. The poll also found that by a margin of 59% to 31%, Americans don't like the way Trump is handling the Russia probe. (V)

Northam Leads Gillespie in Virginia Gubernatorial Race

Two states are holding gubernatorial elections this year, Virginia and New Jersey. Since these elections are always held the year after a presidential election, they have come to be seen as harbingers of the future. If the president carries one of the states and his party is shellacked a year later, it is a bad omen for the midterms. In Virginia, the race is between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) and Ed Gillespie, a former RNC chairman.

A new Quinnipiac University poll puts Northam at 44%, Gillespie at 38%, and Libertarian Party candidate Cliff Hyra at 4%. Northam leads 51% to 33% among women, 48% to 39% among white college-educated voters, and 56% to 21% among nonwhite voters. In contrast, Gillespie leads 44% to 35% among men, 54% to 28% among white noncollege voters, and 47% to 38% among all white voters. Most of Hyra's support is coming from Republicans, so if the race is close in November, many of them may hold their noses and vote for Gillespie to stop Northam. (V)

It's Open Season on the Environment

In the first few months of a presidential administration, it is to be expected that corporate interests will probe the limits of what they can get away with. After all, there are rules and there are also RULES, and each administration has a different sense of what fits in each category. The dance between manufacturing concerns and the EPA that happens early in a new chief executive's term is particularly important, as it sets the tone for environmental regulation for the next 4 to 8 years.

In view of this, the Clinton administration handed out $25 million in fines ($44.3 million in 2017 money) to polluters in the first six months Bubba was in office. George W. Bush may have been an oilman, but his administration imposed $30 million in fines ($43.5 million) over the same period. And for Barack Obama, it was $36 million ($41.7 million). Now, a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project reveals that the Trump administration has handed out a relatively paltry $12 million in fines. That's a 72% drop, accounting for inflation. Maybe it's philosophical, maybe it's political, maybe it's because the EPA has no staff, but whatever the case may be, potential polluters are certainly taking note. After all, they know that when the Barack's away, the mice will play. (Z)

Rohrabacher Steps in It

James Damore is—or, more accurately, was—an engineer at Google. He created a firestorm earlier this week when his 3,000-word manifesto—er, memo—entitled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber" became public. In it, he argues that maybe the reason that Google has so few female engineers is that they're really not biologically suited to the job. Of particular interest was his assertion that women are simply too neurotic to be scientists, or really to occupy any high-stress jobs. Damore was promptly fired for sharing these very helpful views, and is now making the circuit of the alt-right talk shows to explain to everyone how he has been wronged.

What does this have to do with politics? Well, nothing until Thursday morning. But when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) heard the story, he simply could not keep his response to himself. So, he hopped on Twitter to share with the world:

In 2018, Rohrabacher is going to be defending his seat in a district that Hillary Clinton won, and after tallying only 58% of the vote himself, the worst number he's pulled since his first election. He's got a pro-Trumpcare vote on his ledger, which will not play well with many of his voters. And now, he's apparently forgotten that California is home to women. Quite a lot of them, in fact. He better hope that the men to whom he's pandering order their wives to stay at home on Election Day, so they can cook or clean or something. Because otherwise, he will become former Rep. Rohrabacher. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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