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

Pompeo Grilled by Senators

Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump's nominee to be secretary of state, was interrogated by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. There were a lot of tough questions. The chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), started out by saying: "Many strong voices have been terminated or resigned. It's fair for our members to ask if your relationship is rooted in a candid, healthy, give-and-take dynamic or whether it's based on deferential willingness to go along to get along." Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member, was more blunt: "Will you stand up to President Trump and say, 'No, you are wrong in that view?' Or will you be a yes man?" Pompeo dodged and weaved and tried to avoid giving clear-cut answers to these and many other questions.

One contentious topic was the deal with Iran. In the past, Pompeo has called it a surrender to the Iranian regime. Yesterday, he said that if the deal ended, he didn't think Iran would soon get nuclear weapons, a complete reversal of what he has been saying for years. He did concede, however, that he was open to fixing the deal, although he didn't say what he wanted or whether he thought Iran would buy into a modified deal.

When asked if he agreed that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation was an attack on America, he refused to answer. When asked if he would resign in protest if Trump fired Mueller, he said his instinct would be not to resign.

When asked if he favored regime change in North Korea, Pompeo said: "I have never advocated for regime change." The fact is, last summer in Colorado he said: "As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system." When Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) asked if he envisioned U.S. troops entering North Korea to destroy its nuclear weapons, Pompeo didn't rule out the option, despite the huge number of casualties such an operation would entail.

Corker plans to bring the nomination to the floor, even if the panel votes against Pompeo. The game plan there is to intimidate red state Democrats into voting for Pompeo's confirmation. Trump is very popular in many red states, so Pompeo might well be confirmed, even if the Committee votes "no." (V)

About that Trans-Pacific Partnership...

A foolish consistency, as they say, is the hobgoblin of little minds. When he was running for president in 2016, The Donald had nothing but bad things to say about the deal, calling it a "disaster" and "a rape of our country." One of the first things he did upon taking office in 2017 was to pull out of the deal. Now, in 2018, he has apparently started thinking that maybe the deal isn't so bad after all, and has told U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow to, "take a look at getting us back into that agreement." Thursday afternoon, the President tweeted:

At this point, of course, nobody knows if this is just the position of the day, or if he's really serious about this.

The challenge that Trump is wrestling with here is that: (1) China is definitely doing shady things when it comes to trade, and (2) There aren't a lot of great options for reining in a country of that size and economic might. The President could try tariffs, but it would appear that someone has impressed upon him how badly that might backfire. That leaves working with the other countries of Asia to counterbalance China, which is a pretty succinct description of exactly what the TPP does.

And now, the things that are going to make this is a little sticky for Trump if he tries to move forward. First, the other members of the TPP may not be so eager to have the U.S. rejoin while Trump is still in office, and they are certainly not going to renegotiate on "substantially better" terms to the U.S., which means that Trump would have to eat some crow, which is not currently on the menu at McDonald's. Second, rejoining the TPP would be a pretty clear abrogation of some of Trump's core positions, not the least of which is his vocal opposition to multilateral trade agreements. And third, in a related point, re-entering the TPP would pit one part of Trump's base against another. His opposition to trade agreements, talk about tariffs, etc. was all juicy red meat for the blue-collar workers in the base, but puts farmers (who send a lot of food abroad) in a bad place. Embracing the TPP will please the farmers, many of whom had already begun counting their profits from the deal, but will aggravate the workers. Given that Trump tends to follow the lead of the last person who talked to him, maybe one of the anti-TPP folks will get to him today, and all of this will go away. Stay tuned. (Z)

Replacing Ryan May Be Complicated

Now that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has announced that he will bid the House adieu in January, the Republicans will need a new leader. Finding one may not be as simple as it sounds. First, let's look at how the Senate caucuses choose their leaders. It's pretty straightforward: Each caucus votes separately and it takes a majority of the caucus to win. So, for example, to be elected majority leader of a caucus with 51 members, as the Republicans have now, it takes 26 votes. To be elected minority leader of a caucus with 49 members, as the Democrats have now, it takes 25 votes. Got it?

Now consider the House. Exactly the same rules apply to the majority leader and the minority leader. A simple majority does the job. However, the House has a special wrinkle the Senate doesn't have: the job of speaker. Technically, the speaker doesn't have to be the leader of the majority party, but for more than two centuries the speaker has always been the leader of the majority. So, the majority leader of the Senate is the head of his caucus but the majority leader of the House is only #2. The speaker is elected by the entire House, not by the majority party. That means it takes 218 votes to become speaker.

Now comes the complication. Suppose the Republicans hang on by the skin of their teeth and get, say, 220 seats to the Democrats' 215. To be elected speaker, a speaker wannabe would need 218 votes. Since the Democrats aren't going to provide any of them, even three defections would doom the candidate. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) noticed this in 2015, when he didn't make the bar. In practice, if the Freedom Caucus, which has 30 or so members, doesn't like the candidate, he won't make it.

Now suppose this is reversed, with 220 Democrats and 215 Republicans. With a Democratic majority, the Republicans know they won't elect the speaker, so minority leader is their top position. Getting that then requires only 108 votes. Under those conditions, the votes of the Freedom Caucus aren't needed.

So for McCarthy, and also Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), and anyone else planning to run, the calculations and strategy depend on whether they expect to be in the majority or minority. If a Republican candidate expects to be in the minority, he needs to round up only 108 votes and can tell the Freedom Caucus to take a hike. If the candidate expects to be in the majority, he is forced to promise the sun, the moon, the stars, and his first born to the Freedom Caucus. So, when Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) comes to you with his wish list, what do you do? Who knew running for leader of your party was so complicated?

To add a bit of drama to the situation, some Republicans are calling for Ryan to step down right now, so the caucus can hold an election now and go into the midterms with an able-bodied duck instead of a lame duck on top. However, Ryan reiterated yesterday that he has no intention of stepping down now. Nevertheless, the pressure on him to leave in the summer is going to be enormous, especially if Donald Trump announces which Republican he wants as speaker (most likely, McCarthy). (V)

House Democrats Have Their Own Leadership Problem

If the Democrats capture the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will run for speaker again. However, several moderate Democratic candidates have promised to vote against her, so even with a Democratic majority, she might not garner the required 218 votes. Standing loyally behind her for 15 years is Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Logically, if Pelosi fails to make it, it's his turn to try. However, he will soon be 79 and has been in House for 37 years. There are increasing calls for fresh blood. Hoyer has been effective for years and is well liked in his caucus, but some members feel that if Hoyer becomes speaker and the 2020 candidate is Joe Biden (who will be 78 in January 2021) or Bernie Sanders (who will 79 in January 2021), the Democrats will be the geriatric party.

Of course, if the Democrats are in the majority next January and Pelosi can't muster 218 votes, the younger Democrats need a candidate and they don't really have one. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) tried to take over from Pelosi after the 2016 elections but got nowhere. Still, if dozens of young Democrats are elected in November, the picture could change quickly if Pelosi fails to get to 218. (V)

Today's Russiagate Update

Things continue to move forward on the Russiagate front at a fast and furious pace. To start, CNN managed to lay hands on an advance copy of former FBI director James Comey's forthcoming book, and it's apparently a humdinger. One thing that is certainly going to get a lot of attention is Comey's report that Donald Trump asked him to personally look into the Steele dossier and to prove that there are no kinky kompromat videos. "I'm a germaphobe," Comey quotes Trump as saying. "There's no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way." It would seem that the President takes the dossier more seriously than his public pronouncements would suggest. In any event, Trump's home town newspaper, the New York Daily News, seems to be interested. Here's it's front page today.

NYDN front page

There's quite a lot of additional juice in the book (Politico has a list of the 7 most striking things). Here it is.

  • Trump asked Comey to look into the Steele dossier
  • Something about Loretta Lynch is still unknown
  • Comey was worried about Trump's calls for loyalty
  • Trump is untethered to truth and his leadership is mafia-esque
  • Although Trump's behavior is unethical it may not be technically illegal
  • Kelly was upset working for "dishonorable people"
  • Comey pokes fun at the size of Trump's hands, but they don't really seem small

The element that's definitely going to get an outsized amount of attention is Comey's pull-no-punches approach. He compares Trump to a mobster, calls his presidency a "forest fire," and declares that, "This President is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty." You really have to stop holding back, Jimbo.

Unsurprisingly, given the book and the Cohen raid (more below), the White House is mounting a full-court defense right now. Trump's lawyers have pulled back from their talks with Robert Mueller about a presidential interview, and declared that a "major breach of trust" has occurred. Team Trump is also working on a full-fledged propaganda campaign against Comey, and also one against Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, linking the two long-time registered Republicans to the Democratic Party, the deep state, Hillary Clinton, and each other. So, get ready for an ugly weekend. (Z)

Today's Smut Update

It seems probable that there will be allegations of more Donald Trump extramarital affairs and more payments, given what we know of the man, his acolytes, and philanderers in general. And, on Thursday, a salacious new story did indeed come to light. The New York Times is reporting that former Trump World Tower doorman Dino Sajudin was paid $30,000 in 2015 by the company that owns the National Enquirer. As with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, the alleged purpose of the payment was to purchase Sajudin's silence. Unlike McDougal, the doorman does not claim to have slept with Trump, but he does claim to know about Trump fathering an illegitimate child with one of his employees in the 1980s. The Donald was not married to Melania then, of course, but he was married to Ivana Trump for that entire decade (1977-92).

As soon as the NYT story broke, Sajudin issued this statement:

Today I awoke to learn that a confidential agreement that I had with AMI (The National Enquirer) with regard to a story about President Trump was leaked to the press. I can confirm that while working at Trump World Tower I was instructed not to criticize President Trump's former housekeeper due to a prior relationship she had with President Trump which produced a child.

So case closed, then—we now have a third dalliance to add to the list of documented affairs? Not so fast. If Trump really does have an illegitimate kid out there, everyone would want to talk to the now-thirtysomething. This rumor has floated around for a while, and many have looked for him or her, most obviously folks working for The New Yorker, but no one has found any evidence this person exists. Further, Sajudin does not claim to have seen this hypothetical child, only to have heard about him or her. And the former doorman is apparently a bit truth-challenged. His ex-wife says he is a "pathological liar" who is "infamous for making up stories." The relatively small amount of the payment also suggests that it wasn't really about paying for serious dirt, and instead was in the category of "let's just make this guy go away."

But, as Team Trump is learning, it doesn't matter if Sajudin is lying about the affair as long as he's telling the truth about the payment. And that part of the story appears to be on solid ground: The Enquirer made Sajudin take a lie detector test and he passed. So while we don't have clear evidence of another dalliance, we do have pretty clear evidence of another dubious payment, one that could be an illegal campaign contribution. Particularly in the context of the other dubious payments. (Z)

Preet Bharara Says the Likelihood of Michael Cohen Being Charged Is High

Preet Bharara used to be the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York until Donald Trump fired him last year and replaced him on an interim basis with Geoffrey Berman. That office was the one that raided the office, home, and hotel room of Donald Trump's long-time fixer, Michael Cohen. Of course, Bharara knows many of the professionals in the office and what the procedure is. When speaking on CNN, he said:

If I were still the United States attorney, no matter who the president was, and I was being asked to personally approve, as someone had to have been in the Southern District of New York, a search of someone's home and office who was counsel to the president—I would want a lot more than the bare minimum proof of probable cause.

In effect, Bharara is saying that to get permission to carry out three simultaneous raids of someone so close to the president, the prosecutors would have needed something close to proof that a crime was being planned and there was danger evidence would be destroyed if no raid took place. That being the case, Bharara believes that Cohen will soon be charged with a crime, although he didn't specify what the crime might be. Violating federal election laws might be one possibility, but money laundering is another. (V)

Trump Expected to Use Pardon Power Again

One might wonder why, exactly, the Founding Parents incorporated the pardon power into the Constitution. After all, they had just rebelled against a too-powerful leader, namely King George III, so granting a nearly unlimited prerogative to the president seems to run contrary to their style. Fortunately for us, three of the Parents did us the favor of explaining their thinking, in great detail, in the Federalist Papers. In Federalist No. 74, Publius (in this case, almost certainly Alexander Hamilton) writes:

[I]n seasons of insurrection or rebellion, there are often critical moments, when a well-timed offer of pardon to the insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquillity [sic] of the commonwealth; and which, if suffered to pass unimproved, it may never be possible afterwards to recall.

Since that time, of course, the use of the pardon power has expanded quite dramatically, most obviously and most commonly to correcting gross miscarriages of justice (at least, as the president sees it).

The Founding Parents, who—as a bunch of lawyers—knew well the potential shortcomings of the courts, would likely have been ok with this use of pardons. What they most certainly would not have been ok with, however, is the use of pardons to spare friends and cronies from paying the penalty for their bad behavior. After all, old George's tendency to play favorites with a chosen few was a major source of irritation to them. They even complained about it in the Declaration of Independence, specifically the machinations he undertook to protect his soldiers "by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit."

That brings us to Donald Trump. His first use of the pardon power, to spare Joe Arpaio from punishment for his crimes, was perhaps the most brazen use of the privilege to protect a political crony in U.S. history (right up there with Bill Clinton's worst abuses). Now, The Donald is ready to do it again. The beneficiary this time? Remarkably, it is Bush-era swamp-dweller Scooter Libby—a man so clearly guilty that even his patron W. was willing only to commute his sentence, and not to set his conviction aside. How Libby ended up on Trump's radar is anyone's guess—perhaps Fox News did a report on how Libby is doing, 10 years later. In any case, having warmed up by using the pardon power in this way twice, it will be that much easier for Trump to use it to (try to) protect any other buddies he thinks might need it. Like, say, Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen. (Z)

Menendez Is Way Ahead Despite Indictment for Taking Bribes

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was indicted for taking bribes and put on trial, which resulted in a hung jury. The government eventually decided to drop the case. Will indictment on bribery charges hurt Menendez? Hell, no! It's New Jersey, after all, and no one would confuse New Jersey with Minnesota. Menendez' most likely opponent is a former pharmaceutical executive, Bob Hugin, whose main qualification is that he is very wealthy and can afford to pour millions of dollars of his own money into the expensive New York and Philadelphia television markets, since the NRSC isn't going to waste a penny in very blue New Jersey.

Initial polling favors Menendez. A new Monmouth University poll has Menendez at 53% and Hugin at 32%. The partisan breakdown has 92% of Democrats supporting Menendez and 84% of the Republicans supporting Hugin. Since Democrats have a 15-point registration advantage in the Garden State, Menendez is in a strong position.

In addition to the problem of the little (R) after his name, Hugin has a couple of other problems. First he is close with former governor Chris Christie and a big fan of Donald Trump, both of whom are more toxic in New Jersey than a superfund site, of which New Jersey has plenty. Also, he used to be a Democrat. Hugin has a very steep hill to climb to beat Menendez. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr12 Ryan Will Retire in January
Apr12 Which Crisis Will Materialize First?
Apr12 Pu**ygate Strikes Back
Apr12 Bill to Prevent Trump from Firing Mueller Is Getting Attention
Apr12 Comey Will Compare Trump to a Mob Boss on Sunday
Apr12 Senators Will Question Pompeo Today
Apr12 Evangelicals Still Like Trump but are Disappointed by Republicans
Apr12 Missouri Governor Accused of Sexual Coercion
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