• Trump Nails Down NAFTA Replacement, But He's Not Out of the Woods Yet
• Senate Republicans Dump All over Flake
• Democrats Reveal Their First Bill
• Schiff Wants to Investigate Trump's Plan to Give Putin a Penthouse
• Shenanigans in NC-09?
• Espy Will Run for the Senate Again in 2020
Congress May Postpone Shutdown Deadline
Bush Wanted Trump at His Funeral
North Carolina Elections Board Chair Resigns
Bush’s Death Highlights Trump’s Isolation
Trump Cancels Press Conference
Trump Had ‘Informal’ Talk with Putin
Late Friday, the Bush family announced through a spokesperson that patriarch George H.W. Bush had passed away at the age of 94. Although no cause of death has been announced as yet, Bush had been in poor health for some time. And, of course, he lost his wife earlier this year, generally a debilitating development for someone who has been married for 73 years.
Bush had a long and brilliant career. The scion of the bluest of New England bluebloods, he became a war hero not long after reaching adulthood, as the second-youngest U.S. Navy pilot in World War II (the youngest, Chuck Downey, beat Bush by 11 days). After being discharged, Bush earned a degree at Yale, and then headed to Texas to seek his fortune in the oil business. He found it, and after building up a tidy nest egg and starting a family, he entered public life, serving as a Congressman from TX-07 (1967-71), ambassador to the U.N. (1971-73), chair of the RNC (1973-74), ambassador to China (1974-75), director of the CIA (1976-77), vice president (1981-89), and, of course, president (1989-93). Few men have entered the White House with so broad and impressive a resume (although James Buchanan's service in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, U.S. House of Representatives, Ambassador to Russia, Secretary of State, and Ambassador to the United Kingdom before entering the White House isn't too bad).
On the domestic front, the signature achievements of Bush's term in office were the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a proactive environmental policy, and getting the ball rolling on what would eventually be known as NAFTA. In foreign affairs, which was his forte, he witnessed the final collapse of the Soviet Union, forced Iraq to liberate Kuwait in the short and sweet Persian Gulf War, and brought down Manuel Noriega in Panama. In the end, however, it was all washed away when the roosters of Reagan-era economic policy came home to roost, and the U.S. economy entered a severe recession. Bush's approval rating, which peaked at a staggering 89% in the weeks after the invasion of Iraq, dropped to just 29% by July of 1992. That's not a good place to be in an election year, and so he was swept out of office by Bill Clinton.
In many ways, Bush was the sort of president—and, in particular, the sort of Republican president—that may be gone forever. He was notably willing to stand on principle, even with "third rail" GOP issues. He aggravated many in the GOP by signing off on a tax increase, despite having emphatically promised during the campaign ("read my lips") that he would not do so. He also imposed a ban on the import of certain semiautomatic rifles, which led to a public battle with the NRA (and Bush resigning his membership in the organization). He was also the last president of either party who could reasonably expect to sit down with Congressional leaders from the other party and hammer out a deal acceptable to both sides.
With that said, we are not hagiographers around here, and we would be remiss if we did not point out that the Bush presidency also helped encourage troublesome trends that would reach much fuller flower after he left office. Although Bush himself did not typically indulge in racist dog whistles, he was willing to look the other way while others did so on his behalf, most notoriously Lee Atwater and his Willie Horton ad. Further, no single appointment did more to politicize the judiciary than that of Clarence Thomas (although Ronald Reagan's appointment of Robert Bork was way up there, as well). And there was some (and maybe a lot of) corruption in the administration, too. Bush's claims that he was ignorant of Iran-Contra always rang a little hollow, and his pardon of half a dozen key players in the affair (most notably Caspar Weinberger) ended the investigation and thus any chance that any dirt on Bush himself might be dug up. Also, some of the worst actors of George W.'s administration cut their teeth under George H.W., in one capacity or another.
In terms of 2018 politics, the story is soon going to be "Will Donald Trump attend the funeral?" After all, Trump hates the Bushes and the Bushes hate Trump. So, it's certainly possible that the Donald will find an excuse not to show up, particularly if it is raining on the day Bush is laid to rest. However, the odds are very high that he will be there. It would be extremely poor form for him to skip it, even with an "excuse," and it would be extremely poor form for the Bushes to disinvite him. So, in the end, everyone will presumably screw on a smile and do their duty.
There will also very likely be one small postscript to this story. When he passed, Bush was 94 years, 171 days old. Jimmy Carter is 94 years, 62 days old as of today, and appears to be in excellent health. In the likely case that the peanut farmer holds on until March 1 of next year, he will become the longest-lived president in U.S. history. (Z)
Speaking of NAFTA, Donald Trump sat down with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the G20 on Friday, and all three applied their signatures to what is being called the "U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement" (or USMCA), which will theoretically supplant NAFTA.
Trump, of course, is hailing the agreement as a radical new departure in trade policy. Indeed, he was on Twitter with this within minutes of the signing:
Just signed one of the most important, and largest, Trade Deals in U.S. and World History. The United States, Mexico and Canada worked so well together in crafting this great document. The terrible NAFTA will soon be gone. The USMCA will be fantastic for all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2018
As anyone who has been paying attention for the last two years knows, this is about 5% truth and 95% spin. The new deal does make some changes, but they are fairly incremental. For example, NAFTA required that 62.5% of a vehicle had to be made in North America to be duty-free, while the USMCA bumps the number to 75%. Not exactly the stuff of which revolutions are made. Indeed, the ceremony itself was a fascinating demonstration of spin and branding. Trump continually used the USMCA name, and signed the accord with a flourish, using a big, black Sharpie pen. Trudeau and Peña Nieto continually referred to the pact as a "New NAFTA" and signed hastily, with ball-point pens, as if they were writing a check or signing an autograph.
Meanwhile, we say the deal will "theoretically supplant NAFTA," because it's still got a long row to hoe. The legislatures of each of the three nations will have to approve it before it carries the force of law. Canada is probably the likeliest of those, if only because their system means that the parliament and the prime minister are of the same party. In Mexico, Friday was actually Peña Nieto's last full day in office. Who knows how eager the incoming government, with the much more leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador at its head, will be to finish the process?
And the highest hurdle is probably the U.S. Congress. Because USMCA is a trade agreement, not a treaty, both chambers of Congress have to approve it. A Democratic-run House is not too likely to hand Trump something to spend the next two years bragging about. Further, there are concerns that go beyond PR on both sides of the aisle. Labor unions oppose the pact, as do free traders, and a number of U.S. Senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Patrick Toomey (R-PA), say the deal does not have their support. So, Trump probably shouldn't take that victory lap quite yet. Not that that's ever stopped him.
Furthermore, we have to consider politics. We always have to consider politics. The Democrats could easily demand some quid pro quo for even allowing the House to vote on the agreement. Just to name one possibility, how about Trump's immediately firing AG Matthew Whitaker and submitting someone else to the Senate for confirmation? The possibilities are endless and if Nancy Pelosi is elected as speaker, she knows how to play the game as well as anyone else in town. Of course, if the Democrats block the USMCA, Trump could respond by unilaterally pulling out of NAFTA. But that might backfire by causing a stock market crash followed by a recession, which the Democrats would then pin on him. 3D chess anyone? (Z & V)
Senate Republicans are boiling over with frustration at Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has apparently undergone a "deathbed" conversion and wants the Senate to vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller. In particular, he is refusing to confirm any of Donald Trump's judicial nominees until he gets his vote, and one of them (Thomas Farr) already bit the dust. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said: "It's starting to irritate people." But since Flake will be leaving the Senate in 4 weeks, probably never to return to Washington, it is doubtful that he is losing a lot of sleep over his colleagues' irritation with him. After all, there is little they can do to him now.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was planning to ram through 21 judges in the lame-duck session of Congress. If Flake and all 49 Democrats vote "no" on all of them, all it will take is one more Republican defection to sink each one. It could be a different Republican opposed to each judge, of course. McConnell hasn't laid out his strategy yet. He could pull them all and wait until next year or he could try them one at a time and see if anyone else objects to each one. In any event, this is not what he planned for the lame-duck session. (V)
The House Democrats know very well they aren't going to get any laws passed until Jan. 2021 at the earliest. Nevertheless, they are not going to spend the next 2 years crying in their beer (well, since it's the Democrats, probably more like crying in their wine spritzers). They are going to work along two parallel tracks. One track will be all about performing the oversight function that the Republican-led House hasn't bothered with since 2017. The other track, probably led by the speaker, is going to focus on passing bills, even though they probably won't even come up for a vote in the Senate. Nevertheless, the exercise will be useful for two reasons. First, it will force House Republicans to take votes that will be used against them in 2020. Second, it will show the public what they will get if the they give the Democrats the keys to the kingdom in 2020.
The first bill, labeled H.R. 1, will be an omnibus bill, and was revealed yesterday. It is an anti-corruption bill that deals with three main topics. Among other things, it would:Campaign Finance
- Match small donations at a ratio of 6 to 1, so a $100 donation would have the government add $600 to the pot
- Eliminate dark money in politics by requiring all political groups to disclose their donors
- Force online platforms to tell who paid for ads and how much money was spent
- Require presidents to disclose their tax returns
- Stop members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment cases
- Forbid members of Congress from flying first class on the taxpayer's dime
- Create a new code of ethics that will apply to the entire government (all three branches)
- Create a new automatic voter registration system and promote early voting
- Restore the Voting Rights Act to its full glory and modernize it
- End partisan gerrymandering in federal elections
- Prohibit states from automatically purging voters from federal voting rolls
- Beef up election security against hackers
Democrats will talk about how H.R. 1 cleans up the campaign finance sewer, promotes ethics, and protects voters' rights. They will then dare the Republicans to vote against it, which most of them will. The bill will still pass the House, but come 2020, Democrats will hit incumbent Republicans with supporting dark money, unethical conduct, and opposition to voting rights. (V)
Among the various details dribbling out about Donald Trump's plan for a Trump Tower Moscow, which would have been the tallest building in Europe, is the penthouse atop it. The idea was to give the penthouse, which was valued at $50 million, as a gift to Vladimir Putin to get him on board with the project. The idea makes great business sense because Russian oligarchs would fight tooth and nail to be able to buy condos in Putin's residence in order to make elevator pitches to him when they happened to run across him in the elevator. This heightened desirability would, in turn, increase what Trump could charge the oligarchs for their condos.
The project never took off, but could run afoul of federal law nevertheless. A federal law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it a felony for a U.S. business to pay a bribe to a foreign official in order to make a sale, get a permit, or secure some kind of desirable treatment. Even attempting the bribe is a crime. Felix Sater, a Russian-born associate of Trump and his fixer Michael Cohen (both convicted felons), claims it was his idea to offer the bribe—er, the deal—to Putin, to get him to approve the project and eliminate all red tape.
Incoming House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) wants to know more about this deal, how far it got, and who did what exactly. He also wants to know about Trump's role in it. It seems inconceivable that Sater or Cohen or anyone further down the totem pole could promise to give away $50 million worth of Trump's property without Trump's knowing about it and agreeing to it. If Trump approved of the bribe and the offer was actually made, even if it was turned down, Trump could be guilty of violating the FCPA. Schiff wants to get to the truth here. (V)
The House race in CA-21 is limping toward the finish line. T.J. Cox (D) has already declared victory over Rep. David Valadao (R), although state officials haven't certified it yet. That said, as the last remaining absentee ballots trickle in and are counted, Cox's lead keeps increasing. It was up to 591 votes by the end of the day on Friday. Mathematically-speaking, that is an insurmountable lead. For Valadao to prevail at this point, it would require something like 5,000 more absentee ballots to show up in the mail (three weeks after the last legal day to post them), and the Congressman would have to win close to 60% of them. All of this in a D+5 district where a total of just over 100,000 votes were cast. So, not happening.
Operating under that assumption, that leaves the Democrats with a nice, tidy pickup of 40 seats, right? Not so fast. Folks have been sniffing around in NC-09—where Mark Harris (R) supposedly defeated Dan McCready (D) by a little less than 2,000 votes—and something smells fishy. Specifically, there are some very odd patterns in terms of the absentee ballots cast in the contest. In Bladen County, which is 57% white and 38% black, 96% of the absentee ballots were cast for Harris. In one precinct in the County (Bladenboro-02), 159 absentee ballots were cast, and only four of them came from black voters. There are also stories of white voters receiving multiple absentee ballots in the mail, and black voters receiving visits from "state officials" on Election Day who were helpfully "collecting" absentee votes, or who were "helping" the black voters to "sign up" for absentee ballots, and then somehow never managing to return with the actual ballot.
For the results in NC-09 to be made official, the local elections board—made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and one independent—has to vote to certify them. They already voted unanimously not to do so. Now it's in the hands of the state elections board, which is conducting an investigation. It is within their power to order a new election, and the odds are that they will do so. So, the Democrats might just be able to push the number of flips to 41, and that's before we talk about the two Republicans who are under indictment and could get booted out of office.
And even if the state board certifies Harris, he's still not home free. The final arbiter of who may sit in the House of Representatives is—the House of Representatives. Each chamber of Congress unambiguously has the power to seat or not seat anyone showing up and asking to sit down, credentials or no credentials. If the soon-to-be Democratic-controlled House feels the election was fraudulent, it could refuse to let Harris in the door, which would de facto force a new election because the Constitution mandates a new election whenever a House seat is vacant. (Z & V)
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) won her runoff election last week, but she had better hit the campaign trail again. She took over the seat of former senator Thad Cochran (R), who resigned in April, but his term is over in 2020, so Hyde-Smith will have to face the voters again then.
Hyde-Smith won the election by a margin of 53% to 46% in a midterm year against an opponent who was not as well known as she was. Now that opponent, former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, has already filed to run against her in 2020. He is now much better known and the electorate in presidential years is generally more Democratic than in midterm years. Given how close he came this time, he has a shot at it in 2020.
One thing that Hyde-Smith hopes she will have going for her in 2020 (besides a longer period of incumbency) is that by then everyone may have forgotten her remarks to the effect that she would be happy to attend a public hanging (i.e., a lynching). Though it is probable that Espy's campaign (and/or the journalists covering it) will remind the voters who have forgotten about this one or two or fifty times. Plus, Hyde-Smith is clearly something of a minor league politician trying to play in the majors. It is a good bet that she will make additional verbal gaffes during the next two years. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov30 Trump in Meltdown Mode
Nov30 Deutsche Bank Headquarters Raided
Nov30 No Meeting with Putin
Nov30 House Democrats Elect Cheri Bustos to Head the DCCC
Nov30 Tim Scott Shoots Down Farr
Nov30 Comey Sues to Quash Subpoena
Nov29 Republicans Block Bill That Would Protect Mueller
Nov29 Trump Told Mueller That He Didn't Know about the Trump Tower Meeting in Advance
Nov29 Everyone is Denying That They Knew About Wikileaks
Nov29 Democrats Nominate Pelosi as Speaker
Nov29 Powell Defends the Fed against Trump
Nov29 House Rundown
Nov29 Thursday Q&A
Nov28 Hyde-Smith Beats Espy, as Expected
Nov28 McSally Is Not a Shoo-in for Kyl's Seat
Nov28 Flake May Be Able to Force Vote on Bill Protecting Mueller
Nov28 Trump Sits for an Interview
Nov28 Comey: Whitaker May Not Be the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer
Nov28 Manafort's Breaking His Deal Is a Setback for Mueller
Nov28 Mueller Looks to Ecuador
Nov28 Cuomo Won't Run for President
Nov27 Final Senate Race Is Today in Mississippi
Nov27 General Motors Will Slash Jobs and Trump Is Not Happy
Nov27 Trump Disapproval Hits All-Time High in Gallup Poll
Nov27 Nadler: A Partisan Impeachment Will Tear the Country Apart
Nov27 Manafort Allegedly Lied to Mueller; Corsi Says "No Plea"
Nov27 Who Will Be Trump's Running Mate in 2020?
Nov27 Cox Leads, Love Concedes
Nov26 Alan Dershowitz: Mueller Report Will Be Devastating
Nov26 Farm Bankruptcies Are Up
Nov26 Poll: Public Is Worried about Pre-existing Conditions
Nov26 Sessions Is Not a Shoo-in for His Old Seat
Nov26 New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner Is a Goner
Nov26 Fox's New Bugaboo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Nov26 Monday Q&A
Nov25 Mexico Will Reportedly Hold Refugees
Nov25 Trump Tried to Bury Global Warming Report, Got Burned
Nov25 Mitt Gets to Work
Nov25 Espy Within Striking Distance
Nov25 Congress Is Going to Have a Busy Month
Nov25 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Eric Swalwell
Nov24 Jerome Corsi Is Negotiating a Plea Bargain with Mueller
Nov24 Judge Says Trial about Trump's Charity Can Proceed
Nov24 Trump Wants Supreme Court to Uphold Transgender Ban
Nov24 New White House Staffers Likely Coming Soon
Nov24 Warning Lights Are Flashing for Trump's Reelection
Nov24 Sherrod Brown Looked in the Mirror and Saw a Future President
Nov24 Global Warming Is Bad News (so Bury It)
Nov23 Trump Threatens to Close the Whole Border with Mexico