• Members of Both Parties Want to Know More about Trump Tower Moscow
• Red-State Democrats Now Support DACA
• Fifteen States Sue Trump on DACA
• Gerrymandering Case Gets Some Unlikely Support
• Irma Visits Donald
• Menendez's Trial Began Yesterday
• Protests, By the Numbers
In a stunning move, Negotiator-in-Chief Donald Trump accepted the first offer that the Democratic leaders of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), made on the debt ceiling and budget. In doing so, he overruled his own treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, not to mention everyone else in his party. In the plan the President agreed to, Texas will get hurricane relief money, the debt limit deadline will move to the end of the year and the government will also be funded until then, setting up an enormous fiscal cliff just before Christmas.
Republicans were not happy campers. They preferred an 18-month debt limit hike, or failing that, a 6-month hike. Either one would make next year's budget and the debt ceiling two distinct issues to be handled separately. Now, the two things are linked together. One senior Republican aide who wished to remain anonymous put it like this: "The president of the United States just handed a loaded gun to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer." Another one said: "Maybe it's about the wall, I don't know. None of it makes any sense." Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) wasn't afraid to go on the record, though. He said the Democrats' plan was "ridiculous and disgraceful." While Ryan could theoretically rebel against the deal with that Trump, Schumer, and Pelosi made, that would almost certainly lead to a government shutdown, and he and Congressional Republicans would shoulder all the blame. Trump and Congressional Democrats would both say, "Hey, we had a plan. Talk to Paul Ryan about why it didn't work out." So the Speaker is pretty much stuck.
Setting the debt ceiling to be reached at the same time the new budget must be passed puts enormous pressure on Ryan and Speaker Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and gives the Democrats leverage to negotiate on a number of big ticket items all at once. They've definitely got some items on their Christmas list, starting with preserving DACA and perhaps shoring up Obamacare. The reason they have this leverage is that de facto there are three parties in the House: the Democrats, the Republicans, and the Freedom Caucus, and the last two are constantly at war with each other, so Ryan will need some Democratic votes to get anything passed.
Of course, the million-dollar question is: What happened here? Why would Trump capitulate so fully and so rapidly to members of the other party? CNN's Paul Begala took a shot at answering that question, and came up with four answers. The first is that the current unity of the Democratic Party (more below) gives them a lot of leverage. The second is that Pelosi and Schumer have 66 years experience in government between them, while Trump has 229 days, and just maybe the old dogs do know a few tricks. The third is that Trump is defined less by party than he is by his various personal animosities, and that he loathes Ryan and McConnell so much, he doesn't care about the (R) next to their names. The fourth is that the Democrats' proposal was commonsensical; it deals with the immediate problem (money for Hurricane Harvey victims) and creates a reasonable timeline for addressing budgetary concerns.
Begala's take is interesting and well-reasoned, but also very complimentary to Democrats, as his analysis is wont to be. An alternative explanation that is floating around Washington right now focuses primarily on Begala's third idea. The general notion is that Trump is angry with Ryan and McConnell, blames them for his lack of legislative progress to date, and thinks they are getting a bit big for their britches. So, he made the deal with the Democrats to warn the Republican leadership that, if they don't get on board the S.S. Trump, he'll do an end run around them.
And to these theories proposed by others, let us add one of our own. We know that Trump cares a lot about wins, and that just about any wins will do. We know that he tends to think short-term and not long-term. The deal he struck with Pelosi and Schumer gives him a win that he can tweet about right now. It would not be surprising to see something on Thursday morning, in fact. Then, he can go to Texas next week—maybe hold a rally or two—and crow about how he got them money to rebuild. That may well be the only thing on his mind, and the damage done to his relationship with the GOP leadership, not to mention what might happen policy-wise in three months, is a non-concern.
The truth may be some combination of all, some, or none of the above. We may never know. The only thing we can really be certain about is that the relationship between the President and the leaders of his party just got a whole lot worse. (V & Z)
Speaking of the relationship between Donald Trump and the members of Congress, the latter just returned to Washington after a month of vacation—er, constituent work—and they've been hearing some pretty wild things about Trump doing business with the Russians while he was campaigning, and while he was claiming that no such dealings were underway. It turns out, they are very interested in looking into the matter.
We already knew, of course, that special counsel Robert Mueller was going to investigate this thoroughly. Now, however, a Congressional committee or three looks to be joining the hunt. There's no way to know what they will find, but an individual is never better off being the target of four investigations as opposed to just one. Particularly if that individual has just managed to antagonize the members of both parties in the span of 48 hours. (Z)
In 2010, the House passed a bill that would have allowed the dreamers to remain in the U.S. It was killed in the Senate by five Democrats from red states. If it had passed the Senate, Barack Obama would have signed the bill and DACA would have been unnecessary. Four of those Democrats are no longer in the Senate, but Jon Tester (D-MT) is still there and now supports DACA. So do all the other Democrats from red states (and blue states). Not a single Democrat in Congress supports President Donald Trump's plan to kill DACA in 6 months if Congress takes no action. The sea change is enormous in 7 years. Like the support for a single-payer health-care system and a $15 minimum wage, the Democrats are moving to the left and are surprisingly unified on their positions.
But while party unity is well and good, it may not help the Democrats much because only a minority of the electorate considers immigration their main issue, one that determines for whom they vote. And for those people for whom immigration is their main issue, opponents of DACA outnumber supporters by two to one. In other words, for many people who are anti-immigrant, it is a make-or-break issue. For supporters, it is just one of many issues. This is clearly a situation in which politicians are likely to side with the people for whom it is the #1 issue, and these people don't want more immigrants and don't want amnesty for those already in the U.S. (V)
Red-state Democrats aren't the only ones who don't like Donald Trump's decision to kill DACA in 6 months. Fourteen of the state attorneys general (plus one from D.C.) aren't keen on the decision either, and demonstrated it by suing the federal government yesterday. The lead attorneys general are the ones from Washington, New York, and Massachusetts. California will file a separate suit shortly. The suit already filed alleges that the decision violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. So, as usual, de facto President Anthony Kennedy will get to decide all matters relating to public policy. Of course, it is theoretically possible that Congress will pass a new immigration law within the next 6 months, thus rendering the lawsuit moot, but Congress is not very good at handling divisive matters, and immigration is one of the most divisive ones there is. (V)
In a little less than a month, on October 3, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Gill v. Whitford. The case centers on an obviously gerrymandered map of Wisconsin that the GOP-controlled legislature of the state used to assure their continued dominance. In the 2012 elections, which were the first ones held after the new map was implemented, the GOP got 49% of the votes in the state, but 60% of the seats in the legislature. The students of advanced mathematics may notice that one of those numbers is a majority, and the other is not.
When the Court hears the case, they are going to be considering two major questions. The first is whether political gerrymanders are unconstitutional. Previously, the justices have made it clear that racial and ethnic gerrymanders are not kosher, but have been more ambiguous when it comes to the political kind. Part of the reason for this is the challenge in defining what is and what is not a true political gerrymander. That leads us to the second question, which is whether or not a metric called the efficiency gap is an appropriate tool for identifying clear-cut political gerrymanders. Developed in 2014 by law professor and lead prosecutor for the plaintiffs Nicholas Stephanopoulos, aided by political scientist Eric McGhee, the efficiency gap measures what percentage of each party's votes were "wasted," in the sense that they did not play a role in choosing a winning candidate. With a fair map, the percentage of votes "wasted" should be roughly equal on both sides, which would mean an efficiency gap of zero. But, if say, 20% of Democratic votes went to waste, while only 10% of Republican votes did so, that would be an efficiency gap of 10% in favor of the Republicans, and would indicate an unfair gerrymander.
So, these are the issues that will be before the Court on October 3. And on Wednesday, in a surprising turn of events, a number of prominent Republicans—the party that currently benefits the most from gerrymandering, by quite a lot—filed amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs' argument. Included were Sen. John McCain (R-AZ); Gov. John Kasich (R-OH); former senators Bob Dole of Kansas, John Danforth of Missouri, Dick Lugar of Indiana, and Alan Simpson of Wyoming; and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Simpson, speaking to reporters, expressed the group's basic sentiments: "This case is long overdue. Quite literally, gerrymandering is killing our system. Most Americans think politicians are corrupt, and when they're rigging maps to pick their own constituents, they're giving them reason to believe it."
Of course, even with the support of the Republican elder statesmen, the case is not a slam dunk. The defendants—state officeholders in Wisconsin, naturally—are arguing that gerrymandering is a first amendment issue, that it does no harm at all, and that any supposed problems it does cause existed long before gerrymandering came into being. This is a strange argument, since gerrymandering has been around since the 1780s, and was first used to try to keep James Madison from being elected to the first Congress. In any event, this could very well be another one where President..er, Justice Anthony Kennedy gets to decide public policy all by himself. (Z)
Donald Trump owns an 11-bedroom mansion on the Caribbean island of St. Martin. He is trying to sell it and not getting a lot of interest from buyers, so he had to lower the asking price from $28 million to $17 million. He may have to lower it a bit more to get rid of it, since Hurricane Irma just paid a visit to St. Martin. The extent of the damage to his property is not yet known, but four of the most solid buildings on the island have been destroyed. Since Trump's property is technically in France (the island is split between France and the Netherlands), the U.S. government is not going to fix it up for him.
If Irma damages Trump's Florida property, Mar-a-Lago, though, he might well get government assistance to repair the damage. Or maybe not. Or maybe we will have not only a weather crisis but also a constitutional crisis. Article I, Section 2, Clause 7 reads:
The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.
In other words, the president gets a salary and that's it. But suppose Mar-a-Lago is damaged by Irma and Trump requests federal help, like many other Florida landowners are likely to do. Would any grants or loans be considered emoluments? This is uncharted territory and Anthony Kennedy would probably have to decide, if he has time given all his other work determining public policy. Of course, Trump may have adequate private insurance and may not try to take advantage of any federal programs made available to Floridians, but he rarely turns down the chance to get government money when it is available. Stay tuned. (V)
In a trial that could have major implications for Donald Trump's legislative program, federal prosecutors began to lay out their case that Sen. Robert Menendez is corrupt and violated federal law when he accepted free travel and lodging from a Florida doctor. Menendez claims that he and the doctor are friends, and anything he did to help the good doctor was out of gratitude and not connected to all the freebies that were proffered. The argument is not totally crazy, since the Supreme Court recently overturned the conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell under similar circumstances.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was in court yesterday to support his colleague. The RNC was not there to support him, however. In fact, it started running online ads attacking the Senator. The campaign is designed to influence public opinion and get Menendez to resign his Senate seat quickly if he is convicted, so Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) can replace him with a Republican. The key word in the previous sentence is "quickly." The trial itself is expected to last until November, by which time a Democrat, Phil Murphy, is expected to have been elected governor of New Jersey. If Menendez is convicted and holds out on resigning until Murphy is inaugurated, then Murphy will pick a Democrat to replace him. It takes a 2/3 vote of the Senate to expel a senator, and Democrats in the Senate will never go along with that. (V)
Here's a bit of interesting information. Trying to quantify the number and the specific focus of protests around the U.S. and around the world is not an easy task, because there's no central clearinghouse for this particular kind of information. That said, most major cities require permits for demonstrations larger than X number of people, where X is usually somewhere between 25 and 100. So, permit records can be used to get a rough picture of what is going on, protest-wise, with the caveat that some number of protesters do not acquire the necessary permits (in fact, refusing to do so may be part of the protest).
In any case, using this data source, the Crowd Counting Consortium estimates that about 54% of all protests in the United States right now are targeted at Donald Trump. That compares to just over 7% of protests that were meant to show support for the President. The protesting-est months of 2017, so far, were January (aka inauguration month) and June ("school's out!"). The protesting-est city in America is, not surprisingly, Washington, which has had 731 protests so far in 2017; this puts the capital on pace to eclipse last year's 964.
Now, the pop quiz: What's the protesting-est city in the world? At least, according to 2016 numbers, which are the latest ones available internationally. One might be tempted to guess a European city, maybe one in a country that's had some turmoil lately. Athens would be a pretty good guess; their 1,134 demonstrations in 2016 is considerably more than Washington had. However, they are outdone by, among others, The Hague (1,500), Madrid (1,983), Paris (2,383), and the European leader in sticking it to The Man—Berlin, where the police stopped counting at 5,000. And if you want to find the cities where people are really up in arms, you have to leave Europe. Mexico City, for example, had 7,011 protests in 2016. And the reigning champ—and the answer to the question—is on yet another continent. It's Hong Kong, which issued 13,158 permits in 2016. Apparently, they have a message to send to the Chinese. Or 13,158 messages, more accurately. Meanwhile, it's quite clear that those amateurs in D.C. have some real catching up to do. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep06 Trump Shoots the Hostages
Sep06 Republicans Have Good Reason to Fear 2018
Sep06 Franken Won't Turn in His Blue Slip
Sep06 Trump Kompromat, Pence Obstruction?
Sep06 Manafort Trying to Keep His Testimony Secret
Sep05 Situation in Korea Is Already Escalating
Sep05 If Trump Ends DACA, at Least Two States Will Sue Him
Sep05 Lots of People Will Be Angry if DACA Is Killed
Sep05 For Trump, the Rubber is About to Meet the Road
Sep05 Breitbart Is Putting Trump In a Quandary
Sep05 Harvey and the Debt Limit
Sep05 Clarke Expected to Take a Job in Trump Administration
Sep04 Trump Notes North Korea's Nuclear Test and Attacks South Korea
Sep04 Trump Likely to Announce End of DACA This Week
Sep04 Trump Is Playing Only to His Base
Sep04 Is Donald Trump...Suicidal?
Sep04 Democrats Have a 10-Point Lead on the Generic House Ballot
Sep04 Trump Nominations Could Mean Two More Special Elections
Sep04 States Struggle to Fix Voting Security
Sep04 Elizabeth Warren is Religious
Sep04 Do the Democrats Need a Kennedy to Save Them?
Sep03 Justice Dept.: Trump Tower Wasn't Wiretapped
Sep03 Trump Wants to Kill Trade Deal with South Korea
Sep03 How John Kelly Has Changed the White House
Sep03 Trump Does Better in Hurricane Harvey Visit v2.0
Sep03 Texas Republicans Have No Answers When it Comes to Hurricane Harvey
Sep03 Killing DACA Could Become a Big Headache for Trump
Sep03 Does John Bel Edwards Have the Special Sauce?
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