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

White House Unhappy that Mueller Has Transition E-mails

As with any modern presidential transition process, Team Trump generated many thousands of e-mails as they prepared to take over the White House. Those e-mails are held by the government's General Services Administration. And now, copies of those e-mails are in the possession of special counsel Robert Mueller, who has used them to guide his investigation. None of these facts is in dispute. What is in dispute, as of Saturday, is whether or not Mueller should have copies of the e-mails.

Attorney Kory Langhofer works for Trump and he believes that the special counsel has overstepped his bounds. In a seven-page letter sent to members of Congress on Saturday, Langhofer argued that Mueller's acquisition of the e-mails violates the Fourth Amendment's protections against unlawful search and seizure, as well as attorney-client privilege (a popular talking point for Team Trump these days). It is not entirely clear what Langhofer wants to happen, beyond his three-page suggestion that Congress should pass some laws to stop things like this from happening again.

Politico talked to William Jeffress, who defended Scooter Libby during the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation. After examining Langhofer's letter, Jeffress said, "I seriously doubt there is anything here to taint the [Mueller] investigation." It's really not necessary to have a law degree to reach this conclusion, though. Mueller is a pro, and a pro who knows that everything he does is going to be put under an electron microscope. There is little chance he would put his investigation at risk by using dubiously-obtained "poisoned fruit."

What's really going on, here, of course, is that Donald Trump's lawyers (and his media allies) are putting on a full-court press, so as to create—as much as is possible—the appearance of impropriety and/or corruption. In this, the lawyers are just doing their jobs (while the Jeanine Pirros and Sean Hannitys of the world are, apparently, just trying to score some brownie points). The anti-Mueller forces are having some success; 54% of people polled by Harvard CAPS-Harris this week believe Mueller has a conflict of interest because of his ties to James Comey. Still, more people have a favorable view of the investigation (34%) than an unfavorable one (31%). And beyond that, Mueller's job is not to win elections or popularity contests, it's to collect evidence and build a case, and he seems to be doing a very effective job of that. Donald Trump's lawyers clearly think so, which is why they are spending so much time and energy trying to undermine him. (Z)

Trump Simply Does Not Accept Russian Interference

The Washington Post has a lengthy piece on where Donald Trump stands on Russia one year into his presidency. And its conclusion, from talking to White House insiders and from examining the President's words and actions, is that he does not believe that the Russians interfered with the election, and he never will.

It is not the least bit surprising that this is where we are at. Trump feels that any admission of Russian involvement in his victory will, on some level, undermine his legitimacy. He's absolutely right about that. Already he's got the twin problems of having lost the popular vote and having won the electoral vote courtesy of very narrow victories in several states. If he concedes that the Russians helped—even if he had nothing to do with it—then it will be ammunition for his many, many detractors.

On top of that, however, is the fact that Trump—like Richard Nixon before him—is an inveterate liar. This is hardly a controversial statement at this point, but if evidence is wanted, the New York Times has put together an infographic of the blatant falsehoods told by Trump versus those told by Barack Obama. It is, of course, a rout, with The Donald uttering six times as many falsehoods in 10 months as his predecessor did in eight years.

What is the connection between Trump's position on Russia and his habit of lying? Glad you asked. As we have noted previously, liars are much more effective when they believe their own lies. The social scientists call this self-deception, and Donald Trump has been doing it professionally for 40 or 50 years. Ever since he began his career, he has been bending reality to suit his tastes, convincing himself and the world that he's the richest, and the most successful, and has the best planes, and the best golf courses, and the nicest residences, and the like. All of this is a sub-category of self-deception: self-promotion. Another sub-category of self-deception (among five or six, depending on whom you ask) is something called biased social theory, which is the perception that the world is unfairly aligned against you. Trump has been practicing this type of self-deception for decades as well, believing that the upper crust of New York society is biased against him, and so has never really been willing to accept him, or to give him his just dues.

The point here is that, in his career as a businessman/con-man, Trump has literally spent decades convincing himself that he's a winner, and that anyone who says otherwise is just unfairly biased against him. And now, what he has done is take the worldview of his New York real estate career and transfer it to Russiagate.

Of course, this approach has some serious consequences. For Trump, it means that he's weakening his own bargaining position by not confronting this threat to his presidency and his political career head on. For the nation, it means he's weakening the country and its security apparatus by not confronting this threat to national security and to the health of the democracy head on. When looked at in this light, Robert Mueller's investigation takes on an even greater significance. (Z)

GOP Base Seems to Like Tax Plan

As the tax plan (likely) nears the finish line, a new poll from Quinnipiac has some good news for the GOP. Last month, registered Republicans were unhappy with their party by a large margin, with 60% disapproving and only 32% approving. As of this week, 15% of those respondents have flipped, with 47% approving and 43% disapproving. Those are still not very good intra-party numbers, but at least the GOP is above water. So, progress!

The problem, of course, is among non-Republicans. Independents disapprove of the tax plan by a margin of 3-to-1, while Democrats disapprove by a margin of 30-to-1. Further, only 16% of Americans (of all parties) think their taxes are going down, and 65% think the plan is primarily going to benefit the wealthy. So Trump's (and to a lesser extent, the Republican Party's) strategy of playing to the base and to hell with everyone else will be sorely tested in next year's midterm elections. (Z)

Centers for Disease Control May or May Not Be Barred from Using Seven Words

No, not those seven words. The CDC probably shouldn't use those either, but the seven that are now specifically forbidden from use in official CDC documents next year, according to reporting from the Washington Post, are "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based." Instead, staffers are to use phrases like, "CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes."

Late in the day Saturday, the Dept. of Health and Human Services declared that the Post's report is a "complete mischaracterization" of the new rules. Note that they did not say the report was false. Also note that the Post's reporting is exceedingly specific. What it all means, surely, is that CDC staff may not be "forbidden" from using those seven words, but they are "strongly encouraged" not to use them, particularly if they are interested in "keeping their jobs." (Z)

Trump Discussed Disney Deal with Murdoch

The big news this week, media-wise, is that Disney has reached an agreement to buy most of 21st Century Fox. Donald Trump was thrilled by the news, and promptly took credit for all the jobs that are going to be created. It would appear that, despite being a high-profile billionaire businessman, Trump does not realize that corporate mergers rarely create jobs. In fact, they kill jobs, as duplicate positions are eliminated. Some estimates suggest the Disney-Fox merger, if it goes through, will result 20,000 pink slips. The Donald will probably not take credit for those.

Trump did speak to Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch via phone to discuss the merger, and to offer his congratulations. In theory, he could have asked about potential job creation at that point, but the President had other matters on his mind. The question he actually asked Murdoch was whether or not Fox News was included in the sale. When assured that it was not, The Donald was very relieved. Some might say this reveals something about the President's priorities. (Z)

Kihuen Won't Seek Re-election

Like Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) has been plausibly accused of sexual misconduct while in office. And like Farenthold, he has denied wrongdoing, but has also concluded that his political career cannot survive the scandal. So, like Farenthold, he will leave Congress once his current term is up.

It's not a big surprise that Kihuen is going to try to hang on until the bitter end. First of all, his district is pretty purple (PVI of D+3), and if he departs, his replacement could well be a Republican. That will be less of an issue during the midterms, when Democratic turnout should be strong. Second, while Farenthold is independently wealthy, Kihuen is not. His latest disclosure forms say he has only $1,000 to $15,000 in assets, and all of that is the balance in his Wells Fargo checking account. He's going to have to bank as many of his remaining checks as is possible, because the usual soft landing for ex-members of Congress—college professor, think tank, lobbyist—might not be available to someone sent packing by a sexual harassment charge. (Z)

The Truth Is Out There?

The weekend can be a slow time for news, so that is presumably why Politico decided to unleash an unusual item on Saturday involving former senator and Democratic leader Harry Reid. It's about the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, which was tasked with investigating UFOs. The multi-million dollar initiative was established at the then-senator's request a decade ago and, while not classified, was known only to a handful of prominent government officials.

If Reid were still in the Senate, this might make for a little bit of levity at the expense of the Democrats. It may still, especially since Reid's home state is also the location of Area 51. Still, the program is not entirely unreasonable—UFOs need not be extraterrestrial, and could well be an unknown Russian or Chinese technology, among other things. That said, the program didn't actually positively identify any UFOs. Or maybe that's just what they want you to believe... (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec16 Blackmail Works
Dec16 MacDonough: Thou Shalt Not Do Politics in Church
Dec16 What's in the Tax Bill?
Dec16 Democrats Will Use Net Neutrality to Energize Millennials
Dec16 Trump's Popularity Is Plummeting
Dec16 Woman Drops Out of House Race on Account of Sexual Harassment Charge
Dec16 Another Dubious Judicial Nominee
Dec16 Trump Lawyers to Meet with Mueller
Dec15 Tax Bill Is Not Quite a Done Deal Yet
Dec15 FCC Votes to Kill Net Neutrality
Dec15 McCain Is in the Hospital
Dec15 Trump Breaks the Record for Appellate Judges Confirmed in First Year
Dec15 Has Ryan Had It?
Dec15 Farenthold Won't Run for Re-election
Dec15 There May Be a Recount in Alabama
Dec15 North Korea, Iran Situations Get Messier By the Day
Dec15 Tip: Don't Get a Job Anytime Soon Where You're Paid in Tips
Dec14 What the Alabama Exit Polls Tell Us
Dec14 Disquieting Numbers for the GOP
Dec14 It's Not My Fault!
Dec14 Democrats' Path to Winning the Senate in 2018 Is Now Wider
Dec14 House and Senate Conferees Agree on a Tax Bill
Dec14 Rosenstein: No Cause for Firing Mueller
Dec14 Trump Withdraws Judicial Nominees
Dec14 Only Half of Voters Say Sexual Misconduct Accusations against Trump Are Credible
Dec14 Tina Smith to Replace Franken in the Senate
Dec14 Heat is On Farenthold
Dec13 Alabama Declares: "No Moore"
Dec13 Trump Has a Really Bad Day
Dec13 Republicans Getting Closer to Tax Deal
Dec13 Democrats Back Down on Dreamers
Dec12 It Is Election Day in Alabama Today
Dec12 What Happens If Moore Wins?
Dec12 Judge Orders Alabama Voting Records Preserved
Dec12 Booker Will Also Be Tested Today
Dec12 Gillibrand Calls for Trump to Resign
Dec12 Missing from the Russiagate Probe So Far: Steve Bannon
Dec12 Trump Wants to Go Back to the Moon
Dec12 Transgender Soldiers Can Enlist
Dec12 Spicer Writing a Book
Dec11 Another Poll Shows Moore Leading Jones
Dec11 Moore Does Not Like Amendments 11-27
Dec11 Collins Says Senate Will Have a Tough Decision If Moore Wins
Dec11 Senate Republicans Are Attacking the American Bar Association
Dec11 Trump Accusers to Demand Congressional Investigation
Dec11 What is Haley's Long-Term Plan?
Dec11 Poll Says Americans Aren't Buying what the GOP is Selling on the Tax Plan
Dec11 Will the Exit Poll Survive?
Dec10 Mueller Is Certainly Being Thorough
Dec10 Bad Numbers for the GOP