Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Trump Denies Knowing about the Hush-Money Payment to Stormy Daniels

On Air Force One yesterday, Donald Trump finally broke his silence about the Stormy Daniels case. In particular, he denied knowing anything about the $130,000 that his lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid her just before the election to buy her silence. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing Trump and Cohen in Los Angeles to get out of the nondisclosure agreement she signed. Trump and Cohen are trying to get the case out of the courts and into secret binding arbitration.

Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, immediately responded to Trump's denial with this tweet:

If Trump is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, that means that Cohen, of his own volition, borrowed money on a line of credit against his house to pay off the adult actress without any expectation of being reimbursed. The ethical issues this creates are staggering. First, lawyers are not supposed to make major decisions (like paying hush money just before an election) without even informing their clients what they are up to. Cohen could be disbarred for that. Second, if the purpose of his gift to Daniels was to influence the election, it would be an illegal unreported campaign expense, which could land him in prison. Third, Trump's name was printed on the NDA, but how can a contract be valid if one party to it doesn't even know it exists? If Avenatti wins the first round of his case and gets it to be handled in a public courtroom rather than in arbitration, he will certainly ask the judge for permission to depose both Trump and Cohen, which could get interesting.

On a related note, Trump denies having had sex with Daniels. However, The Daily News is reporting that during the 2-hour interview with Anderson Cooper, Daniels described Trump's genitalia in "great detail" but CBS decided not to air that portion of the interview. If Daniels knows something about naked Trump that is not visible to the naked eye, that could be evidence that she is telling the truth. Conceivably, a judge could order a physician to make a special inspection to verify the claim. Anthony Kennedy is probably already praying to God that he won't have to decide this one. (V)

Trump Fires Back at China

When it comes to the budding trade war with China, Donald Trump is not backing down. On Thursday, the White House released a statement under Trump's name announcing that, "In light of China's unfair retaliation, I have instructed the USTR (United States Trade Representative) to consider whether $100 billion of additional tariffs would be appropriate." His previous threat was to levy tariffs on $50 billion worth of goods; it's a bit unclear if Thursday's statement was mis-written and supposed to allude to $100 billion in goods, or if he's actually threatening $100 billion in tariffs. If it's the latter, that would require an average of 20% duties on every single thing China sends to the United States, since the total amount of goods is about $505 billion. If it's the former, it means the White House can't write a major press release properly. Either is possible.

Conservatives are not happy about the game that Trump is playing, assuming it is indeed a game. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), for example, issued a blistering statement Thursday evening that included this:

Hopefully the President is just blowing off steam again but, if he's even half-serious, this is nuts. China is guilty of many things, but the President has no actual plan to win right now. He's threatening to light American agriculture on fire. Let's absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this.

Several other Republican senators, including Chuck Grassley (IA) and Pat Roberts (KS) expressed their irritation. It is not a coincidence that the loudest Republican critics happen to come from states with agricultural economies.

Wall Street is also hoping that Trump is just posturing and, having convinced themselves that he was all bark and no bite, traders drove the market up 240 points on Thursday. However, after the President's announcement late Thursday, investors grew skittish again. Based on after hours trading, it looks like the Dow Jones will open down 350-400 points on Friday morning. Of course, traders are going to have the whole night to give themselves a pep talk. Or to get really spooked. So, exactly what happens by the time the closing bell sounds on Friday is anyone's guess. (Z)

Pruitt's In Deep Trouble...Unless He's Not

The list of dubious, unethical, and outright corrupt things done by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is growing by the day. An accounting can be found here, or here, or here, or here, though just about every outlet admits they are having trouble keeping up. A summary of the big ones:

  • Pruitt lied about his use of a private e-mail account during his confirmation hearings
  • He asked the White House to give two underlings a raise, was denied, and did it anyhow
  • The money for the raise came from funds that were supposed to be used for clean drinking water
  • He rented a room in a lobbyist's wife's condo for the bargain-basement price of $50/night
  • Then, he lied and said the lobbyist has no business before the EPA
  • Then, he fell behind on payments for the room
  • He's spent vast sums on first-class travel
  • And much of that travel was personal, like a trip to the Rose Bowl, or to Disney World
  • He has a large, 24-hour security contingent
  • He has the security turn on their sirens when he needs to make it to a restaurant on time
  • He's fired or demoted several employees who called him on unethical or illegal behavior

As a consequence, Pruitt is currently facing multiple ethics probes from within the EPA.

Other Trump underlings have had their heads lopped off for far less—just the first-class travel was enough to bring HHS Secretary Tom Price to a premature end, while Antony "Mooch" Scaramucci got canned for saying mean things about the White House Chief of Staff. However, the President has thus far stood by Pruitt, saying this week that he's a "good man," and telling the Administrator that "We've got your back."

What is going on here? Why does Scott Pruitt seem to have more lives than a whole clowder of cats? There are three plausible explanations floating around. The first is the old standby: That Trump hates the optics of firing yet another high-level member of the administration, because every time he has to can another underling via Twitter, it looks bad for him. It's true enough that it looks bad, though it doesn't seem to have stopped the President with the slew of terminations in the last month, so it's a bit hard to believe it's become suddenly relevant.

The second possibility is that Trump needs Pruitt more than he needs most other cabinet officers. The Daily Beast's Jay Michaelson, among others, argues that the President needs very badly to keep up his connection with the Kochs and the other corporate barons who are thrilled at Pruitt's willingness to take a chainsaw to environmental regulations. A David Shulkin or a Herbert McMaster or a Rex Tillerson, by contrast, is not a bridge to any specific Trump constituency. There's probably some merit to this theory, but only some. Pruitt's right-hand man, and the person who would succeed him if he is fired, is Andrew Wheeler. Prior to taking the EPA job, Wheeler was a lobbyist for the coal industry. He's also a fierce opponent of regulations of any sort, and a climate change denier. Which is to say that if Pruitt's head rolls, the donor class will get over their grief pretty quickly with Wheeler in charge.

This leads us to option number three. Reportedly, Trump not only wants to keep Pruitt, he wants to make him attorney general, replacing Jeff Sessions. Now, Trump surely has other yes-men around that he could also call upon to take over as AG. If the president is laser-focused on Pruitt as his choice, we can only conclude that they have already reached some sort of agreement that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and then Special Counsel Robert Mueller will promptly be fired. So, the fate of the EPA Administrator is a story that could well have implications far beyond the agency he leads. (Z)

Republicans Are Trying to Rewrite the Budget Bill Retroactively

The 2,232-page $1.3 trillion budget bill was passed 2 weeks ago with 111 Democratic votes in the House and 39 Democratic votes in the Senate. The Democrats voted for it, and were willing to fund many Republican priorities, because the bill funds many Democratic priorities. Now, Donald Trump and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are in talks to impound some of the funds appropriated for Democratic priorities using a seldom-used 1974 law, the Congressional Budget and Impound Control Act. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, is furious. Her spokesman said of the plan being hatched: "It would completely poison the well to the idea that there can be responsible bipartisan compromise." Then he added that the Republicans are trying to renege on elements that were critical to passage of the omnibus.

If the plan works, the Democrats are going to be livid beyond belief. They voted for a compromise bill in the expectation that all parts of it would carried out. If the Republicans can unilaterally and retroactively remove parts they don't like 2 weeks after the bill was signed into law, it is hard to see how the Democrats would trust the Republicans on anything for a very long time. The Trump-McCarthy strategy might well be: "Let's take what we can now and worry about the future later." It's basically a bet that the shoe will not be on the other foot any time soon. (V)

Trump Picks an Enemy in the West Virginia Senate Primary

West Virginia was Donald Trump's second best state (after Wyoming), so he has a fair amount of clout in the Mountain State. He has decided to use it by getting involved in the nasty Republican senatorial primary currently going on in the state. It is a three-way race, featuring two conventional candidates and one walking disaster. The conventional candidates are Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and state attorney general Patrick Morrisey. Trump is fine with either of these gentlemen and hasn't expressed a preference. When he campaigned in the state yesterday, both were present and sitting next to him.

The 800-pound gorilla in the race is former coal baron Don Blankenship. Normally, a coal baron would do well in West Virginia, but Blankenship has some unwelcome baggage. When he ran Massey Energy, it was the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia. Unfortunately, some of his mines were repeatedly cited for safety violations, which Blankenship simply ignored. Then, on April 5, 2010, a massive underground explosion killed 29 miners. Blankenship was convicted of conspiring to skirt safety regulations and spent a year in federal prison. The Republican Party absolutely does not want him to be their Senate nominee to run against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). But Blankenship is a multimillionaire and can afford to blanket the state with ads. The GOP's antidote to Blankenship's money was to send in Trump. The only problem is that Trump is not supporting either of the alternatives, and a message of "Pick one of these guys, your call," is likely to split the anti-Blankenship vote and might lead to Blankenship's winning the May 8 primary. If he wins, the NRSC won't support him and he will likely lose against Manchin, who is very well known and liked in the state. (V)

Paul Ryan's Congressional Race Is Very Strange

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) hasn't said if he plans to run for reelection, but if he does, the race is going to be one of the strangest around. To start with, Ryan will have a primary to run in. His opponent is Paul Nehlen, a white nationalist and open anti-Semite. He sees these characteristics as features, not bugs. He ran against Ryan in 2016 and lost by 68 points, but he is back again. Dispatching him shouldn't be too hard, though.

The Democrats have a more serious primary, pitting teacher Cathy Myers against iron worker Randy Bryce. The Democratic establishment supports Bryce, but so do progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The local unions also support him. Bryce is running as a "man of the people" candidate, and he is doing it very well, having raised $4.75 million so far. That is less than the $10 million Ryan has, but this is not the kind of race that will be settled by a big air war. In fact, Bryce has an advantage here, because he is out campaigning a lot while Ryan is holed up in D.C. and has stopped holding town halls.

Could a newbie knock off the powerful speaker of the house? Ryan can't check with Tom Foley (because he died in 2013), but he could Google Foley and he would see that the then-powerful Democratic speaker was pulled under in the 1994 Republican wave. He might also want to take note of the VA-07 Republican primary in 2014. That's when an unknown college professor, Dave Brat, knocked off the House majority leader, Eric Cantor. So it sometimes does happen that a complete unknown defeats a well-known and well-financed House leader. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr05 Trump Refuses to Back Down, Says There Is No Trade War
Apr05 Trump: "We're Leaving Syria"; Everyone Else: "No, We're Not"
Apr05 Trump Continues to Hammer Amazon
Apr05 Trump Is Not a "Target" of Mueller's Investigation at the Moment
Apr05 Roger Stone Under Increased Scrutiny
Apr05 Trump's Infrastructure Guru Is Quitting
Apr05 NRCC Has Tough Choices Ahead
Apr05 Fourteen States Still Use Insecure Voting Machines
Apr04 China Is Ready for a Trade War
Apr04 Trump Will Use the Military to Guard the Border
Apr04 The Book Behind Trump's Policy Decisions
Apr04 Rosenstein Approved Mueller's Investigation of Manafort
Apr04 Mueller Sends Someone to Jail
Apr04 Democrat Wins Judicial Election in Wisconsin
Apr04 Republicans Are Getting Nervous about McCain's Health
Apr04 Three-quarters of Americans Say Major News Outlets Report Fake News
Apr04 O'Rourke Is Raking it In
Apr04 Leftist Candidate Has Huge Lead in the Presidential Race
Apr03 Trump is Pro-States' Rights--Except When He's Not
Apr03 Trump is Pro-Business--Except When He's Not
Apr03 White House: "Shulkin Resigned"; Shulkin: "Actually, I Was Fired"
Apr03 The "Stormy" Effect Is Not Much Effect at All
Apr03 Trump Brags That His Approval Rating Is Now Higher Than Obama's
Apr03 Trump Will Appeal Decision in Summer Zervos Case
Apr03 Woman Sues Trump Campaign
Apr03 Esty Won't Run for Reelection
Apr02 Trump: No DACA Deal
Apr02 With the "Adults" Gone, Trump Is Calling His Own Shots
Apr02 China Declares (Trade) War Against the U.S.
Apr02 Abe Having Buyer's Remorse
Apr02 Russian Hacker Is Extradited to the U.S.
Apr02 Who's the Leaker? Kellyanne Conway, Apparently
Apr02 Rep. Elizabeth Esty Under Fire for How She Handled Harassment Problem
Apr01 Trump Really Hates Amazon
Apr01 Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Apr01 How Big a Win Do Democrats Need to Take the House?
Apr01 The Interview that Should Have Republicans Worried
Apr01 Buttigieg for President?
Apr01 Gun Rights Advocates Are Becoming Unhinged
Apr01 Eric Trump Is Highly Questionable
Mar31 Senate Democrats Have to Choose Between Defense and Offense
Mar31 Pruitt's Head Could Roll Next
Mar31 Jackson's Confirmation No Sure Thing
Mar31 Today in Muckraking...
Mar31 McDougal Payment Becoming a Problem for Trump
Mar31 Trump's Businesses May Be Exposed
Mar31 Poll: Young People Don't Like Trump
Mar31 McCabe Raises Almost $500,000 in One Day
Mar30 Sessions Will Not Appoint a Special Counsel to Investigate the Justice Department
Mar30 2016 Exit Polls Were Off