• Flake Will Retire
• Rock Drops Out
• Americans Do Not Support a Tax Cut
• Senate, House Panels to Investigate Obama Uranium Deal
• Clinton Campaign and DNC Paid for Russia Dossier
• DACA Maybe, Bump Stocks No
• Senate Overturns Banking Law, with Help from Pence
• Trump the Least Powerful President in Recent Memory
The relationship between Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and President Donald Trump hit a new low yesterday after Corker did a morning interview with NBC. In the interview, Corker called Trump a "serial liar," regretted supporting him for president, and refused to say whether he trusted him with the U.S. nuclear codes. He also noted that world leaders don't believe anything the President says, and predicted that The Donald's legacy would be "the debasement of our nation."
Needless to say, Trump did not take this lying down. He quickly reached for the tweet button, and blamed Corker for the United States's diminished standing in the world, again referring to the 5' 7" Corker as "liddle Bob Corker." He also said that Corker couldn't get reelected. Previously, Trump said that Corker begged him for his endorsement. Corker's story is that Trump begged Corker to run again. Everyone agrees that the Senator is the one telling the truth.
Trump seems to have forgotten (or doesn't care) that Corker is a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, and is thus a key vote on tax legislation. Corker has been a deficit hawk his whole life and has said he won't vote for a tax cut that causes the deficit to grow by even one dollar. Throw in yesterday's fight, and Corker is not exactly a sure vote for anything Trump wants. Corker has always been a conservative, so he likes tax cuts, but from now on he will be taking direction from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), not from Trump.
Trump met with the Republican Senate caucus after his feud with Corker. Rather than telling the senators what he wanted in the upcoming tax bill, Trump just talked about his achievements during the first nine months of his term. Trump did not speak to Corker at the lunch meeting and Corker did not speak with him. Corker's comment on the meeting was: "I ate my lunch like I normally do." (V)
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has announced he will retire rather than do battle with Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Kelli Ward in the Republican primary next year. Flake has been a consistent critic of Trump, and Trump has returned the favor in spades. Bannon can add a new scalp to his collection as well. The only problem for Trump and Bannon is that many Republicans regard Ward, who is the only announced Republican candidate so far, as so far to the right as to be unelectable in the general election against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), or any other Democrat who may challenge Sinema in the Democratic primary. Former sheriff Joe Arpaio is talking to Bannon about a run, but an 85-year-old firebrand who lost his last election by double digits is not an improvement over Ward as far as the GOP establishment is concerned.
Establishment Republicans are now going to be working overtime to find a candidate who can get the support of Trump, Bannon, and the rest of the Republican Party, and who is also considered electable—if that person exists. They definitely do not want Ward or Arpaio. Other potential candidates include state treasurer Jeff DeWit and the state's Republican representatives, possibly Martha McSally or David Schweikert.
In his Senate speech announcing his retirement, Flake excoriated Trump, saying: "We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that is just the way things are now. If we simply become used to this condition...then heaven help us." After his speech, senators from both sides of the aisle applauded. Many also came over to shake his hand or give him a hug. This may have something to do with the fact that Trump has personally attacked fully 20% of his party's senators; the other 80% undoubtedly suspect their time is coming.
Arizona's other senator, John McCain, was not a happy camper when Flake told him his decision yesterday. He said: "He's one of the most honorable men I've ever known." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) seconded McCain, saying: "He's one of the finest human beings I've met in politics."
It is hard to assess the full significance of Flake's decision this early. If the Republicans have a bruising primary between a Bannon-approved candidate and an establishment candidate, it spells trouble for them. On the other hand, if other Democrats in the state now jump in and Sinema also faces a nasty primary, that won't help the Democrats. However, if the Republican primary is very ideological and the Democratic primary is simply about which person the state's Democrats prefer and is not about ideology, the Republicans may have a tougher time putting the pieces back together for the general election. At this point, almost anything is possible.
In the short term, Flake's impending retirement is nothing but trouble for Trump. Not having to worry about reelection frees Flake, who really despises Trump, to cause all manner of mayhem for the president. In particular, in upcoming fights about tax reform and walls along Arizona's southern border, Flake is now free to vote in the way he thinks will best serve Arizona. With Bob Corker also in the same position, Trump's influence with two key senators is no longer close to zero. It is exactly zero. Neither Trump nor anyone else on planet earth has any influence with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), so that is three Republican senators who are effectively free agents. Mitch McConnell can afford to lose only two votes on any bill that comes up in the Senate, so his job just got a wee bit more difficult. (V)
While an incumbent senator deciding not to run in 2018 is big news, sometimes when someone who is not a senator announces that he doesn't want to be a senator, that is also news. In particular, Kid Rock (whose real name is Robert Ritchie) said yesterday that all the talk of him running for the Senate against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was just a big joke. Rock said that he is releasing a new album and is going on tour.
Mitch McConnell is going to be disappointed, since his super PAC was planning to support Rock. Now the Republicans have to find another candidate. One possibility is fellow Michigan musician Ted Nugent, a fervent Trump supporter. Nugent hasn't ruled a run in or out. Of course, even in the era of Trump. it is possible that the Republicans run an actual experienced politician. Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) is term limited, but as the nation's fourth most unpopular governor, he is not exactly a shoo-in for either the nomination or the general election. Michigan also has plenty of ambitious Republican representatives, not to mention members of the state legislature. All in all though, Stabenow, who is reasonably popular, can probably breathe a bit easier now. (V)
While Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are hell-bent on cutting taxes, their constituents don't like the idea. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll released yesterday shows that 63% of Americans think deficit reduction should take priority over tax cuts for corporations and 75% said deficit reduction should take priority over tax cuts for the wealthy. Only 15% want tax reform at the top of the agenda.
If this poll is even close to being true, it puts the Republicans in a bind. If they pass tax cuts and gut popular deductions in the process, they will take a lot of flak for gutting the deductions. But if they pass tax cuts and just put them on the national credit card, letting the deficit explode by as much as $20 trillion, which Donald Trump's plan would do, they are going to hear from angry constituents who don't want to increase the debt and don't see cutting corporate taxes as a priority. Almost certainly, though, Republicans in Congress are going to ignore voter sentiment and barrel ahead with tax cuts because that is what their donors want, and the donors' wishes always count for more than the voters' wishes. Further, the Party and the President both need a "win," and their chances for recording one prior to the 2018 midterms are getting dim. (V)
Last week, some slightly new reporting from The Hill filled in a few details of a story that was already well known to political observers. In 2010, a Russian company purchased a Canadian-owned company that extracts 20% of the uranium mined in the United States. The sale was conducted vaguely under the auspices of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who either had very little to do with the approval or nothing to do with it, and Barack Obama, who gave the final "yes." At that time, the FBI suspected that the Russian billionaires involved in the transaction might be shady (which, frankly, is the reaction that anyone should have when they hear the phrase "Russian billionaires"). By all evidences, the FBI did not share any of their suspicions with the executive branch, at least not until they had investigated for another four years, by which time the sale was complete. In the interim, a Canadian businessman who was once involved with the company acquiring the uranium, but had left long before this particular transaction, made a hefty, nine-figure donation to the Clinton Foundation.
The Hill's reporting actually added very little to the story; it served more to dredge it back up after two years of quiescence. Thanks to this, however, Republicans in both the Senate and the House are going to launch investigations into the matter. The former will be overseen by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs, while the latter will be conducted under the auspices of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
The purpose of these investigations, "coincidentally" launched on the exact same day, is obvious. This seven-year-old transaction, and the FBI's four-year-old conclusions have been common knowledge for a long time. And if there was any juice there, you can be certain that a uranium investigation would have taken place concurrently with the Benghazi investigation and the e-mail server investigation. But there wasn't any juice, so it wasn't worth it (even less so than the Benghazi/e-mail investigations) and it was not pursued. Now, however, we have a president and a party who are not getting much done and are squabbling among themselves, and who could use a nice, ongoing distraction. Further, we also have a president and a party who may be ensnared in shady behavior by the Russians during the elections. It will be extremely helpful to have a story in the headlines about the Democrats and their shady behavior vis-a-vis the Russians. The two circumstances aren't terribly comparable, but modern American politics is rarely about nuance and subtlety. So, expect something that was a non-story in 2010 and a minor story in 2014 to suddenly become a big story in 2018. (Z)
In a story similar to the one about uranium (see above), the Washington Post has reported some slightly new news about Democrats and Russians. Specifically, the paper now has evidence that the Clinton campaign and the DNC helped pay the bills for Fusion GPS to look for dirt on Donald Trump. Fusion, in turn, hired former British intelligence official Christopher Steele, who put together the infamous dossier that alleges extensive shady (and kinky) behavior by The Donald during his visits to Russia.
This revelation isn't actually all that much of a revelation. Everybody already suspected that Fusion was partly funded by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, and all the Post has done is collect some "proof" (in the form of reports from off-the-record insiders). But as with the uranium story, this "revelation" will inspire parallelisms with the Trump campaign that actually aren't all that parallel. "The Clinton campaign tried to get dirt on Trump from the Russians, and the Trump campaign tried to get dirt on Clinton from the Russians. Six of one, half a dozen of the other," they will say.
However, there is a very big difference here. First, the Clinton campaign did not directly interact with the Russians—and, in fact, were several degrees removed from the process—while the Trump campaign did. Further, the Clinton campaign paid for the goods they were set to receive, while the Trump campaign did not. Clinton didn't deal or collude with the Russians. She hired an American oppo research firm, which hired a British spy, and paid them for it. This is where the real distinction resides: If Clinton had been elected, she would not have owed the Russians "a favor," whereas Trump might have. There is a huge difference between Clinton hiring a D.C. research firm founded and run by Americans and Donald Trump, Jr. going to meet one of Vladimir Putin's henchwomen (Natalia Veselnitskaya) in the expectation of getting dirt from her. Again, though, modern politics is not about nuance and subtlety, and so there is little doubt that the two situations will be treated as equivalent by many on the right (and maybe even by many on the left). (Z)
Despite the fact that the same party controls both houses of Congress, the presidency, and the Supreme Court, it's not so easy to get legislation passed these days. Any potential bill has to pass muster with the conservative-leaning House, and has to get through the Senate, which is not only more moderate, but which also has 48 Democrats and independents who are more than willing to filibuster anything they don't like. Even if all those hurdles are overcome, one way or another, then the bill needs the signature of a president whose positions on the issues are unclear, and may be different tomorrow from what they were today. No wonder nothing substantive has become law in the last 10 months.
Despite all of those hurdles, however, Senate Republicans are optimistic they can thread all of the various needles to get a bill passed that permanently protects the Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who came into the U.S. as children. Nothing is imminent, but Party members have begun to figure out which provisions are deal-breakers (border wall, an E-verify system for employers to check citizenship status) and which ones are possible (beefed up border security, taking steps to limit "chain immigration," etc.). In theory, these discussions should not even be necessary, since President Trump already reached a verbal agreement with Senate Democrats to address this issue. However, everyone now realizes that his verbal agreements are not worth the paper they are not written on.
On the other hand, the other piece of legislation that seemed viable in recent memory—a ban on the "bump stocks" that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to hit 604 people in 10 minutes—is effectively dead. Democrats have introduced bills in both chambers, each of them with Republican co-sponsors. However, the NRA and other gun lobbies are very powerful, and Second Amendment voters are absolutely willing to vote for or against a candidate based on this single issue. With Steve Bannon recruiting far-right gun-lovers all over the country, few Republicans want any sort of anti-gun vote on their resume so close to the midterms. "Let the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms figure it out" provides convenient cover, so that is the position that nearly all GOP members of Congress are now taking. Since ATF is just the Washington branch office of the NRA, this means nothing will be done. Just like after all the other mass shootings. (Z)
Congress may not be great at passing new laws these days, but they are sometimes effective at killing old ones. Particularly if they were the work of Barack Obama. Such was the case with an Obama-era rule that allowed consumers to opt out of arbitration clauses included in their contracts with banks and credit card companies. The House had already voted to overturn the rule, and on Tuesday the Senate joined them, with VP Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote, resulting in a 51-50 tally. All of the Democrats and Independents, along with GOP senators Lindsey Graham (SC) and John Kennedy (LA) voted against.
There are good arguments to be made on either side of this issue. Arbitration clauses are sometimes abused by banks, to allow them to silence customers who have been wronged. Lawsuits are sometimes abused by trial lawyers, to allow them to file lucrative class-action lawsuits. Given the recent, high-profile bad behavior by Wells Fargo, along with the fact that Graham and Kennedy are hardly the most liberal members of their caucus, the Obama side of the issue would seem to have the stronger case. However, the bankers have more and better lobbyists, so they win this one. The bill will now go to Donald Trump, who will sign it and then add +1 to his record-breaking tally of laws passed. (Z)
There are certain powers inherent to the presidency, regardless of the person who occupies it: the ability to launch nuclear strikes, the bully pulpit, executive orders, appointing judges, etc. However, there are also many dimensions of presidential power that depend on the skill and savvy of whomever is holding the office at any particular time: bending Congress to the president's will, rallying the American people, successfully managing foreign policy, attracting the best and brightest talent to serve in federal office, etc. Writing for Politico, Zachary Karabell has an interesting essay pointing out the irony that Donald Trump, who is more concerned with projecting "power" than perhaps any other man to hold the presidency, is actually the weakest president in a very long time.
Although Karabell doesn't do it in this way, Trump's inefficacy might best be understood by thinking about the six "roles" of the president that political scientists have defined:
- The president is the legislator-in-chief, and has
the ability to set the nation's legislative agenda. Not only is Trump unable to
work with Congress, they are now to the point that they are actively working
- The president is the chief diplomat, who manages
America's relations with other countries. Trump has not substantially improved
the United States' relationship with any nation, but he has certainly made some
relationships—those with Iran, North Korea, Germany, Russia, etc.—substantially
- The president is the chief economist, who manages
the nation's economy. It's true that things are going well on this front for
Trump, but it's hard to see how he's had much to do with it.
- The president is the commander-in-chief, who
commands the United States' armed forces. Trump hasn't had to do much
commander-in-chiefing so far, but what he has done (phone calls to the families
of dead soldiers, for example) he has sometimes botched in high-profile
- The president is the chief executive, who
constructs and manages the executive branch. Needless to say, Trump's executive
branch has been—to use the political scientist's term—a "train
wreck," with terminations and resignations and infighting and a total lack of
stability or transparency.
- The president is the head of state, an inspiring symbol of that which is good and great about America. It's true that about 35% of Americans are inspired by having Trump in the White House. Most of the rest, however, are revolted. If Elizabeth II—perhaps the most famous head of state in the world—had only 35% support, she wouldn't be queen much longer.
No president succeeds in all six areas; for example, Barack Obama was pretty good at numbers 1, 3, 5, and 6 and pretty weak at number 2; Ronald Reagan excelled at 1, 2, 4, and 6, and ultimately proved pretty bad at 3 and 5. It's unusual, however, that a President should be batting only 1-for-6, as Trump appears to be. And the one where he's doing ok, the economy, is largely beyond his control, and is due for a cool-down. So, he could be 0-for-6 by this point next year. In any event, looking at things through this lens helps to illustrate how fully Trump is squandering the vast and diverse powers that have been put in his hands.
As far as Karabell is concerned, Trump's failures are a good thing, long term. He argues that the balance of power between the executive branch and the other two branches is out of whack, and that Trump is compelling the legislature and the judiciary to assert themselves and to reclaim some of their lost territory. It's an interesting and optimistic argument, but we are skeptical. The powers of the presidency have appeared to shrink before (Hoover, Carter), only to be revitalized when a more effective president took office (FDR, Reagan). While it is possible that Trump will permanently weaken the presidency, past experience suggests it is not likely. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct24 Trump Feuds with Military Widow
Oct24 Republicans Don't Trust Trump as a Negotiator
Oct24 Democratic House Candidates Are Pulling in Serious Money
Oct24 Russians May Have Hundreds of Troll Networks Targeting the U.S.
Oct24 EPA Silences Scientists
Oct24 Feinstein Readies for Battle
Oct23 Trump Personally Interviewing U.S. Attorneys
Oct23 Khizr Khan Criticizes Trump and Kelly for Their Statements on the Niger Deaths
Oct23 Trump Administration Set to Create Another ACA Mess
Oct23 Is Mississippi the Next Alabama?
Oct23 Democrats Nervous about Virginia
Oct23 Another Republican Enters the Race for Corker's Seat
Oct23 Carter Wants to Go to North Korea
Oct23 McCain Keeps Poking the Bear
Oct22 Trump Unleashes Twitter Tornado
Oct22 Be Careful of Whom You Endorse, Mr. President
Oct22 Texas Democrats Liking Their Chances
Oct22 Trump Will Release JFK Documents After All, or Maybe Not
Oct22 Impeach Trump, Make $20 Million
Oct22 Alabama Senate Race Is Very Close. Or Isn't Close at All.
Oct22 Turmoil at Fox News
Oct21 Kelly Gets Sucked In
Oct21 Trump Working on Phone Calls to Soldiers' Families
Oct21 Congress Wants to Review Presidential War Powers
Oct21 Conservatives Willing to Bend in Order to Get Tax Cuts
Oct21 Trump Lifts the Curtain
Oct21 A Golden Age for Lobbyists
Oct21 JFK Assassination Secrets Likely to Remain Secret
Oct20 Numbers 43, 44 Slam Number 45
Oct20 Kelly Leaps to Trump's Defense
Oct20 Trump Commends Trump For Handling of Puerto Rico
Oct20 Trump Continues to Flog NFL
Oct20 Clinton Uranium Story Back in the Spotlight
Oct20 Will Senate Move Forward With Obamacare Stabilization?
Oct20 Cook Political Report Moves 11 Seats in Democrats' Direction
Oct19 Trump Shoots Himself in Both Feet
Oct19 Second Judge Rules Against Muslim Travel Ban v3.0
Oct19 Sessions Frustrates Senators
Oct19 Tiberi's Out
Oct19 Three Polls, Two Bad and One Good for Trump
Oct19 Bannon Tries to Hit McConnell Where it Hurts
Oct19 Why Trump Will Regret Passing Tax Reform
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