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

Looks Like There's More to the Trump Tower Story

When it comes to the infamous meeting between friend-of-Putin Natalia Veselnitskaya and senior members of the Trump campaign at Trump Tower last year, the story that Team Trump has told has always been that dirt on Hillary Clinton might have been hinted at, but it wasn't delivered. Most of the meeting was devoted to discussing adoptions of Russian children, and that marked the end of the whole thing. "There wasn't really follow-up because there was nothing there to follow up," Donald Trump Jr. told Sean Hannity.

It turns out that—surprise!—that may not have been true. Next week, Congressional investigators will be interviewing Rob Goldstone, who set up the meeting. And in going through the e-mails he's submitted, according to reporting from CNN, they discovered that he followed up several times after the Veselnitskaya confab, and also that he pressed Dan Scavino to set up a page on the Russian version of Facebook, which is called VK. There's no direct evidence, as yet, that young Trump was a part of the follow-up conversation, but it still doesn't look good. He may be lying, or he may be forgetful, or he may actually have been in the dark as to what was happening, but whatever it may be, his denials are now even less credible than they were. Not helping things is that at least one person who knows what happened at that meeting, Paul Manafort, has been indicted and might decide to turn state's evidence. That will, among other things, encourage Goldstone to be very frank during his interviews next week. So, the noose around Trump Jr.'s and Jared Kushner's necks (he was at the meeting too) may have just gotten a little bit tighter. (Z)

Tax Bill Hits Rough Waters

The tax bill that passed the Senate was thrown together hastily, and under enormous time pressure, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) making promises willy-nilly to get the 50 votes he needed. Among those were a commitment to pass the Murray-Alexander bill to stabilize the insurance markets (that got the vote of Susan Collins, R-ME) and a promise to do something to help the Dreamers (people who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children; that got the vote of Jeff Flake, R-AZ).

Now, Republicans in the House are—predictably—balking at the promises McConnell made, especially those two. This creates a bit of a problem for the GOP leadership. The current plan, of course, is to create a conference bill that combines aspects of the House and the Senate plans. However, if Collins and Flake think they have been double-crossed, they could pull their votes. Add that to the already-lost vote of Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), and the bill is dead, Mike Pence tiebreaker or no. And that's before we talk about the sweeteners that got the votes of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), which the Freedom Caucusers are also leery about.

If a conference bill cannot be agreed upon, then another option is to simply have the House pass the bill already passed by the Senate and to tell the jilted senators "tough luck." Flake, Collins, et al. might be able to withhold future votes, but they cannot withdraw past votes. This approach has quite a few problems, though. First, it would poison the working relationship between McConnell and whatever senators got burned. Second, the 35 or so Republicans in the House who don't want to get hammered for agreeing to kill the state income tax deductions (which the Senate bill calls for) might rebel and kill the bill. It wouldn't even take all 35 of them; just 24. A third issue is that the Senate bill has some gaping problems in it, like the $289 billion mistake they made with their handwritten notes in the margins. In brief, the GOP senators accidentally neglected to raise the threshold at which the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax kicks in, with the result that corporations would end up forking over $329 billion in tax over 10 years, as opposed to the $40 billion that the Republicans intended. Needless to say, if the whole point of the bill is to dramatically reduce corporate taxes, this is not going to get it done, and is not going to make the donor class happy.

A third possibility, of course, is to convince the Freedom Caucusers to be reasonable, and to accept that certain concessions to their agenda must be made. And once Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has done that, perhaps he can also part the Red Sea, turn water into wine, and lead the Cleveland Browns to a Super Bowl championship. Heck, those things might actually be easier than actually getting this tax bill across the finish line. (Z)

Franken Will Quit

Soon-to-be-former senator Al Franken (DFL-MN) has said he will resign from the Senate in the coming weeks after dozens of Democrats called on him to do so. He will probably leave at the end of the year so he can cast important votes on the tax bill and other major bills. If the successor wants to keep the job, she will have to face the voters in 2018 in order to fill out the rest of Franken's term, which ends in Jan. 2021.

In the end, Franken had little choice given that nearly all of his caucus wanted him out. Still, it was the honorable thing to do and he did it. In contrast, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), both of whom are also involved in sexual misconduct scandals, have not resigned. And Donald Trump, who has done things worse than any of these men, is still in office. Then there is Roy Moore, who is accused of crimes worse than any of the above since they involve teenagers, and is still running for office. If Franken is thinking: "How come [former representative John] Conyers and I had to go, but Farenthold, Trump, and Moore are being protected by their party?" he certainly has a point. Actually, he clearly is thinking along those lines, because he made that basic observation in his resignation speech.

To a large extent this outcome is politics at work. Democrats need a large turnout of women in 2018, and demonstrating that they will not tolerate sexual misconduct from anyone, not even from their own members, puts them in a position to say: "We have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct" without hearing "What about Franken?" If Republicans try to attack anyway, the rejoinder is going to be: "We fired our perverts. When are you going to fire yours?"

Democratic strategist David Axelrod tweeted yesterday: "If you admit misconduct, you resign. But if you deny it, however compelling or voluminous the testimony against you, you continue in office—or on to office—with impunity?" Alternatively, Newt Gingrich noted that more than a million Minnesota voters pulled the lever for Franken in 2014, but 30 self-appointed "pure" senators want him out. Of course, this is really a defense of Roy Moore in advance, should he be elected to the Senate next week.

Also noteworthy in this sordid affair is that the ringleader on the Democratic side in demanding Franken's head on a pike is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who is very likely to run for president in 2020 in a very crowded field. One can already envision the first Democratic debate during the primary season when a moderator asks everyone: "Why should the voters pick you?" Her answer is pretty clear: "I led the fight against sexual harassment." It could resonate with many voters. (V)

Dayton Might Appoint His Lieutenant Governor as a Placeholder

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-MN) may appoint a placeholder to replace Franken, namely Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (DFL-MN). She is 59. Smith has repeatedly stated that she has no real interest in serving in Congress and wouldn't run in 2018. It is unusual for a governor to appoint a placeholder rather than someone who intends to serve indefinitely, but there is some logic in appointing Smith. There was a bitter Democratic caucus in Minnesota in 2016, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won. Hillary Clinton barely won the state in 2016, possibly because some of Sanders' backers voted for Trump to express their hatred for Clinton. By appointing someone who won't run in 2018, there will be a level playing field, and Sanders' super-supporter Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) can run if he wants to. However, he will surely face opposition from other Democrats who supported Clinton. In this way, whoever wins the senatorial primary next year will have a mandate from Minnesota Democrats, not from the governor.

On the other hand, it is not a done deal yet. Under state law, if the position of lieutenant governor becomes vacant, the president of the state senate gets to fill it. The current one is Republican Michelle Fischbach. This could lead Dayton to appoint state Attorney General Lori Swanson (DFL), Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL-MN), or someone else. Most observers are convinced he will name a woman to serve along side Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), giving the state two female senators. California, New Hampshire, and Washington also have two female senators. (V)

Report: Trent Franks to Resign from Congress Just Ahead of a Scandal

Roll Call is reporting that Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) is about to resign from the House just before allegations of inappropriate behavior are about to surface. It's not your usual inappropriate behavior; the issue is apparently that Franks may have tried to recruit two female staffers to serve as surrogate mothers after his wife had several miscarriages. It wasn't clear from the reports if he was proposing to impregnate the women using artificial insemination or a more traditional method.

Franks represents an R+13 district northwest of Phoenix. That is probably enough to withstand an expected Democratic effort to take the seat in the special election next year, but it could be close, especially if the Democrats can come up with a strong candidate. The special election's primary must be held between 80 and 90 days after the vacancy occurs, putting it in March. The general election must take place between 50 and 60 days after the primary, probably putting it in May. (V)

Congress Kicks the Can a Short Distance Down the Road

Government funding was set to expire today, which would have led to a shutdown of most of the government. The House bravely tackled the problem by funding the government—until Dec. 22. Then it will shut down 3 days before Christmas unless something is done. The Senate immediately passed the House bill.

The possibility of a shutdown is real because government funding can't be passed in the Senate using the budget reconciliation procedure. Democrats can filibuster it if they want to. Donald Trump is going to have to deal with "Chuck and Nancy," whether he wants to or not. He has already said that he wants a funding bill that increases defense spending, pays for a wall on the Mexican border, does not increase non-defense spending, and doesn't provide any protection to the Dreamers.

Democrats say this is a pipe dream. If recent history is any guide, when Trump faces an opponent who refuses to budge, he caves, and both "Chuck" [Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)] and "Nancy" [Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)] know this very well. Furthermore, they will remind him of the deal they made earlier this year about the Dreamers. If Trump does reach a deal with the Democrats, it might cause a huge battle in the House, where the Freedom Caucus is sure to oppose it bitterly. So, it's yet another mess for him that he's likely ill-suited to deal with. (V)

Trump's Approval Falls with Every Demographic Group

Axios has taken data from a Pew Research survey about Donald Trump's approval among various demographic groups and how it has changed since Feb. 2017 and made a nice chart of the results:

Trump approval

Some key findings are as follows:

  • White evangelicals are souring on him, with his approval dropping from 78% to 61%
  • White voters as a whole have gone from 49% approval to 41% approval
  • Among men, Trump is at 40% but among women it is 25%
  • Only 31% of white college graduates approve of him (was 36%)
  • Young people 18-29 have come to like him even less than before (20% now vs. 24% earlier)

All in all, his approval has gone from 39% to 32%. Historically, one of the most important factors in the midterms is how popular the president is. No president has ever been this low since polling began, so Republicans could have a problem next year. (V)

Trump to Get Physical

It is customary for presidents to undergo a physical from a military physician (usually a navy doctor) every year they are in office, and then to make the results public. On Thursday, Donald Trump said that he would adhere to past presidents' precedent, with the examination and records release both to take place sometime in January 2018.

Assuming that Trump keeps his word—and remember, we're still waiting for his oft-promised tax returns—then it will be the first time a doctor not in his employ will be allowed to weigh in on the President's health. The last report, ostensibly from Dr. Harold Bornstein, declared that The Donald is "the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." That's highly dubious, not only because some past presidents were borderline-professional-level athletic (Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, Ford), but also because the 71-year-old Trump dines frequently on unhealthy foods and does not exercise. There's much reason to believe his health is moderately good at best, and that's before we talk about the slurring of speech that's happened recently.

Roughly speaking, there would appear to be about a half a dozen possible outcomes here. A ranking, from most likely to least likely:

  • Trump finds some reason to skip the physical entirely
  • Trump takes the physical, but finds some reason to withhold the results
  • Trump finds a military physician who will cook the books for him, like FDR's doctor did in 1944
  • The results are released, they say Trump really is in excellent health, and that's believable
  • The results are released, and they say Trump is in fair health
  • The results are released, and they say Trump has one or more serious health problems

The final scenario would make Trump look both weak and dishonest. While he's ok with the latter, he's not ok with the former. So, the only way it's really plausible that The Donald allows a physician to announce he's in poor health is if he's setting up a non-Russia-related excuse for resigning. (Z)

Roy Moore, Historian

Perhaps this whole Senate campaign is just a big performance piece, and Roy Moore is trying to see how many crazy and outrageous things he can say or do before someone in the Alabama GOP says, "wait a minute, here." In case his assaults on underage women, and his disdain for the rule of law, and his looting of the "charity" he founded, and his birther conspiracies, and his overt Islamophobia, and his general comfort with the idea that all gay people should die were not enough, the would-be Senator decided to share some of his thoughts on slavery. Though this was a couple of months ago, at the same rally where he called Native Americans and Asians "reds and yellows," it is only this week that the slavery material is getting attention. Moore's erudite take on 19th century history: "I think it was great at the time when families were united. Even though we had slavery, they cared for one another...Our families were strong, our country had a direction."

Needless to say, this is sheer lunacy. While slave families surely did care for one another, they were also broken up frequently, sometimes at the drop of a hat. Unless, of course, the slave was the child of his master, and thus the product of the master's rape of a black woman. Slave marriages were forbidden by law, and in the whispered ceremonies that were held nonetheless, it was standard to change the vows to "'Til death—or distance—do us part." So, Moore seems to be looking at that part of the past through, rose-colored glasses. As to "our country had a direction," well, it actually had two distinct directions, which is why there was a little thing called the Civil War. In any event, we now have discovered at least one major difference between Donald Trump and Moore. When Trump talks about Making America Great Again, he is looking backwards to the 1950s. For Moore, it would seem, the 1850s are more his style. Just don't tell him that there were Muslims and gays running around, even back then. (Z)

Arpaio "Seriously" Considering Senate Run

The case of Roy Moore has apparently taught former sheriff Joe Arpaio a few things when it comes to running for the Senate. Like, having already been AARP-eligible for decades doesn't matter. Nor does a total lack of experience in Washington. Nor does a lengthy history of abusing one's position as an officer of the court, to the point of being hit with charges. So, "America's Toughest Sheriff" is now telling anyone and everyone that he's "seriously, seriously, seriously" considering a run for Jeff Flake's soon-to-be-open seat. Seriously.

If Arpaio does run, then it sets the stage for an absolutely brutal battle on the far right between him and former state senator Kelli Ward, and it is she who has the backing of Steve Bannon and Breitbart. That would likely play right into the hands of the more moderate Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who is also running. If Arpaio does somehow claim the nomination, which is certainly possible given his built-in fanbase, it is hard to see how he prevails in the general election. He was crushed by 13 points in his last run for sheriff of Maricopa county, and that was with the benefits of incumbency, while gunning for a job that he's ostensibly qualified for, and in a county that is a bit redder than the state as a whole. His best, and probably only, hope is that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) steps down and Arpaio runs for that partial term, relying on name recognition to carry him to victory. (Z)

Vonn Will Represent the U.S., Not Trump

On February 9 of next year, the Winter Olympics will get underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea. If you thought there was some chance that an event that is supposed to promote understanding, tolerance, and brotherhood would manage to remain apolitical, you haven't been paying attention. The most prominent member of the American delegation is almost certainly skier Lindsey Vonn, whose fame stems from her past Olympic success (two medals, one of them gold), her two-year relationship with golfer Tiger Woods, and her swimsuit pictorials. In an interview Thursday, she declared that, "I hope to represent the people of the United States, not the president" and also confirmed that she would not participate in the customary visit to the White House after the Games are over. No other Olympians have thus far shared their views on this subject, but we may nonetheless be headed for a situation where the President of the United States is taking potshots at his own country's Olympic team on Twitter. Heaven help us if any of them kneels during the playing of the National Anthem.

On the other hand, it could be a moot point. Pyeongchang is about 100 miles from North Korea, home to a fellow who does not much care for Americans, and who probably does not have the Olympic spirit. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley suggested on Wednesday night that the U.S. might not even send its delegation. That may just be idle chatter, or it may be a serious possibility, though it's a little odd that it's Haley making the announcement. Before the Trump administration decides, they may want to get out their history books and review how well an Olympic boycott worked out for Jimmy Carter in 1980. Hint: It did not help his approval rating, nor did it stop the Soviets from being big meanies. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec07 Democrats Call for Franken to Resign
Dec07 Bredesen Will Run for Senate
Dec07 Flynn Told Business Associate that Sanctions Would be Ripped Up Immediately
Dec07 The Sausage Machine Has Been Turned On Again
Dec07 Fallout from Jerusalem Decision Begins
Dec07 Trump Slurred His Speech
Dec07 Time Person of the Year:
Dec07 Democrats Try but Fail to Impeach Trump
Dec07 Conyers III Not Likely to Be Your Next Representative from Michigan
Dec06 Report: Mueller Subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for Trump Financial Records
Dec06 Russiagate Plot Thickens Some More
Dec06 Tax Bill Looks to Be an Albatross around the Republicans' Neck in 2018
Dec06 Conyers Resigns Effectively Immediately
Dec06 God's Plan for Mike Pence
Dec06 Trump Will Move Forward on Jerusalem
Dec06 Polls Say Moore, Jones Are Leading in Alabama
Dec05 Trump Formally Endorses Roy Moore
Dec05 RNC Back in on Moore, Too
Dec05 Another Woman Produces Evidence that Roy Moore Knew Her as a Teenager
Dec05 Supreme Court Allows Muslim Ban 3.0 to Go Into Effect Temporarily
Dec05 White House Lawyer Told Trump in January That Flynn Lied
Dec05 Can a President Obstruct Justice?
Dec05 Tax Bill Is Likely to Be Close to the Senate Bill
Dec05 Americans Don't Like the Obamacare Mandate--Until Someone Explains What It Is
Dec05 31% of Republicans Want a Different Nominee in 2020
Dec04 Feinstein Thinks Mueller Is Building an Obstruction of Justice Case against Trump
Dec04 Did Flynn Wear a Wire?
Dec04 Differences Will Have to Be Ironed Out between the Senate and House Bills
Dec04 McConnell Backs Off Position that Moore Should Drop Out of the Senate Race
Dec04 Bush is Back
Dec04 CBS Poll: Moore Ahead by 6%, but Don't Believe It
Dec04 Trump Tries to Keep Hatch in the Senate
Dec04 Clinton for U.S. Senate?
Dec03 Trump Just Can't Help Himself
Dec03 What the Flynn Plea Deal Means
Dec03 How the Sausage Is Made
Dec03 Next Target: Repealing the New Deal and Great Society
Dec03 Tillerson Is a Lame Duck
Dec03 Trump to Declare that Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel
Dec03 Jones Has a Small Lead in Alabama
Dec02 Flynn Indicted
Dec02 Senate Passes Tax Bill
Dec02 Today's Congressional Sexual Harassment News
Dec02 Gowdy Used Government Money to Settle Lawsuit
Dec01 Tax Bill Is Moving Forward
Dec01 Tillerson May Be on the Way Out
Dec01 How Trump Manipulates the News
Dec01 Trump Feuds with May, Britain
Dec01 Trump to Hold Rally that Has Nothing to Do With Moore
Dec01 Pelosi Gets Permission to Call for Conyers to Resign from the House