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Ryan Will Retire in January

For months, rumors have been circulating in D.C. that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has had it and won't run for reelection. Yesterday he made it official that he is now a lame duck. What the Republicans probably don't need during the run-up to what looks to be a tough election is a big power struggle for the top position in their House caucus, but that is what they may get.

Worse yet, they may also get a bitter civil war between the Trumpists and the anti-Trumpists. The former group believes all that matters is loyalty to the President; the latter group is fond of things like free trade, balanced budgets, small government, personal responsibility, and the rule of law. The respect that all members of the House Republican caucus have for Ryan papered over this divide. That won't be the case for long.

Why is Ryan voluntarily walking away from what is probably the second most powerful position in government? According to him it is because he wants to spend more time with his kids. Not very likely. If he wanted that, he could have given up the speaker's gavel and become a generic backbencher. Much more likely is that he sees the handwriting on the wall and it says: "Welcome, Speaker Pelosi." Being minority leader in the Senate isn't a lot of fun, but at least the minority has some power there, such as the filibuster. The House minority has no power at all and leading it is a thankless job. There are going to be a lot of stories now about rodents departing leaky maritime vessels, and that can't be good for the GOP's brand.

That notwithstanding, Ryan's retirement will set off a battle for the leadership of the House Republican caucus. Reps. Kevin McCarthy (CA) and Steve Scalise (LA) are the leading candidates, but others may suddenly get interested. If Ryan gives up the gavel right now or soon, the leadership question could be solved within a few weeks. If he holds tightly onto it, it will be a distraction for the rest of the year.

Also an issue is that Ryan has numerous fundraisers scheduled. Will big donors write six-figure checks in order to curry influence with someone who will be gone next year? Will Ryan's move be interpreted as a message to donors: "The House is lost; spend your money on Senate races"? Will a lame duck speaker be able to cajole members into doing his bidding for the rest of the year, when they know there are no consequences to refusing?

Ryan's retirement will hurt the Republicans' midterm effort in many ways in addition to the loss of his fundraising prowess. To the business community, he was a beacon of stability that will be difficult to replace. He was also a huge proponent of making the midterms about the economy and tax cuts. With his power now heavily discounted, Donald Trump will try to make them about walls, immigration, tariffs, and other forms of protectionism that his base loves but which are general election losers.

Ryan's retirement may be followed by many others. Right on cue, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) also announced his. Both Ryan's district (R+5) and Ross' district (R+6) are likely to become battlegrounds. Both lean Republican, but not so much that they could withstand any conceivable blue wave. At the moment, 37 Republican House members have said they will retire at the end of the current term. In a few districts, there will be a special election this year, so there will be a (new) incumbent running in November. Open seats are always much more difficult to defend than seats with an incumbent. Filing deadlines have not yet passed in 19 states, so Democrats energized by his departure may yet file in even more districts than they already have.

Ryan's retirement, with the implicit message "The House is lost" also greatly increases the chances that Donald Trump will be impeached next year. Activist Democrats are running in districts all over the country and many of them are likely to win. Even before being told where to sit in the House chamber, many will be champing at the bit to begin impeachment hearings. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) will become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in the event the Democrats get a majority, so it will be up to him to decide what to do. He is quite liberal, so there is an excellent chance he would at least begin hearings. At the Irish betting site Paddy Power, the odds on Trump being impeached during his first term are currently 13/8, which implies a probability of 38%.

The lists of takeaways from Ryan's announcement have already started to appear. Jennifer Rubin managed to get one posted even before his formal announcement (but after he told his staff in the morning). Here it is:

  • Democrats will claim victory in unseating a speaker and tar him as a coward
  • This is a flashing light to donors reading: "Don't waste your money trying to save the House"
  • Some people will interpret this as his unwillingness to defend Trump if impeachment becomes a real possibility
  • Ryan is surely convinced no serious legislation will pass this year, and maybe not until 2021, so why lead?
  • Ryan's lack of courage in not firing committee chairmen like Devin Nunes will become more obvious now

Ryan thinks his legacy will be tax cuts, but it may really be the complete abandonment of conservative values and the amount of debt he burdened the country with. (V)

Which Crisis Will Materialize First?

By all accounts, Donald Trump is not in a good place right now. On the foreign front, he is aggrieved by Syria's alleged chemical attack on the city of Douma, which he might well have precipitated, and which has certainly left him with egg on his face. On the domestic front he feels besieged on all sides, and he's persuaded himself that he's a victim being unjustly persecuted. He may also be nervous, on some conscious or subconscious level, that major skeletons in his closet (or more accurately, on Michael Cohen's hard disk) are about to see the light of day. And thanks to the cancellation of his trip to Peru, he has all kinds of time to sit, and stew, and watch cable news, and tweet. That means that, at the moment, the big question is: Which looming crisis will be the first to reach the breaking point? Syria or Russiagate?

On Wednesday morning, the Syria situation seemed to take an early lead, as Trump fired off these tweets:

Generally speaking, Trump has not been willing to be so direct in attacking the Russians. Beyond that, who knows what he means by the arms race remark? And if he thinks things now are worse than they were during the Cold War, he might want to pick up a book on the Cuban Missile Crisis, among other incidents. And he probably doesn't know it, but Vladimir Putin is a lot sharper and tougher than Nikita Khrushchev ever was.

In any event, Trump's tweets certainly created a lot of unhappiness. The White House Staff, for example, had no idea he planned to threaten the Russians and the Syrians until they saw it on Twitter along with the rest of us. That's not going to be good for morale, nor for Chief of Staff John Kelly's tolerance for staying on the job long term. Meanwhile, even the hawks on Capitol Hill, the ones who would very much like to hit Syria with some deadly force, questioned Trump's approach, observing that military strikes tend to work better when, you know, you don't tell the enemy they are coming. Wall Street was none too pleased, either—as much as they don't like trade wars, they dislike real wars even more. "Our president is back on the tweet cycle again," said investment strategist Bruce McCain of Key Private Bank. "The big concern, much like the tariff issue, is: Does this broaden into something nastier? Will Russia somehow retaliate and drag us into something more?" The Dow closed Wednesday down 219 points.

But just as it seemed that Syria would dominate the President's day, he pivoted to Russiagate:

One wonders if Richard Nixon had been tweeting in his final days in office, during which he was generally drunk as a skunk, his tweets would have been more or less comprehensible than those of the stone-cold-sober Trump. Whatever the case may be, it will be a minor miracle at this point if Rosenstein and Mueller both remain employed at the end of the month. Not helping things is that Steve Bannon is desperately trying to claw his way back into the inner circle with a "plan" for dealing with the Russia investigation. His plan, of course, reflects his usual scorched earth approach, as he wants Trump to fire everyone. It's not clear if Trump still listens to "Sloppy Steve" at all, but it's certainly possible. After all, The Donald still takes Chris Christie's and Corey Lewandowski's calls.

Friday is the day that Trump likes to conduct tough business like firing people (well, having Kelly do it), in the (probably vain) hope of minimizing attention. And Saturday morning is generally "Trump unleashed" time on Twitter. So the odds are pretty good that at least one of these festering blisters is going to burst by lunchtime on Saturday. (Z)

Pu**ygate Strikes Back

Donald Trump probably thought he had weathered the pu**ygate storm, since he managed to get elected even after the infamous tape was made public, and since the public's attention largely moved on to all the other myriad scandals that have presented themselves since then. It would appear, however, that he was wrong. Details continue to leak out about the raid on attorney Michael Cohen's office, home, and hotel room, and the New York Times is now reporting that one of the main things they were looking for was information about the notorious "Access Hollywood" tape, and any communications between Cohen and Trump on the subject.

There is one very specific way in which this news is a big deal: This is the first time that Donald Trump has been personally named in a search warrant (that we know about). Beyond that, however, this report merely raises all kinds of questions and mysteries. Inasmuch as giving a lewd interview to a trashy television show is not a crime, the world is left to wonder what the FBI suspects. Perhaps Cohen or someone else paid to suppress the tape (unsuccessfully, obviously), or maybe there is something even more salacious that was successfully suppressed? Perhaps threats of some sort were made, or some other unethical coverup took place? Illegal payments were made? At this point, it's not even known for certain that Michael Cohen had any involvement with the Access Hollywood situation. It's certainly plausible that he did, since he's essentially Trump's enforcer, but if that connection exists, its nature is unknown.

One day, this is all going to make an excellent movie, or HBO miniseries, or documentary. Actually, it will probably be all of the above. But for now, as we watch it in real time, all we can do is sit and wait for the next shoe to drop. (Z)

Bill to Prevent Trump from Firing Mueller Is Getting Attention

Two separate bills to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired capriciously by an angry Donald Trump have been merged into a single bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The bill would delay an order to fire the special counsel by 10 days and allow the counsel to appeal to a panel of three federal judges. The special counsel could only be fired for "good cause," which the firer would have to specify in writing to the judges. It would also forbid the destruction of documents during the 10-day period. Since Graham and Tillis are on the 21-member Judiciary Committee, if it comes to a vote and all 10 Democrats plus Graham and Tillis vote for it, it would pass the committee. It now appears the Committee might vote on the bill next week and it might very well pass. If it comes to a floor vote, the 49 Democrats plus Graham and Tillis would give it 51 votes, so it could pass the Senate.

However, there are still many roadblocks. First, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee could try to delay it for quite a while, even if they couldn't vote it down. Second, even if it passes the Committee, it is up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to schedule a floor vote, and currently he sees no need to do so. Third, it is far from clear if the bill could pass the House. Fourth, it seems unlikely that Donald Trump would sign such a bill, and the votes probably aren't there for Congress to override his veto. So, Trump probably doesn't have anything to worry about now, but a with a few more careless tweets, he could probably change that.

It is also worth noting that even if the bill miraculously becomes law, it still might not do the job. One thing Trump could still do is fire AG Jeff Sessions or Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and replace him with someone who takes orders from Trump. Under the special counsel statute, every time Mueller has to make a major decision like issue a subpoena, indict someone, or pursue a new line of inquiry, he has to get permission from his boss. The new boss could simply say "no" to every proposal, greatly limiting what Mueller could do without technically firing him and thus triggering the new law. (V)

Comey Will Compare Trump to a Mob Boss on Sunday

Porn stars aren't the only ones doing political interviews these days. Former FBI Director James Comey has taped an interview with ABC's George Stepanopoulos that will air on Sunday. A source present at the taping has told Axios that in it Comey compared Trump to a mob boss. The source also said:

  • The interview left people stunned because Comey said things he has never said before
  • Some people described the experience as surreal
  • Comey answered every question
  • In case anyone wonders if Comey will go there, he will go there

Whether the truth will be as juicy as the hype remains to be seen. Comey wrote a book that will be out next week, and the ABC interview is just the first step in a big effort by Comey to pitch the book. If the book and interview contain explosive material, it is sure to dominate the news next week—unless Trump does something to upstage it, like taking military action in Syria, North Korea, and Iran simultaneously. (V)

Senators Will Question Pompeo Today

In the middle of crises with China, Russia, Syria, and North Korea (with Iran on deck), the U.S. will get a new secretary of state today. Or maybe not. At 9:30 this morning, Mike Pompeo will show up in the Senate for his comfirmation hearing as secretary of state. The 21 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have many questions for Pompeo. The biggest one will be something like: "Will you say 'no' to Trump when he proposes something dangerous or foolish?" although they will probably phrase it more politely. Pompeo is known as a hawk, and combined with uberhawk John Bolton, the new National Security Adviser, he may be far more willing to go to war than the recently fired secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was. The senators are surely going to probe his views on the use of military force in detail. Although senators know next to nothing about technology, and proved it with their pointless questioning of Mark Zuckerberg this week, they do understand the concept of war.

Pompeo's confirmation is not a given. The Committee has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. One Republican senator, Rand Paul (KY), is already a definite "no" vote. If all the Democrats vote "no" along with Paul, the majority will be on record opposing his confirmation. Only four of the Democrats are up for reelection this year—Bob Menendez (NJ), Ben Cardin (MD), Chris Murphy (CT), and Tim Kaine (VA)—and all from safe blue states, so they have nothing to lose by voting "no." Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could bring the nomination up for a floor vote even if the Committee votes against Pompeo, but with Paul sure to vote "no," if the Democrats stick together, one more Republican defection would sink Pompeo and give Trump a huge black eye. (V)

Evangelicals Still Like Trump but are Disappointed by Republicans

In 2016, evangelicals gave a larger percentage of their votes to a twice-divorced serial philanderer who bragged about grabbing women without their permission and who rarely goes to church than they did to George W. Bush, an actual born-again Christian. But conservative "religious" leaders are very worried that their personal loyalty to Donald Trump will not transfer to Republican candidates in 2018. Tony Perkins, the president of the socially-conservative Family Research Council, recently said about his followers: "There's concern that they are not excited, engaged and enthused at the level they were in 2016." Penny Nance, head of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, put it this way: "There's still time for Congress to get busy and put some points on the board, but it is cause for concern."

While the evangelical leaders appreciate the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and dozens of conservative judges on the lower courts, they want more. For example, they want the ACA repealed, apparently because Jesus strongly opposed giving poor people health care. They also are unhappy that the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that was just passed did not defund Planned Parenthood.

Steve Deace, an Iowa-based conservative radio personality, warned that if the tax bill is all Congress has to show for itself after 2 years, the Republicans will be in a danger zone, noting that "There's not a lot of people you need to disappoint that the map suddenly looks a lot different than it used to." Eric Teetsel, president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, said of the evangelicals: "They're the base in a lot of different parts of the country, including some of the really competitive districts. It's absolutely crucial, and so I think [Republican lawmakers] need to take seriously opportunities to generate enthusiasm among that constituency." In short, evangelical leaders are worried that the energy is with the Democrats and not with the Republicans and that their voters aren't going to transfer their loyalty from Trump to local Republicans. This could leave the GOP in the position of having sold its soul for The Donald, only to be left holding the bag once he skips town. Of course, they would not be the first Trump partner to get that treatment. (V)

Missouri Governor Accused of Sexual Coercion

Gov. Eric Greitens (R-MO) has been enmeshed in a sex scandal for the last year. It is not in dispute that he had an extramarital affair with the woman who did his hair during his gubernatorial campaign. Even he admits that part. However, the woman, whose name has been kept hidden, also says the affair was non-consensual, and that Greitens took compromising photos of her and threatened to use them for blackmail if she did not keep quiet about the whole thing. Greitens, for his part, denies all of that, and says that the pair merely shared a "sexy workout."

On Thursday, things got a lot more difficult for the Governor. A Missouri state House committee released its report on the matter, and it is full of shocking detail, collected from the alleged victim while she was under oath. For example, she told the committee that Greitens said:

You're not going to mention my name. Don't even mention my name to anybody at all, because if you do, I'm going to take these pictures, and I'm going to put them everywhere I can. They are going to be everywhere, and then everyone will know what a little whore you are.

Everyone must decide for themselves whether she's telling the truth or not, but—with that said—she's telling the truth. The testimony is very believable. Clearly, the folks on the committee accepted it as truthful, because there's now serious talk of impeachment proceedings.

From a political standpoint, meanwhile, this is not good news for the GOP. With a pu**y grabber in the White House, more than one Republican member of Congress exiting due to sex scandals, the bitter taste of child molester Roy Moore still lingering on the voters' palates, and the #MeToo movement in full flower, the Party doesn't need yet another prominent member enmeshed in this sort of thing. That's particularly true in Missouri, which could be critical to the Republicans' hopes of controlling the Senate, and where the Democratic candidate is a woman (Sen. Claire McCaskill), while the Republican candidate, Josh Hawley, managed to get caught (effectively) blaming feminism for sex trafficking. In short, the Party would be much better off if Greitens promptly resigned and disappeared, and would probably also benefit if Hawley did the same. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr11 Trump Threatens Mueller
Apr11 FBI May Have Been Looking for More Stormies
Apr11 More on Michael Cohen
Apr11 CBO Projections Are Brutal
Apr11 Bossert Exits
Apr11 Puerto Rico's Governor Plans to Mobilize Mainland Puerto Ricans
Apr11 Fox News and CNN Are Losing Viewers While MSNBC Is Gaining Them
Apr11 Zuckerberg 1, Senators 0
Apr10 FBI Raids Cohen; Trump Outraged
Apr10 Trump May Soon Discover Where the Buck Stops
Apr10 Senate Confirmation Battles Loom
Apr10 Taxes Will Rise in Many States Despite the Tax Cut
Apr10 Mueller Investigating $150,000 Payment from Ukrainian to Trump Foundation
Apr10 Neither Party Is Ready for Mueller
Apr10 Rick Scott Is Running
Apr10 Older, Educated, White Voters are Moving Away from the Republican Party
Apr10 100,000 Young Californians Have Pre-Registered to Vote
Apr09 Syria Gets Messy
Apr09 Fire in Trump Tower
Apr09 Republican Issue for the Midterms: Impeachment
Apr09 Manafort Might Try to Put the FBI on Trial
Apr09 Sanders and Harris Make Gaffes
Apr09 Nearly All Republican Candidates Embrace Trump
Apr09 GOP Pollster: Republicans Are in "Deep Trouble" in 2018
Apr09 Race to Succeed Paul Ryan Has Already Begun
Apr08 Trump Doubles Down on Pruitt
Apr08 Managing Trump, v2.0
Apr08 Managing Trump, v3.0
Apr08 Trump Will Get to Reinvent the Ninth Circuit
Apr08 GOP Candidates Have to Walk a Fine Line on Tariffs
Apr08 Americans Are Taking to the Streets
Apr08 Democrats Surging in Tennessee
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
Apr07 Charlie Cook Has New House Ratings
Apr07 Larry Sabato Has New Gubernatorial Ratings
Apr06 Trump Denies Knowing about the Hush-Money Payment to Stormy Daniels
Apr06 Trump Fires Back at China
Apr06 Pruitt's In Deep Trouble...Unless He's Not
Apr06 Republicans Are Trying to Rewrite the Budget Bill Retroactively
Apr06 Trump Picks an Enemy in the West Virginia Senate Primary
Apr06 Paul Ryan's Congressional Race Is Very Strange
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