Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Doubles Down on Pruitt
      •  Managing Trump, v2.0
      •  Managing Trump, v3.0
      •  Trump Will Get to Reinvent the Ninth Circuit
      •  GOP Candidates Have to Walk a Fine Line on Tariffs
      •  Americans Are Taking to the Streets
      •  Democrats Surging in Tennessee

Trump Doubles Down on Pruitt

No member of Donald Trump's cabinet is currently more embattled than EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, as he is enmeshed in all number of scandals, from burning through tens of thousands of dollars in first class travel, to renting a room at below-market rates from a lobbyist, to abusing the privileges that come with his extensive security detail, to punishing underlings who dared to question his behavior. There are many people, Republicans and Democrats, calling for his ouster. However, Donald Trump likes Pruitt, particularly his willingness to take any order (like, "fire the special prosecutor"). Further, the President does not like to be told what to do. So, Trump used his usual Saturday morning twitter storm, in part, to reiterate his support for the Administrator:

It's a pretty remarkable tweet, even by Trumpian standards. Who knows how there could be a "record" for clean air and water, but even if that is possible, there is zero chance that Pruitt has set one. As to security costs, Pruitt's bill for the year is going to top $3 million; his predecessor Gina McCarthy spent less than 20% of that total. So, saying that Pruitt's cost "somewhat more" doesn't quite do it justice. And as to "rent was about market rate," presumably Trump means that Pruitt didn't get that much of a discount, and that what was paying was "about" market rate. Not true, and in any case, "He paid about market rate for the room to the lobbyists who owned the building" is not exactly an affirmative defense.

Trump's obvious falsehoods and exaggerations, then, are distorting the truth quite a bit. At the same time, however, they also serve to make one thing clear: While lies are par for the course for the President, he doesn't generally stick his neck out for people he's about to fire. So, Pruitt certainly appears to be safe. Things can change rapidly in TrumpWorld, of course, but at the moment we have to assume Chief of Staff John Kelly is far more likely to be shown the door right now (see below) than Pruitt is. (Z)

Managing Trump, v2.0

The first attempt to manage Donald Trump, with Reince Priebus as chief of staff, was a disaster. Given the President's aggressive tendencies, and Priebus' status as a member of subphylum invertebrata, that arrangement was like bringing a knife to a gunfight. And so, "Manage Trump, v1.0" was a pretty spectacular failure, and came to an end after just 192 days. For v2.0, former Marine Corps general John Kelly was appointed to replace Priebus. The spit-and-polish Kelly, who actually does have a spine, was supposed to be someone who would stand up to the President, and who would bring order and discipline to the West Wing.

The good news, such as it is, is that v2.0 worked out as planned, at least for a while. And, at 251 days and counting, it has lasted longer than v1.0. So: Success! Except that it is clear that Kelly's days are now numbered. According to reporting from the Washington Post, who spoke to 16 insiders, his position has grown increasingly tenuous in the past few weeks. To wit:

  • Kelly no longer takes much of a hands-on approach to Trump's phone calls and appointments
  • The two men have had numerous shouting matches in recent weeks
  • Kelly has threatened to quit more than once
  • Kelly is no longer consulted on personnel matters
  • The Trump family, particularly Melania, has turned against him
  • The White House staff despises Kelly
  • Kelly has embarrassed the administration more than once, particularly with his handling of the spouse-abusing Rob Porter

Even under the best of presidents, there tends to be a lot of turnover in this particular job, as being White House Chief of Staff is hard. George W. Bush managed to get through two terms with just two of them, but every other Chief Executive since Reagan managed to burn through at least four. And with Trump, the job is must surely be unusually difficult. It's certainly possible that Kelly could hang on another month or two or three, but the chances he makes it to 2019 appear to be very slim. (Z)

Managing Trump, v3.0

If and when John Kelly does go, it's a bit unclear in what direction Donald Trump might go for his next chief of staff. He almost certainly wouldn't choose another tough-as-nails general. On the other hand, he doesn't want another leaky jellyfish like Reince Priebus. There's a very good chance that the President just goes with nobody, and tries to do the job himself. After all, he's the greatest ever at everything he's ever tried.

Whatever happens, though, the White House staff still feels a clear need to "manage" Trump. And we're already getting a look at what v3.0 of that might look like: Ad hoc and sneaky. As much as The Donald loves "Fox and Friends," it turns out that his very favorite show is "Justice With Judge Jeanine." There are a number of reasons why this is, not the least of which is that host Jeanine Pirro worships at the altar of Trump every week. In any case, however, the President never misses the show. And the problem is that Pirro has a segment each week in which she either welcomes a political guest, or else takes phone calls. Administration officials are terrified of what might happen if Trump were to call in, egged on by the sycophantic Pirro. So, in order to forestall that possibility, they coordinate behind the scenes in order to make sure that the show always has a political guest, and thus is left without time to take calls. Now if they could just find a way to convince Twitter to have their servers be "broken" every Saturday morning from about 7:00 a.m. EDT to 10:00 a.m. EDT. (Z)

Trump Will Get to Reinvent the Ninth Circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is easily the biggest of the 13 courts of appeals, serving the various states of the far West, including Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. It's the source of a lot of important jurisprudence, in part because of its size, and in part because of strategic filings by lawyers who want to take advantage of the circuit's well-known liberal leanings. With Donald Trump in the White House, however, that liberal slant could soon come to an end.

There are two primary reasons that the Ninth Circuit became a bastion of liberal legal thinking. The first is that judges tend to serve for 15-30 years, and that means that a very large percentage of the current justices were appointed by Democrats. 16 of the 23 circuit judges, including Chief Judge Sidney Runyan Thomas, are either Clinton or Obama appointees. If we include judges who have assumed senior status, then 25 of 40 are Democratic appointees. The second reason for the Ninth Circuit's liberal leaning is the longstanding tradition of blue slips, wherein U.S. Senators were given an unofficial (but always recognized) veto over judges who would be serving in their state. Given that most of the judges currently on the court serve in very blue states (particularly California), that meant a lot of liberal judges.

Now, however, the blue slips are dead. And, thanks to Obama-era foot-dragging by the GOP-controlled Congress, along with the unexpected death of liberal lion Stephen Reinhardt last month, the Circuit has an unusually large number of vacancies. Eight vacancies, to be precise. Assuming Trump fills all of those seats with conservatives, then all of a sudden the Circuit will have 16 Democratic appointees and 15 Republican appointees. Further, with no blue slips and no judicial filibuster, Trump can appoint just about anyone he pleases—not just conservatives, but fire-breathing right-wing zealots. And, of course, the trend will only be more pronounced if more Democrats step down or die, or if Trump gets a second term. Hence, we're looking at a Circuit very different from the one that existed just a year or two ago. (Z)

GOP Candidates Have to Walk a Fine Line on Tariffs

Donald Trump has acknowledged that if the United States ends up in a trade war with China (though he refuses to call it that), there will be "some short-term pain." That's all good and well for a fellow who doesn't have to face voters again until 2020, but for Republicans running in 2018, the tariffs are becoming a real problem.

Actually, there are two problems. The first is that the voters who appear most likely to suffer short-term pain, namely farmers, aren't too interested in that deal. So, they want candidates who will denounce the whole plan—lock, stock, and barrel. On the other hand, a lot of voters who aren't farmers are very much on board with the idea of standing up to China, and want to hear full-throated support for the tariffs. Managing this divide is easy enough in a primarily agricultural state like Nebraska or Iowa, but what is a candidate to do if they are trying to appeal to farmers and urban-dwellers at the same time? Like, say, Republican Josh Hawley is in Missouri, or Republicans Todd Rokita and Luke Messer in Indiana?

The other problem is that one can never be sure if Trump will follow through on his plans. He could stick to his guns, or he could lose interest in tariffs tomorrow, and move on to some other bugaboo. And so, it makes it difficult for a GOP candidate to even commit to a message. They could, for example, decide to tell voters that the tariffs are "bitter medicine that we sometimes have to take," in hopes of keeping as many partisans on both sides as happy as possible. But then, if Trump abandons the plan, the candidate is left holding the bag, having alienated many farmers for no reason. It is just not a fun time to be a Republican candidate for political office. (Z)

Americans Are Taking to the Streets

In 2018, there is one political question that towers above the others: What will happen in the midterms? And the circumstances in which we are currently living are so different, and so unprecedented, that traditional methods for making predictions are hard to apply, and even harder to be confident in. And so, psephologists across the country are looking under rocks for clues as to what might happen. It is in that context that we take note of a new Washington Post poll revealing the surprising extent to which Americans have participated in political protests since Donald Trump was elected.

To start, about 20% of respondents said they had taken to the streets at least once during Trump's presidency, and just less than 20% of that number said it was the first time they had ever done so. Put another way, under Trump's leadership, about 4% of Americans participated in their first-ever protest. Not all of the protesters are anti-Trump, but nearly three-quarters of them are, and many say they plan to find ways to remain involved this year. In particular, one-third say they will be volunteering for a political campaign.

So, folks certainly appear to be engaged. However, it's the demographics of the protesters that should really have the GOP worried. It's not just young people: 44% are above the age of 50, 36% earn more than $100,000 a year, and a disproportionate number live in the suburbs. In other words, it's people who can be counted on to show up and vote, people who have money to donate, and the very people who Democrats think represent potential for future growth.

It's worth looking at the entire report, with the numbers sliced in a bunch of different ways. And again, it should be noted that Trump has managed to energize many of his supporters in a way that other Republicans could not. Still, elections often turn on small numbers of votes, and in a midterm turnout and enthusiasm are key. The protests, on the whole, are yet another indication that the Democrats are in for a good November. (Z)

Democrats Surging in Tennessee

Having looked at the matter on a national level, let's now turn to a local example of Democratic enthusiasm: Tennessee. The Volunteer State gave 61% of its votes to Donald Trump, and hasn't gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton (even turning up their noses at native son Al Gore). So, at a glance, it is pretty red. On the other hand, the state had two Democratic senators as recently as the mid-1990s, and since 1967, the governor's mansion has gone Democrat-Republican-Democrat-Republican-Democrat-Republican-Democrat-Republican. So, there is some meaningful Democratic presence in Tennessee. Or, at very least, a viable Democratic-Independent coalition, under the right circumstances.

At the moment, Tennessee Democrats appear to be on the upswing. The big contest in 2018 will be for Sen. Bob Corker's (R) seat, which he is vacating. The primary is on August 2, but there is near-universal consensus that the general election will pit former governor Phil Bredesen (D) against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R). And a new poll gives Bredesen a sizable 10-point lead, 45% to 35%. While there hasn't been much other polling of the race, a survey taken back in December gave Bredesen a 2-point lead. And he did win statewide election as recently as 2007. So, it's certainly plausible that the former governor could pull a Doug Jones and steal a seat out from under the Republicans.

Meanwhile, Tennessee is one of many states where the blue team has awakened to the importance of the state legislature, and of contesting as many seats as is possible. In recent years, 20 or 30 Republican legislators have run unopposed for another term. This year, the Democrats have managed to find a viable candidate for 112 of 117 races (15 for the state Senate, 97 for the state House). It's unlikely that they will topple the GOP's massive majority in the upper chamber (28 to 5), or the lower (73 to 26), but in a wave year, one never knows. And in any case, it's clear that Democrats are becoming engaged in the South in a way that hasn't been true since the 1990s. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr07 Trade War Fever Continues Unabated
Apr07 Trump Hits Russians With Sanctions
Apr07 Latest Russiagate Developments
Apr07 Trump Is Slipping with Some Key Supporters
Apr07 Farenthold Resigns from Congress
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Apr06 Trump Denies Knowing about the Hush-Money Payment to Stormy Daniels
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Apr06 Trump Picks an Enemy in the West Virginia Senate Primary
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