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

Justice Dept.: Trump Tower Wasn't Wiretapped

It's hard to know if this even qualifies as "news," since everyone knew this anyhow. But, on Friday night, the Justice Department released an official statement confirming that it could find no evidence Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the election.

Donald Trump, of course, was unambiguous in his accusations about this. "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" he tweeted at one point. "How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate," he later added. With any other president, an apology would be immediately forthcoming, but Obama surely isn't holding his breath. Of course, with any other president, such wild accusations wouldn't have been made with so little evidence to back them up.

Asked for comment, an Obama spokesman said, "A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice." This is very believable; Obama's deep concern with ethical behavior has only a few parallels among the last dozen or so presidents; it's him, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford who cared most about playing by the rules. Indeed, the accusation tells us much more about Trump than it ever did about Obama. In a classic example of psychological projection, Trump was willing to believe that Obama did this because that is what Trump himself might have done under similar circumstances. Which means that whoever the Democratic candidate is in 2020 should be extra careful about his or her security if Trump is the opponent, as Watergate-style hijinks are not at all out of the question. (Z)

Trump Wants to Kill Trade Deal with South Korea

Free-trade agreements are one of the rare subjects where economists have reached a broad consensus: They help both sides much more than they hurt. Despite this, when Donald Trump ran for president, one of his key talking points was that these trade deals are bad for America. Now, he is desperately searching about for "wins." He's already killed the TPP, and he's not quite ready to deal with the blowback that would come from killing NAFTA. So, his administration—which almost certainly means "Stephen Miller, working late into the night"—has been making preparations to withdraw from KORUS, which is the United States' free-trade agreement with South Korea. It is possible that the process could begin as early as this week.

Trump's top advisers are almost universally against the move. That includes National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, all of whom have been pressuring Trump not to withdraw. They all recognize that a trade war with South Korea would be bad for the economy, and would weigh heavily on the companies that do a lot of business with that nation (particularly tech firms and fast-food conglomerates). More importantly, they are a little better at multi-factor analysis than Trump is, and are aware that it is not wise to aggravate the South Koreans when the U.S. needs to work with them to contain North Korea.

Meanwhile, as if on cue, the North Korean government made another pronouncement on Saturday, declaring that they now have a working hydrogen bomb that they are able to deploy via an intercontinental ballistic missile. The working bomb part is confirmed. It's not yet clear whether the ICBM part is true, or exactly what the yield of the bomb is, although a fairly standard-sized H-bomb would have a yield roughly equivalent to 15 times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In view of what is already known, it is probably best to take Kim's threat seriously, which means it's also best to keep the United States' relationship with South Korea as problem-free as is possible. We shall soon see who wins the latest power struggle in the White House; if Miller loses, it would not be a surprise to see him pack his bags and go back to Breitbart with the other anti-globalists. (Z)

How John Kelly Has Changed the White House

Speaking of White House power struggles, former Marine Corps general John Kelly has been running a tight ship since he became chief of staff. The Hill has a list of five ways in which he's changed things since accepting Donald Trump's job offer:

  • Trump is traveling more, to sell his agenda directly to the people
  • Spontaneous visits to the Oval Office by key staffers have been cut off
  • Staffers can't give Trump news to read, so he's not exposed to the wackiest stuff any more
  • Troublesome staffers, like Mooch and Steve Bannon, have been canned
  • The President's cell phone access is strictly controlled

The good news, for fans of the administration, is that Kelly's changes have had a noticeable impact. Where there were once almost daily disasters, now it's down to once or twice a week. Most obviously, Trump shoots himself in the foot with Twitter far less frequently than he once did.

Now, the bad news. The President and his chief of staff do not like each other. For Kelly's part, he only took the job out of a sense of obligation, not because he particularly wanted it. After Trump's infamous Phoenix rally, the President lashed out at Kelly over the size of the crowd, largely because he happened to be the closest available target. Kelly took the tongue-lashing calmly, but seethed later, telling associates that he'd never been spoken to like than in 35 years of service to the country, and that he would not tolerate such behavior again.

Trump, for his part, is bristling at the restrictions put upon him, particularly the reduced cell phone access. We've actually done this song and dance before; Paul Manafort was brought in to bring "discipline" to Trump's campaign, and eventually ended up on the outs, and then on the sidewalk. It does not help matters that Breitbart is accusing the triumvirate of Kelly, James Mattis, and H.R. McMaster of orchestrating a "coup" and putting Trump "under house arrest." Once Trump hears it put that way, he's not going to be happy. Reportedly, White House insiders are betting on how long Kelly will last, with the low end being a month, and the high end being a year. Given the turnover in this administration, a year seems awfully optimistic. In fact, so does a month. (Z)

Trump Does Better in Hurricane Harvey Visit v2.0

The first time that Donald and Melania Trump visited Texas to view the Hurricane Harvey damage, the President did better than George W. Bush, but only slightly. He turned the visit into a facsimile of a campaign rally, and so we ended up with a situation that was long on the Trump rah-rah, and short on empathy. The First Lady did not impress, either, given that her wardrobe on leaving the White House was more apropos to a high society cocktail party than a disaster area.

On Saturday, the Trumps decided to give it another go. Melania wore the pricey couture and the stilettos again, so apparently she was not impressed by the criticism. The President, on the other hand, clearly got the message that more empathy was called for, and so he did his very best, kissing babies and shaking hands. Or shaking babies and kissing hands. Empathy is not something The Donald does well, but he certainly gets an "A" for effort. (Z)

Texas Republicans Have No Answers When it Comes to Hurricane Harvey

While the slogan most associated with the Lone Star State is "Don't Mess with Texas," they might want to consider changing it to "I know nothing, I see nothing." At least, for the Republican contingent representing the state in Congress. The recent hurricane has put those individuals in a political bind, in at least a couple of ways. And when the Washington Post tried to talk to them about it, they nearly all went as silent as a church mouse.

The first way in which the hurricane has made things uncomfortable, of course, is in the area of disaster relief. The GOP members from Texas are all budget hawks, at least when it comes to the federal government helping out with disasters in the other 49 states. Say, for example, New Jersey. When it comes to Texas, however, they are more than happy to open the government's checkbook. In response to the WaPo's inquiries about this apparent inconsistency, only one of the 38 Republicans in Texas' delegation answered, namely Rep. Lamar Smith. He went with the same line that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) used earlier in the week, namely that, "The Sandy bill was used as an opportunity for fiscally irresponsible politicians to exploit natural disaster spending in order to fund pet projects with taxpayer money." In other words, Cruz, Smith, et al. would have been happy to vote for Hurricane Sandy relief, but for all the pork in the bill. The only problem is that this is not true. Apparently, the other 36 members have decided that it's better to remain silent and be thought a hypocrite than to speak up and remove all doubt.

The other sore spot raised by Harvey is the issue of global warming. This is, as many have pointed out, the third "once in a century" flood to hit Houston in the last three years. Either that city has had really rotten luck, or something is causing water levels to rise. Like, say, the polar ice caps are melting. This is the scientific consensus on what is happening, and even if it was just a theory (and not an overwhelming consensus), it would seem to be worth looking into. However, none of the 38 Texas Republicans was willing to comment on the matter. Meanwhile, the six Democrats in Texas' delegation who talked to the WaPo all agreed that global warming is a big part of the equation.

Next year, 37 of the 38 Republicans who represent Texas in Congress will be up for reelection, and in a state that is very slowly trending purple. Most, including Cruz, have already drawn serious opponents. These opponents will presumably remind voters of their representatives' behavior, particular if there's another "once in a century" flood next year. November of 2018 is a long way away, but when the votes are tallied, we could learn that Harvey did damage of a sort that nobody ever saw coming. (Z)

Killing DACA Could Become a Big Headache for Trump

In June, 11 attorneys general, all of them Republicans, signed a letter urging the Trump administration to end DACA. Now, the President is seriously thinking about doing just that. And at least one of the attorneys general, Tennessee's Herbert Slattery III, has had a change of heart. He wrote a letter to Tennessee's two senators, Lamar Alexander (R) and Bob Corker (R), asking them to support legislation that would make DACA permanent (currently, it is just an executive order).

The obvious conclusion here is that opposing DACA, like opposing Obamacare, is a very useful way to appeal to voters, right up until the point that it's time to actually do something. Slattery has presumably done the math, and realized that ejecting a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings who have committed no crime would be a logistical nightmare and a political disaster for the GOP.

Slattery is not the only Republican officeholder who has reached this conclusion. A sizable number of the GOP members of Congress, starting with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), agree with Slattery. They are not only concerned about logistics and political fallout, but also about antagonizing their Democratic colleagues. It would appear that Ryan & Co. are starting to realize that they may need some Democratic votes to get things done, and that killing DACA would make working together much more difficult. Of course, it is within Ryan's power to solve this problem, by passing a DACA law with a veto-proof majority, and thus putting it beyond Trump's power to kill. We shall see if he and the rest of the leadership decide to put their money where their mouths are. (Z)

Does John Bel Edwards Have the Special Sauce?

Recently, we observed that on the two occasions in recent history where the Democrats were most splintered, and most needed a candidate to ride to the rescue, their white knight came in the form of a centrist Southern governor—Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992. It would seem that we are not the only ones who noticed the pattern, because Politico has produced a profile of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA), wondering if he's found the secret recipe that will allow the Democrats to win back some of the states they have lost to Republicans.

Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the deep South, and Donald Trump did better in his state (58% of the vote) than in any other state with a chief executive from the blue team. Like Clinton and Carter before him, Edwards embraces a mix of conservative and progressive positions. For example, he is pro-life and pro-gun, two positions that are decidedly right-leaning. On the other hand, he has expanded Medicaid, done battle with oil and gas companies for destroying coastal wetlands, pushed for a higher minimum wage, and tried to liberalize his state's criminal justice system.

The Governor may well provide a template for how Democrats can win the governor's mansion and/or Senate seats in red (and reddish) states. And he is certainly being discussed as a possible presidential candidate for the Democrats in 2020. However, we are skeptical that he will prove to be the blue team's white knight, for two reasons. First, he won election in part because his opponent, David Vitter, was corrupt. And not just corrupt, but corrupt enough to bother even Louisiana voters. It's impossible to know how much of the 56% of the vote that Edwards got was pro-Edwards and how much was anti-Vitter. The second problem is that the Democrats are currently split between the moderate faction (aka the Clinton voters) and the progressive faction (aka the Sanders voters). If the Democrats try to go with a centrist in 2020, particularly one who is pro-life, the Sanders voters will howl with rage. So, Edwards would probably be best focusing on his re-election bid in 2020, as opposed to a White House run. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep02 Russians May Have Hacked Voter Registration Lists
Sep02 Mueller Has the Original Comey Firing Letter
Sep02 Mick the Knife Gets to Work
Sep02 Trump Concedes: No Wall, For Now
Sep02 Ryan, Hatch Urge Caution with DACA
Sep02 Time For Obamacare Repeal Runs Short
Sep02 Long-Time Trump Aide Keith Schiller Will Leave White House
Sep02 The Invisible Primary Is Already Underway
Sep02 Judge to Menendez: No Breaks in the Trial So You Can Vote in the Senate
Sep01 Manafort Notes from Meeting with Russians Mention Donations
Sep01 Could an Accountant Take Down Trump?
Sep01 Muslim Travel Ban v1.0 Is Dead
Sep01 CEOs May Attack Trump If He Ends DACA
Sep01 Trump Reduces Pay Raises for Government Employees
Sep01 Democrats' 2020 Dilemma: Old vs. Young
Sep01 Majority Thinks Trump Is Tearing the Country Apart
Sep01 Trump Is a Weak President
Sep01 Kushner Has Yet Another Problem
Sep01 Not So Fast, Joe
Aug31 Mueller Teams up with Schneiderman
Aug31 'Talking is not the answer,' Says Trump; 'Yes, it is,' Says Mattis
Aug31 Trump Talks Taxes
Aug31 Richard Trumka: White House Was Split between Racists and Wall Streeters
Aug31 Prosecutors Assert that Menendez Has Been Taking Bribes for Years
Aug31 Christie Slams Cruz
Aug31 Harris to Co-Sponsor Sanders' Single-Payer Bill
Aug31 Jerry Springer May Run for Governor of Ohio
Aug30 Trump Holds Rally in Texas
Aug30 Trump May Soon Face Tough Choice Due to Hurricane Harvey
Aug30 Kim Jong-Un Isn't Going Away
Aug30 Trump's Tax Plan Doesn't Hold Water
Aug30 Ninth Circuit Court Seems Skeptical of Muslim Ban v2.0
Aug30 Mueller Subpoenas Manafort's Former Lawyer
Aug30 Donald Trump Jr. Will Talk to Senate Judiciary Committee
Aug30 Mattis Forms Panel to Study Transgender Soldiers
Aug30 2020 Is Already Here
Aug29 Trump Signed Letter of Intent for Trump Tower in Moscow during the Campaign
Aug29 Could a Presidential Pardon Be Grounds for Impeachment?
Aug29 DeSantis Wants to End Mueller Investigation
Aug29 Trump's Team May Follow Karl Rove's 2004 Playbook
Aug29 Mexico to Trump: We Are Not Paying for a Wall under Any Circumstances
Aug29 Bannon Is Taking on McConnell in Alabama
Aug29 Pruitt Being Investigated
Aug29 Another Presidential Council is Collapsing
Aug29 Another Trump Insider Is Out
Aug28 Trump Organization Sought Business Deal in Moscow...While He Was Running for President
Aug28 Arpaio Story Is Not Going Away
Aug28 Breitbart Says Ryan Has Joined Up with Leftists
Aug28 Trump May Be Failing His Hurricane Harvey Test
Aug28 The Politics of Floods