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 Is Approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

When it comes to Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—which is tasked with vetting his nomination—was torn between two competing impulses. On one hand, it is customary to allow the president to decide which people he wants to work with. On the other hand, Pompeo's government service is limited to three terms (and three weeks) in Congress and his brief tenure as CIA Director, so he doesn't have a lot of experience relevant to being America's chief diplomat. He also has some baggage, as far as some senators are concerned, given his past enthusiastic support for torture, for NSA spying, and for invading Iraq, not to mention his brusque personality.

For several weeks, it appeared that Pompeo's shortcomings would result in the Committee's giving the thumbs down to his nomination, as most Democrats and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) came out in opposition. As recently as yesterday morning, this was a likely enough outcome that Donald Trump took to Twitter to kvetch about it:

The anti-Pompeo Democrats were motivated, in part, by the candidate's shortcomings, and in part by their desire to frustrate Trump. Paul, by contrast, said he was opposed to Pompeo on principle, because of his views on torture, spying, and Iraq.

But principles have gone out of fashion in the Senate, even for Paul, who formerly made a big deal about them. So, the Kentucky Senator switched his vote to "yea" at the last minute. Then, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) agreed to vote "present," because Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) was away at the funeral of a friend. While Senate rules allow an absent member to cast a committee vote, it cannot be the decisive vote. And so, although Coons opposes Pompeo, he was making a gesture to his colleagues on the other side of the aisle, sparing them from the necessity of waiting until Isakson returned to Washington. Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), for one, was so appreciative that he nearly began sobbing. In any event, with Paul flipping and Coons accommodating, the nomination was advanced to the full Senate by an 11-9 vote. Since at least three Democrats (Joe Manchin, WV; Heidi Heitkamp, ND; and Joe Donnelly, IN) have said they will vote to confirm Pompeo, he is expected to be approved as secretary in short order. Perhaps Donald Trump will apologize for going off half-cocked before knowing the committee's final decision. And perhaps the sun will rise in the west tomorrow, science will find the cure for the common cold, and the Cleveland Browns will win the next five Super Bowls.

Meanwhile, this same basic drama will repeat itself in two weeks, except with the Senate Intelligence Committee, as they consider Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo at the CIA. Haspel has much of the same baggage, particularly as regards torture, which she has sometimes personally supervised. Over 100 former generals have signed a letter opposing her, based on "her role in the rendition, detention, and interrogation program." The Intelligence Committee is also a tougher row to hoe, inasmuch as one of the Republican votes (Susan Collins, ME) is not an automatic vote for the administration, and another (John McCain, AZ) is not currently present in Washington, and is an outspoken opponent of torture. So, Haspel might not manage to dodge the same bullet that Pompeo dodged. (Z & V)

Jackson Nomination in Trouble

While Mike Pompeo certainly looks like he will be confirmed (see above), the same is not true of VA Secretary-designate Ronny Jackson. When Donald Trump first nominated the presidential physician for the post, there was general consensus that Jackson is a perfectly fine doctor, but that nothing in his background has prepared him to lead the second-largest bureaucracy in the federal government (ranking only behind the Dept. of Defense). And now, several senators are expressing concerns about "allegations" against the Admiral that may derail his nomination.

The members of the Senate would not say what the allegations are but, of course, very little remains secret in Washington these days. So, CBS News has learned that Jackson is accused of drinking excessively on the job, improperly dispensing medications, and creating a "hostile work environment." If any of these things is proven true, it would presumably be the end for Jackson's nomination, and for his time as presidential physician. In fact, either of the first two behaviors, if true, would represent very serious professional misconduct of the sort that could cost him his license. If either is confirmed, but particularly the part about handing out medications improperly, it will call into question the integrity of the physical and the cognitive tests that Jackson administered to Trump. Presumably, we will learn very soon. (Z)

Trump Is Using His Cell Phone More to Evade Kelly

White House sources are reporting that Donald Trump is using his cell phone much more than before, when he used the White House switchboard for making calls. The key differences between the two modes of communication are: (1) Chief of staff John Kelly gets a printout of whom Trump calls via his office phone and not whom he calls on his cell phone, (2) the office phone is much better secured than the cell phone, and (3) calls made on the cell phone are not captured for purposes of government accountability.

One inference here is that Kelly's influence over Trump continues to wane, with Trump feeling confident enough to ignore his chief of staff and former gatekeeper. Another source said that there have been a lot of meetings lately without Kelly's being there. So it appears Kelly has less and less power every day and his exit may not be too far away.

Security experts don't care so much about how much power Kelly has, but are worried that Trump's cell phone conversations are being overheard by foreign governments. Trump is known to be careless about discussing classified information with people not authorized to hear it. If he does it in a way that hostile foreign governments could intercept, it could endanger national security. (V)

Two Key Elections Will Take Place Today

Voters in AZ-08 will go to the polls today to elect a replacement for Trent Franks, who left Congress in—you guessed it—a sex scandal. This one was a bit different from the usual "congressman hits on young staffer," though. Franks told two of his female staffers that he wanted to impregnate them so they could bear children for him as surrogate mothers. He offered one of them $5 million, and when she said no, he retaliated against her. The women were afraid he wanted to perform the impregnation using traditional methods, rather than artificial insemination, and were not interested. When the story came out, Franks blamed it on the media.

When the heat got too much, though, Franks resigned from Congress, triggering today's special election. The district covers the suburbs northwest of Phoenix and has a PVI of R+13. The Democrats didn't even bother running a candidate against Franks in either 2014 or 2016. Today there will be a Republican, Debbie Lesko, and a Democrat, Hiral Tipirneni running. Lesko is widely expected to win, in part due to the large amount of money national Republicans have poured into the race to avoid another disaster like the PA-18 special election, in which Rep. Conor Lamb (D) won a district Donald Trump took by 20 points. The big thing to watch here is the margin between the candidates. Trump won the district by 21 points, and if Lesko wins by single digits, it means the Democrats are still greatly outperforming what they did in 2016. A Lesko win of less than 10 points could also be an indication of what might happen in the hotly contested Senate race to replace the retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). In the unlikely event that Tipirneni pulls this one off, Republicans nationwide will start running for the hills.

We discussed the other key race last week. Very briefly, it is special election in Westchester County for a New York state Senate seat. If the Democrats win it (and also an easy seat in the Bronx), their caucus will have 31 seats in the NY Senate, the same as the Republicans. Control of the state senate will be up to a Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who has been caucusing with the Republicans. If Felder goes back to the Democrats, they will have a trifecta and can do whatever they want to in New York. One thing that New York AG Eric Schneiderman wants is to change the law so that he can prosecute people accused of an act that is both a federal crime and a state crime but who have been pardoned by Donald Trump for the federal crime. As it stands now, state law makes that difficult. But the outcome of the Westchester election and Felder's decision could change that. (V)

Six-Term Republican Congressman May Be Kept Off the Ballot

Sometimes when you have been in Congress too long, you get lazy. That may be the case with Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), who made only a modest effort to collect 1,000 valid signatures to put him on the Republican primary ballot for what he hoped would be an easy reelection in his R+14 district. While he did get just over 1,000 signatures, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled yesterday that some of them were not valid because they were collected by people who were not Colorado residents, as required by state law. If Lamborn had gotten way over 1,000 signatures, he could have withstood having a few of them invalidated, but he didn't.

Lamborn hasn't decided what to do next. He could go back to the district court to seek qualification of other signatures that were rejected by the secretary of state's office. He could also try to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but there is no reason to believe it would want a case that is clearly relevant only to Colorado. If nothing works for Lamborn, he won't be on the primary ballot and some other Republican will get the nomination, effectively creating an open seat, thus giving the Democrats an outside shot at flipping it. (V)

GOP Midterm Campaign May Be Built Around Ghosts of Clintons Past

In the past two decades, the GOP has had a great deal of success running against things: Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Muslims, gay marriage, undocumented immigrants, the deep state, Nancy Pelosi, Obamacare, and so forth. The current generation is not nearly so experienced in running for things. In 2018, they would very much like to run on their most substantive (and, really, their only major) legislative accomplishment since taking control of Congress and the White House: the tax bill. However, polls, past experience, and the public response all suggest it's not a winner; in part, because voters perceive the bill as a giveaway to the rich, and in part because voters generally do not detect the extra money in their paychecks.

In view of this, the Republicans are casting about for potential centerpieces to their 2018 campaign. And Fox News—which tends to be pretty dialed in to the GOP's thinking—is reporting that the Party might turn to an oldie but a goodie: running against Hillary Clinton. "I promise you that you'll continue to see it—Hillary Clinton starring in our paid media. She's a very powerful motivator," said Corry Bliss, leader of the pro-Republican super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund.

There is really no precedent for this in American history—Clinton hasn't been in public office since 2013, and she never will be again. Undoubtedly, Bliss is right that she remains very unpopular, and that some people will be driven into a rage by the mention of her very name. But will that get Republicans to the polls who otherwise would have stayed home? And how will women voters, with whom the GOP already has some issues, feel about continued attacks against her? How will independent voters respond, or even Democrats, who might find themselves just a little more motivated to vote by the GOP's smear campaign? And finally, how will it look if the Republican Party is de facto announcing, "We don't have much record to run on, so look at that monster over there!" These are all million-dollar questions. And maybe the GOP strategists who came up with this idea will be proven to be geniuses (if they stick with it). On the other hand, maybe they will just be helping to turn a Democratic tidal wave into a tsunami. (Z)

Mueller Has Not Contacted Natalia Veselnitskaya

In July 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower, supposedly to give the Trump team some dirt on Hillary Clinton. The official story was that they were going to discuss Russian adoptions, but email evidence suggests otherwise. Now Veselnitskaya has said that Mueller has not contacted her. She seemed to be sad he hasn't, saying: "If he does not, it would be an indication that the special counsel's office is not working to discover the truth."

Veselnitskaya, then, is practically begging for a subpoena. Usually it doesn't work that way. It might seem odd that Mueller doesn't want to talk to her, given that thousands of stories have been written about the meeting and how central it could be to a case that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians, but Mueller knows that she is close to Vladimir Putin and would undoubtedly lie if questioned, so actually hearing from her would probably be a waste of his time. Also, she doesn't speak English, so there was an interpreter present at the meeting, and Mueller has talked to the interpreter. He might consider the interpreter a much more reliable source and therefore has no interest in her. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr23 Clyburn: If Dems Fail to Take the House, Leadership Should Resign
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