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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump May Sign Russia Sanctions Bill
      •  Scaramucci's Appointment Bad News for the White House Press Corps
      •  Tillerson Is Not a Happy Camper
      •  What Happens If Mueller Is Fired?
      •  Infrastructure Plans Are Collapsing
      •  Kushner Takes His Turn
      •  Is Kid Rock a Serious Senate Candidate?
      •  Government Scientist: Trump is Anti-Science

Trump May Sign Russia Sanctions Bill

Now that it is clear that Congress is going to pass a bill that puts more sanctions on Russia and also eliminates the president's power to unilaterally lift them, Donald Trump may have decided to sign the bill rather than have his veto be overridden. If Sarah Huckabee Sanders' take on the matter is correct, this represents a 180-degree turn for the administration in a matter of days. It is true that the House bill is a bit different from the Senate bill, but the part Trump hates the most—having to answer to Congress—is still there. If Sanders is right, then undoubtedly someone told Trump that Congress was going to pass the bill with or without his signature, so signing it makes it look like a victory rather than a defeat.

But if Sanders is right, then new communications director Anthony Scaramucci is wrong, because he contradicted Sanders yesterday in real time. He said the president hadn't made up his mind yet. Or maybe Scaramucci is right and Sanders is wrong. Or maybe both are wrong. If the goal of shaking up the communications team was to deliver a clear and unified message, the procedures haven't been debugged yet.

One person who wasn't interviewed on any of the Sunday talk shows but whose opinion matters is Vladimir Putin. Based on all available evidence so far, one thing Putin cares about a lot is getting the sanctions on Russia lifted, and this bill makes that less likely, so he can't be pleased. Furthermore, Putin is used to dealing with professionals and this business of dealing with unpredictable amateurs probably irks him. At some point he might lose patience with Trump, with unknown consequences. (V)

Scaramucci's Appointment Bad News for the White House Press Corps

When it comes to spin and dissembling, Anthony Scaramucci is off to a running start. He's already waded into the Russiagate controversy, declaring that he and the President remain unconvinced that the Russians actually meddled with the election. Perhaps tomorrow he can share his insights about the size of the crowd at Trump's inaugural.

We're just a few days into the new White House Communications Director's tenure, and it's already crystal clear what the game is. Like the departing Sean Spicer, Scaramucci is obviously willing to say whatever his boss wants, regardless of how preposterous it might be. The difference between the two men, however, is that Scaramucci looks good on TV while he's doing it. Spicer, with his ill-fitting suits and his perspiration and his squeaky voice simply could not sell what Trump wanted people to buy. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who rarely seems to know the answer to anything, is not much better. This is why the press briefings of the Spicer/Sanders era became no-television, no-audio affairs. Scaramucci, by contrast, is a TV veteran and a cool customer. So, the TV cameras will be allowed back in, and it appears that he will handle many of the briefings. That's very unusual for someone in his job, but this isn't your usual kind of administration.

What's happening here, right under our noses, is that the White House Communications Office is being transformed into the White House Propaganda Office. It's true that every Press Secretary is an advocate for their boss's priorities, but they do not generally issue forth with outright lies, and they usually try to give the press the information they requested. Scaramucci clearly plans to flip the script, and more skillfully than Spicer and Huckabee did. His job will be to tell the press corps what the president wants them to hear, not to engage in a meaningful give and take.

Jennifer Palmieri, who worked as communications director both for Barack Obama and for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, says the time has come for the White House press corps to do some soul searching. She observes that there are already many ways to do an end-run around the fourth estate (ahem, Twitter), and that there are already questions about why this group of 50 or so people should be given access that is not available to many other outlets, much less to the general public. And now, if they are not wary, some (or all) outlets could end up as vehicles for the president's propaganda. In short, it's a tough time to be on the White House beat. (Z)

Tillerson Is Not a Happy Camper

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was, from the beginning, a bit of an odd fit for the Trump administration. Yes, he's a wealthy business executive, so he checks at least one box. However, he's not a longtime friend of the President's—they never even met until Trump offered the Secretaryship. That means he's not a loyalist who will defend Trump through thick and thin. There's also the small matter that Tillerson has no foreign policy experience, and not much in the way of qualifications for his job.

Throughout his still-brief tenure, Tillerson has butted heads with The Donald several times. They disagree on key policy areas, most obviously Iran and Russia. The Secretary has not been allowed to hire his own staff, and has been shadowed by "observers" who report to the President. All of these things have rankled Tillerson. And now, he is reportedly very upset about Trump's very public rebuke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which Tillerson found to be highly unprofessional. It was already the case that Tillerson was planning to make his Rexit at the one-year point, given his frustrations. Now friends say that the end could come much sooner.

If Tillerson does leave because of disagreements with Trump, he'll be traveling a path that's already become well-worn. By Time magazine's count, there are already eight other members of the administration who have left specifically because they did not see eye-to-eye with The Donald:

Name Position Source of Disagreement
Sean Spicer Press Secretary Hiring of Anthony Scaramucci
Patrick Kennedy Undersecretary of State Didn't want to work for Trump
Rumana Ahmed NSC adviser Hostile workplace; Muslim ban
Edward Price CIA Analyst Trump's disdain for the intelligence community
James Runcie Dept. of Education staff Politicization of education
Elon Musk Policy adviser Withdrawal from Paris Accord
Bob Iger Policy adviser Withdrawal from Paris Accord
David H. Rank Acting Ambassador to China Withdrawal from Paris Accord

The list, of course, does not include people who resigned because they got in trouble (Michael Flynn, Monica Crowley), or people who were ordered to resign (the U.S. attorneys), or people who resigned as a matter of custom and precedent (many of the Obama holdovers).

Of course, depending on how long Tillerson holds on, he may not be the next high-profile name to join the list. By all accounts, Sessions and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus are also short timers. For what it's worth, the betting site PredictIt is offering odds on which Cabinet-level official will be next to go. They have Priebus at 30%, Tillerson at 26%, Sessions at 23%, Vice President Mike Pence at 2%, and the remaining cabinet members between 0.5% and 1.5%. Of course, these probabilities could change in 5 minutes. (Z)

What Happens If Mueller Is Fired?

Donald Trump has hinted that if special counsel Robert Mueller starts looking at his finances (which Mueller is virtually certain to do), he might try to get Mueller fired. What would happen if Trump found someone in the Justice Dept. to fire Mueller? Would that be the end of the investigation? Not necessarily. As Jed Handelsman Shugerman points out, various scenarios exist in which the investigation could continue, among them these:

  • A state prosecutor or governor hires Mueller and his team
  • A state attorney general decides to investigate Trump for violating state laws
  • A congressional committee decides to hire Mueller
  • Congress could pass a new independent counsel law that circumvents the president's authority
  • Mueller could be called as a witness in various civil suits pending against Trump

Of these, investigation by one or more state attorneys general seems most likely. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman would seem to have the best case since Trump's business is located in New York and any malfeasance (such as money laundering) would fall under his jurisdiction. Also, if a criminal conspiracy took place in Trump Tower, Schneiderman could certainly look at that.

Going a step further, suppose Trump also pardoned everyone potentially involved in any crimes. What then? For starters, the president doesn't have the power to pardon people for violating state laws, so again the state attorneys general, especially Schneiderman, would be key plays if they decided that state laws had been violated.

On a related matter, there is not much agreement on the subject of whether a president can pardon himself. It has never been tried and no court has ever ruled on it. As a general principle, a person cannot be a judge in his own case, but technically, the president isn't a judge and the Constitution doesn't limit the pardon power. Andy Wright has proposed a way for Trump to get around problems with a self-pardon. In this scenario, Trump announces that he is temporarily incapable of fulfilling the duties of the presidency and asks Vice President Mike Pence to take over, as described in the 25th Amendment. Pence, as acting President, then pardons Trump. Shortly thereafter, Trump announces that he is capable of doing the job again and Pence moves back to the Naval Observatory. Mission accomplished!

Would this stand up? Probably, unless Congress decided to impeach Trump. But such a visible shenanigan might be the straw that broke the camel's back and prodded Congress into action. (V)

Infrastructure Plans Are Collapsing

As a candidate, Donald Trump pledged to create a huge national program to repair America's crumbling infrastructure and create millions of good jobs in the process. If he had started with that, instead of health care, he might have gotten some Democrats to go along with him. Unfortunately for him, that ship sailed long ago. He hasn't even produced a vague plan, let alone legislation, and at this point the Democrats aren't going to sign onto any Trump-branded project. Republicans aren't likely to agree with a plan to spend a trillion dollars for anything except (maybe) defense, so the whole idea of spending a lot of money on infrastructure is dead in the water.

To make it worse, Trump's key idea is to avoid spending a lot of government money by giving tax breaks to private companies in return for them upgrading the infrastructure. Of course, that just disguises the spending. Democrats are going to say that allowing private companies to pay, say, a trillion dollars less in taxes has exactly the same effect on the budget as having the government give the same companies a trillion dollars in contracts, only with less oversight and control over what they do. They are never going to agree to this. For Republicans who are deficit hawks, giving companies tax breaks or giving companies contracts blows just as big a hole in the budget and is a nonstarter. In short, the window of opportunity for Trump to get a much-desired "win" on infrastructure has closed. (V)

Kushner Takes His Turn

Today, Jared Kushner will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Tomorrow, he will speak to their House counterpart. Both meetings will happen behind closed doors, and Kushner will not be under oath. However, there are still significant risks to him; his statements could be used in a future criminal prosecution (and special counsel Robert Mueller will certainly be paying attention), and he would still be guilty of a crime if he tells out-and-out lies. Kushner could choose to plead the Fifth if any really sticky questions come up, but that would come with significant political fallout, particularly since details of the "closed-door" hearing are likely to leak out.

Sometime soon, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort will follow Kushner, though the exact date on which they will do so is currently unclear, as there are ongoing negotiations over documentation and other matters. Still, since all three men were at the same dubious meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Kushner's testimony should give us a pretty good preview of what to expect whenever the other two men finally make it to Washington. (Z)

Is Kid Rock a Serious Senate Candidate?

Politico has a long profile on Robert Ritchie, a.k.a. Bobby Ritchie, a.k.a. Kid Rock. He announced that he is running for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in 2018. At first, most observers thought his candidacy was a publicity stunt, but those observers probably thought the same thing of Donald Trump's candidacy 2 years ago. Others aren't so sure.

Ritchie is Trump on steroids. He once explained his distaste for Beyoncé to Rolling Stone by explaining: "I like skinny white chicks with big tits." Ritchie's "bad boy" image, foul language, and near-universal name recognition in Michigan would make him a formidable contender among Trump supporters for the Republican nomination. He will be aided by the fact that Stabenow won landslide victories in her last two general elections, making it unlikely that serious Republicans would challenge her. This gives him a fairly clear shot at the Republican nomination, if—and that is a big if—he is serious about trying to get it.

The general election is another story. Stabenow is popular in Michigan and Trump's support is dropping everywhere. He won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes. If Ritchie's base in Nov. 2018 is basically those people who still support Trump, that won't do the job. He is going to have to pull in a substantial number of other people. In part that depends on how he presents himself during the campaign. Will he run on a program of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll? Will he run as a libertarian? Or maybe something else?

One problem he will have from the get-go is that the oppo researchers are going to be buying new hard disks to contain the haul of information they will find. He has said enough outrageous stuff over the years to offend almost everyone. He's also a big-time hypocrite, having taken $723,000 in state subsidies for his brewery and then sung, "I ain't never had to take a handout." The T-shirt he is selling online, with the image below, might go over well with Trump supporters but less well with college-educated suburban voters that he will need.

USA vs. Dumbfuckistan

A lot may depend on how popular Trump is in the fall of 2018. If his approval rating is soaring, people want more of the same. But if it is in the low 30s or high 20s, people may decide one inexperienced sexist populist is enough. (V)

Government Scientist: Trump is Anti-Science

It is hardly controversial, at this point, to say that Donald Trump is anti-science. His appointments to the EPA and other agencies, his lack of appointments to the White House science office, his withdrawal from the Paris Accord—all tell the tale. Not to mention his general disdain for expertise of virtually every sort.

Now, we have confirmation from inside. Joel Clement, who chose not to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, has worked in the Interior Department for seven years, in particular helping native Alaskans to adapt to climate change. As a person with multiple degrees in biology, and extensive field experience, he was well qualified for this work. Now, however, he has been involuntarily reassigned. His new job? He's working as an accountant.

The official reason given for the job change that was imposed on Clement and about 50 others was that it would, "improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration." It would be hard to find a more clear example of bureaucratic-speak, and Clement is not buying. He writes:

I am not an accountant—but you don't have to be one to see that the administration's excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn't add up. A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers. Some of my colleagues are being relocated across the country, at taxpayer expense, to serve in equally ill-fitting jobs.

I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.

Clement's thesis is very plausible, especially given how difficult it is to fire career staff in the executive branch. That said, this op-ed, along with the complaint and the disclosure of information he filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, may cause Trump to fire him anyhow. And then, Clement can join the long list of people who are suing The Donald. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul23 Trump Launches All Out War against Mueller
Jul23 Members of Both Parties Warn Trump to Lay Off Mueller
Jul23 Trump Explodes on Twitter
Jul23 House and Senate Reach Agreement on Sanctioning Russia
Jul23 Special Counsel Memo: A Sitting President Can Be Indicted
Jul23 Scaramucci Rewrites History
Jul23 How to Read News Stories with Anonymous Sources
Jul22 The Sessions Plot Thickens
Jul22 Trump Shakes Up Communications Team
Jul22 Mueller Wants All the Documents Related to Trump Jr.'s Meeting with Russian Lawyer
Jul22 Trump and Manafort Will Testify in Private
Jul22 Felix Sater Helped Kazakhs Accused of Money Laundering through Trump Properties
Jul22 Repeal and Replace Just Got a Lot Harder
Jul22 Congress May Strip Trump of Power to Lift Sanctions
Jul22 Trump Picks Two More for EPA
Jul21 Mueller is Looking at Business Transactions Done by Trump and Associates
Jul21 Trump Reshuffles Legal Team
Jul21 Manafort, Trump Jr. Testimony Not Optional
Jul21 Conservatives are Furious with Sens. Capito, Murkowski, and Portman
Jul21 Republicans Rally around Sessions
Jul21 Trump's Support Among Republicans May Be Less than Reported
Jul21 Kobach Unsure if Hillary Clinton Won the Popular Vote
Jul21 Sen. Chris Christie (R-NJ)?
Jul20 Trump Tuesday: Give up on Health Care, Trump Wednesday: Finish Health Care
Jul20 Last-Ditch Effort Being Made to Save Health-Care Bill
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Jul20 Repealing the ACA Would Leave 32 Million More People Uninsured
Jul20 Trump Gives Rambling Interview, Slams Sessions
Jul20 Supreme Court Rules that Muslim Grandparents and Cousins Are Welcome in the U.S.
Jul20 Trump Jr., Manafort, Kushner to Testify Before Senate Judiciary Committee
Jul20 Rohrabacher's Support for Putin May Hurt Him
Jul19 Health-Care Plan F: Do Nothing
Jul19 Another Attendee at the Trump Jr. Meeting with Russian Lawyer is Named
Jul19 Trump Had Second Meeting with Putin at G20
Jul19 Collapse of GOP Health Care Effort May Be Bad News for Russia
Jul19 Trump's Presidency Is in Deep Trouble
Jul19 More Polls, More Bad News for Trump and the GOP
Jul19 Electoral Integrity Commission to Hold its First Meeting Today
Jul19 What's Made in America? Not Trump Products
Jul18 Four Senators Oppose Motion to Proceed on Health-Care Bill
Jul18 Trump Is the Least Popular President Since World War II
Jul18 More Americans Want Trump Impeached than Wanted Nixon Impeached
Jul18 Investigators Are Probing Trump's Digital Operation for Collusion with Russia
Jul18 Flake Is between a Rock and a Hard Place
Jul18 Democrats Are Looking to the Blue Dogs to Win Back the House
Jul18 Urbanization of the West Is Becoming a GOP Nightmare
Jul18 Twitter Users Sue Trump
Jul17 More Setbacks for Health-Care Bill
Jul17 Trump Jr. Excuses, Part I: Blame the Secret Service
Jul17 Trump Jr. Excuses, Part II: Hillary Is Shady, Too