• Nikki Haley Isn't Jeff Sessions
• Republicans Book the First $48 Million Worth of Ads for House Races
• Joe Crowley Would Like to Be Speaker of the House
• Charlie Dent Will Retire from the House
• More Trouble for Greitens
• What Would Francisco Do?
• What Would Francis Do?
• Barbara Bush Dead at 92
We're about 18 months in, and yet the Trump administration is still finding ways to surprise us. Tuesday's bombshell: Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo visited North Korea two weeks ago, and met personally with dictator Kim Jong-Un, with an eye toward laying the groundwork for the presidential trip that is scheduled for May or June.
The White House refused comment on the Washington Post's reporting, so little is known about the exact purpose or content of the discussions, but it's clear the meeting did happen, as Trump also offhandedly mentioned it in his Tuesday meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It similarly remains a mystery as to exactly what Trump's plan is, or if he even has one. Kim badly needs his nuclear weapons, both as a symbol of his power, and as an insurance policy against aggression. He's unlikely to dismantle his whole nuclear program, and even if he agrees to a partial dismantlement, he's going to want big concessions in the form of money and/or reduced sanctions. If that is what a final deal looks like—significant reduction of nuclear capacity in exchange for financial considerations—then that is just the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has called "a major embarrassment," "the worst deal ever," and "unacceptable." And the nukes are not the only seemingly-intractable area of disagreement. To take another, North Korea insists that the U.S. troops along its southern border be withdrawn, while the U.S. (and South Korea) insist they stay. That little problem has been confounding U.S. diplomats for 65 years now.
Meanwhile, it is not yet clear what impact this news will have on Pompeo's flailing nomination to be Secretary. Perhaps the senators will admire his initiative and moxie, rolling up his sleeves and getting involved with diplomacy in a way that his predecessor did not. Or perhaps they will be offended by his presumption in assuming the role of Secretary before he has their blessing. All we know for sure is that he's going to get a "no" vote from the only two Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who supported him to lead the CIA (Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Tim Kaine of Virginia), and from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). That should mean Pompeo will get the thumbs down from the Committee. This will not stop his nomination from advancing, though, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he will bring Pompeo up before the full Senate regardless of the Committee's recommendation. That will be the first time that's happened since 1925, and it may be the first time it's ever happened—1925 is just the year that committee votes went from being strictly confidential to being publicly announced. So, it will be up to the 79 senators who are not on the Foreign Relations Committee to decide what they think about Pompeo's qualifications, and how they feel about his extracurricular work in North Korea. (Z)
If you want to be a member of the Trump administration, then The Donald is going to throw you under the bus from time to time. That is just part of the price of entry; either you learn to accept it, as AG Jeff Sessions and Chief of Staff John Kelly have, or you eventually exit stage right, as former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and former NSA Hebert McMaster did.
Although U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has been more than happy to tote the administration's water over the past 18 months, she apparently is not a member of the "under the bus" club. This weekend, she went onto several of the news programs and declared that sanctions were coming against Russian companies who support the regime in Syria. On Monday, the White House backed off of that threat, and—rather than just admit that sometimes people change their minds—attempted to pin the blame for the situation on Haley, declaring that she must have suffered some "momentary confusion." On Tuesday, Haley fired back in a statement: "With all due respect, I don't get confused."
Given the specificity of Haley's original remarks (she even knew that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was supposed to make the announcement), and the fact that it took the White House more than a day to "correct" her, there is little doubt that her version of events is the correct one: The White House decided one thing on Friday, then changed to a 180-degrees different position on Monday. So, it's another example of the sloppy, ad hoc basis on which policy is managed by this administration. "How many other things do you want to mention have been rolled out that way?" asked Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and frequent critic of Trump Bob Corker (R-TN). "I didn't think much about it. You know, two weeks ago, we're moving out of Syria the next day, and then the next day we weren't. It's just sort of standard confusion."
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what this all means for Haley's future with this administration. This is not the first time she's been hung out to dry due to Trump's constantly changing foreign policy, so she might well be ready to throw in the towel. Meanwhile, the President is reportedly annoyed that Haley dared stand up to the White House publicly, so he might be ready to throw the towel in for her. If she does leave, the number of female cabinet members would drop by 25%, while the number of nonwhites would drop by 33%. (Z)
The RNC is planning to spend $250 million on House races this fall, but it is not the only player in town. The leading Republican House super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, has now booked $48 million worth of ads for the September through November period. The majority of that ($38 million) will be used in 20 top House battles. The main ones are the districts held by Don Bacon (NE-02, PVI R+4), Andy Barr (KY-06, R+9), Steve Knight (CA-25, Even), Claudia Tenny (NY-22, R+6), and Mimi Walters (CA-45, R+3). The remaining $10 million will go for digital advertising in 30 districts.
Ad reservations made this early can be canceled later, but the choice of battles the CLF wants to fight gives an idea of its priorities, and of the races it thinks are going to be tight. In general, it won't spend money in races it thinks the GOP can win easily or in races that it thinks are hopeless.
One might wonder why a super PAC would telegraph its plans so that everyone—including the opposition—knows what it is up to. Actually, there is a very good reason for this. By law, outside groups, like super PACs, are not allowed to coordinate with party committees, like the RNC. If each of them kept the other in the dark about their plans, they could end up with the situation in which both groups poured (too much) money into one race and nothing into an equally important race somewhere else. By leaking its plans, the CLF hopes somebody in the RNC reads the Washington Post and thus learns what is going on, while rigorously obeying the law against coordinating plans. Welcome to the swamp.
The CLF plans to raise and spend $100 million this cycle. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has played a big role in the fundraising, which is the main reason he is not willing to give up his speaker's gavel too quickly. Still, with Ryan a lame duck now, it remains to be seen how many donors will be willing to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions of dollars, to curry favor with someone who will not be in a position to repay the favor come January.
The Democrats also have a House-focused super PAC, the House Majority PAC. It has already reserved $43 million in 33 media markets. Many seats are being targeted by both parties, indicating that they agree those are toss-ups or close to that. (V)
We and others have written a lot about how the entire House elects the speaker, so speaker wannabes like Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) need to prostrate themselves before the almighty Freedom Caucus to get to 218 votes. Actually, the Democrats have a similar problem. Some Democrats in conservative districts have promised not to vote for San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi (78) as speaker, and in a closely divided House, a few recalcitrant members could stop her. If she can't make it to 218, the next-in-line Democrats are Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who will be 79 in June, and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), who will be 78 in July. Many (younger) Democrats don't like being members of the Geriatric Party and would prefer younger leadership (though they could decide they like the optics of making Clyburn the first black speaker in U.S. history).
Queens Democratic Party boss Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), a mere child at 56, has signaled that he would like to fill the vacuum. He is currently #4 on the Democratic totem pole, so his bid is not completely off the wall. It would be fatal for Crowley to get up there and announce that he thinks Hoyer and Clyburn are too old, so he is doing something more subtle, but which sends a message: He is spending a lot of time raising money for Democratic incumbents. His own NY-14 district in northern Queens and the eastern Bronx is D+29, so a tape could surface showing him peeing on a dead girl and a live boy in bed and he would still win easily. Consequently, he doesn't have to waste any time campaigning himself, thus freeing up all his time to help other House Democrats, in the hope that when the time comes, they will remember his support. (V)
Moderate Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) had earlier said that he will not run for reelection, setting off a battle in his R+4 district. Now he has gone further and announced that he will retire from Congress within a few weeks. His retirement will trigger a special election in the eastern Pennsylvania district, though Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) has yet to fix the date. Republicans are worried that if an R+11 district that Donald Trump won by 20 points wasn't safe (Democrat Conor Lamb won a special election in just such a district last month), then Dent's district is a goner. From a legislative point of view, it doesn't matter who wins the special election, because the district has been redrawn by the courts for the next Congress. However, the psychological hit of a Democrat flipping another Republican district in Pennsylvania would be huge. (V)
Gov. Eric Greitens (R-MO) is already in big trouble. He definitely had an extramarital affair with one of his campaign staffers; even he admits that. Given the power dynamics involved, not to mention his "family values" campaign, that's very bad. Even worse is that the woman involved says the sex was not consensual, and that Greitens took compromising pictures of her and tried to use them for blackmail purposes to keep her from speaking out. Her testimony on this point was very believable, such that Democrats and Republicans alike in the Missouri legislature are talking seriously about impeachment. And on Tuesday, the water got just a little hotter, as Greitens was accused of fraudulently obtaining a charity donor list and using it to get donations for his campaign.
Undoubtedly, this new revelation will add a tad bit more fuel to the impeachment fire, particularly since the victims of Greitens' alleged fraud were veterans. However, that's a relatively minor offense compared to sexual assault and blackmail, and pushing the Governor out the door was surely not the main motivation for Tuesday's announcement. The fellow who made the announcement, Missouri AG Josh Hawley, just so happens to be running for the U.S. Senate right now. He also just so happens to have some trouble of his own with women voters, primarily because of ill-considered remarks that effectively blamed the feminist movement for sex trafficking. So, the major purpose of bringing this new dirt out into the open was for Hawley to distance himself from Greitens, and ideally to be the fellow who persuades Greitens to give up and resign. (Z)
People sometimes ask: "What would Jesus do?" but there is no way of knowing for sure. Now some people are asking: "What would Francisco do?" and we may find out. If Donald Trump decides he wants to get rid of special counsel Robert Mueller, he would have to order Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to wield the axe. Almost no one expects he would do it. He would almost certainly resign instead, as that's the kind of person he is. Then Trump could go to the third-ranked office in the Justice Dept., the Associate AG, to try his luck. However, that office is empty because former occupant Rachel Brand left recently to take a job as Walmart's top lawyer, presumably because she didn't want to be put in a position where she could have been faced with an order to fire Mueller.
Then we come to #4, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who could soon find himself on the hot seat. Politico has a nice piece on this low-profile and not well-known figure who could suddenly burst into the limelight if called to wield the axe. They day job of the solictor general, along with the four deputy solicitors general, is to argue cases for the United States government before the Supreme Court.
Francisco was confirmed to his position in September by a narrow 50-47 vote in the Senate. The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), said at the time that she was worried that he would just serve Trump's political goals rather than seeing that justice was done. In particular, one thing that bothers her is that he signed the legal briefs supporting the ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
In February, just after Trump attacked AG Jeff Sessions on Twitter once again, Francisco was photographed with Sessions and Rosenstein at a D.C. restaurant. Some people interpreted this as a sign of solidarity among the three. On the other hand, in a Security and Exchange Commission case, Francisco argued before the Supreme Court that the president has the power to remove any member of the executive branch at any time for any reason. In short, it is impossible to guess what Francisco might do if given the order to can Mueller. He probably doesn't know himself at this point, and most likely is praying he is never asked. (V)
Some people wonder what Jesus would do, and are left to make their best guess, because he departed this plane of existence a long time ago. Others ask what Francisco would do (see above), and are left to make their best guess, because he's pretty much an unknown commodity. On the other hand, those who ask what Francis—that is, the Bishop of Rome—would do don't have to guess at all, because he regularly makes a point of letting everyone know exactly what his views are.
This week, Francis made news twice. The first was for his apology about his role in pushing Chilean sex abuse cases under the rug. That's never a good look for anyone, but the Pope certainly seemed contrite, and tried to persuade others in similar situations to see the error of their ways. You know, someone who might have engaged in, or encouraged, sexual assaults of women.
In case it wasn't clear who Francis might have had in mind with his exhortations, his second headline-making move this week was to issue a new encyclical in which he cautioned against wasting "precious time" on "superficial information" and "instant communication," declared that it is wrong to demean those who hold different political philosophies than we do, and warned against the evils of racial and class oppression. The official name of the encyclical is "Guadete et Exsultate" ("Rejoice and be glad") but it might as well have been entitled "Sum Nauseam Trumpium."
All right, the Vicar of Christ is never going to call out Donald Trump by name like that, even in Latin. However, Francis has gotten increasingly less subtle about his dislike for the President. And unlike most other foreign leaders, he might just have a little bit of pull with American voters, specifically, the Catholic ones. A sizable minority of America's Catholics are Latinos, and so were already largely anti-Trump. But a larger number are white, and Trump did better with white Catholics than any presidential candidate in recent history, capturing 60% of their votes (George W. Bush polled in the mid-50s, Barack Obama in the high-40s). Of course, those white Catholics are not evenly distributed across the country. Here are a list of the ten closest states in the 2016 election, along with the approximate percentage of voters in the state who are both white and Catholic:
Even a cursory examination makes clear that if a fairly small percentage of white Catholics who voted for Trump last time—say 5%—decide to listen to the Pope's "hints," then some of the swing states that went red could swing the other way in 2020 on that basis alone. So, it will be worth keeping an eye on the Servant of the Servants of God, particularly as 2020 draws nearer. (Z)
Earlier this week, it was announced that former first lady Barbara Bush, who suffered from a number of ailments for years, had decided to forego any further medical treatment. That's usually a sign that things are drawing to a close, and indeed, she passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92.
She is likely to be remembered for three things, in particular. The first is being at the epicenter of one of the United States' great political dynasties, one of only two people to be both spouse and parent of a U.S. president (the other member of that very exclusive club is Abigail Adams). The second is her tireless commitment to literacy, a cause that she and George H. W. raised over $1 billion for (to read an excellent story about one man she helped, click here). Third, and finally, while Bush was certainly a loyal Republican, she was also an iconoclast who was not afraid to speak her mind and to challenge party orthodoxy at times. This was particularly the case with women's issues, where she openly lamented the politicization of abortion rights, and also lashed out against the sexism that was directed at Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate.
Normally, the passing of a former president or first lady is a time for Washington to put partisanship aside for a day, and to come together in recognition of a life spent in public service. One is reminded, for example, of this photo taken at the funeral of Ronald Reagan, which shows both sets of Bushes, along with the Carters, the Fords, and the Clintons:
It would be hard to tell who the Democrats are in that photo, and who the Republicans are, if one did not already know.
But these, of course, are not exactly normal times. The outspoken Bush was no fan of Trump, and regularly exhorted her fellow Republicans to reject his brand of politics. For example, she declared:
He doesn't give many answers to how he would solve problems. He sort of makes faces and says insulting things. He's said terrible things about women, terrible things about the military. I don't understand why people are for him, for that reason.
Undoubtedly her aggravation had many sources, including Trump's radically different view of the GOP agenda, his treatment of women, and his treatment of Barbara's son Jeb during the election.
Trump, of course, is not terribly graceful under the best of circumstances. Further, he's prone to holding grudges. And so, the statement he put out on Twitter was noticeable in its...restraint:
For comparison's sake, here is the statement put out by Barack Obama:
Our statement on the passing of Former First Lady Barbara Bush: pic.twitter.com/MhTVYCL9Nj— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 18, 2018
The Obamas were reportedly friendly with the Bushes and are generally more able to rise to an occasion, and it shows.
Customarily, the sitting first lady represents the White House at a former first lady's funeral (given that presidential security can be a distraction). It will be interesting to see if that happens this time. It's unclear if the Trumps will want to make that gesture, and it's also not exactly certain that Melania would be willing to handle that errand on behalf of her husband. Further, the Bushes might not want a Trump there, given the bad blood. So, this could be a job for Mike Pence. We shall soon see. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr17 Tensions Rise in House Due to Ryan's Refusal to Step Down Immediately
Apr17 More Trouble for Pruitt
Apr17 Joe Biden: Yoo Hoo, I'm Still Here and Maybe I'm Running in 2020
Apr17 Republicans Are Gaining in Generic House Poll
Apr17 Democrats May Flip House Seats in New Jersey
Apr17 Another Top Lawyer Turns Down Trump
Apr16 Comey Unloads on Trump
Apr16 RNC Will Spend $250 Million to Keep the House Majority
Apr16 Secret Super PAC Attacks Blankenship in West Virginia Senate Primary
Apr16 Trump's Approval Is Back Up
Apr16 Trump's Fundraising Is Going Well
Apr16 Pence's NSA Pick Withdraws
Apr16 Cohen's "Fixing" Appears to Be a Family Affair, Especially for Family Affairs
Apr16 What Could the Democrats Do If They Decided to Play Dirty in the Future?
Apr15 Syria: The Aftermath
Apr15 Comey Thought Clinton Was Going to Win
Apr15 Consumer Protection Bureau Not Doing Any Protecting
Apr15 Cohen: I've Never Been to Prague
Apr15 A House Divided
Apr15 A Young Wave Is Building
Apr15 Gas Prices Headed Up
Apr14 U.S. Bombs Syria
Apr14 Trump Calls Comey An "Untruthful Slime Ball"
Apr14 The Feds Have Tapes
Apr14 The Walls Are Closing in on Cohen
Apr14 Justice Dept. Inspector General Lowers the Boom on McCabe
Apr14 Freedom Caucus Founder Jim Jordan Fires a Warning Shot at McCarthy
Apr14 Why Did Trump Win the Election?
Apr14 Could Texas Help Democrats Flip the House?
Apr13 Pompeo Grilled by Senators
Apr13 About that Trans-Pacific Partnership...
Apr13 Replacing Ryan May Be Complicated
Apr13 House Democrats Have Their Own Leadership Problem
Apr13 Today's Russiagate Update
Apr13 Today's Smut Update
Apr13 Preet Bharara Says the Likelihood of Michael Cohen Being Charged Is High
Apr13 Trump Expected to Use Pardon Power Again
Apr13 Menendez Is Way Ahead Despite Indictment for Taking Bribes
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