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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Shoots Himself in Both Feet
      •  Second Judge Rules Against Muslim Travel Ban v3.0
      •  Sessions Frustrates Senators
      •  Tiberi's Out
      •  Three Polls, Two Bad and One Good for Trump
      •  Bannon Tries to Hit McConnell Where it Hurts
      •  Why Trump Will Regret Passing Tax Reform

Trump Shoots Himself in Both Feet

Dead American soldiers are one of the saddest parts of the president's job. When it happens, however, the playbook is pretty straightforward—issue a statement honoring the dead, perhaps, and then maybe contact their families via letter or phone. Invitations to a ceremony at the White House are sometimes proffered. Whatever the Commander in Chief does, the key idea is "solemn respect." It's not terribly complicated. Well, not unless you are Donald Trump, it would seem. He has managed to botch his handling of the recent deaths of four soldiers in Niger so badly that he has created not one, not two, but three different headaches for himself and his administration.

The first headache stems from the curious handling of the whole situation by the administration. It is clear enough that the four dead soldiers were caught in an ISIS-led ambush. Beyond that, however, there is little clarity. Were mistakes made that led to these deaths, like overlooking the presence of ISIS in the area? If so, who was responsible? Were one or more Americans killed by friendly fire? Why was the body of Sgt. La David Johnson left behind, such that it had to be retrieved? The Pentagon has so few answers that it has already launched an investigation. Meanwhile, back on the home front, Donald Trump—who almost never misses a chance to broadcast his patriotism—remained completely silent about the deaths for almost two weeks. This despite the fact that the White House had a condolence statement ready to be released at the President's word. Adding it all up, and it certainly makes it look like a coverup of some sort is underway. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) certainly thinks so; when asked if he felt the administration was being forthcoming about the attacks, the Senator said, "no." He also hinted that a Congressional investigation might be necessary. Since that would fall under the purview of the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by one Senator McCain, that "hint" might be construed as more of a "threat."

The second headache involves Trump's contact with the families of the deceased. Several times, he's tried to make the case that he handles these situations with more class than his predecessor. One result of these repeated claims is that Gold Star families have been coming out of the woodwork to express their gratitude for the Obamas' support and empathy. Another result is that Trump has had to try and live up to the boasts he's made about his own approach to the situation. On Tuesday night, after being pressed by reporters, the President placed a call to Sgt. Johnson's wife and—according to Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson (who was listening in on the call)—said, "He knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt." Wilson naturally found this incredibly insensitive, and promptly went public with the statement.

It is likely that Trump was going for something a bit more noble, something along the lines of, "Sgt. Johnson knew he might pay the ultimate price, but he did his duty anyway." It's also likely that Wilson is recalling things accurately; the story rings true, and the "I guess it still hurt" part would be a particularly unusual thing to invent. Assuming both of these things are the case, then Trump should have apologized, or clarified his meaning, or—failing those—let the matter drop. But, of course, that is not his style. Instead, he went on the offensive on Wednesday morning:

Naturally, this only made a bad situation worse. It caused Wilson to reveal more details of the conversation, like that Trump couldn't remember Sgt. Johnson's name, and kept calling him "your guy." It aggravated many veterans, who do not like to see dead soldiers used as political props. And it had everyone wondering what kind of "proof" Trump was talking about, since in the past, "I have proof" has meant "I don't actually have proof." And indeed, it took only hours for the White House to admit that there is no proof.

And then there is the third headache. Trump's handling of the current situation brought renewed attention to his handling of similar situations in the past, and with that came a reminder of an unfulfilled promise made in June, in which Trump said he would send a gold star father $25,000 and would have his staff set up a charity in the name of his deceased son. Neither happened until the Washington Post reported on the matter Wednesday morning, at which point a check was hastily put into the mail. Oversights happen—indeed, Barack Obama made the exact same error—but it's very bad optics under the circumstances.

In the end, it is hard to see how there could be any method to this madness—how any of this could possibly be benefiting Trump or anyone else. It's also hard to see how he could be so oblivious about the land mines he keeps walking into. If ever the cabinet starts to give serious consideration to invoking the 25th Amendment, weeks like this one are going to get a long, hard look. (Z)

Second Judge Rules Against Muslim Travel Ban v3.0

On Tuesday, federal judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii stayed Donald Trump's third attempt at a Muslim travel ban. On Wednesday, federal judge Theodore D. Chuang of Maryland did the same. The new ruling, 91 pages in length, makes liberal use of Trump's own words, such as his December 2015 promise to orchestrate a "complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." In view of such declarations, Chuang concludes that the new policy is nothing more than a "re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban."

Were that not enough, the administration's case that it gave due consideration to the countries placed on the list is not going to be helped by a small tidbit of news that broke on Wednesday. As part of the review that was conducted, each nation under scrutiny was asked to submit a sample of the paper that they use for passports. Chad had no further blanks, and asked to submit an existing passport for examination instead. The request was denied, and so onto the list they went. Thus the observation, made by a number of outlets, that "it turns out a primary reason for Chad's inclusion was a lack of office supplies."

In any event, this is eventually going to end up in the Supreme Court. And if they don't squeeze the case onto the docket for the current term, that means there won't be a final decision until late 2018 or early 2019. By then, who knows what havoc the Chadians will have wrought? (Z)

Sessions Frustrates Senators

Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the Senate on Wednesday to chat with them about Russiagate (again). The senators would love to know a few things, like what Donald Trump said to the AG about James Comey, and why Sessions met with the Russians several times during the election season (and then "forgot" about those meetings), and what threats the President has made privately against special counsel Robert Mueller. Sessions smiled sweetly many times, and then essentially refused to answer much of anything. "I'm just not able to comment," was a common refrain. This aggravated many of the Democrats at the hearing, particularly Al Franken (MN) and Patrick Leahy (VT), but there wasn't a lot they could do about it.

Meanwhile, many Republicans in Congress are growing weary of the ongoing Russia investigations, and would like to see them wrapped up by the end of the year. They think that the Democrats are deliberately dragging things out, so that the investigation hurts the GOP during next year's midterms. You might even call this the "Benghazi Maneuver." Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who runs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and so has a pretty big say in all of this, noted that he was certainly trying to get things wrapped up, but that he could not say what his committee's completion date might be. Given how few days are left on the Senate's 2017 calendar, he might be trying to let his colleagues down easy.

Sooner or later, though, Burr and his colleagues will be done with their work. And nobody is saying as much, as yet, but we could be looking at the early stages of a serious constitutional crisis here. Imagine that the various Congressional committees, which have less power to compel testimony than special counsel Robert Mueller, and are likely to be less thorough, finish up in December or January or February and declare "Nothing to see here!" Then, at some later date, Mueller—whom the President has already denigrated as a Democratic shill—declares that yes, there absolutely is something to all of this. It could get unpleasant very fast, especially since Fox and Breitbart are likely to embrace one side of the discussion, and MSNBC and CNN and the Washington Post (i.e., the "fake media") are likely to embrace the other. It's not an appealing prospect. (Z)

Tiberi's Out

In a surprise move, Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) appears to be done with politics. The nine-term Congressman is reportedly going to resign his seat, perhaps as early as today, and will head back to Ohio to join a lobbying firm.

This story is of interest for two reasons. First, it's another moderate Republican getting fed up, looking at his prospects for 2018, and throwing in the towel. In general, that is not a good sign for the general health of the GOP, or their prospects next year. Second, Tiberi's district, OH-12, is fairly moderate (R+7). The Democrats have been trying desperately to steal a Republican seat, and this could finally be the one. Even if Tiberi jumps ship this week, it's not clear when the replacement would be chosen, since Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) would have some discretion in scheduling the special election. Likely, Tiberi's replacement would be chosen in mid-2018; if it's a member of the blue team, that would give them some nice momentum heading into midterm season. (Z)

Three Polls, Two Bad and One Good for Trump

Some interesting new polls came out on Wednesday, and they are a mixed bag for the administration. To start, Politico/Morning Consult released their latest poll, and among the many results they reported is one that was sure to delight Donald Trump, so much so that he already tweeted it:

It is not clear if the President just wanted Fox News to know about this, or if he thinks it was a Fox poll. In any case, 46% seems high, though it tracks pretty closely with the 44% of respondents who approve of Trump's performance, the 38% who think Trump is more transparent than Obama, and the 44% who would like to see undocumented children rounded up and returned to their countries of origin ASAP. Perhaps the most interesting result was that 49% of respondents have never heard of Robert Mueller, 37% had no idea who Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is, 25% don't know Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), 19% came up blank when asked about Vice President Mike Pence, and a remarkable 6% were unaware of a gentleman named...Donald Trump. Huh?

There was also a CNN poll, one that won't be finding its way onto the President's Twitter feed anytime soon. Asking about the President's tax proposals, they found that 75% of Republicans like what they are hearing, but only 33% of independents and 13% of Democrats concur. Given the relative size of each faction, that translated into 36% overall approval for the plan, 50% disapproval, and 14% undecided. Not promising numbers when it comes to twisting senators' arms. Particularly those who represent blue or purple states, like Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV).

The third poll, a reminder that the presidential election season is now roughly 3 years, 364 days in length, is the first survey of voter preferences in New Hampshire for 2020. The Granite State poll, which is conducted by the University of New Hampshire, is about as good as it gets in that neck of the woods. It's very early, of course, but the results nonetheless suggest two things. The first is that the Democrats definitely have nothing close to a favorite yet, and to the extent that they have "leading candidates," they are septuagenarians: 76-year-old Vermont senator Bernie Sanders (31% support) and 74-year-old Joe Biden (24%). The second is that the President has his work cut out for him. On the Republican side, only 47% of respondents expressed support for Trump, while 23% planned to support another candidate, and 30% were undecided. This is not a good number; at the same point in the cycle in 2012, Barack Obama had the backing of 64% of New Hampshire Democrats while only 5% planned to support another candidate. With the caveat, once again, that it's very early, a poor showing in the Granite State can be fatal for a president who seeks re-election, as Lyndon B. Johnson showed us in 1968. (Z)

Bannon Tries to Hit McConnell Where it Hurts

There is no question that Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon will do battle with Mitch McConnell next year, as the former tries to get bomb throwers elected, while the latter pushes for loyal backbenchers. Now, however, the former Trump campaign manager and senior advisor has decided to play dirty pool: He's traveling around the country to meet with the donors who regularly fill the Majority Leader's war chest with gold, and to recruit them to the dark side.

Broadly speaking, party insiders are skeptical that Bannon will succeed. GOP donors want results, not troublemaking, and they are particularly leery of rocking the boat when changes to the tax code are the #1 item on the Senate's agenda. Of course, if McConnell comes up short, as he did on Obamacare, then all bets are off. (Z)

Why Trump Will Regret Passing Tax Reform

That's the provocative title of a new piece by Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush. There are a lot of angles Latimer might go with this: Discontent from the blue-collar base, for example, or the likelihood of triggering a recession, or handing the Democrats an issue to run on in 2018 and 2020, or leaving himself without enough money to pay for things like a Mexican wall.

It's none of those, however. Latimer's observation is that changing the tax code is really the one thing left where Trump and Congressional Republicans see eye-to-eye. Therefore, it is the one thing that is keeping the GOP delegation in line behind the President. He believes that once that carrot is removed, McConnell, Ryan, & Co. will have no further use for The Donald, and will rapidly move to a state of open rebellion. This thesis seems to overlook a few other potential areas of agreement—immigration policy, a return to the Obamacare repeal, perhaps some sort of infrastructure investment—but it's certainly an interesting point, nonetheless. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct18 Muslim Travel Ban v3.0 Blocked
Oct18 All Eyes on the Senate as Congress Takes up Taxes
Oct18 Temporary Agreement on Obamacare Subsidies Reached
Oct18 Trump Waves His Saber at McCain
Oct18 Trump Says Obama Did Not Call Kelly After His Son Died
Oct18 Trump Not as Rich as He Was Last Year
Oct18 Collins Being Investigated for Insider Trading
Oct17 Allies Try to Warn Trump About Impeachment Risk
Oct17 Trump Breaks Silence on Green Berets, Slams Obama
Oct17 Trump Campaign Subpoenaed By Sexual Harassment Accuser
Oct17 It's High Time to Get to Work on Opioids
Oct17 We're Moving Close to Open Season on Trump in the Senate
Oct17 North Korea Situation Appears Headed in the Wrong Direction
Oct17 Today in Ill-Conceived Jokes
Oct17 Senators Approve Resolution Honoring Las Vegas Shooting Victims
Oct17 Brown Vetoes Tax Return Bill
Oct17 Callista Gingrich Approved as Vatican Ambassador
Oct16 Guess Who Is Hit Hardest by Trump Ending Subsidies?
Oct16 Japan Losing Patience with Trump's Trade Policies
Oct16 Pence Draws Tiny Crowd
Oct16 Reconciliation Has Been a Disaster
Oct16 Emoluments Case Gets Underway
Oct16 Trump's Favorite Twitter Targets
Oct16 The Right Strikes Back
Oct15 Fight Over Obamacare Subsidies is Going to Get Ugly
Oct15 Bannon Struts
Oct15 Collins to Remain in the Senate
Oct15 Gillespie Keeps Trump at Arm's Length
Oct15 Government Wants to Keep Comey Memos Secret
Oct15 Top Republican Predicts Santa Won't Be the Only One Working Christmas Eve
Oct15 Zinke's In the House
Oct14 Trump Decertifies Iran Deal
Oct14 Trump Prepares to Fiddle While Obamacare Burns
Oct14 Trump Changes Course on Puerto Rico...Again
Oct14 Soldiers in Niger? What Soldiers in Niger?
Oct14 Team Trump Plotting Path to Re-election
Oct14 Will Democrats Repeat McGovern Debacle in 2020?
Oct14 Democrats Thinking Senate Majority in 2018
Oct13 Trump Starts Gutting Obamacare
Oct13 Trump Threatens to Cut Off Puerto Rico
Oct13 Trump Threatens NBC
Oct13 Gerson Eviscerates Trump
Oct13 Nielsen Nominated for Homeland Security
Oct13 Did Trump Fail Econ 101?
Oct13 Feinstein Draws a Serious Challenger
Oct12 Is the Cheese Slipping Off Trump's Cracker?
Oct12 Foreign Affairs Are Going Poorly
Oct12 Trump Comfortable with Vacancies
Oct12 Trump Is Fumbling Puerto Rico Badly
Oct12 McConnell Feeling the Heat