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

Macron Delivers État de l'Union Speech to Congress

A day after making nice to Donald Trump (despite dandruffgate), French President Emmanuel Macron stood before Congress yesterday and delivered a speech (en anglais) that could have passed for a state of the union address. He noted that America and France have had a special relationship going back to the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution whose portrait hangs in the House chamber. Macron warned against trade wars, which benefit no one. He said international institutions are crucial and must be strengthened. He argued for keeping the Iran deal, as the only way to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He mentioned climate change, saying it could be addressed only by agreements such as the Paris Accord, and pointing out that there is no Planet B. He argued against ignorance and fanaticism, and for science, medicine, and culture. In short he is against everything Donald Trump wants and for everything that Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, and the rest of the civilized world wants.

Congress gave him a 3-minute standing ovation at the beginning of his appearance and also applauded several times during his speech, although it was more the Democrats doing the applauding than the Republicans.

Just in case there was any question about Macron's position, he also spoke to reporters on Wednesday, and predicted that Trump will withdraw from the Iran deal for reasons related to "domestic politics." The French President, deploying verbiage similar to that used by Trump on Tuesday, said that such a move would be "very insane." Since Trump was talking about the deal itself, while Macron was talking about withdrawing from the deal, that means that not only are they on opposite sides of the issue, but that Macron is clearly needling the Donald.

Trump, for his part, apparently had no idea what was coming in Wednesday's speech. Early in the day, he tweeted this:

Presumably, that was not his opinion once the speech was over. However, Trump has thus far had nothing to say about the performance. The opportunity was there—the President was on Twitter late Wednesday to exchange tweets with Kanye West—but he made no reference to Macron. Why? Well, these would seem to be the possibilities:

  • Intimidation: Trump tends to target those whom he clearly outranks, and those whom he thinks he can bully. However, as is often the case with bullies, he's also easily intimidated. Witness, for example, how Trump heaped flattery on Xi Jinping once they met in person, and how he's stopped badmouthing Xi since. It could be that while Trump is willing to take on members of Congress, the media, the Hollywood establishment, etc., he lacks the fortitude to take on a world leader.

  • The Pompeo Factor: It may also be that Trump is willing to attack Macron, but that someone within the administration has persuaded him not to. Either because it's just generally bad form, or because it might muddy the waters for the upcoming visit of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Since the President apparently doesn't listen to Chief of Staff John Kelly any more, and NSA John Bolton is a well-known Francophobe, the obvious candidate for this sort of thing, if it happened, is Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo. Trump is probably listening to him, at least for now.

  • Ignorance: With any other president, this possibility would be unthinkable. However, it is well known that Trump has a short attention span, and is easily bored. Relative to his usual schedule, which features lots of "executive time," he's also been overtaxed for the past few days. And he is in his 70s, and not in the greatest physical condition. Add it all up, it is certainly possible that Trump wasn't really listening to Macron's speech—possibly even dozing off—and has a limited awareness of what the French president said. This sometimes happened to the last president to serve while in his 70s (Reagan).

  • Biding his time: Or maybe Trump is going to wait until the morning, and then have at Macron with both barrels. If this does come to pass, it probably depends a lot on how Fox News handles the whole story. At the moment, a visitor to their website might not even realize the French president was in town, since they have just one lone editorial about the matter buried at the bottom of the page. However, Trump is scheduled to be on Fox & Friends this morning. The hosts could "encourage" him to share some choice thoughts about the French President's address.

In short, what we have at the moment is something of a cliffhanger, as we wait to see if the other shoe will drop. Of course, that is how these reality shows kinda work, now isn't it? (V & Z)

New Allegations about Ronny Jackson Emerge

A new report based on interviews with people who have worked with VA secretary-designate Ronny Jackson is devastating. Some of the people who have worked with him used these words to describe him: "flat-out unethical," "explosive," "100% bad temper," "toxic," "abusive," "volatile," "incapable of not losing his temper," "the worst officer I have served with," "despicable," "dishonest," "having screaming tantrums and screaming fits," "vindictive," "belittling," and "the worst leader I've ever worked for." It goes on from there, and also notes he once wrecked a government vehicle while driving drunk.

The report was prepared by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) but it does not name the 23 sources. Tester said, however, that every item in it was verified by at least two sources. If even only 10% of it is true, it is not a great recommendation for someone asked to lead a government bureaucracy with an annual budget of $180 billion and almost 380,000 employees.

Another report, based on almost a dozen sources that spoke to Politico, said that Jackson handed out prescriptions for the sleeping pill Ambien and the anti-sleeping pill Provigil to anyone who asked. At a time when opioid abuse—much of it due to drugs prescribed by doctors—is ravaging much of the country, at the very least this doesn't look good. On the other hand, the sources also said the widespread use of these drugs among top government officials is an established fact of life, so Jackson was just continuing an existing practice rather than starting a new trend.

Although Donald Trump basically told Jackson to withdraw Tuesday, yesterday Sarah Huckabee Sanders said he had received "unanimous praise" from dozens of witnesses and "glowing" evaluations from his superiors. However, when asked about specific allegations against him, such as his habit of handing out prescriptions like candy, she had no comment. At this point it is hard to see how he could survive a Senate confirmation battle, since every Democrat is sure to vote against him because they fear that he will just follow Trump's orders to privatize many VA services, giving big profits to his friends but worse care to veterans.

Also a factor is that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who cares a lot about veterans, is not going to fly to D.C. to vote "yes" on a nominee with all these issues and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), despite his voting to confirm Mike Pompeo for secretary of state, is likely to revert to being the senator from "No." Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have expressed grave concerns about the nomination, while three of their colleagues who wished to remain anonymous told Politico that they want Trump to yank the nomination immediately before any more harm is done to the GOP. All it takes is for any two of these people to vote "nay," or for one to vote "nay" and another one to cast no vote at all (say, the out-of-town McCain) and the nomination is dead. It would be astonishing if Jackson perseveres and tries to get the Senate to confirm him.

Nevertheless, after Tester's report came out, Jackson denied wrecking a government vehicle while drunk and said he planned to move ahead with the confirmation process. He didn't address the other points in the report. On the other hand, late yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Jackson is frustrated with the whole business, and may withdraw. Since he is clearly smart enough to have made it up to rear admiral, he is surely smart enough to see that McCain isn't going to endanger his recovery from cancer to fly back to D.C. to vote for him and all it will take is one more Republican defection to sink his ship.

Update: As expected, early Thursday morning, Jackson threw in the towel and withdrew. He had no chance anyway. (V)

Senate Republicans Want to Smooth the Path for Confirming Trump Nominations

The Senate is the one part of the federal government where the minority party has some actual power. They can use the filibuster, along with other parliamentary tricks, to either block or slow down legislation and/or nominees for various federal offices. In the latter case, Senate rules allow for up to 30 hours of debate time, even after a nominee has been approved by the relevant committee. The Democrats have been using this stipulation with gusto on Donald Trump's picks, just as Republicans did with Barack Obama's picks when they were in the minority. Now, a group of GOP Senators led by James Lankford (R-OK) is sick of it, and wants to slash the debate time to just 8 hours in most cases. This isn't quite the "nuclear" option; more like the MOAB option.

There are two obstacles here that make it unlikely the bill will pass. The first is that 60 votes would be needed, which means at least 9 Democrats, and they (naturally) hate the plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could go nuclear (dropping the necessary total to just 50 votes), and then go MOAB (slashing debate time), but that leads us to the second problem. There are some GOP senators (Susan Collins of Maine has already spoken up, and she's probably joined by McConnell and a few others) who foresee a time when the Democrats will regain control of the upper chamber. Could happen in six months, but it's much more likely to happen in two years and six months. And when that does come to pass, the current majority party would very much like to have some tools available so they are not a silent minority. They know that if they change the rules now, they aren't getting changed back. So the odds are that members of the Republican conference kill this idea before the Democrats get their chance to do so. (Z)

Most Voters Haven't Seen Pay Boost from Tax Cut

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll shows that most voters haven't gotten a bigger paycheck as a result of the new tax law. A full 55% said that they had not gotten more money, 22% said that they had, and the remaining 23% weren't sure. Republicans were planning on making their only substantial legislative achievement during Donald Trump's presidency, the tax cut, the centerpiece of their midterm campaign. However, with over half the voters not getting anything, there is a huge danger that could backfire when Democrats say: "Of course you didn't get a tax cut because it all went to millionaires and billionaires."

Historically, the poll is not unusual. In the past, many people have not noticed small tax cuts because net pay can be affected by various factors, including the number of hours worked in a week, state taxes, etc. Nevertheless, more people approve of the new tax law (44%) than oppose it (39%), even if they didn't personally get a cut. Republicans claim that by cutting the taxes of the very wealthy they will have more money to invest and create jobs. People who didn't get a tax cut themselves could still approve of the idea for this reason. (V)

Cohen to Plead the Fifth

On Wednesday, Donald Trump's (former?) attorney Michael Cohen said he would plead the fifth when it comes to the legal proceedings involving porn star Stormy Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford) and any illegal payments he may or may not have made to her.

Is Cohen protecting himself, or is he protecting Trump? Only he knows. However, pleading the fifth may not do him a lot of good. Depending on what the feds find on his computer, in his office, and at his house, he may already be thoroughly incriminated (although the legal wrangling over who gets to see what and when is ongoing). Further, if he's trying to keep some Trump-related dirt from seeing the light of day, special counsel Robert Mueller might well use something else to squeeze Cohen and get him to squeal. Odds are that there is at least one skeleton out there that Mueller can get his hands on.

It's also worth noting that besides Cohen, the other person who should know quite a bit about Donald Trump's secrets, whatever they are, is former bodyguard Keith Schiller. Thus far, he's managed to fly under the radar. However, the RNC recently hired him to advise them on security for their 2020 convention, at the rate of $15,000 a month. That seems awfully generous given that we're still two and a half years out, the site of the convention isn't even known, and the GOP does already have 150 years' experience staging secure conventions. Perhaps that's the going rate, or perhaps the Party is buying something else with their money, like a zipped lip. (Z)

Republicans Are Running a Pro-Mueller Ad on Fox News

A group of Republicans have created a 501(c)4 organization called Republicans for the Rule of Law, and it is running an ad on Fox News urging Donald Trump not to fire Robert Mueller, lest he repeat the Saturday Night Massacre and badly damage the Republican Party. Since Trump watches Fox News a lot, he is likely to see the ad. Whether it sinks in is another matter, of course. (V)

A Worrisome Poll for Trump

Speaking of Fox News, which seems to be the star of today's posting, it released a new poll on Wednesday that had plenty of bad news for Donald Trump. According to their numbers, a majority of Americans (56%) think it is likely that Robert Mueller will find that the President committed criminal or impeachable offenses. Just less than 2/3 (64%) think the investigation is fair and just more than 2/3 (67%) think it is important that the investigation continues. Curiously, that means that 3% of respondents think the investigation is unfair and that it should continue, but such are the quirks of polling.

As we and others have pointed out many times, impeachment is a political act. It's not going to happen unless there is strong-to-overwhelming public support for it. Trump should be very concerned that Mueller has shown very little of his hand, and yet a sizable portion of the public is all-but-ready to convict. He should also be worried that this is a Fox poll, with a likely Republican house effect, such that each of the anti-Trump percentages above should probably be bumped up by 2-3 points. The President could still fire Mueller, of course, and if he did he would just be doing what 71% of respondents expect him to do. However, based on the other numbers, such a move would clearly come off as a guilty man trying to hide something. It might not even do that much good anymore, given that the ball on Cohen/financial misdeeds isn't even in Mueller's hands right now, having been passed to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr25 Democrats Get Mostly Good News in Yesterday's Elections
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